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Definition: herbivore from The Penguin Dictionary of Science

An animal that feeds exclusively on plants. Herbivores are the primary consumers in ➤food chains. Compare ➤carnivore; omnivore.

Summary Article: herbivore
From Philip's Encyclopedia

Animal that feeds solely on plants. The term is most often applied to mammals, especially ruminants. Herbivores are characterized by broad molars and blunt-edged teeth, which they use to pull, cut, and grind their food. Their digestive systems are adapted to digest cellulose. See also rodent


Mammalian herbivores may conveniently share a habitat without competing for resources. On the African plains, giraffes (1) browse in branches up to 6m (20ft) above the ground. Elephants (2) also browse in tree canopies, using their trunks to pluck off vegetation. Eland (3) attack the middle branches with their horns, twisting twigs to break them off, while gerenuk (4) stand on their hind legs to reach higher branches. The black rhino (5) uses its hook-like upper lip to feed on bark, twigs, and leaves (white rhinos have lengthened skulls and broad lips for grazing the short grasses that they favour). The wart hog (6) and dik-dik (7) eat buds and flowers, and will also dig up roots and tubers. Such sharing of resources also occurs among grazers. Migrating zebra (8) crop the taller, coarse grasses; wildebeest (9) feed on the leafy centre layer, allowing small gazelles (10) to reach the tender new shoots.

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