The animal kingdom is one of the topics that arouses the most interest in children in natural science class. What characterizes animals? What do they feed on? What types of animals exist? These are some of the most frequent doubts among the little ones at home. However, although children will find answers to these and other questions at school, if they begin to show interest in the animal world from a very young age, you can teach them some basic questions such as what types of animals exist according to their diet.

In this way, the little ones will not only learn one of the many classifications of the animal kingdom, but they will also be able to identify the animals in their environment based on this criterion, which will help them improve their memory and develop categorical thinking. It will also be a great incentive for them to continue learning more about animals and the first step to sensitize them to animal care and respect for all living beings.

Classification of animals, according to their diet

There are different ways to classify animals, but one of the most basic is according to their diet. Based on what animals eat by nature, three main groups are recognized: carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. Basically, carnivorous animals are those that feed on meat while herbivores have an eminently vegetable diet. Instead, omnivores feed on both meat and plant-based foods.

What are carnivorous animals?

As we mentioned, carnivorous animals are those that obtain the nutrients they need for their subsistence and development through the consumption of meat. However, beyond what they eat there are other characteristics that characterize this group and that are precisely what allow them to consume and digest meat.

Unlike other animals, carnivores have short, pointed canines and long, sharp, curved incisors that allow them to tear through skin and sever muscles and ligaments. Likewise, they are characterized by having sharp claws and at least four fingers on each extremity, which makes it easier for them to hunt.

Its digestive tract is adapted for the ingestion and digestion of animal tissues, so it is usually much shorter. Basically, it is made up of the esophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, a small cecum and the large intestine, a relatively simple path that allows them to obtain the nutrients provided by the meat.

In turn, these animals can be classified into: predators and scavengers.

  • predators. They are those animals that hunt the prey that they are going to consume. Many of these animals hunt alone, but in some cases, such as wolves, they often attack in packs to bring down larger animals.
  • Scavengers. Scavengers are those that consume dead animal tissue. Basically, they are opportunistic animals that take advantage of the death of animals or the remains of the hunt to feed. It is worth noting that, in some cases, they can combine this method with hunting.

In a general sense, carnivorous animals help to maintain the balance in the ecosystem in which they live since they contribute to regulating the populations of species. These animals include the eagle, vulture, crocodile, coyote, dolphin, seal, seagull, lion, wolf, shark, tiger, fox, and snake.

What characterizes herbivorous animals?

Herbivorous animals, also known as phytophagous, are characterized by feeding on plants, herbs or algae that they obtain by grazing, browsing, sucking or drilling. From plant-based foods they obtain cellulose, a complex carbohydrate that gives them the energy they need to grow healthy. However, digesting cellulose is not easy, which is why these animals are distinguished by having a much more complex and long digestive system.

In fact, did you know that the intestine of these animals can measure up to 3 times the length of their body? This, added to the fact that they need to consume large amounts of vegetables to obtain the energy they need, explains why they spend so many hours on their diet. A cow, for example, spends about 6 hours a day chewing.

Another of their main peculiarities is their teeth since they do not have canines like carnivores, but rather highly developed molars that allow them to crush vegetables and grains and, in some cases, strong incisors to cut branches and leaves. In addition, they have a highly articulated jaw that allows them to have a larger chewing surface, which gives them the typical movement to and fro that they do when eating.

In turn, these animals can be classified into: monogastric and polygastric, according to their type of stomach.

  • Monogastric. They are characterized by having only one stomach since the fermentation process occurs in another part of the digestive system. Horses, rodents and lagomorphs belong to this group.
  • Polygastric. They are distinguished by having four divisions in the stomach that communicate with each other and specialize in different functions. Within this group are ruminants that have the ability to regurgitate part of their gastric content to chew it again, cattle, goats, sheep and birds.

Being primary consumers in the food chain, they contribute to the balance of the ecosystem since they prevent the overpopulation of plant species, while helping the pollination of some plants. These animals include the horse, the goat, the kangaroo, the zebra, the deer, the rabbit, the elephant, the giraffe, the panda bear, the sheep, the rhinoceros and the cow.

What distinguishes omnivorous animals?

Omnivorous animals are those that consume both meat and vegetables in their diet. These are animals that can adapt to practically any environment since they have a very varied diet. In fact, your body is adapted to efficiently digest both types of food.

Omnivores are distinguished by having a jaw midway between carnivores and herbivores, they have short incisors and long, sharp canines for tearing, but also flat premolars and molars for crushing. Another peculiarity is that they have a thin and short digestive system, as well as a single stomach that is responsible for digesting both meat and vegetables, which explains why many of the nutrients provided by the diet are sometimes wasted.

Although they are predators by nature, they adapt very well to environments with abundant vegetation, in which case they opt for an eminently vegetarian diet to avoid hunting. Among them are the human being, the bear, the pig, the dog, the mouse, the chimpanzee, the crow, the hedgehog, the skunk, the chicken, the sea turtle and the ostrich.