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Unexpected Grazers: 5 Animals You Didn’t Know Were Grass Eaters

Unexpected Grazers: 5 Animals You Didn’t Know Were Grass Eaters

Most of us are familiar with the typical grass eating animals. Ask any 5-year-old to draw a picture of a cow, horse or sheep and there’s a good chance they’ll include green grass (or what might resemble green grass). Grass makes up a large part of the diet of ruminants like cattle, sheep, goats, deer, elk and llamas as well as other herbivores such as horses. We’re so used to associating these animals with grazing that it might come as a surprise when we see a not-so-typical animal foraging on grass. So make room in the pasture, here are five animals you didn’t know were grass eaters.

 

Bears

As omnivores, bears are able to eat both meat and vegetation. And from time to time, both grizzly bears and black bears have been known to graze on grass. According to the National Park Service, bears in the Yellowstone National Park area can often be observed grazing on young grasses, especially the sedges. This high protein grass is an important part of the bear diet, especially during the spring and early summer. Further north, polar bears have also been known to fill up on grass during the springtime. According to Nikita Ovsyanikov, author of the book “Polar Bears”, the act of gorging on grass is thought to help clean out the bear’s digestive tract after months of hibernation.

 

Tortoises

Tortoises might as well be cows with shells. These slow moving reptiles love green pastures and plenty of sunlight. Grass is the primary diet of tortoises, and they’ll spend much of their time sampling many different types of forages. This unique browsing style ensures the tortoise maintains a well-balanced diet with all the required nutrients, minerals and trace elements. With this in mind, we’ve put together a tortoise pasture blend specifically to meet these needs. This blend was developed with input from tortoise owner and customer David Sewart.

 

Geladas

The gelada, or gelada baboon (although not a true baboon), is one interesting primate. Found only in the Ethiopian highlands, the gelada spends most of its time foraging the grasslands. Up to 90% of their diet is composed of grass. This makes the gelada the only grazing member of the primate family. But don’t expect to catch them crouched down on all fours as they nibble the grass. Geladas are much too refined for that. Instead, they use their fingers to pluck individual grass blades which help them sort the good forages from the bad.

 

Ostriches

Ever wonder what helps the ostrich maintain its position as king of the birds? Grass of course. These flightless giants are heavy grazers, wolfing down their food whole. To help digest so much vegetation, ostriches will also eat small pebbles. These pebbles mix with the grass inside the ostrich and help break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. A complex series of stomachs takes care of the rest.

 

Grass Carp

The grass carp takes first place in our list of unusual grazers. Also known as the white amur, the grass carp is native to the Amur River in Asia. Like its name suggests, it loves grazing on grass – underwater of course. This special fish has been introduced into many waterways throughout the United States as a natural way to control aquatic plants in lakes, reservoirs, ponds and aquaculture farms. Even thick stemmed cattail and bulrush can show up on the grass carp’s menu. However, care should be used when considering this fish for aquatic plant management as it can quickly destroy native wildlife habitat.

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