A carnivore is an organism that feeds mainly or exclusively on other animals. A carnivorous animal derives energy and nutrients required by the body from the tissues of other animals either by scavenging or predation. Carnivores are either obligate (feeding solely on animal flesh) or facultative (feed on both animal and non-animal diet). Meat eaters can also be classified by the portion of meat in their diet. Carnivores whose diet is at least 70% meat are known as hyper-carnivores while those with 30-70% meat are referred to as mesocarnivores. Hypo-carnivores are those carnivores whose diets are less than 30% meat and the rest consisting of non-animal food. Carnivores are important in the ecosystem as they regulate the population of other species by preventing them from being overpopulated.
Characteristics Of Carnivores
Obligate carnivores, as highlighted above, are carnivores whose diet mainly consists of other animal flesh. While some of them may be able to ingest plant material, they do not have the necessary physiology needed to digest them. Facultative carnivores feed mostly on animal flesh but also require nutrients from non-animal foods and have the physiological ability to digest them. Carnivores are generally strong and fast enough to catch their prey. They have a keen sense of hunting and their claws and teeth are modified for capturing and tearing prey. However, carnivores that lack physical characteristics and cannot bring down prey often scavenge on dead animals.
The digestive system of a carnivore is comparatively less complicated than that of herbivores since they do not require to digest the tough cellulose found in plants. Carnivores mainly eat herbivores and sometimes can eat omnivores and other carnivores. Since they require a lot of calories, they have to eat many animals in the year. The bigger the animal, the more it eats.
Types Of Carnivores
Hypercarnivores are carnivores whose diet is at least 70% meat. Examples of such animals include crocodiles, vultures, eagles, shrikes, owls, snakes, dolphins, spiders, groupers, wild canids (such as wolves, jackals, and dingoes), and felids (such as lion, tiger, cougar, and leopard). Most hypercarnivores are apex predators (predators at the top of the food chain). However, some of these carnivores like the salmon are prey to other organisms.
The diet of a mesocarnivore comprises 30-70% meat with the balance being non-animal foods such as plant material, fruits, and fungi. Examples of carnivores in this category are the red fox, tayra, martens, raccoon, civets, skunks, and some mongoose. Mesocarnivores have heterodont cheek teeth. Canines and incisors are used to catch and kill the prey while the pointed premolars are used to hold the prey. Molars are used for both slicing and crushing the meat.
Hypocarnivores are animals whose diets comprise less than 30% of meat with the majority consisting of non-animal foods such as fruits, fungi, and other plant material. Examples of such animals include kinkajou, binturong, black bear, and grizzly bear. The evolution of carnivores into the three groups including mesocarnivore and hypercarnivore may have occurred about 40 million years ago.