Feeding Behaviours

In the last blog post I mentioned that feeding behaviours are used when an animal needs to supplement certain nutrients in their diet. This may be due to the food that they consume doesn’t contain a large amount of that specific nutrient, and so over time, the species has evolved behaviours to deal with these issues. 

The names of feeding behaviours end in ‘phagy’ or ‘phagia’ depending on when they’re used. The ‘phagy’ or ‘phagia’ comes from the Greek word ‘phagein’, which means ‘to eat’. 

Here is a table with the names of different feeding behaviours

Feeding BehaviourItem Consumed
Coniophagy/phagiaFeeding on dust
Coprophagy/phagiaFeeding on faeces
Geophagy/phagiaFeeding on soil
Hermatophagy/phagiaFeeding on blood
Lithophagy/phagiaFeeding on stones
Monophagy/phagiaFeeding on a single type of food
Oplinophagy/phagiaFeeding on snakes
Osteophagy/phagiaFeeding on bone
Phytophagy/phagiaFeeding on plants
Polyphagy/phagiaFeeding on many types of food
Trichophagy/phagiaFeeding on hair or wool
Urophagy/phagiaFeeding on urine
Xylophagy/phagiaFeeding on wood

Giraffes are a known animal that perform osteophagy. They are herbivores and are in the browser category; however, they will perform this behaviour due to needing more calcium in their diet. 

Rabbits are known to perform coprophagy. As gross as it sounds, the rabbits will ingest their soft faeces that they produce during the day. This is due to not fully absorbing all the nutrients from their food the first time around and so by ingesting partially digested food, they are able to extract all the nutrients from it. This then means that they produce the usual dry pellets that you normally find. 

As I mentioned in the previous blog, animal nutritionists will look at the animals’ diet in the wild to create foods that meet all of the animals’ nutritional needs; however, they also need to be aware of any specific feeding behaviours such as the examples I have shared to include those nutrients within the diet as well. 

Some of these behaviours may be performed often by animals, such as coprophagy in rabbits or oplinophagy in snake eagles (it would be a bit odd to call them snake eagles if snakes weren’t a regular part of their diet). Some of these behaviours may be very rarely performed however; making it very exciting if you ever get to witness any of these. 

Information sources:

  • Carnaby. T. 2018. Beat About the Bush Exploring the Wild

Into the Tangled Bank

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by independent publisher Elliott and Thompson for review. These are my own honest opinions which have not been influenced by any means. 

The author, Lev Parikian, goes into depth on the exploration of British wildlife and that of naturalists and nature lovers, past and present. From looking into the wildlife which can be found in your own home, to stargazing into the expanse of the galaxy above British skies.

Throughout the book, not only is there great detail on the places that Lev visits, but also on the people that either inspired those trips, or the ones he finds along the way. People watching is a very common and hilarious theme throughout the book, as well as the totally serious, and not in any way sarcastic, activities of nature watching. 

This book could convince someone that lacks any interest in the outdoors to have a little peek outside to see what’s going on in the natural world. Even someone like myself, who has a degree in Natural History, will learn a lot about British nature in this book. The descriptions of the places Lev visited will pique many people’s interest to explore their own country, rather than always feeling like the only exciting places for wildlife are abroad. 

The detail of naturalists from the past, and the houses of those that he visited, such as Charles Darwin’s house in Kent inspire a sense of curiosity. The words and language used to describe these places invokes a feeling that you have to visit for yourself one day. 

The way Lev talks about himself is not only hilarious and can evoke an eruptive laugh from even the most serious of readers, but his character is so relatable through his words. Throughout the book, some readers could be convinced that they are almost an exact copy of Lev. From the interest in wildlife, to learning to sketch and having a curious eye for the natural world, it is almost like reading about myself.  

Lev has a way of looking at people and how we all connect with nature in modern times. Some are avid and enthusiastic naturalists or wannabe naturalists, and there are others who couldn’t care at all. Some may just be in nature because they were walking the dog anyway, whilst others might have been looking for a specific beastie. It’s interesting to read just how different everyone’s experience with nature is. Some peoples’ interest in nature may even be confined to their sofas on a Sunday night when the latest nature documentary is on. Lev discusses how these TV programmes may influence an expectation of the natural world that simply couldn’t be met by just going outside. He also wonders whether it could make people believe that the only interesting acts in nature only occur in some far flung place on the other side of the world. 

My only negative comment is that the book contains a lot of footnotes. This somewhat disrupts the flow of reading for me personally; however, they add such important information and give Lev even more personality through his writing. This book is just so good in every other way, that this point can be easily overlooked for the priceless knowledge gained. 

A true, heart-warming and hilarious look into what British nature has to offer. I would absolutely recommend this book for any nature lover, whether new to nature, or a very experienced naturalist. It may also suit anyone who wants to experience nature from the safety of their home or garden. This book is so well written that the imagination goes wild trying to picture all of the things and places that Lev has experienced throughout. Without a doubt, this book is one of the most entertaining pieces of writing I’ve read for a long time.

To purchase this book for yourself, use the link here. By using this link, you help me out too, it doesn’t cost you any extra, but I will earn a small commission when you purchase through this link:

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

Colouration in Animals

Colouration in animals is determined by one factor, and that is not being seen. A prey animal wants to be able to hide from a predator so that it doesn’t become lunch, and a predator wants to be able to hide so that it can successfully catch its lunch. This “hiding” in form of colouration is also known as camouflage. 

Camouflage is used to avoid detection and it involves the skin, fur or feathers which incorporate the use of colours or patterns to blend in with the surroundings. As I said before, prey species use camouflage to aid their chances of survival by making it harder for predators to detect them. Predators use camouflage to avoid detection by prey to be able to hunt more successfully. 

There are four different types of camouflage and they are:

  • Concealing colouration – this is where the body colour is the same as the environment, usually the vegetation or ground. This is the most common type of camouflage. For example, a lion Panthera leo
  • Counter-shading – this is fairly similar to concealing colouration, but the back and belly are different colours. This is used for concealment from above or below. The dark ground matches the back when the animal is viewed from above. The belly is light coloured to match the sky when viewed from below. 
    • This type of shading can ‘flatten’ the animal, giving it a 2D appearance which makes it harder to see. A good example of a land animal with counter shading is an impala
    • This type of camouflage is fairly common in sea dwelling creatures.
  • Disruptive colouration – this uses spots, stripes or other patterns. It is used to ‘break up’ the body outline so that it blends into the background. The overall shape is therefore disguised and appears all but invisible to other animals
    • Most mammals only have black and white vision, which relies on movement and shape.
    • Examples include kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, leopard Panthera pardus, bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus, zebra Equus zebra zebra, E. z hartmannae, E. quagga and serval Leptailurus serval. There are many more examples all over the world, however these are just a few African examples for this type of camouflage. 
  • Disguise – this can be easily confused with concealing colouration, however, as well as the colour of the animal blending in with the environment, the body shape is made to look like something non-living in its environment also. This is mostly used in insects, such as stick and leaf insects. 

So, as you can see, camouflage is very important to animals. But now let’s look at when colouration gets it wrong. Colour in animals is determined before the animal is born and is controlled by a gene. There are many thousands, maybe millions of genes that will determine how animals look and behave. It is the same in both you and me. We have two types of genes that will determine whether a specific trait is shown: dominant or recessive genes. A trait is the physical feature shown, such as hair or eye colour in humans. The specific trait genes are known as alleles.  Here are a couple of tables to show how recessive and dominant genes work:

Both parents have brown eyes. B – dominant brown eye allele, b – recessive blue eye allele. BB – brown eyes, Bb – brown eyes, bb – blue eyes

So here in this basic diagram, it shows that both the parents have brown eyes but carry the blue eye gene. The dominant gene is brown eyes, however there is a ¼ chance that the child will have blue eyes. 

One parent has blue eyes, the other has brown eyes. B – dominant brown eye allele, b – recessive blue eye allele, Bb – brown eyes, bb – blue eyes

The second table shows that one parent has brown eyes and the other parent has blue eyes. Brown remains the dominant gene, but as the parent with brown eyes still carries the blue eye gene, there is now a 2/4 chance that the child will have blue eyes.

Now back to discussing colouration in animals; there is an abnormality in animals which is caused by a recessive gene. The gene affected is responsible for the amount of melanin that is produced. Melanin determines how much dark pigment is produced and a defect to this can cause animals to be significantly lighter or darker than usual. Too much melanin will cause the animal to be dark and is called ‘melanistic’ colouring. A common example of this is a black jaguar Panthera once (which is often referred to as a black panther). Too little melanin causes a very light (often white) colouration of the animal, and it is termed ‘leucistic’. A good example of this would be white lions Panthera leo or tigers Panthera tigris. Both of these colourations can make it very difficult for animals to blend into their surroundings and in the wild they often won’t survive their infancy as it’s a lot easier for predators to find them. This then means that over time, through natural selection, the abnormal “recessive” gene trait will die out. However, there is an example in the wild of animals showing an abnormal colouration and surviving. These are the white lions of the Timbavati Region in Kruger National Park, South Africa. http://timbavati.krugerpark.co.za/Timbavati_Travel_Guide-travel/timbavati-wildlife.html Click or copy this link to read about the white lions of the Timbavati. 

It’s easy to confuse Leucistic animals with albino animals, but they are in fact different. The leucistic trait only affects the colour of the fur. Albinism affects the pigment of the eyes as well as the fur, such that Albino animals will usually have red eyes or very pale irises. 

Information resources:

Introduction to the Blog

Mini Wild Mol has been created by me, Molly Boyd, with the intent to enlighten the world about subjects I enjoy. The main subject of this blog will be wildlife (hence the “wild” in the blog name). This will include species profiles and also topics of interest. I hope that I can educate people, and spark passion about wildlife and the natural world. I may also include topics on minimalism (hence the “mini” in the title. In no way is this an indication of my rather small stature). When I say wildlife, I mean mostly African wildlife, because this is my most travelled continent, and I have gained a fairly large knowledge base on this area of the world. I will also look into other species in other areas of the world that hopefully one day I will get to see for myself.   

Why have I chosen these topics and what qualifies me to talk about them you might be thinking? 

Well the wildlife topic is my most qualified subject. In July 2019, I graduated from the University of South Wales with a 2:1 in a BSc (Hons) Natural History degree. This has given me a very broad range of knowledge on the way the wild world works. As well as this, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Africa 8 times since 2014. Over these trips I have gained vast knowledge about the wildlife that resides in this awe-inspiring place, gained from field guides and a lot of wildlife books. I hope to be able to travel to other wild areas of the world in the future such as Asia and The Amazon Rainforest. My two favourite animals are leopards and hornbills (this includes all species of hornbill). 

Minimalism came into my life around January 2017. I am still very much new to the idea of living with less and consuming less. In no way would I consider myself an expert, but things that I have heard and read have resonated with me. Now that I am trying to live my life this way, I feel other people may benefit from the things I’ve learned and the mistakes that I may make along the way so that the same doesn’t happen to them. At least no one needs to feel bad for making “mistakes” with minimalism if they see that someone online does too. I have found that travelling with less makes the experience a whole lot less stressful though, so I will try and provide some tips for this especially.

My plan with this blog is to post once a week at first to get a feel for the work and to be able to create some quality content for my readers. As minimalism has shown me, it’s quality not quantity that counts and I hope that it shows through the progress of this blog. 

I also have some experience in photography, mostly wildlife and pets, and so I’m hoping to pretty this page up as some old photos are prettied up ready for sharing. 

An additional section to my wildlife blog

As well as producing blog posts on wildlife topics and animal fact files, I am going to have a section dedicated to nature book reviews. These books will include all forms of Natural History writing, whether a story-like book or field guide. If the books are in my growing collection, I will post about them in this section. The first book review will be out around the 9th of July, as this is the official release date from the publishing company for the book I am writing about.