Animal Feeding types

Giraffe eating some leaves off of a very spikey umbrella acacia tree. Photo taken by me in Tanzania 2018.

Understanding the diet of different animals is very important. No animal has exactly the same diet as another, although they may be among the same group such as carnivore, herbivore, omnivore or one of the many other diet types. The diet type is based on what the animal has a strong preference of, or what is particularly important for them to eat. When we understand the feeding types of animals, this information can indicate other important factors about that animal. In fact, knowing what an animal eats, can directly link it to its habitat. For instance, an animal that eats fish (piscivore) isn’t going to be found in dry areas, but near rivers or in the sea, such as otters. 

Not only is understanding an animals’ diet important for giving us clues as to where we might find it, but the information that scientists studying these animals find, is especially important when those animals are in captivity. Animals kept in zoos, or that are taken to wildlife rescue centres, need to be given a high standard of care, which includes their diet. If the animal is fed the wrong diet, it could make them seriously ill, and it is in our best interest to look after them as well as we can. The diet an animal eats in the wild is the best source of knowing which food type to feed it in captivity, whether its meat, grass, tree branches, fruit, or anything else. In next week’s blog post, I will be discussing different feeding behaviours that animals perform to supplement their diets if nutrients don’t exist in their normal foods. By understanding what nutrients are in their natural diet, and what they naturally supplement for themselves, this allows the scientists working in animal nutrition to create food that gives the captive animals the correct amount of nutrients to be healthy. 

Among the animal kingdom, there are a number of different feeding types, the main three being: carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore. Carnivores primarily feed on meat, for example all cats eat meat; the reason for this being that they need a specific protein called Taurine, which has high concentrations in red meat. Other examples include most canid (dog) species and many other species including some birds, reptiles and marine creatures. Herbivores primarily eat plants; however, this group can be divided into two further groups which are grazers and browsers. Grazers are animals that primarily eat grass as the main constituent of their diet, some examples are zebras and white rhinos. Browsers are animals that eat the leaves and small branches off of trees and bushes, some examples include most species of antelope and black rhino. Omnivores could be described as opportunistic feeders as these animals eat both meat and plants, and therefore gives them a more adaptable diet when certain foods are limited in availability. The way the digestive system works will determine what the animal eats. This may be a blog post in the future as digestive systems, although kind of gross, are quite interesting.

These three groups are the most common and known about feeding types. As you can see, pretty much all the examples I’ve used for these different groups are mammals. The animal kingdom is absolutely huge and I’m sure there are a number of different examples in other categories, but there are also a number of different feeding types that best fit other species. Birds, reptiles and insects are the most troubling to fit into these three feeding types. There are also mammals such as aardvarks and pangolins, who specialise in eating insects, making them insectivores. 

The names of the feeding types are determined by what the animal eats. The ending of the word “vore” comes from the Latin word “vorare”, which translates to ‘to devour’. 

The table below shows the other feeding types, although this may not be all of them still. I have tried to find some examples of animals for each feeding type, however, some where harder than others to track down information on. 

Feeding typeFoodExamples
Carnivoreeats meatlion, leopard, hyaena
Detritivoreeats decomposing materialworms, woodlice, millipedes
Folivoreeats leaveskoala, sloth
Frugivoreeats fruittoucan, hornbill, parrots
Granivoreeats seedssmall birds i.e. robins
Herbivoreeats plants rhino, zebra, antelope
Insectivoreeats insectslizards, frogs, aardvarks
Mucivoreeats plant juicesinsects
Mycovoreeats fungi
Nectarivoreeats nectarhummingbirds, bees
Omnivoreeats meat and plantshumans, chimps, baboons
Piscivoreeats fishotters, sea lions
Sanguinivoreeats bloodvampire bats
Saprovoreeats dead mattermostly insects

As we can see, there are many different feeding types, and many different animal species. That is why it is important that we never feed wild animals. We may accidently give it the wrong food, or food that is toxic for that animal. As well as giving an animal the wrong food, in situations such as a zoo, animals are given a very specific diet to keep them healthy. If we give them extra food, this could cause health problems including obesity and problems that are associated with that. If you find a wild animal that looks particularly underweight, or ill, the best thing to do is to find a local rescue that will be able to look after the animal properly. The most common and misunderstood issue with feeding wild animals is feeding bread to ducks. Bread makes ducks incredibly ill in some cases, which unfortunately a lot of people don’t know. The best thing to ask yourself is, where would the animal be able to find this food in the wild? If the answer you came up with is the supermarket, then you shouldn’t feed it to them. 

There are other problems associated with feeding wild animals. Not just that the food may be bad for them, but it encourages them to be in areas that are closer to humans. For instance, in the New Forest where I grew up, tourists in the summer would come and feed the horses and donkeys carrots. This would encourage them to come close to the roads and we end up with so many of them being hit by cars because they were on the roads where they normally wouldn’t be. Another example is baboons. Baboons are actually very dangerous animals due to their strength and the size of their teeth. Baboons are also very intelligent animals, and some have even worked out how to get into unlocked cars because they are desperately looking for human foods. The sad truth is, if animals such as baboons are too close to humans, the only thing the rangers can do is to shoot them. This is because no matter how many times they are chased off, they will come back. They have had a taste of human food and if they are desperate, they know it’s an easier food source to get hold of than looking for their natural diet. I would encourage you to never feed wild animals, especially as it can end so tragically for them when they have only done it because they have been fed by humans in the first place. 

Information sources:

  • Carnaby. T. 2018. Beat about the Bush Mammals
  • Carnaby. T. 2018. Beat about the Bush Exploring the Wild – The Comprehensive Guide

One thought on “Animal Feeding types

  1. Very interesting post. Your comment on feeding wild animals is so important! People need to be more educated about feeding wild animals. They need to realize they aren’t helping the animal or that it is cute for pictures etc. They are actually doing the animal a disservice by making them dependent and less scared of humans which places them and humans in a very dangerous position and unfortunately, it is the animals who suffer the consequences of our actions. Cannot wait for the next post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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