Herbivory: Definition & Examples

Herbivory: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:01 Definition of Herbivory
  • 1:02 Adaptations for Herbivory
  • 3:36 Examples
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Herbivory is the act of eating plants or plant-like organisms and is a behavior found in herbivores. This lesson defines herbivory, gives examples of some herbivores, and looks at some adaptations seen in herbivores.

Definition of Herbivory

Herbivory sounds like a strange, plant-like disease. I can imagine hearing someone say in a doctor's waiting room, 'I caught a bad case of herbivory while I was mowing the grass.'

Although the term herbivory does have something to do with plants, it is not a disease. It is a term used to describe critters that are vegetarians. More specifically, herbivory is when animals eat plants or plant-like organisms, and a herbivore is a type of animal that eats plants or plant-like organisms. Carnivores, on the other hand, are animals that eat meat, and omnivores are animals that eat plants and meat. That's a lot of vocabulary!

In biology, many of the vocabulary words originate from Latin or Greek root words. For example, herb means 'plant,' carn means 'flesh,' and omni means 'all' in Latin. Can you think of other words that have these roots? Herbicides are things that kill plants; chili con carne is chili with flesh (meat), and if someone is omnipresent, they are 'always' present.

Adaptations for Herbivory

Eating plants requires special adaptations including different teeth, a different skull, and even a different stomach!

Teeth

Animals can have molars, premolars, canines, and incisors. The molars and premolars are in the back, the canines are the fang-type teeth seen in carnivores, and the incisors are the front teeth.

Herbivores have flat molars and premolars to grind up plants. Some herbivores have a diastema, or space between the back molars and front teeth, which is used to carry plant material. Herbivores usually do not have canine teeth, and incisors may be absent as well. If they do have incisors, they are used to break off plant material.

Look at this skull of a herbivore. Notice the flat molars and the space between the molars and the front teeth. The incisors on the top are not present, and the eyes are on the side of the skull.

Skull

Animals that practice herbivory are often prey to carnivores. To minimize the chance of being eaten, herbivores have eyes on the sides of their head allowing them to have a better view of what is around them. Carnivores have eyes facing forward, which allows them to have improved depth perception, improving their ability to catch prey.

Digestion

Eating and digesting plant material takes a lot of work, so animals that practice herbivory require a special digestive system.

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