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 plants’ diets and tend to have evolved specialized mouths for grasping and grinding food.
Herbivores live on both lands 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 near the ground are referred to as grazers.
Mammals that prefer to eat shoots, leaves and twigs from larger plants or trees are known as browsers. However, large mammals, like moose, can be both a browser and grazers.
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.
The moose is one of the giant 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.
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, a mineral often lacking in terrestrial plants.
A moose’s diet 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 they have high sugar content.
Moose eat many aquatic plants, such as pondweeds, horsetails, and water lilies. This massive mammal is equipped with long legs to wade through deep waters easily when foraging for food. Their height allows them to reach the high shrubs and grasses.
The moose has a sensitive upper lip used to distinguish the various types of shoots and twigs. This prehensile lip is handy when grasping, pulling, and stripping branches.
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 others. It has been noted that although they will eat unripe fruit with insects, they try to avoid brightly colored fruit with a pungent smell.
Fruit bats use their teeth to get into the fruit, drink juice, and eat the pulp. They also consume the nectar from the inside.
Fruit bats have excellent eyesight and use their sight and 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 chance to grow elsewhere. Pollen also gets caught in their fur, cross-pollinating other flowers.
The white-tailed deer is a herbivore native to North America. Like other herbivorous mammals, this species of deer consumes a wide range of plants and fruits.
The white-tailed deer spends all day feeding and consuming considerable 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 each season because food availability is inconsistent in the wild. The deer will eat whatever is available to them.
During the winter, the deer will find food hard to find. The deer will mainly feed on shoots, buds, and bark 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 can eat poisonous plants. A white-tailed deer will eat acorns and oak leaves with lots of tannins.
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 food and gradually digest it, making the most 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.
The bison moves from place to place while grazing. Their routine involves feeding for two hours, resting, and 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 a bison diet include willows, aspens, blackberries, 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 energy concentration or proteins required.
This considerable mammal usually looks for food in winter more quickly than most other mammals.
The bison has a massive head to disperse snow and look for food. Although the bison tends to eat the same plant species throughout the year, this may change in winter.
The caribou mainly feed 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 harsh conditions.
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 consume 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 valuable 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.
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 plant species. Some 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, up to 150 pounds, daily.
This marine mammal has well-developed flippers they can use when digging 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.
This manatee does not have a ruminant stomach. Instead, they have a hindgut fermenter 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.
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, their diet consists of conifers, which tend to remain green.
A mountain goat’s diet includes 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 chewing the cud. This mechanism helps the mountain goat derive the required nutrients and energy from the plant material they consume.
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 prefer to feed mainly in the mornings and evenings. The daytime is spent resting and taking time to digest their food correctly.
The elk has a four-chambered stomach capable of holding at least 15 pounds of vegetation. 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.
The beaver is an herbivore that feeds strictly on vegetation. Although beavers are known to damage woodlands and forests, the dams and the subsequent ponds they create become homes to new plants and wildlife.
Beavers have a specialized digestive system. Their intestines have many microorganisms that can digest up to 30% of the cellulose from the bark and wood they eat.
Beavers will eat the bark from hardwood trees such as willow, cottonwood, alder, aspen, and birch. Beavers eat twigs, roots, and leaves from aspen and willow.
Beavers are 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 near the bark’s surface.
Beavers also eat fruit such as apples and tubers from water-lilies and clover.
A beaver’s 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 underwater.
Rabbits are herbivores 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 to survive. The grass is suitable for their digestive systems as it acts as roughage for them.
Rabbits will also eat weeds, shrubs, leaves, and clover. Rabbits prefer to eat fresh food and try to eat the part with the highest nitrogen content first.
Due to rabbits being prey animals, they will eat whatever they can quickly and easily. A rabbit will move on quickly from something that takes time to tear.
During the winter, rabbits will eat dead, dried plants, although they will still eat live green plants first. With lots of snowfall areas, rabbits will eat twigs, pine seeds, and bark, with the bark from apple trees being their favorite.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.