10 Surprisingly Herbivorous Animals

You won’t believe some of the herbivorous animals on this list! Despite their size, some of the world’s largest animals are grazers.

Nov 12, 2023By Jessica Montes
herbivorous animals

Herbivores come in all shapes and sizes. They live in environments ranging from oceans to deserts, and they have one thing in common: their diets are made almost entirely of plants. The 10 animals on this list might be big and intimidating or have carnivorous relatives, but they wouldn’t hurt a fly. In fact, these herbivores wouldn’t eat a fly, either!

Manatees Graze on Underwater Plants

Manatee water
Image credit: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Manatees are some of the largest water-dwelling mammals and are found in waters all over the world. Adults can measure up to 13 feet and weigh 3,650 pounds. Manatees mostly eat aquatic plants with low calories and minimal protein content, meaning they must eat enormous amounts to receive energy and fuel their bodies. These marine animals also regularly grow new molars to replace old teeth that have been worn down by grinding down sand with their food. Imagine eating a salad that has sand in it! That’s just lunch as usual for these gentle cows of the sea.

Jumping Spiders Prefer Acacia Shrubs to Bugs

Jumping spider
Image credit: Erik Karits

The Bagheera kiplingi (a species of jumping spider) is truly one of a kind! It is the only known spider species that consumes plants instead of insects. This arthropod thrives in Central America and lives on acacia shrubs. Ants are often found on these plants as well, but the jumping spider prefers eating the acacia leaf tips and nectar instead.

If their diet was not surprising enough, jumping spiders also have great leaping abilities, and these arachnids can jump 50 times their body length.

Hippopotamus’ Teeth Are for Fighting, Not Eating

Image credit: Vadim Lu

Hippos have a reputation for being huge water and land animals weighing up to 9,000 pounds and growing up to 16 feet. They don’t, however, have a reputation for mostly grazing on plant matter.

They are also known to act aggressively toward humans and other animals but hippos typically use their sharp teeth for protection, not eating. These massive mammals have flat molars in the backs of their mouths that allow them to munch on grass, like cows in pastures.

Hippos eat up to 80 pounds of short grass and fruit each day. Although hippos eat only plants, their inactive lifestyle is what really packs on the pounds.

Ostrich Swallow Pebbles to Grind Up Food

Image credit: Mariola Grobelska

Ostriches are known to eat insects and small animals, but a majority of their meals (like more than 95 percent) are made up of plants. They enjoy grass, roots, greens, and succulents. Since they do not have teeth, ostriches have to swallow pebbles and sand to crumble the food they eat.

As the largest and fastest bird on land, they can measure up to nine feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. Although ostriches are flightless birds, its large wings help with balance while it runs, reaching speeds up to 43 miles per hour.

Cape Buffalo Are Fighters, Not Hunters

Cape buffalo
Image credit: Zachary Pearson

Cape buffalos are an African animal with an aggressive reputation for injuring peopleand other animals. They have downward-curved horns and are known to use them against predators or when threatened.

Still, while they attack other animals, they are not hunters. Cape buffalos eat large quantities of grass and chew on their cud (partly digested food brought up from the stomach for a second round of munching) for more nutrients.

Lesser Flamingos Mostly Eat Algae

a group of lesser flamingos
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Most flamingos get their feather color from the food they eat, but not all can thank shrimp and crustaceans for their pink hue. Algae, such as spirulina, make up most of a lesser flamingo’s diet. Even though these are green foods, the animals still keep their rosy color and are one of the pinkest flamingo species. These birds are also the smallest in the flamingo family, with adults weighing between 2 to 5 pounds.

Orangutans Live in a Giant Salad Bar

Image credit: Bob Brewer

Orangutans take the title of the biggest tree-dwelling mammal, with females weighing up to 120 pounds and males reaching 220 pounds. They eat all the plants around them, including flowers, leaves, bark, soil, and even honey. In recent years, orangutans have been placed on the endangered animals list because of habitat loss, food insecurity that comes with displacement, and the illegal orangutan trade.

Honey Possums Help Pollinate Flowers

honey possum eating a plant
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Honey possums only weigh about 10 grams, less than a tablespoon of flour. Despite their small size, they’re quite agile. A honey possum’s long tail helps it climb branches, and its snout helps it sniff out and collect food. Despite the name, honey possums do not actually eat honey––and they’re not possums! However, they love the sweet nectar and pollen from flowers. This makes them important pollinators that spread the pollen from their bodies to all the flora they visit.

Tree Kangaroos Eat Leafy Greens

Tree kangaroo
Image credit: Kunal Kalra

Tree kangaroos are golden, orange-colored marsupials closely related to kangaroos. Their name reflects their chosen habitat and tree climbing abilities. Tree kangaroos are found in cloud forests ranging from 4,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation. As tree dwellers, their diet consists of leafy greens, ferns, moss, tree bark, and certain flowers. Similar to other marsupials in Australia, tree kangaroos need conservation, as they are a threatened species due to hunting and agriculture expansion.

Green Sea Turtles Love Seagrass

Green sea turtle
Image credit: Richard Segal

Sea turtles are remarkable creatures with expert navigation skills. Yet, only the green sea turtle boasts a plant-based diet. Its name comes from its greenish appearance (obviously). However, the reptile’s color comes from the large amounts of algae and seagrasses it consumes (not so obvious).

Green sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled turtle species, spanning three to four feet long and weighing up to 400 pounds. They can be found living in the oceans of 140-plus countries, making them a familiar face across the globe.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.