MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: What are the adaptations of herbivores & carnivores to their diet?

Date: Mon Nov 27 15:23:56 2000
Posted By: Cliff Hamrick, Staff, Biology, Baylor University
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 972823806.Ev

I'll assume from your mention of dentition that you are sticking with 
mammals only.  I think this is fine because this is the group that is most 
easily identifiable to a class of first year students and they show the most 

Eyesight and dentition are good starts and can be easily shown in a lab 
setting.  Another anatomical difference is in the digestive tract.  
Carnivores have rather simple digestive tracts with few specialized organs.  
The cecums/appendices are usually reduced.  Because of the high amount of 
animal fat digested most carnivores have a gall bladder.  Because plant 
material is so diffcult to digest, herbivores usually have very specialized 
organs such as a four chambered stomach or an enlarged cecum for 
fermentation.  Ruminants, such as cows, we regurgitate and remasticate their 
food to aid in digestion.  Because herbivores take in very little animal 
fat, they usually have a reduced or absent gall bladder.

Because mammals are generally rather similar to one another, I don't think 
there are going to be many differences between herbivores and carnivores.  
There will be differences in digestive enzymes between the two groups due to 
the difference in nutrition.  There will most likely be greater differences 
between the various groups of herbivores because of the great differences in 
the nutritional quality of various plants.  Remember, some plants are 
poisonous to some organisms, but perfectly edible to others.  Carnivores 
rarely have this problem because all meat is usually edible.

Behaviorly, carnivores are generally considered more intelligent.  Dogs, 
cats, bears, and even dolphins are considered very intelligent animals.  
Even chimpanzees, which are considered the most intelligent animal besides 
humans, are now known to sometimes hunt smaller monkeys.  This heightened 
intelligence may stem from a predators need to 'problem solve' while hunting 
and ambushing.  Another small difference is in social groups.  Some 
herbivores, such as zebra, gather in very large groups which allows for 
protection in numbers.  Some carnivores, such as canines, form groups, but 
they are not as large as herbivores.  Both herbivores and carnivores can 
have well structured and highly organized groups.

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