Scavenger Animals: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is a Scavenger?
  • 0:20 Opportunities to Scavenge
  • 1:40 Examples of Scavengers
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Do you eat leftovers? Many other animals do too. And many of these animals are scavengers. Find out what a scavenger animal is and some cool examples of these animals.

What Is a Scavenger?

Leftovers, Mother Nature style. What are those? They're the rotting bodies of dead animals or the decomposing remains of plant material. And in the same way most of us like to munch on leftovers, so do animals.

Opportunities to Scavenge

The animals who eat dead and decaying plant or animal material are called scavengers. The remains of hunted animals are one type of opportunity for a scavenger animal to eat. Imagine a pride of lions chase down a zebra. The lions then eat their fill and move on. Some jackals come in and finish off whatever the lions left behind. Those would be scavenger animals.

But leftovers aren't the only things scavenger animals eat. Imagine another scenario. Let's say that a deer was hit by a car. Or perhaps it just died of natural causes. The next morning, you may see scavenger animals picking the deer apart. Technically, this poor deer wasn't a predator's leftover meal, but an animal or plant that was killed from some other factor, like accident or disease.

There is an important little asterisk to all of this, though. An animal that isn't typically characterized as a scavenger still may scavenge. For instance, a hungry lion may eat an already-dead animal even though we tend to think of lions as animals who kill other living animals only.

On the flip side, animals sometimes thought of as scavengers may actually hunt live prey to meet their dietary needs. A good example of this is the spotted hyena, which commonly scavenges for food when alone but also hunts live prey at night with other hyenas.

Examples of Scavengers

But we're not going to get confused by all of that. Let's focus, instead, on animals that are seen as being mainly scavengers. Perhaps the most famous example is the vulture. The term vulture actually refers to many different species of carrion-eating birds. Carrion is a term for rotting flesh. Many of these species are well-adapted to their scavenging lifestyle. For instance, you may have seen how vultures have bald heads. This ensures their feathers don't get matted with rotting and stinking flesh, blood, and the potentially deadly bacteria that come with it.

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