Herbivorous animals characteristics, types, examples

Robert Johnston

The herbivorous animals They are those that feed exclusively on plants. It includes both species that consume only the leaves of herbs and grasses, and those that feed only on fruits and seeds..

Examples of herbivores are cows, giraffes, horses, rabbits, pandas, rhinos, deer, zebras, koalas, gazelles, goats, grasshoppers, gorillas, manatees, among many others..

In nature, herbivorous animal species are much more abundant than carnivorous and omnivorous ones. This is due to the fact that plants are among the most abundant living things on earth, so the shortage of food resources for herbivores is not usually a problem..

Article index

  • 1 What are herbivorous animals like and what do they eat?
  • 2 Characteristics of herbivorous animals
    • 2.1 The denture
    • 2.2 Digestive system
  • 3 Types of herbivorous animals
  • 4 Examples of herbivorous animals
    • 4.1 The rabbit
    • 4.2 The cow
    • 4.3 The horse
    • 4.4 Termites
    • 4.5 The goat
    • 4.6 The koala
    • 4.7 The kangaroo
    • 4.8 The rhino
    • 4.9 The panda bear
    • 4.10 The red panda
    • 4.11 The zebra
    • 4.12 The camel
    • 4.13 The elephant
    • 4.14 The hippo
    • 4.15 The giraffe
    • 4.16 The gorilla
    • 4.17 Other herbivorous animals
  • 5 References

What are herbivorous animals like and what do they eat?

A gazelle, a herbivorous animal

Herbivores are usually elusive, passive and not very aggressive animals, which spend most of their lives grazing and digesting the food they eat.

All herbivores have a highly specialized digestive system for the digestion and absorption of nutrients derived from the plant tissues they consume. In the same way, carnivores and omnivores have digestive systems adapted to each of their particular diets..

Because the nutritional content of vegetables is usually relatively low, herbivores must consume large amounts of plants, herbs, grains, seeds, or fruits to obtain enough energy to maintain their tissues and survive..

Many herbivores are part of the diet of carnivorous animals, so they usually live in large groups, seeking to protect themselves from predators. These animals usually do not have claws, sharp teeth, or any effective physical traits that allow them to defend themselves.

Characteristics of herbivorous animals

Herbivorous animal species have many physical characteristics, the most representative being the teeth and the digestive system..


Teeth of a zebra

The teeth of herbivores are usually composed of large and thick teeth, not very sharp and totally flat..

The jaw that contains the teeth of these animals is moved by strong muscles that give it the force to cut and crush the leaves or other organs of the plants. The teeth of these animals differ considerably from those of carnivores, for example, in that they do not have sharp fangs..

It is common for some species of herbivores to chew the same portion of food several times, thus facilitating the internal decomposition of plant tissues, in which many endogenous bacteria capable of dissolving cellulose from the walls of plant cells collaborate..

Digestive system

Herbivores can be separated into two groups according to their digestive system There are herbivores with a monogastric digestive system and herbivores with a polygastric digestive system.

The monogastric system is smaller than the polygastric. It consists of a single stomach, which is characterized by reaching considerably acidic pHs, which favor the digestive process and prevent the proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms..

The polygastric system is typical of animals known as ruminants (cows, goats, sheep, antelopes, etc.). It is characterized by a stomach divided into more than one compartment.

Polygastric digestion stimulates the growth of microorganisms that ferment the ingested food to help degrade the cell wall of plant cells.

The stomach ferment can be regurgitated several times to be chewed again and swallowed again. These animals can spend hours prostrate on the ground chewing, regurgitating and swallowing a single portion of food..

Types of herbivorous animals

Herbivorous animals can be classified according to preference for specific parts of plants:

  • Froaring: feeds almost exclusively on the fruits of plants.
  • Granivores: preferably consume seeds.
  • Xillophagous: they feed on wood.
  • Nectarivores: whose main source of food is the nectar of flowers.

It is important that we remember that this is an informal classification, since it is not relevant from a taxonomic point of view, which is also true for the classification of animals as "herbivores", "carnivores" and "omnivores".

This is because these groups include very different species, such as a bird and an insect, or an insect and a fish..

Examples of herbivorous animals


A rabbit eating

Rabbits are herbivorous animals that feed primarily on leaves. These are particularly adapted to perform rapid digestion of large quantities of plant material.


A cow

The cow is one of the most abundant farm animals on earth. It is a herbivorous, polygastric and ruminant animal. It can consume large amounts of grass in a short time, but then it must spend a long time ruminating, that is, regurgitating, chewing and swallowing again.


A horse eating

The horse has strong teeth to pluck leaves and fruit from plants. It is a monogastric animal that usually performs the digestive process in a short time.

Despite not being ruminant animals, the horse's large intestine allows it to use cellulose and other fermentable substrates in the same way as ruminants.



Termites are insects similar to ants, but whitish in color. They are especially abundant and diverse in the tropical countries of America, Africa and Oceania. Termites feed almost exclusively on wood.

These small insects are capable of digesting cellulose in their digestive system, as they are associated with microbes that live in their intestines..

The goat


This domesticated mammal feeds mainly on fruits, hay, grains, various vegetables, alfalfa, chicory, grass, trees and, above all, grass..

The koala


This marsupial bases its diet on the consumption of the leaves of certain species of eucalyptus. During its intake, you need to turn the vegetable into a paste that allows you to swallow the food.

The kangaroo


This endemic animal of Oceania feeds mainly on herbs, leaves and other vegetables. As a curiosity, they eat in a group to avoid being disturbed by other predators.

The rhinoceros

White rhinos eating

This powerful animal feeds on many types of plants, with tall stem or shrubs being abundant. In some species they even fell trees to feed on their leaves and shoots..

The panda bear


Bamboo and more bamboo. 99% of the diet of this charismatic Asian bear is made up of bamboo leaves. On rare occasions it is possible to see it eating other plants and vegetables or insects.

The red panda

Red panda

Like the panda, they mainly eat bamboo. However, their diet also includes other fruits, berries, roots, or acorns. Its agility allows it to move comfortably between the trees to achieve all these foods.

The zebra


These equines feed on grass, shoots, stems, bark, and tree branches. As a curiosity, since it does not have a digestive system as efficient as that of horses, it must spend most of the day feeding.

The camel


Camels love dates, but most of their diet is made up of leaves and plants. Those who are domesticated usually eat cereals such as wheat, oats or corn.


The largest land animal feeds daily on more than 150 kg of plants, fruits, bark, herbs, stems, bark and other vegetables of its choice. Because he needs so much food, he can spend up to 15 hours a day chewing.

The hippo


This gigantic animal needs around five hours a day to satisfy its appetite. Their essential food source is low-stemmed herbs, of which they can ingest up to 40 kg daily..

The giraffe


Giraffes feed daily on leaves and shoots, mostly from tall trees like acacias. Interestingly, many of these leaves are toxic to most animals, not the tallest animal on Earth..

The gorilla


While it is true that the gorilla can feed on some insects, worms or larvae, this does not represent more than 1% of its diet. Most of this would be fruits, branches, leaves or buds.

Other herbivorous animals

-Guinea fowl
-wild duck
-Honey Falangero
-Mediterranean tortoise
-Solomon's Giant Skink
-Desert turtle
-green Iguana
-Golden Otocinclo
-Unicorn fish
-Sea urchins
-Surgeon fish


  1. Alves-Costa, C. P. (2004). Effects of the fauna of herbivorous mammals in the plant community.
  2. Blas, C., & Wiseman, J. (Eds.). (2010). Nutrition of the Rabbit. CABI
  3. Hougen-Eitzman, D., & Rausher, M. D. (1994). Interactions between herbivorous insects and plant-insect coevolution. The American Naturalist, 143 (4), 677-697.
  4. Provedo, V. E. (1983). Use of agricultural and industrial by-products in the nutrition of herbivorous animals: appreciated interspecific differences (Doctoral dissertation, Zaidín Experimental Station).
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