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A carnivore, meaning 'meat eater' (Latin carne meaning 'flesh' and vorare meaning 'to devour'), is an animal with a diet consisting mainly of meat, whether it comes from animals living or dead (scavenging). Some animals are considered carnivores even if their diets contain very little meat (e.g., predatory arthropods such as spiders or mantids that may rarely consume small vertebrate prey). Animals that subsist on a diet consisting only of meat are referred to as obligate carnivores.

The word also refers to the mammals of the Order Carnivora, many (but not all) of which fit the first definition. Bears are an example of members of Carnivora that are not true carnivores. Carnivores that eat insects primarily or exclusively are called insectivores, while those that eat fish primarily or exclusively are called piscivores.

There are also several genera and a few hundred species of carnivorous plants, though these are primarily insectivorous.

The theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex were mostly obligate carnivores, while sauropod and ornithischian dinosaurs were mostly herbivorous.

Characteristics of carnivores

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Characteristics commonly 'associated' with carnivores include organs for capturing and disarticulating prey (teeth and claws serve these functions in many vertebrates) and status as a hunter. In truth, these assumptions may be misleading, as some carnivores do not hunt and are scavengers (though most hunting carnivores will scavenge when the opportunity exists). Thus they do not have the characteristics associated with hunting carnivores.

Obligate carnivores

An obligate or true carnivore is an animal that subsists on a diet consisting only of meat. They may consume other products presented to them, especially animal products like cheese and bone marrow or sweet sugary substances like honey and syrup but, as these items are not essential they do not consume these on a regular basis. True carnivores lack the physiology required for the efficient digestion of vegetable matter and, in fact, some carnivorous mammals eat vegetation specifically as an emetic.

Plant material

In most cases, some plant material is essential for adequate nutrition, particularly with regard to minerals, vitamins and fiber. Most wild carnivores consume this in the digestive system of their prey. Many carnivores also eat herbivore dung, presumably to obtain essential nutrients that they could not otherwise obtain, since their dentition and digestive system do not permit efficient processing of vegetable matter.

As human food

Carnivores are forbidden to be eaten according to Jewish and Islamic dietary laws. Carnivores are not efficiently used as food animals because of their high trophic level, though some, such as alligators and tuna, are still eaten by humans.

List of carnivores

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See also

Compare and contrast

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