Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar Click to enlarge image
This spectacular caterpillar is found in eastern Australian forests and feeds mostly on eucalypt leaves. It may remain for a year or more in its tough cocoon until the conditions are suitable for the moth to emerge. The moths are a soft pink-fawn colour and have feather-duster antennae. Image: Elizabeth Tasker
© Elizabeth Tasker

What is a herbivore?

The world’s largest herbivore is the African elephant.

A herbivore is an animal that only eats vegetation, such as grasses, fruits, leaves, vegetables, roots and bulbs. Herbivores only eat things that need photosynthesis to live. Some parasitic plants that feed on other plants are also considered herbivores.

The teeth of herbivores have adapted to chew the tough fibres of plants. Herbivores have large, flat teeth that grind up plant materials. Their big molars grind up seeds and twigs. Many herbivores have special digestive systems that let them digest all kinds of plants, including grasses.

Herbivores can often have several stomach chambers and a much longer digestive tract. Herbivores with multiple stomach chambers, such as camels, deer, sheep, giraffes and cattle and these herbivores are called ruminants.

Herbivores can come in many sizes, Large-kangaroos, medium- wombat, small, -sugar glider, mini- caterpillars. These animals have evolved digestive systems capable of handling large amounts of plant material.

Herbivores can be very picky eaters. Scientists group these creatures by the parts of plants the herbivore eats.

Types of Herbivores

  • Frugivores only eat fruit such as Grey headed flying foxes
  • Folivores are animals feed only on leaves such as caterpillars
  • Nectivorous bats, birds and insects suck on nectar.
  • Granivorous insects and birds munch on seeds
  • Pollinivorous insects prefer pollen.
  • Xylophages is the name given to animals that eat wood exclusively or almost exclusively such as termites.

When the weather changes, however, herbivores often need to alter their diets to feed on whatever plant food is in season.