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Carnivore and Herbivore Comparison

Updated on September 7, 2014

A Comparison of the Anatomy and Physiology of Carnivores and Herbivores

Carnivores are animals which are adapted to eat other animals. Herbivores are animals that are adapted to eat plants. Herbivores form an important link in the food chain as they consume plants in order to receive the carbohydrates produced by a plant from photosynthesis. Carnivores in turn consume herbivores for the same reason. Due to an herbivore's ability to survive solely on tough and fibrous plant matter, they are termed the primary consumers in the food chain.

The information below compares the anatomy and physiology between carnivores and herbivores with an interesting discussion about omnivores and human beings.

Anatomy and Physiology Of A Carnivore

Teeth:The teeth of a carnivore are discretely spaced so as not to trap stringy debris. The incisors are short, pointed and prong-like and are used for grasping and shredding. The canines are greatly elongated and dagger-like for stabbing, tearing and killing prey. The molars (carnassials) are flattened and triangular with jagged edges such that they function like serrated-edged blades. Because of the hinge-type joint, when a carnivore closes its jaw, the cheek teeth come together in a back-to-front fashion giving a smooth cutting motion like the blades on a pair of shears.These are tools that are useful for the task of piercing into flesh

Jaws:. carnivore's jaws move up and down with minimal sideways motion. The jaw joint is a simple hinge joint lying in the same plane as the teeth. The "angle" of the mandible (lower jaw) in carnivores is small. This is because the muscles (masseter and pterygoids) that attach there are of minor importance in these animals. The lower jaw of carnivores cannot move forward, and has very limited side-to-side motion. These are tools that are useful for the tasks of shearing, ripping and tearing flesh and swallowing it whole.

Learn More About Carnivores Here

Anatomy and Physiology Of A Herbivore

Teeth: The dentition of herbivores is quite varied depending on the kind of vegetation a particular species is adapted to eat. Many herbivore's incisors are not pointed, but flat edged. The molars, in general, are squared and flattened on top to provide a grinding surface. The molars cannot vertically slide past one another in a shearing/slicing motion, but they do horizontally slide across one another to crush and grind. These are useful tools for biting, crushing and grinding.

Jaws: Herbivore's jaws, as well as the jaws of human beings cannot shear. The angle of the mandible has expanded to provide a broad area of attachment for the well-developed masseter and pterygoid muscles (these are the major muscles of chewing in plant-eating animals). The masseter and pterygoid muscles hold the mandible in a sling-like arrangement and swing the jaw from side-to-side. Accordingly, the lower jaw of plant-eating mammals has a pronounced sideways motion when eating. This lateral movement is necessary for the grinding motion of chewing.

Humans: Herbivores or Omnivores?

Humans are most often described as omnivores. This classification is based on the observation that humans usually eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods. However, culture and customs are variables that come into play when looking at human dietary practices. Most humans are behavioral omnivores, yet the question in some peoples minds still remains as to whether humans are anatomically suited for a diet that includes animals as well as plant foods.

Anatomically and physiologically as we have seen above, humans appear to be more adapted to a herbivorous diet. Looking at our closest living relatives, however, we see in the great apes, most specifically the chimpanzee, a consumption of meat acquired through hunting at a very minimal rate, about once a month. Anthropologists believe earliest human ancestors probably ate meat in similar quantities and then as humans evolved and spread out to new environments, some cultures began to consume far more meat than others due to enviironmental constraints.

Do you think its natural for humans to eat meat or is it just cultural?

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Comments On Carnivore/Herbivore Comparison - I would love to hear from you

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Could I please have a list of your resources? I'm a nutritional researcher.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      thank you very much for this site it is very informative im glad i found it!!!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Maybe if People Lived off of the Land the Right way and not tried to Making Money and/or Investments, there would not be Quite as many Issues with this subject! At least that's how I feel and I know there are others who do as well!

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      I001l01I02l 6 years ago

      i just hope people stop thinking of chicken as food, but an animal, and do not cheer when there's meat on the table. just be thankful to have something to eat, and that's it. another thing: food fight is a sign of disrespect.

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      GeoffSteen 7 years ago

      My wife and I have this debate every now and then (she has been a vegetarian for 17 years). But we have never really touched on the anatomical aspects of the issue. Thank you for such a beautiful and thought-provoking lens, even if it does appear that I've lost the debate :-)!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 7 years ago from Scotland

      This really made me think! wonderful when a lens makes you ponder...

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 7 years ago

      Interesting points that could feed a long debate. Your lens is very well done and I love the images you chose.

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      aishu19 7 years ago

      This was a truly interesting piece to read about herbivores v.s. carnivores. It explains the differences very clearly

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      Eliza Rayner 7 years ago from Boulder, Colorado

      @WildFacesGallery: Well thought out and well said comment! Thanks.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      Generally speaking prey animals have their eyes more to the sides of their heads for a better field of visual range to spot predators. Predators have their eyes more toward the front part of the face for better distancing and spacial determining while hunting. So what does that make humans?

      I'm a critter person so I think eating meat is a choice. We have evolved past our genetics on this one to decide it if it in line with our moral values. But we were most definitely hunters at one point.