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What Are Herbivores? - Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 Overview of Herbivores
  • 0:55 Physical Adaptations…
  • 3:20 Behavioral Adaptations…
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

In nature, there are many different types of diets for animals. This lesson will focus on the unique characteristics of herbivores, and will include physical and behavioral adaptations of herbivores.

Overview of Herbivores

Plants are found in every habitat, and often come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Due to their abundance, plants are the most readily available source of food on Earth. While plants may only be one part of your daily diet as a human, plants are the only food that some animals consume. Animals that have a diet composed entirely of plants are known as herbivores.

Even though all herbivores eat only plants, the diets of different herbivore species vary a great deal. Some herbivores are selective and only consume part of the plant, such as the fruit, leaves, nectar, seeds, sap, roots, or bark. Other herbivores are less selective and consume multiple plant components. Commonly recognized herbivores include deer, rabbits, cows, sheep, goats, elephants, giraffes, horses, and pandas.

Physical Adaptations of Herbivores

Herbivores have developed several physical adaptations that better enable them to survive and thrive as plant eaters. One major physical adaptation is the unique design of the herbivore's head, including its eyes, ears, and teeth. Most herbivores have eyes located on the side of their head. This adaptation makes it possible for herbivores to have a wider field of vision. Due to their eye placement, these animals can see almost all the way around their bodies without moving their heads.

Why would these animals want to have such a wide field of vision? Many herbivores are prey for carnivores, meat-eating animals, and their visual adaptation makes it possible for them to notice a predator before being attacked, and, hopefully, escape unharmed.

Due to their role in the food chain, the sequence of who eats whom in an environment, herbivores have also developed well-designed ears to avoid predation. The ears of many herbivores are large, which increases the volume of the sounds they hear and makes it possible for herbivores to hear the otherwise low volume noises of an approaching predator. With eyes on the sides of their heads and large ears, herbivores increase their chances of avoiding predation and surviving to graze another day.

Herbivores also have specially designed teeth for their diet of plants. Although all carnivores have incisors and canines for tearing and cutting, only a few herbivores, such as rabbits and beavers, have these teeth. The herbivores that have these types of teeth need them because they eat tough plants and trees and need the sharp teeth to help them cut the plants. Most herbivores do not have incisors and canines because they use their lips to rip plant materials instead. The average herbivore mouth is full of molars, which are flat and round teeth. These teeth are designed to grind up plant materials into smaller pieces so that the herbivore can more easily digest the material they consume.

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