Scavenger animals don’t have a fancy spot in the ecosystem, and they do not have a cute reputation either. People have always considered scavengers like vultures and hyenas dirty, disgusting creatures.
However, whatever you may feel about them, scavengers play an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Without these animals, dead animal carcasses would be everywhere, and decomposition would take place much slower. You can view scavenger animals as the cleanup crew saving the world from diseases and other dangers in decaying organisms.
Scavenger animals speed up the rate at which nutrients are returned to the environment. While vultures and hyenas are among the most popular, many other animals serve as nature’s waste disposal system. Let’s explore these 11 animals that feed on animal remains.
Vultures are the most-recognizable scavenger animals in the world. They are one of the few animals that feed exclusively on carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals). They have many interesting biological adaptations that make it safe for them to eat decaying flesh.
Vultures have excellent eyesight, allowing them to spot dead animals while soaring in the sky. They also have a strong sense of smell to perceive decaying flesh from afar.
This bird’s hardened, barbed tongue makes it possible for them to pick bones clean. They’re also known to have strong stomach acid to kill off bacteria and other dangerous parasites found on decayed flesh. Most vultures are bald (hairless), which prevents toxic bacteria from sticking to their feathers and infecting them.
Vultures have no other choice but to scavenge. Unlike other flesh-eating birds that hunt, vultures have weak nails and beaks, making it impossible for them to actively hunt for prey.
2. Striped Hyenas
The striped hyenas are small hyenas with a dog-like appearance. They have long, black, pointed ears, which gives them excellent hearing skills. Their brownish-gray fur with black stripes is the perfect camouflage allowing them to blend in with the tall grass. However, they only do a little hunting themselves, preferring to scavenge for remains.
Striped hyenas are scavengers that feast on the carcasses of large animals. They have strong jaws to chew bones, horns, and even hooves. Like other vultures, their digestive system can kill bacteria in the carrion.
Previously believed to be solitary animals, recent research has shown that this species of hyena has a complex social structure. They form small groups of up to seven animals in areas with sufficient food and water.
These birds have a diverse diet that is not limited to carrion. However, they’re definitely drawn to dead meat and are often found feeding on it. Ravens are scavenger animals often seen in the company of vultures, magpies, and eagles. Although they feed on dead animals, ravens can also hunt small animals like rats, lizards, snakes, and even insects for food.
These birds are considered to be among the smartest animals in the world. In the past, they were known to follow armies into battles, knowing they would have an “all-you-can-eat buffet” after the battle. Most cultures see the raven as a bad omen — a symbol of death!
Jackals are members of the dog family found in Africa and Asia. They’re very closely related to coyotes. Like coyotes, jackals are medium-sized canines that live in packs. The main difference between both animals is their size; coyotes are much bigger.
As far as their diet goes, jackals are mostly considered opportunistic omnivores. This means they will eat any available food, including dead animals left behind by other active predators. The African jackals scavenge more than other jackal species, and that’s mainly because they live alongside top predators like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. They can hunt small animals on their own too, and during periods of scarcity, jackals will form hunting bands to take out larger prey.
Like vultures on land, crabs are the cleanup team of the sea. Crab feeding habits tend to vary from one species to the other. However, most are bottom feeders living in underwater grasses on the ocean floor. This provides a good hiding spot from predators. Also, since food particles eventually settle on the ocean floor, it’s the perfect place for crabs to live and scavenge for food.
The crab’s diet typically includes anything it can find, including dead fish, clams, mussels, oysters, and the remains of plants. They may be cannibalistic, too, feeding on smaller crabs.
Bears are large land mammals found across various habitats in Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. There are eight types of bears, and feeding habits tend to vary from one species to the other. Most bears are omnivores meaning they feed on both plant and animal matter. Their feeding habit also depends on the availability of food in their locations.
Bears eat anything that comes their way. Although they’re large enough to make their own kills, bears prefer to use their size to scare off and steal food from other creatures. They have an elongated digestive tract that can handle the digestion of carrion effectively.
Eagles are known to be voracious apex predators that hunt for themselves. However, they can also feast on carcasses, just like the vulture. Their keen eyesight, strong talons, and massive wings give them an intimidating appearance. Because of this, they can easily send other animals away from their kill so they can feed on the carcass.
Eagles are known to gather around wolf kills and may also scavenge leftover fish killed by the bears. Eagles are also known to eat the young of other birds and exhibit other opportunistic feeding habits.
There are about 500 species of sharks. Their size varies from dwarf lantern shark, about 0.39 inches long, to the whale shark, which can grow up to 60 feet long. Although sharks are mostly apex predators that actively hunt fish, seals, octopuses, and other marine animals, they don’t always have to eat live prey.
Sharks are scavenger animals too. They can feed on dead fish and mammals in the water. Pretty much any meat they can find in the ocean goes. Sharks have also been known to eat ocean trash. They’re particularly attracted to metal and eat metallic trash dumped in the ocean. Experts think this might have something to do with the electromagnetic nature of metal.
Like their cousins — the crabs — lobsters also clean up the ocean by feasting on detritus. Lobsters have no boundaries when it comes to food. They feed on anything they can find in the water, living or dead.
Lobsters are opportunistic omnivores, allowing them to function as scavengers in the ocean. They mostly feed on living algae, worms, small fish, and other crustaceans in the water. But they can also feed on dying and dead animals on the ocean floor.
Millipedes are arthropods. They’re known for their long slender bodies with lots of small, tiny legs (nicknamed thousand-leggers). They shed their skin severally as they grow, and after each molting stage, they eat their cast-off skins. This is just one of many scavenging habits exhibited by this critter.
Most millipedes are scavengers. They prefer to live outdoors with sufficient moisture, such as under mulch, dead leaves, or grass clippings. They feed on decomposing leaves, plant material, and decaying wood particles. Millipedes may also feed on living plants in their habitat. But this only happens when food is scarce.
Eating both animals and plants, Foxes are omnivores. These skilled canine hunters hunt small animals like rabbits, birds, and frogs and eat fruits like berries. They are also scavengers, eating the leftovers of other predators. They have been known to chase off large predators from a kill and feast on their meal.
These canine hunters eat anything and everything they can find. They are opportunistic animals with a very diverse diet. They use their active sense of smell to locate carcasses and also form hunting groups.
Apart from the animals mentioned above, many other animals are scavengers in the wild. Animals like crocodiles, bottle flies, spiders, slugs, condors, prawns, eels, alligators, and piranhas are also scavengers that help the ecosystem get rid of dead animals and plants.
They may not be as popular as the scavenger animals on this list, but they also play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
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