Fascinating Scavenger Animals And Their Role In The Ecosystem | Kidadl


Fascinating Scavenger Animals And Their Role In The Ecosystem

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It is very interesting to learn which members of the food chain eat plants and which eat other animals!

While animals such as lions and tigers are mostly terrifying because of their extreme power and ability to crush anyone, there are some animals that actually feed on other animals that have already been killed! Scavengers are members of the food chain that eat dead animals and their carcasses in order to acquire nutrition and fuel.

To learn more about food chains and scavengers in particular, read on.

If you enjoy this article, why not also check out rarest animals and pack animals.

What is a scavenger?

You might have heard of a scavenger hunt, which usually refers to a game where you hunt for different items for fun.

However, the term 'scavenger' is actually derived from the animals of the food chain that play an important role in the ecosystem by feeding on dead and decaying animals. They will choose a carcass for dinner over actually needing to hunt! To scavenge something essentially refers to retrieving material that has already been discarded. In the food chains of various ecosystems around the world, scavengers play an important part and eat dead animals and plant material. By doing this, they help to transfer energy from one level to another. In food chains, there are generally three tiers in which animals are classified and placed. Animals that indulge in scavenging and create a life around the act are usually carnivores, although, there are some animals that also feed on plants and dead plant matter.

The three tiers (or levels) of food chains include producers, predators and scavengers. Producers are usually the organisms that do not feed on other living organisms. The food material of the producers is derived from naturally available resources, such as nutrients that are found in the soil. The most common and most widely known producers are plants, since plants never consume other animals or organisms.

The next level is that of predators. A predator eats producers, as well as other herbivores or carnivores of the ecosystem. The feeding of predators is therefore dependent on the environment and the species of animals who are available to be killed and eaten. Any animal that is classified as a predator is usually dependent on the meat and flesh of other organisms, which is a phenomenon that is completely absent in producers. As is very evident, plants are not equipped with the features or body parts that are required to be able to kill or hunt an animal and feed on it.

The last level of the food chain is formed by scavengers. The ecosystem generally returns the energy and nutrients of a dead animal by rotting and the natural process of degradation or decomposition. However, this is where scavengers swoop in (we are talking of vultures quite literally here) and make sure that the organisms that are already dead do not have to go through the entire process of natural decay. These species of animals either steal the carrion from predators or locate these dead remains through an excellent sense of smell.

This speeds up the food chain and also makes sure that many species of scavengers are not lost through extreme starvation. The bodies of dead animals are the predominant food group for any scavenger and hence, however much such an animal may cause alarm, it is important to understand that nature follows its own route and all animals make their own contribution towards the environment.

What do scavengers do in the ecosystem?

The role that scavengers play in the food chain is basically that of eating dead animals. Now that we have given you a basic idea of what a scavenger does, let's jump into a more detailed discussion. Scavenger animals eat dead or rotting animal matter.

They hardly ever kill animals. Instead, they gain their energy by feeding on the carcass of animals that have been killed by natural factors or predators. Some scavengers are even risk-taking and brave enough to stealing flesh from the freshly killed prey of animals such as lions and tigers. Such behavior, however, is quite rare and is only found under two circumstances. The first circumstance would be if the scavengers are starved, meaning that they must take the extreme risk of having to scavenge from the predators who could easily see them as edible meat. Another circumstance that can lead scavengers towards stealing flesh or meat from other predators, is if these animals happen to be in large packs and feel strong enough to hold ground against the kings and queens of the jungle.

Nature, as we know, has its own way of making sure that there is a balance and that the energy is successfully transferred from one level of animals to the other. While the natural process of decay of plant material and already dead organisms can be quite slow, scavengers allow this transfer to happen rather smoothly and quickly. Scavengers, therefore, bypass years of decay that would typically be needed to return the energy and nutrients in the body of the carrion to the soil, which would then enrich and nurture the producers again. These species of animals, under extreme circumstances, also have the ability and digestive systems to be able to make sure that plant material and paper is consumed and easily digested. Although there are some species of scavengers that are omnivorous, it is most common for these animals to feed on rotting meat.

What do scavengers eat?

While it may sound absolutely absurd to us, scavengers, instead of killing their own prey, feed on rotting and decomposing dead animal matter! The decaying matter might not be fit for human beings to consume, but nature, and the pressure place on these animals by the environment, are such that scavengers eat carrion without any fear of disease.

Like all animals, scavengers are motivated and inspired by their hunger and their subsequent need to eat. Since decaying material is actually a food type that is readily and extensively available, these animals scavenge on the remains of many organisms. Under extreme circumstances, despite the inadequacy of a scavenger's talons or claws, they may also kill.

Most scavengers, however, eat anything that is readily available. The most common example that comes to mind are crabs. As most fishermen and restaurant owners testify, the digestive tracts of crabs are filled with organisms and other materials of all kinds. While the claws that crabs have may let us believe that they could be great predators, they are actually quite helpless in their marine habitats. Hence, a crabs tend to eat dead fish and any other scraps that lie at the bottom of the sea.

An impressive wild Eurasian black vulture.

Mammal Scavenger Animals

The most well-known mammal scavenger that comes to mind is the hyena. The most striking characteristic of these animals, in addition to their very unusual diet plan, is their laugh.

If you haven't had the opportunity to hear a recording of a hyena's laughter, make sure that you look up a video on YouTube. It is sure to be an absolutely thrilling experience. Apart from this, hyenas are widely disliked after their appearance in 'The Lion King' by Disney, where they were portrayed in an incredibly negative way. On the contrary, there are people who have personal reserves with packs of hyenas that are very loving. However, it is hard to vouch for the fact that they would refrain from eating the remains of the same human being once dead!

Hyenas actually have very sharp teeth, which is essential, since they feed on meat and flesh. While animals such as lions and tigers may make the process of tearing an animal's body apart seem effortless, it is actually something that not only requires extremely pointy teeth, but also a complete day's worth of energy. Hyenas, however, would hardly go to such an extent as catching their own prey. If it so happens that they are deprived of carcasses due to any environmental or natural crises, hyenas resort to killing animals. Other than this, these animals mostly just eat carrion.

Other mammals that are classified are scavengers (that is, animals that feed on dead material and flesh) are jackals, coyotes, foxes and raccoons, among others. These animals have varying levels of ability when it comes to catching or killing prey, but are able to acquire food once already dead and decomposing. Some of these animals are omnivores.

Scavenger Bird Examples

The list of scavenger animals narrows down by quite a bit once we start talking about scavenger birds. The most well-known of all the scavenger birds are of course vultures.

These birds are capable of finding the best prey as they have the advantage of searching for dead or dying animals from a height. The advantage of a birds-eye-view, when combined with the sense of smell that vultures have, allows these birds and their various species to be able to pick up on carrion at lightning speed! Vultures of any species eat the flesh of dead animals and begin to circle around the possible prey for a while before it is actually about to die. Vultures commonly show this behavior. In addition to vultures, condors also have these eating habits. However, they are definitely not as well-known as vultures!

Did You Know!

Great White Sharks, despite what Hollywood movies try to tell us, are actually scavengers. These sharks feed on dead fish more often than they prey on living fish!

A vulture is often bald so that no disease is transferred from the carcasses of a carrion animal to the scavenger bird! A scavenger animal is not often equipped with the bodily features that would make a good predator. Hyenas often eat from the food that lions acquire for themselves. However, such behavior is mostly limited to when there is a scarcity of food material. One lesser-known fact is that even bears are partly scavengers!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for scavenger animals then why not take a look at animals in the taiga, or savanna animals.

Written By
Shirin Biswas

<p>With a degree in English from Amity University, Noida, Shirin has won awards for oratory, acting, and creative writing. She has a wealth of experience as an English teacher, editor, and writer, having previously worked at Quizzy and Big Books Publishing. Her expertise lies in editing study guides for children and creating engaging content.</p>

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