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Herbivores are animals that eat only plants. They form an important link in the food chain, between carnivores and plants. Common herbivores include cattle, sheep, deer, grasshoppers, rabbits, honeybees, moose, elephants, some dinosaurs, and the pond snail. The most numerous types of herbivores are the zooplankton — tiny creatures that live in the surface waters of oceans, and feed on small photosynthetic algae.
According to the Bible, God created animals on the fifth and sixth days of the Creation Week. The Bible also clearly states that all animals were originally created as herbivores. It is believed by many that carnivorous behaviors began after God cursed the world due to the original sin that was committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 1:29-30 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so. (NIV)
All herbivores need to chew their food well, and God created them with many specializations for their herbivorous diet. These include the multi-chambered stomach of cattle, giraffes, sheep, antelopes and other ruminants, the grinding molars of goats and other bovids, and the rasping tongues of the sucker-mouthed catfish (Plecostomus) and the pond snail.
Today’s birds do not have teeth. The extinct Archaeopteryx had teeth, but its diet is uncertain. Teeth would make birds’ skulls heavy and could make flying difficult. To overcome this problem, part of the herbivorous bird’s digestive system, called the crop, has stones that grind up the plant material it eats. Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers using their long beaks and long tongues.
Herbivorous dinosaurs usually had blunt teeth that were good for stripping vegetation, such as leaves and twigs. Some had flat teeth for grinding tough plant fibers. Many herbivores have cheek pouches that store food for a while, and herbivorous dinosaurs usually had larger digestive systems to digest the tough fibers. Sometimes these dinosaurs swallowed rocks (called gastroliths) to grind the fibers in their stomach. Some, such as Ankylosaurus, had fermentation chambers that dissolved plant matter.
Earthworms eat soil that is rich in vegetable material. They have no teeth to grind this material, but have a small pouch, called a crop, which contains tiny, sharp stones. When the food reaches the crop, the stones grind it into even smaller pieces.
Many water animals feed on microscopic animals and plants in plankton. Mussels create a current of water through their bodies and use special hair-like filaments to sieve out the plankton. This is called filter feeding.
Crickets and locusts have complicated mouths. Two important parts of their mouth are the crushing organs called mandibles. The mandibles are a hard fibrous substance called chitin. Every leaf or blade of grass the insect eats has to pass between the mandibles. The mandibles come together to crush the leaf or grass.
Honeybees get their energy from nectar in flowers. As they collect nectar, they pick up pollen on their bodies. When they travel from flower to flower they leave pollen behind, and this fertilizes the flowers to help them reproduce.
Some animals live only on liquid, and so need to suck their food. Female mosquitoes feed on blood. Butterflies feed on nectar from flowers using a long mouthpart called a proboscis. This tube coils under the butterfly’s head when it is flying. Aphids put their thin pointed mouthparts into the stems of plants to suck the plants’ food. The housefly has a proboscis shaped like the end of a vacuum cleaner. It uses it to suck juices from food it lands on.
Herbivorous rodents have two pairs of large teeth at the front of their mouths. One pair of teeth sits in the top jaw and the other sits in the bottom jaw. These teeth are ideal for gnawing, and allow herbivorous rodents such as squirrels to bite through hard seeds and nuts.
Ruminants have a special stomach called a rumen, in which micro-organisms break down cellulose. After ruminants swallow food, they later regurgitate it and chew on it again, and gradually the cellulose in the plant breaks down. When the cellulose breaks down, the food goes into the second stomach for digestion.
Snails have a long tongue called a radula, which is covered with rows of teeth. These teeth, up to 20,000, have flat surfaces, and the snail uses its radula to scrape off bits of food which it then sucks into its body.
Herbivores live in a vast variety of environments, depending on which herbivore is under discussion. Most have a moderate variety of plants in their diet, although a few are monophagous (meaning they will eat only one kind of food). A monophagous herbivore is the koala, which eats only leaves from certain eucalyptus trees.
There were many more herbivorous dinosaurs than meat-eating, or omnivore, types (roughly 65 per cent to 35 per cent). Before the worldwide flood of Noah’s day there was greater plant diversity than animal diversity. From fossils deposited during the Flood we know that pre-Flood plants were lush and plentiful, and were adequate to feed the huge appetites of the huge dinosaurs. For example, it may have taken hundreds of acres of plants to feed a herd of Triceratops.
Herbivorous dinosaurs included:
Herbivores in the Bible
Herbivores mentioned in various translations of the Bible include:
donkey, horse, camel, sheep, cattle, goat, aurochs (unicorn), oryx, addax, gazelle, elephant (indirectly referred to because of the mention of ivory), deer, hyrax (coney), hare, peacock, quail and other birds, locust.
- The Open Door website
- Tiscali Hutchinson encyclopedia
- Designed to Eat Plants, Then Cursed to be Unable by Chris Ashcraft