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Four Main Feeding Mechanisms Of Animals

The most important daily activity that animals go through to stay alive is the gathering of food. Food represents the fuel that organisms used to carry out movement, respiration, reproduction, and growth. There is a wide range of techniques that animals use to get food, and I wanted to write this article on the four main feeding mechanisms that animals use.

  • Filter feeders strain suspended food particles from large amounts of water.
  • Substrate feeders live on or in their food.
  • Fluid feeders consume the fluid of another organism to get nutrients to survive.
  • Bulk feeders eat large pieces of food, usually from the source.

To find out more about each of these ways of feeding, please read on.

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Filter Feeding

Many marine mammals are filter feeders. Filter feeders, or suspension feeders, strain suspended food particles and small organisms from vast amounts of water. They pass the water over a filtering structure.

A variety of animals use filter-feeding to acquire food, and these animals come from several different phyla. Fish, crustaceans, bivalves, sponges, jellyfish, worms, and tunicates all use methods of filter-feeding. These animals range from the microscopic all the way to the largest animal that has ever lived on the planet, the blue whale.

Different animals have their own mechanics for capturing food. Jellyfish, for example, create currents with their swimming legs that direct the water through hair-covered appendages. The hairs filter out the food particles.

Scallops, mussels, and clams are bivalves that siphon the water through body parts into gills, which use a combination of physical filtration and mucus to capture particles.

Baby whale with Baleen

Sea cucumbers and polychaete worms have appendages that capture particles that are drifting by in the current.

A prime example of large animals that filter feed is baleen whales. The blue whale, humpback whale, and minke whale have plates called baleen. As large amounts of water are taken in, the comblike baleen filters out fish, krill, and small invertebrates. The whales then use their tongues to move the food down to their stomach.

Filter feeders normally live with other types of filter feeders and share the food available by specializing in different size ranges proportional to their own size.

Filter feeders extract different types of food from the water, including seston, zooplankton, and small fish. Smaller animals such as crustaceans and worms eat smaller food particles than larger animals such as whales.

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If the food produced in the ecosystem runs out, then sessile life will run out of food.

Without filter feeders, there would be a major gap in marine ecosystems as they play a major role in cycling energy. As they clear particles from the water, the removal of filter feeders by pollution or fishing can entirely change the look of huge swathes of the ocean. Without filter feeders, the water can get deoxygenated due to the increase in phytoplankton and zooplankton, causing the water to become murkier and dirtier.

Filter feeders are essential to remove particles from the water, converting them into energy and body tissue, which then becomes food for other organisms. Without filter feeders, many marine ecosystems would cease to function.

Do you know why mammals are so dull in color?  Find out in this article I wrote

Substrate Feeding

Substrate feeders live on or in their food source. Substrate feeders eat their way through their food. Some examples of substrate feeders are earthworms and caterpillars.

Earthworms are deposit feeders and survive on dead vegetation. As worms do not possess teeth or jaws, they cannot bite through anything hard. Earthworms survive on small particles which are sucked into their mouth. Small, decaying leaves, grassroots and cuttings, and decaying roots can be found in soil.

Earthworms get a lot of their nourishment by sucking in soil and digesting the organic particles it contains. Worms can eat up to 30 percent of their own weight in a day using substrate feeding.

Worms can also grab dead leaves, which they pull down into their holes using suction. They do not eat them straight away but leave them to rot, sped up by the worm spreading their digestive juices.

Caterpillars that live on leaves will eat through the leaves as they travel, leaving a trail of feces behind. Termites are another type of substrate feeder, as they can be found eating through wood.

Fluid Feeding

If a mosquito has ever bitten you, you may have some idea of what fluid feeding is. Fluid feeders consume the fluid of another organism to get nutrients to survive.

Fluid feeders can feed on many fluids, such as nectar, blood, fruit juice, and rotten fruit, honeydew, and sap flow.

Most fluid-feeding insects have mouthparts that consist of a proboscis to suck the organism’s fluids and mandibles to pierce through the skin. Others have a proboscis that can pierce and suck. Once the insect has pierced the skin, the proboscis will then use a sucking or lapping motion to extract nutrients. The fluid is ingested into the food canal.

Some of the most despised animals use fluid feeding to obtain their food and turn it into energy. The energy is used for reproduction, movement, and growth. Mosquitos, vampire bats, leeches, ticks, and spiders all use methods of fluid feeding.

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Calliope hummingbird

However, not all fluid feeders feed on the blood of other animals. Butterflies drink nectar from flowers through straw-like tongues.

Hummingbirds are also classed as fluid feeders as they drink the nectar out of flowers. Hummingbirds use their long beaks for drinking the nectar out of flowers. As the nectar is liquid, the hummingbird’s tongue traps liquid by changing shape as it moves in and out of the nectar. This is different from insects that use their proboscis to suck the liquid out of organisms.

Bulk Feeding

The vast majority of animals are classed as bulk feeders. Bulk feeders eat large pieces of food, usually from the source. Some examples of bulk feeders are humans, cows, snakes, and most bird species. In fact, almost all animals over a few inches in size are bulk feeders.

By eating all of its prey, the maximum amount of nutrients are ingested. Food can be swallowed whole or in pieces by chewing and swallowing. During digestion, the food is broken down into smaller particles, and the nutrients are extracted.

Some animals that are bulk feeders engage in group feeding, such as wolves. Hunting in groups allows them to find food faster as they minimize their search area and time. By hunting in groups, also reduces the risk of predation while also increasing the efficiency of capturing their prey.

It is not only terrestrial mammals that can hunt in groups. Dolphins will herd fish near the shore before splashing them out of the water. Gray whales use a method called bubble-net feeding to trap large amounts of fish. They work in groups to create a circle of bubbles, which traps the fish in the middle. The bubble-net confuses the fish, which then swim to the surface. The whales will then catch them all in their mouth.

In the Sonora desert, groups of Harris Hawks will work together to hunt rabbits and cottontails. One bird will stay on a tree, while another will fly down to catch its prey. If it escapes, the hawk on the tree will fly down to try to catch it.

Animals that are bulk feeders use many different methods to catch their prey. These include stalking and chasing their prey.

Have you ever wondered how insects eat?  Find out in this article I wrote.