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How Animals Feed

The way an animal feeds mainly depends on its diet. Carnivores are predators which have to catch and kill their prey before they can eat it. Herbivores need to be able to break down the vegetation they eat.

Carnivorous Mammals

When the lion and cheetah catch a zebra they have to kill it as soon as possible.

They use their sharp claws to grip into the flesh of the zebra when they jump onto it. The zebra is then overbalanced and pulled to the ground. The big cat then puts its teeth around the zebra's windpipe and firmly closes its mouth. The zebra dies very quickly by suffocation.

Lioness, Bristol Zoo, UK © Shirley Burchill

Other big cats, such as the tiger, bite into the back of the neck of their prey. Their teeth move between the neck vertebrae and break the nerve cord connections to the brain. The prey dies instantly.

Skull of a carnivore  © Paul Billiet

The teeth of these carnivores are adapted to eat they flesh of their prey. At the front of the mouth the teeth are sharp and pointed. There are four which are longer than the others. These are called the canine teeth. These are the teeth that the big cat uses to hold on to the throat of its prey to kill it.

The teeth at the back of the mouth are also sharp and pointed but larger than those at the front. When the mouth is closed these back teeth come together like the blades of a pair of scissors. These teeth are used to cut into the flesh of the prey and sheer off pieces of meat. These carnivores have powerful muscles which can open and close the mouth. Carnivores are not able to move their jaws from side to side very easily.

Carnivorous Birds

Vultures, Vincennes, Paris  © Shirley Burchill

Carnivorous birds, such as the eagle, have sharp talons on their feet to take hold of their prey when they swoop down on it. They have large, curved pointed beaks with which they tear the meat from the bone.

Fishing birds can have long pointed beaks to spear fish. The stork has this type of beak. The pelican has a very strange beak. It is long and pointed like the stork’s beak, but the bottom part has a bag which can expand. The pelican swims on the surface of the water with its beak open. As the bottom half of the beak moves through the water it scoops up fish which become trapped in the bag. The bag stretches as more fish are added to it.

The Frog : A carnivorous Amphibian

Frog © Paul Billiet

The frog sits very still, close to the water’s edge. It is often well camouflaged and very difficult to see when it is not moving. When an insect or worm moves close enough to the frog, the amphibian quickly pushes its tongue out. The frog has a very long, sticky tongue which wraps around the prey. The frog then pulls its tongue back into its mouth. All of this happens very quickly.

The Snake : A carnivorous Retile

Snakes slither quietly and unseen towards their prey. They are well camouflaged. Many snakes have two sharp teeth called fangs which inject venom into the prey to stop it struggling. The prey is then eaten whole. The snake has no teeth with which to bite pieces from its prey or to chew it. Its jaws are very loosely held together and it can open them extremely wide. In this way it can take large frogs and other animals into its mouth and swallow them whole. Some pythons can even swallow small deer.

Carnivorous Fish

Shark, Manley Aquarium, Australia © Shirley Burchill

Carnivorous fish have many small, sharp teeth which they use to pull pieces of meat away from their prey. There are many rows of these teeth and they all point into the mouth. This means that when a shark bites its prey, the prey will be less likely to break free. The shark moves its body violently from side to side to help it tear meat from its prey.

The pike is a vicious carnivore and because of this it is often called the 'freshwater shark'. The pike feeds on fish, frogs and water voles. It does not eat toads because the warts on the back of toads give out a nasty tasting liquid. The pike is the longest lived of freshwater fishes. It is thought that some are as much as 70 years.

The Spider : A carnivorous Invertebrate

Spider © Paul Billiet

Most spiders are carnivores which do not actively hunt their prey. Instead, the spider sets a trap. It spins an almost invisible web which insects either fly or get blown into. When an insect is caught in the web the spider quickly injects it with venom. The venom does not kill the prey but it does stop it moving. The spider then wraps the prey in a veil of silk. If the insect was allowed to continue to struggle it could break the web or make the spider easier to see. The spider then hides and waits for another victim. It eats its fresh food later.

Some spiders, such as the wolf spider, do not spin webs. They hunt for non-flying insects on the ground.

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