August 14, 2015
At Alexandria Zoo, our staff works hard to make sure the animals eat well, and are receiving the proper nutrients to keep them healthy and fit. Like people, animals eat many different kinds of food. To help keep track of different animals’ diets, each animal can be grouped by the different foods it eats.
Animals that eat meat as part or all of their diet are called carnivores. Adapted for this specialized feeding, all carnivores have canine teeth for tearing flesh, and a pair of carnassial teeth for shearing meat. They also have a very simple digestive tract for dealing with a simple meat-based diet of protein and fat.
In Africa, the preferred prey of the lion is wildebeest, impala, zebras, buffalo and warthogs. Faster and more agile than the males, lionesses do most of the hunting for their family group called a pride. Members of the pride often catch and ambush their prey by herding a prey animal towards other lions hidden in the bush.
Because most prey animals have good defense systems to help them avoid predators, many carnivores in the wild, including lions, usually do not have an opportunity to eat everyday. When they find food, they eat as much as they can, because they may go for many days before eating again. Lions are able to digest their food quickly, which allows them to gorge themselves when they do catch prey.
Herbivores are animals that only eat vegetation. These animals have teeth adapted for chewing plants. Their big molars are designed to help them grind up leaves, seeds and twigs. Unlike carnivores that have to work hard to catch their prey, herbivores often are able to find plants easily. However, these plants are sometimes low in the nutrients the animals need to grow and stay healthy, causing some herbivores to spend a lot of their time grazing and browsing to get the nutrients they need!
Some herbivores have digestive systems to help them get the most out of the plants they eat. Animals like the white-tailed deer have a special stomach called a rumen where microorganisms break down cellulose. The deer swallow their food and then regurgitate it and chew on it again to break down the cellulose in the plant. Once the cellulose is broken down, the food returns to the stomach where it is digested.
An omnivore is a kind of animal that eats both animals and plants. Some omnivores will hunt and eat their food, and others will eat carrion. Omnivores also eat plants, but not all kinds of plants. Unlike herbivores, omnivores can't digest some of the substances in grains or other plants that do not produce fruit, but they can eat fruits and vegetables.
The maned wolf, native to central and eastern South America, is also an omnivore.
Easily identified by its long dark legs, reddish-brown hair, and very large ears, this magnificent animal has some interesting habits, including a largely frugivorous diet. The extremes of temperature and frequent drought of its native habitat make availability of prey very unreliable. In addition to eating small to medium-sized mammals and birds, the maned wolf also eats vegetation, including fruit, sugarcane, and other plants.
Whether a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore, each animal helps keep its ecosystem in balance. By catching prey, carnivores help maintain communities by controlling populations, and herbivores deposit the seeds they have consumed and promote future plant growth.