5 Surprising Animals That Are Herbivores

Herbivores are specialists. Unlike the eat-anything omnivores, herbivores have a specific and limited diet. They’re also key species in any ecosystem, as carnivores and omnivores cannot exist unless herbivores exist first. But some of the animal kingdom’s vegetarians can be a bit surprising.

The giant panda, for example, is an ecological oddity. Most members of the bear family are omnivores who lean toward eating as much meat as they can get, rather than evolving to live entirely without. But the panda is also too famous a bamboo-eater to make this list.

Let’s dive into some of the animals whose plant-based diets you may have been totally unaware of.

1. Gelada Baboon

gelada baboons

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Probably the fiercest group of monkeys, all species of baboons share a fearless disposition and the fearsome canines to back up their threats. And most baboons, like many monkeys, eat a combination of fruit and animal protein — especially insects or small aquatic critters.

But this particular species is not only entirely herbivorous, it’s also unique among the entire primate order in being a grazer. Yes, 90 percent of the gelada’s diet comes from grass – a popular choice among four-hooved animals, but a very odd dietary specialization for a tree-climbing simian.

And those fangs? Exclusively for dealing with any individual dumb enough to come too close.

2. Manatee

manatee

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Their common moniker, “sea cows,” might seem like an obvious hint — but if you know even a little bit about marine ecology, you know it’s very rarely vegetable-based. Yes, photosynthesizing plankton is at the base of the marine food web, but this quickly gives way to microscopic — or nearly microscopic — creatures like tiny shrimp, then minnows, larger fish, crustaceans and octopuses before we reach larger predators.

You have to go down quite a ways to get something resembling a plant. So by the time a marine animal is large enough to see without a microscope, it’s probably not a plant-eater. This makes the manatee an enigma.

Found in warmer and shallower waters, they munch submerged vegetation and seaweed – even though similar marine species like walrus and seals are 100 percent carnivorous. So the manatee have very little competition in their environment for their preferred foodstuffs.

3. Collared Peccary

Collared Peccary

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Looking like either a pig or a large rodent, the peccary actually belongs to neither group. The peccary’s similarity to those groups, as well as its size and shape, makes it look like a likely omnivore. But this species is largely herbivorous.

Most herbivores, from cows to rabbits and more, engage in occasional opportunistic protein-feeding — say insects or snails — and the peccary sometimes does as well. But while it looks built for a diet that may include as much animal protein as vegetable matter, the peccary’s food intake is either entirely or almost entirely vegetable.

And ecologists still classify plant-eaters with occasional but dietarily unnecessary meat intake as herbivores.

4. Cassowary

Cassowsary

Photo Credit: Getty Images

One of the world’s largest birds — and one of just a handful of surviving “mega-fauna” avians, alongside ostriches, emus and rheas — you can see the resemblance to dinosaurs in this large flightless bird. Perhaps the “Jurassic Park” version of the velociraptor, with claws capable of tearing out a human adult’s innards?

Among birds, pure carnivore and opportunistic omnivore strategies abound. Yes, some birds eat only seeds or fruit, but the cassowary seems perfectly designed for hunting. Furthermore, their larger but less dangerous cousins, the ostriches, regularly gobble up snakes and rodents.

Nevertheless, the cassowary, barring occasional meat opportunism, lives almost entirely on fruit.

5. Eastern Lowland Gorilla

gorillas

Photo Credit: Getty Images

You may or may not realize that eastern lowland gorillas, the largest of the four recognized gorilla species, are entirely herbivorous. Their western cousins often add termites and other insects to their diet, but this most powerful of all the Great Apes does not.

Their diet sets them apart from orangutans, humans and chimpanzees, which have been known to hunt and kill larger prey in group attacks – including monkeys. You can be healthy and strong with a meat-free diet, and the eastern gorilla certainly proves that.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

57 comments

Yvonne T
Yvonne T29 days ago

thank you for sharing

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RosemaryRannes Rannes
Rosemary Rannes29 days ago

Joel, thank you ... who knew ... now i / we do, appreciated.
Might i mention elephants as herbivores?

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Michael Friedmann
Michael F29 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Marija M
Marija M29 days ago

tks for sharing.

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer29 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Elisabeth T
Elisabeth T29 days ago

Interesting article & great pictures. Thanks for sharing

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salah zoubiri
salah zoubiri29 days ago

Tyfs

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salah zoubiri
salah zoubiri29 days ago

Interesting

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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