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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY
ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Omnivores

Omnivores

An omnivore is an organism that eats a variety of other organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

Biology, Conservation, Ecology

Image

Grizzly Male at River

Despite their huge size and sharp teeth, bears—like this male grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) at the Fishing Branch River in the Yukon Territory, Canada—also eat berries and twigs. Like other omnivores, their diets are versatile.

Photograph by Paul Nicklen

An omnivore is an organism that eats plants and animals. The term stems from the Latin words omnis, meaning “all or everything,” and vorare, meaning “to devour or eat.”

Omnivores play an important part of the food chain, a sequence of organisms that produce energy and nutrients for other organisms. Every food chain consists of several trophic levels, which describe an organism’s role in an ecosystem. Omnivores generally occupy the third trophic level alongside meat-eating carnivores.

Omnivores are a diverse group of animals. Examples of omnivores include bears, birds, dogs, raccoons, foxes, certain insects, and even humans.

Animals that hunt other animals are known as predators, while those that are hunted are known as prey. Since omnivores hunt and are hunted, they can be both predators and prey. Omnivores can also be scavengers, animals that feed on the remains of dead animals. For example, bears eat twigs and berries but will also hunt small animals and eat dead animals if they happen to stumble upon them.

Omnivores have evolved various traits to help them eat both plants and animals. Many omnivores, such as humans, have a mixture of sharp teeth (for ripping through muscle tissue) and flat molars (for grinding plant matter). However, some omnivores, like chickens, have no teeth and swallow their food whole. Generally speaking, omnivores have a stomach with one or more chambers and a specialized digestive tract to process food.

Since omnivores have a diverse diet, they have the advantage of being able to survive in a variety of environments. While a meat-eating carnivore would quickly go extinct in a habitat devoid of prey, an omnivore could still surive by eating plants.

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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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