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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY
ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Carnivores

Carnivores

A carnivore is an organism whose diet consists primarily of meat.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

Biology, Conservation, Ecology

Image

Venus Flytrap Catches Housefly

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is likely the best known of around 600 species of carnivorous plants. Here a housefly (Musca domestica) is caught by a Venus flytrap.

Photograph by Ernie James/Alamy Stock photo

A carnivore is an organism, in most cases an animal, that eats meat. A carnivorous animal that hunts other animals is called a predator; an animal that is hunted is called prey.

An animal’s diet determines where it falls on the food chain, a sequence of organisms that provide energy and nutrients for other organisms. Each food chain consists of several trophic levels, which describe an organism’s role in an ecosystem. Carnivores and omnivores occupy the third trophic level. An omnivore, such as a human, is an organism that eats plants and animals.

Many carnivores get their energy and nutrients by eating herbivores, omnivores, and other carnivores. The animals that eat secondary consumers, like owls that eat rodents, are known as tertiary consumers. Carnivores that have no natural predators are known as apex predators; they occupy the top of the food chain.

Not all carnivores are predators. Some carnivores, known as scavengers, feed on the carcasses of already-dead animals. Vultures, for example, are scavengers.

Carnivores are divided into three different categories based on what percentage of their diet consists of meat. Animals that get 70 percent or more of their nutrition from meat are called obligate carnivores or hypercarnivores. Animals whose diet consists of about 50 percent meat are called mesocarnivores. Animals whose diet is only about 30 percent meat are called hypocarnivores.

Carnivores vary in shape and size, but they often share similar traits. For example, most carnivores have sharp teeth adapted for capturing prey and tearing flesh. Additionally, many carnivores have relatively large brains. Carnivores also have a single stomach chamber and a simple digestive system, unlike herbivores, who often have a stomach with multiple chambers and a specialized digestive system.

Not all carnivores are animals. There are about 600 species of carnivorous plants, the most well-known being the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Most carnivorous plants consume insects, but some larger plants feast on small animals, such as frogs or mice.

Carnivores play an important role in keeping ecosystems balanced. Predators keep populations of prey species from becoming too large. Scavengers like vultures help prevent diseases from spreading by eating the remains of dead animals.

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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