Ten Mammals That Are Herbivores


Herbivores are animals that derive energy and nutrients solely from plant material. The main components of a herbivore diet come from foliage or marine algae.

These animals are well adapted to a diet of plants and tend to have evolved specialized mouths for grasping and grinding food.

Herbivores live on both land and in water. Mammals in the marine world typically feed on algae or phytoplankton. 

There are two types of terrestrial herbivores. Mammals that feed on plants and grasses that are near the ground are referred to as grazers. 

Fallow Deer

Mammals that prefer to eat shoots, leaves and twigs from larger plants or trees are known as browsers. However, some large mammals like the moose can be both a browser and grazer.

Some herbivores have to consume a lot of food to get all the nutrients they require from plant material. This is because they are not able to digest all the parts of the plants they eat.

If you would like to know more about how the stomach of an ungulate works, I have written an article which you can find here.

Moose

The moose is one of the largest herbivores in North America. They have large molars and premolars for chewing and gnawing their food. The moose eats a large variety of terrestrial vegetation. 

Moose
Moose

The moose is a good swimmer. While in the water, they will also look for food. The moose feeds on aquatic plants for the nutrients they contain. Some of these plants contain sodium, which is a mineral often lacking from terrestrial plants.

The diet of a moose consists of twigs, barks, shoots, and roots of woody vegetation. However, they have a preference for willows and aspens. They also like to eat new growths from deciduous trees because these have a high content of sugar.

Moose eat plenty of aquatic plants such as pondweeds, horsetails, and water lilies. This massive mammal is equipped with long legs to wade through deep waters with ease when foraging for food. Their height also allows them to reach out to the high shrubs and grasses.

Moose

The moose has a sensitive upper lip that it uses to distinguish the various types of shoots and twigs. This prehensile lip comes in handy when grasping, pulling, and stripping branches.

If you would like more information on moose, I have written a complete guide here.

Fruit Bats

Fruit bats are herbivores and fruit makes up a large portion of their diet. Fruit bats eat a range of fruit, including dates, avocados, mangos, bananas, and most others. It has been noted that although they will eat unripe fruit and fruit that has insects in, they try to avoid brightly colored fruit with a strong smell.

Fruit bats use their teeth to get into the fruit and will drink the juice and eat the pulp. They also consume the nectar from inside. 

Fruit bats have very good eyesight and use their sights and a keen sense of smell to find food. Fruit bats typically live in warmer climates where fruit grows throughout the year. They are excellent at pollinating the fruit into other places.

They spit the seeds out, allowing these a change to grow elsewhere. Pollen also gets caught in their fur, cross-pollinating other flowers.

I have written an article on ten mammals that are omnivores which you can find here.

White-tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is a herbivore native to North America. Similar to other herbivorous mammals, this species of deer consumes a wide range of plants and fruits. 

The white-tailed deer spends all day feeding and can consume considerable amounts of food. The major component of its diet consists of legumes. Other staples include shoots, leaves, prairie forbs, grasses, acorns, corn, and fruit.

The diet of the white-tailed deer is not constant throughout the year. Their diet changes with each season because food availability is not consistent in the wild. The deer will eat whatever is available to them. 

White-tailed Deer

During the winter season, the deer will find that food is hard to find. The deer will mostly feed on shoots, buds, and bark in this season. In the warm months, nuts, corn, acorns, and green vegetation are more appealing and abundant.

The white-tailed deer has a complex and developed stomach that they can eat poisonous plants. A white-tailed deer will eat acorns and oak leaves, which have very amounts of tannin.

When the oak is still young, the deer will only consume small amounts. White-tailed deer have a stomach capable of processing these types of foods without any harm.

The white-tailed deer is a ruminant, which means they have a stomach with four chambers. Each chamber has its specific function to aid in digestion.

The deer can eat different kinds of food and digest them all gradually, making the most out of the plant material it consumes.

American Wood Bison

The American wood bison is another large mammal that is strictly an herbivore. Although it was initially believed this animal grazes exclusively on grasses and sedges, it feeds on many other edible plants. 

Wood Bison
Wood Bison

The bison moves from place to place while grazing. Their routine involves grazing for two-hour periods, resting, and then chewing the cud.

Bison prefer to feed more in the morning and evenings. During the day, they spend time resting and chewing the cud.

The staples in the diet of a bison include willows, aspens, blackberry, ash, and mistletoe. They can also consume ferns, lichens, mosses, mushrooms, and acorns.

The bison will choose plants depending on which ones have the highest concentration of energy or proteins that it requires.

Wood Bison
Wood Bison

This huge mammal usually has an easier time looking for food in the winter season than most other mammals.

This is because the bison has a massive head that they use to disperse snow and look for food. Although the bison tends to eat the same plant species throughout the year, in winter, this may change. 

If you would like more information on bison, I have written a complete guide here.

Caribou

The caribou mainly feeds on lichen. The lichen they eat is referred to as caribou moss. The moss is a significant component of their diet and gives this mammal an advantage over its counterparts, especially during the harsh conditions. 

Woodland caribou

Other staples in the caribou’s diet include sedges, birch, leaves, grasses, mosses, leaves, and twigs. They particularly like to eat leaves or shoots from birch and willow trees.

The caribou is a ruminant and has a four-chambered stomach. For this reason, they spend time chewing the cud. The caribou consumes large quantities of vegetation, which helps them gain enough weight to take them through the harsh winter conditions. 

During winter, caribous feed a lot on lichen because it is abundant and readily available.

As well as having a ruminant stomach, the caribou has another useful and unique adaptation. Caribou have the enzyme lichenase in their bodies. This enzyme enables them to digest the rough lichens and release energy and glucose quickly. 

Caribou
A caribou wanders across the Tundra in Canada’s far north.

West Indian Manatee

The West Indian manatee is a marine mammal that feeds exclusively on aquatic vegetation. This makes it a herbivore. It consumes submerged, emergent, shoreline, and floating vegetation.

The West Indian manatee has a diverse diet and is known to feed on over sixty species of plants. Some of the aquatic plants in its diet include shoal grass, water hyacinth, turtle grass, algae, manatee grass, hydrilla, cordgrass, and eelgrass.

The West Indian manatee spends about 5 hours grazing on various marine vegetation. Manatees consume large amounts of food, going up to 150 pounds in a single day.

This marine mammal has well-developed flippers that they can use when digging up plants.  

Manatees have a divided, flexible upper lip to graze on and manipulate leaves from plants. They also have a ridged pad on the roof of the mouth to aid in breaking vegetation into small pieces.

Manatee

This manatee does not have a ruminant stomach. Instead, they have a hindgut fermenter that works to digest and extract nutrients from their plant-based diet.

The hindgut also helps to digest cellulose, which is found in high levels of the manatee’s diet.

For 101 facts on manatees I have written this article.

Mountain Goat

Mountain goats are herbivores that spend plenty of time grazing. Their feeding habits vary according to the seasons. In the summer, they mainly feed on grasses and forbs. During the winter season, their diet consists of conifers, which tend to remain green.

Mountain goat

The staples in the diet of a mountain goat include ferns, sedges, mosses, lichens, herbs and twigs or leaves from low-growing vegetation.

The stomach of the mountain goat is ruminant, and the goat will spend time to chew the cud. This is a mechanism that helps the mountain goat derive the required nutrients and energy from the plant material they consume. 

Elk

The elk is an herbivore feeding entirely on plant material. Apart from the moose, the elk is one of the largest herbivorous mammals in North America. They are primarily grazers, tending to feed on ground vegetation.

An elk’s diet consists of wild mushrooms, ferns, legumes, and forbs. Other staples include willows, vine maple, aspen, cottonwood, and rocky mountain maple. Elk prefers to feed mostly in the mornings and evenings. The daytime is spent resting and taking time to digest their food properly. 

The elk has a four-chambered stomach that is capable of holding at least 15 pounds of vegetation at a time. They typically graze, swallow the plant material, and later while resting, will regurgitate it to chew it again. This allows them to get all the nutrients out of it.

Beaver

The beaver is an herbivore that feeds strictly on vegetation. Although beavers are known to do damage to woodlands and forests, the dams and the subsequent ponds that they create become homes to new plants and wildlife.  

Beaver

Beavers have a specialized digestive system. Their intestines have lots of microorganisms that can digest up to 30% of the cellulose from the bark and wood that they eat.  

Beavers will eat the bark from hardwood trees such as willow, cottonwood, alder, aspen, and birch.  Beavers will also eat twigs, roots, and leaves from aspen and willow.

Beavers are one of the mammals that will eat all kinds of water plants to get their nutrients. Although beavers are known to gnaw through trees, they do not eat the wood. They eat cambium, which can be found close to the surface where the bark is.

Beavers also eat fruit such as apples, along with tubers from water-lilies and clover.  

A beavers diet changes through the seasons, with their favorite foods only available in spring. When the cold winter season hits, beavers are more likely to eat shrubs, branches, and saplings that are underwater.  

Have you ever wondered if beavers are good for the environment, or if all of their gnawing images their habitat. I have written an article, which you can find here that you may find surprising.

Rabbit

Rabbits are herbivores, whether kept at home as pets, or in the wild. Rabbits mainly eat grass in the wild. As there is not much nutrition in the grass, they need to eat a lot of it to survive. The grass is good for their digestive systems as it acts as a roughage for them.  

Photo of rabbits

Rabbits will also eat weeds, shrubs, leaves, and clover. Rabbits prefer to eat fresh food and will try to eat the part of the plant with the highest nitrogen content first.  

Due to the rabbit being a prey animal, they will eat whatever they can eat quickly and easily. A rabbit will move on quickly from something that takes its time to tear.

During the winter seasons, rabbits will eat dead, dried plants, although they will still try to eat live green plants first. With areas with lots of snowfall, rabbits will eat twigs, pine needs, and bark, with the bark from apple trees being their favorite.

Rabbits have good eyesore, but if you would like more information on just how well they can see, I have written an article which you can find here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

Recent Content