A carnivore is an animal which eats only meat. Predators commonly hunt and kill their own prey. Scavengers are carnivores which eat animals they did not kill themselves. Carnivores which eat mainly or only insects are called insectivores. Carnivores which eat mainly or only fish are called piscivores.
The word "carnivore" describes more than just the scientific order Carnivora. However, almost all animals in the Carnivora do eat meat, though a few do not.
Obligate or "true" carnivores are those whose diet requires nutrients found only in animal flesh. While obligate carnivores might be able to ingest small amounts of plant matter, they lack the necessary physiology required to fully digest it. Some obligate carnivorous mammals will ingest vegetation as an emetic, to self-induce vomiting the food that upset its stomach.
Obligate carnivores are diverse. The amphibian axolotl consumes mainly worms and larvae in its environment, but if necessary will consume algae. All felids, including the domestic cat, require a diet of primarily animal flesh and organs. Specifically, cats have high protein requirements and their metabolisms appear unable to synthesize essential nutrients such as retinol, arginine, taurine, and arachidonic acid; thus, in nature, they must consume flesh to supply these nutrients.
Characteristics of carnivores
Characteristics commonly associated with carnivores include strength, speed, and keen senses for hunting, as well as teeth and claws for capturing and tearing prey. However, some carnivores do not hunt and are scavengers, lacking the physical characteristics to bring down prey; in addition, most hunting carnivores will scavenge when the opportunity arises. Carnivores have comparatively short digestive systems, as they are not required to break down the tough cellulose found in plants.
Many hunting animals have evolved eyes facing forward, enabling depth perception. This is almost universal among mammalian predators, while most reptile and amphibian predators have eyes facing sideways.
List of living carnivores
- All feliforms, such as domestic cats, big cats, hyenas, mongooses, civets
- Almost all caniforms, such as the dogs, wolves, foxes, ferrets, seals and walruses
- All cetaceans, such as dolphins, whales and porpoises
- All bats except fruitbats
- The carnivorous marsupials, such as the Tasmanian devil
- All birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles, falcons and owls
- All vultures, both old world and new
- Most waterfowl, such as gulls, penguins, pelicans, storks, and herons
- All crocodilians, such as alligators, crocodiles, gharials and caimans
- All snakes, such as cobras, vipers, pythons and boas
- Some lizards, such as most skinks and all monitor lizards
- Some turtles, including the snapping turtle and most sea turtles
- Fish and amphibians
- All frogs and toads
- Almost all sharks, such as tiger, great white, nurse and reef sharks
- Most teleosts, such as tuna, marlin, salmon, and bass
- Most crustaceans, such as the coconut crab are mainly omnivorous, but eat some prey and carrion
- Many molluscs, such as octopus and squid, and some gastropods
- All arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions
- Many insects, such as mantises, dragonflies and most wasps
- All jellyfish and sea stars
Images for kids
Lions are obligate carnivores consuming only animal flesh for their nutritional requirements
Carnivore Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.