A carnivore is an organism, in most cases an animal, that eats meat. A carnivorous animal that hunts other animals is called a predator; an animal that is hunted is called prey.

An animal’s diet determines where it falls on the food chain, a sequence of organisms that provide energy and nutrients for other organisms. Each food chain consists of several trophic levels, which describe an organism’s role in an ecosystem. Carnivores and omnivores occupy the third trophic level. An omnivore, such as a human, is an organism that eats plants and animals.

Many carnivores get their energy and nutrients by eating herbivores, omnivores, and other carnivores. The animals that eat secondary consumers, like owls that eat rodents, are known as tertiary consumers. Carnivores that have no natural predators are known as apex predators; they occupy the top of the food chain.

Not all carnivores are predators. Some carnivores, known as scavengers, feed on the carcasses of already-dead animals. Vultures, for example, are scavengers.

Carnivores are divided into three different categories based on what percentage of their diet consists of meat. Animals that get 70 percent or more of their nutrition from meat are called obligate carnivores or hypercarnivores. Animals whose diet consists of about 50 percent meat are called mesocarnivores. Animals whose diet is only about 30 percent meat are called hypocarnivores.

Carnivores vary in shape and size, but they often share similar traits. For example, most carnivores have sharp teeth adapted for capturing prey and tearing flesh. Additionally, many carnivores have relatively large brains. Carnivores also have a single stomach chamber and a simple digestive system, unlike herbivores, who often have a stomach with multiple chambers and a specialized digestive system.

Not all carnivores are animals. There are about 600 species of carnivorous plants, the most well-known being the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Most carnivorous plants consume insects, but some larger plants feast on small animals, such as frogs or mice.

Carnivores play an important role in keeping ecosystems balanced. Predators keep populations of prey species from becoming too large. Scavengers like vultures help prevent diseases from spreading by eating the remains of dead animals.

Carnivores

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is likely the best known of around 600 species of carnivorous plants. Here a housefly (Musca domestica) is caught by a Venus flytrap.

Noun

organism that can produce its own food and nutrients from chemicals in the atmosphere, usually through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.

Noun

organism that eats meat.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Noun

group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, and from prey, predators, scavengers, and decomposers.

hypercarnivore
Noun

organism that depends on meat for more than 70 percent of its diet.

hypocarnivore
Noun

organism that depends on meat for less than 30 percent of its diet.

mesocarnivore
Noun

organism that depends on meat for at least 50 percent of its diet.

obligate carnivore
Noun

organism that depends entirely on meat for food, nutrition, and survival.

Noun

organism that eats a variety of organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

prey
Noun

animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

Noun

organism that eats dead or rotting biomass, such as animal flesh or plant material.

vulture
Noun

bird that mostly eats dead animals.