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Do you eat leftovers? Many other animals do too.

And many of these animals are scavengers. Find out what a scavenger animal is and some cool examples of these animals.

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What Is a Scavenger?

Leftovers, Mother Nature style. What are those? They’re the rotting bodies of dead animals or the decomposing remains of plant material. And in the same way most of us like to munch on leftovers, so do animals.

Opportunities to Scavenge

The animals who eat dead and decaying plant or animal material are called scavengers. The remains of hunted animals are one type of opportunity for a scavenger animal to eat. Imagine a pride of lions chase down a zebra. The lions then eat their fill and move on. Some jackals come in and finish off whatever the lions left behind.

Those would be scavenger animals.But leftovers aren’t the only things scavenger animals eat. Imagine another scenario. Let’s say that a deer was hit by a car. Or perhaps it just died of natural causes. The next morning, you may see scavenger animals picking the deer apart. Technically, this poor deer wasn’t a predator’s leftover meal, but an animal or plant that was killed from some other factor, like accident or disease.

There is an important little asterisk to all of this, though. An animal that isn’t typically characterized as a scavenger still may scavenge. For instance, a hungry lion may eat an already-dead animal even though we tend to think of lions as animals who kill other living animals only.On the flip side, animals sometimes thought of as scavengers may actually hunt live prey to meet their dietary needs. A good example of this is the spotted hyena, which commonly scavenges for food when alone but also hunts live prey at night with other hyenas.

Examples of Scavengers

But we’re not going to get confused by all of that. Let’s focus, instead, on animals that are seen as being mainly scavengers.

Perhaps the most famous example is the vulture. The term vulture actually refers to many different species of carrion-eating birds. Carrion is a term for rotting flesh. Many of these species are well-adapted to their scavenging lifestyle.

For instance, you may have seen how vultures have bald heads. This ensures their feathers don’t get matted with rotting and stinking flesh, blood, and the potentially deadly bacteria that come with it.Speaking of carrion, another type of famous scavenging animal is the carrion beetle. Again, like the term vulture, carrion beetle refers to more than one type of beetle. Nevertheless, these beetles find and feed upon dead and thus decaying animals. Some of these beetles actually feed on bat droppings as well. Hey, food is food, right?If you thought that was disgusting, wait till you hear about blowflies.

These flies technically don’t feed on dead animals but they do feed on the dead or decaying parts of animals, like their wounds, and are thus technically scavenger animals as well.Another great example of a scavenger, but one who can also hunt if need be, is the opossum. These little marsupials will gladly take a look inside your garbage can to see if any leftover steak is present. They’ll also happily munch on road kill if they can’t find your chewed-up leftovers.

Lesson Summary

Be they a bird, mammal, or even an insect, scavenger animals exist all over the place and eat all sorts of crazy things. A scavenger animal is an animal that relies in large part on eating dead animal or plant matter.

Examples of scavenger animals include:

  • Vulture: a type of bird that eats decaying flesh
  • Carrion beetle: the term for one of many beetles that can eat flesh or even bat droppings
  • Blowflies: insects that munch on dead parts of live animals, like the dead flesh around their wounds
  • Opossum: a mammal that loves to dig through your garbage and road kill

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