Predators = Carnivores
Numerous predators live in Idaho, but many of them are seldom seen by people. The word predator means “a carnivorous animal that hunts, kills, and eats other animals in order to survive.” So, Idaho’s predators must hunt other small animals in order to eat. These animals are called carnivores.
What is a carnivore?
Carnivores must eat meat in order to survive. They are important to Idaho’s ecosystems because they keep other species from becoming overpopulated. Since carnivores have to hunt down and kill other animals, they require a large amount of calories to keep their bodies healthy, which means they must eat a large amount of meat over the course of a year. The bigger the carnivore, the more meat it must consume.
What happens when an animal species becomes overpopulated?
Sometimes, when there aren’t as many carnivores in an ecosystem, certain species of herbivores will become overpopulated. When this happens, the ecosystem becomes unbalanced, and herbivores can starve because too many of them are competing for the same food source. Carnivores are important in keeping herbivores from becoming too plentiful, which can also destroy the landscape and vegetation in an ecosystem. For example, populations of animals like mice and deer would grow too large and sick if carnivores did not keep their numbers down. Also, when an animal population becomes too crowded, they can quickly spread disease to each other and to other animals as well.
Teeth for meat
Carnivores have sharp teeth adapted for ripping meat from another animal. Carnivores like wolves, coyotes, and bears have large, powerful jaws that help them to grab large animals like deer and elk. Bobcats and mountain lions have powerful paws (along with their sharp teeth), that help them catch their prey.
Image courtesy of the Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum
Eyes for hunting
Predators’ eyes face forward and are located in the front of their heads. This allows predators to have better depth perception, which allows them to judge how far their prey is, and how fast their prey is moving. Herbivores have eyes that face sideways, located more on the sides of their heads. This allows them to see almost all the way around their bodies, giving them plenty of opportunities to spot a predator and run to safety.
What other animals can you think of that are predators? Humans are predators! We are omnivores, because we eat both meat and vegetation, but we are also predators because we must kill other animals in order to eat meat. Where are our eyes located? In the front of our heads, just like other predators!
Cougars have eyes located on the front of their heads because they are predators
What is an omnivore?
Omnivores eat both meat and plants, but not all kinds of plants. Unlike herbivores, omnivores cannot digest some of the substances in grains or other plants because their stomachs are not designed to do so. They can eat fruits and vegetables, and humans must process grains before eating them. For example, we do not eat wheat or other grains straight from their stalks, we process them first and then bake them into bread or other foods so we can chew them and our bodies can digest them.
You are likely an omnivore!
Most humans, unless they are vegetarians, are omnivores. Humans have teeth to help us rip into meat and bite into fruits and vegetables as well, and we have molars to help us grind up our food so we can digest it. Many omnivores, such as bears and raccoons, will hunt for meat or scavenge meat from other predators, along with plants such as berries and other fruits.