15 Animals That Only Eat Plants (Examples With Pictures)

Photo: Adrian Elfed Williams / Shutterstock

Herbivores are animals that only eat plants and they’re often some of the largest terrestrial animals on the planet (and that rule was the same during the era of dinosaurs). These animals are an important part of the food chain and they serve as important prey to carnivores.

Learn what animals only eat plants from the list below:

  • Bison
  • Gorillas
  • Giant Pandas
  • Zebras
  • Koalas
  • Rhinos
  • Hippos
  • Elephants
  • Deer
  • Rabbits
  • Kangaroos
  • Most Insects
  • Squirrels
  • Beavers
  • Antelopes

1. Bison

Photo: Shelly Prevost / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Scientific name (genus): Bison

These huge animals are actually related to cows, but unlike cows – it’s almost impossible to domesticate them. They’re gentle giants, though, and despite their menacing appearance – they’re very calm and they only eat grass.

They usually ferment plants in their stomach before they digest them, and they consume a variety of plants – not only grass – ranging from grass to woody plants.

They often have run-ins with provocative people who think that they can treat them like cows, but they’re actually dangerous if provoked as they’re incredibly strong and have large horns on their heads.

2. Gorillas

Silverback gorilla
Photo: Julia Filirovska / Pexels

Scientific name (genus): Gorilla

These giants, while they’re not gentle at all, eat mostly leaves and stems of various plants, while they’ll also eat fruit. Fruit doesn’t make up a large portion of their diet, as it’s seasonal and they seldom get the chance to actually find fruit.

Gorillas are foragers, meaning that they’re collecting their food. If an animal invades their territory and they kill it in defense – they won’t eat the carcass, as they never eat meat.

3. Giant Pandas

Giant Pandas
Photo: Hugh Llewelyn / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Interestingly, giant pandas are actually classified as carnivorous animals, but in real life they never eat meat as bamboo supplies 99% of their diet, with various plants and fruits being the 1%.

These massive animals are obsessive eaters as the average panda can eat as much as 30 pounds of bamboo shoots per day! Because of those incredible numbers, a giant panda will often defecate up to 40 times a day.

4. Zebras

Photo: snarglebarf / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name (subgenus): Hippotigris

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These animals primarily eat grass, but if food is scarce, they’ll dig and try to find corms and rhizomes. This usually happens during the dry season. Through evolution, these animals have adapted to grazing on long and tough grass and they have no problem processing it.

Their metabolism is very quick, so they pass food quickly and they’re not selective in their foraging as they need to get their mouths on as much food as possible in a short time.

5. Koalas

Koala hugging on tree
Photo: J. Philipp Krone / Flickr / CC BY NC ND 2.0

Scientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus

Similar to how the giant panda is the world’s greatest consumer of bamboo – koalas are the world’s greatest consumers of eucalyptus! There are over 600 species of eucalyptus in their natural territory, while the koala prefers about 30 of those species.

They can eat up to 14 ounces of eucalyptus leaves every day to build up fat reserves – they do this so they don’t have to move too much, as their lifestyle is very sedentary. These animals sleep up to 20 hours a day, and they spend the remaining time eating.

6. Rhinos

Photo: Colin the Scot / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scientific name (family): Rhinocerotidae

These literal unicorns are just another example of animals that only eat plants being massive and scary. Judging by their size and their appearance, few people would guess that these gentle giants only eat plants.

However, rhinos eat grass and it’s one of the few animals in the world to prefer the shortest grass possible. Through their eating, they play a crucial role in the local ecological system – which is why losing them to poaching would be a massive loss to their habitat and all animals around them.

7. Hippos

Photo: Amanda / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Hippopotamus amphibius

These animals, just like rhinos and elephants, are called megaherbivores – meaning that they’re some of the largest herbivores on Earth. Their weight testifies to this, as they can weigh up to 3000 pounds, with extreme examples of some specimens weighing almost 6000 pounds.

They’re, honestly, quite fat animals and they spend the largest part of their day in the water. They’ll only leave water once the sun sets, and they’ll eat many different plants – but their diet usually consists of grass with only minimal consumption of aquatic plants.

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8. Elephants

Photo: Vaughan Leiberum / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific name (subfamily): Elephantinae

Another family of megaherbivores, elephants are the largest terrestrial animals without a shred of a doubt. These massive mammals eat plants by plucking the leaves with their trunks – which they often use similar to how we use our hands and arms.

Just like the bison, an elephant will ferment the food in a separate portion of the stomach, and that allows them to eat massive amounts of food. They usually eat leaves, stems, bark and roots.

9. Deer

Deer eating
Photo: Jenn Durfey / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific name (family): Cervidae

Deer are another family of animals that only eat plants, and these animals have one of the most diverse meal courses out of all herbivores. These browsers will eat almost all grasses, sedges, shrubs, trees, flowers, fruits, even vegetables if they come across it.

This diet allows them to eat virtually any plant and they don’t have to be selective about their food. This is ensured through their great digestive system, as it’s developed enough to allow deer to eat most plants and be able to process them.

In their diet, deer need large amounts of calcium and phosphate to support the growth of their antlers. Interestingly, there are unconfirmed reports of deer eating dead animals – but this should be taken with a large grain of salt since it’s yet unknown whether deer could even be able to process meat.

10. Rabbits

Photo: Kevin Jump / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scientific name (family): Leporidae

Grass composes the largest part of a rabbit’s diet, but these plant-eating animals will also eat leafy plants and even mushrooms if they find any in the wild.

The forest isn’t the only area where rabbits actively feed. It’s likely that these small animals eat plants from your garden, too. They’re not afraid of invading gardens and they’ll eat vegetables if they can find any.

11. Kangaroos

Photo: Scott Caleja / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific name (family): Macropodidae

Many people suspect that kangaroos eat meat, given that they’re very muscular and they probably need a lot of protein to build that muscle. However, all species of the kangaroo are strictly plant eaters.

They’re grazers, just like bison and cows, and they eat a wide variety of grasses, but some species will also add shrubbery to their diet. Smaller kangaroo species will also eat fungi.

12. Most Insects

Photo: Adrian Elfed Williams / Shutterstock

Scientific name (class): Insecta

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Although there are species that kill and eat other insects (spiders regularly kill and eat insects, while mosquitoes drink blood from humans and other animals), most insects will only eat plants. This is particularly interesting, as they’ve developed a method of drinking the nectar of plants.

That way, they drink all the nutrients they need from the inside of the plant. Some species will actually bite and swallow, similarly to how humans do it. Flies, for example, expel digestive enzymes into their food to break it down, after which they drink it.

13. Squirrels

Squirrel eating a mushroom
Photo: hedera.baltica / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name (family): Sciuridae

Squirrels are one of the few intricate species that can’t process cellulose, which is why they can’t eat grass and shrubbery. Instead, they focus on nuts, primarily eating nuts and seeds, fruits and fungi. They will sometimes eat green vegetation, but they’ll only do this if there’s a shortage of nuts.

What’s interesting about squirrels is that we’re currently witnessing an evolution of several species. It was recently documented that some squirrels, if they’re driven to extreme hunger, will kill and eat an insect or a small bird – even a snake.

Some species of tropical squirrels are seemingly shifting to a diet that consists solely of insects. This is incredible, as it’s happening right before our eyes – as far as we know, squirrels couldn’t even digest meat 50 years ago!

14. Beavers

A beaver eating an apple
Photo: Niklas Jeromin / Pexels

Scientific name (genus): Castor

Beavers are herbivores and their diet is very generalist – they’ll eat anything as long as it’s a plant. They eat leaves, roots, herbs, grasses, water lilies, water shields (and many other aquatic plants), while they focus on wood bark during the winter.

Interestingly, they won’t just eat any wood – they eat species of wood that are more easily digested instead of eating anything. They will also store their food by piling it up on a raft in the middle of the lake, ensuring that no other animal can touch it.

15. Antelopes

Photo: Shankar S /  Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific name (family): Bovidae

The last entry on our list, antelopes, are one of the largest groups of herbivores in the world. These animals depend on grass vegetation, and they prefer fresh grass if it’s available.

However, during dry seasons, they’ll gladly eat foliage and shrubbery. These animals are crucial players in the food chain as they present a very reliable food source for many predators.

To End

There are many animals that only eat plants, and throughout history, they’ve often presented the largest terrestrial animals on Earth. Nowadays, the largest plant-eating animal is the African elephant, while the Indian elephant and the hippopotamus follow close by.

For most of these animals, vegetation is the exclusive source of nutrients and they can’t process any other form of food. However, we’re currently witnessing a shift in evolution, primarily seen with squirrels, as some animals are learning how to process meat and they’re moving away from eating plants.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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