Hey!  It's that lion's third birthday!  Let's bake it a cake.  We'll just mix everything up, bake it, and we're done.  Now we will leave it in the middle of the grass for the lion.  Okay, it's not eating the cake.  Oh great, now ants are all over the frosting.  This lion must be a picky eater.  Are you picky?  Do you love cheese on your eggs?  Do you pick pieces of pineapple off of your pizza?  Count yourself lucky!  Most living things do not get to pick whether they are picky or not.  Nature has built them in such a way that they are only able to eat a very small number of things.  If they don't eat these certain things, they will die.  In other words, they have to be picky to live.

Yum.  Smell that?  That's the scent of leaves on a tree baking in the sun.  Oh, and over there is a tasty bright, green lawn.  Does that make your mouth water?  Of course not.  That's because you are not an herbivore, any living thing that eats only grass and plants.  Their stomachs are much different than ours.  They can get a lot more nutrients, or good food stuff, from grass than we can.  Some plant-eaters you know are deer, snails, elephants, and cows.  I am sure you could name some more.  Now, there's something very important you should know about the teeth of plant-eaters.  Watch as that deer tears up a mouthful of . . .  Oh.  Never mind.  It was just eaten by a lion.

Leaves and berries; that's what's for dinner.


I guess the thing you should know is that plant-eaters are food for other living things.  The stomachs, claws, and teeth of hunters are made to eat one thing and one thing only: meat.  Carnivores are living things that only eat meat to live.  Some meat-eaters you know are tigers, owls, spiders, and snakes.  These are the kinds of animals that should scared you if you saw them in the forest at night.  Some of them hunt alone while others hunt in packs.  I do not think I need to tell you which you would rather run into.  Actually, you probably wouldn't want to run into either.

That guy holding the camera looks delicious.


Is there an animal that gets the best of both?  An animal that would eat the lion's birthday cake and the ants on it and the grass stuck stuck in the frosting?  Yes.  Omnivores are living things that eat plants and animals.  Some you know are bears, raccoons, chickens, pigs, and us.  These kinds of animals can live in many different places because they can find energy from many kinds of foods.  A raccoon gets to choose if it wants to eat in the forest or from your garbage.  For raccoons, that's like picking between the vegetables and the candy at the grocery store.  Speaking of trash, you may want to plug your nose for this next one.

I eat what all the animals leave behind.


Ew.  What is that smell?  Oh, it's poop... and a dead rat... together.  Great.  Now that's something even the bear will not touch.  Wait.  The rat is moving.  The pile of poop is going away.  There are things eating it!  Decomposers are living things that eat dead stuff.  Some you know are small white worms.  As gross as it is, they are doing something very good.  They are turning this dead stuff into dirt that can help plants grow.  Luckily for the small worms, they like it to eat it too.  Think of a worm picking the sugar off of its poop.

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There are many ways to be picky.  You could only like plants or meat or, gulp, dead things.  It's good to know what kinds of foods living things eat.  This helps us make sure they are getting that food so we do not have parts of nature dying out.  It also helps when you are getting something for an animal's birthday.  That's the last time we bake a lion a cake.  At least the ants liked it.

References:

Sheppard Software.  "Animal Diet Game."  Sheppard, 2010.  <http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/content/animals/kidscorner/games/animaldietgame.htm>

National Geographic.  "Omnivore."  Nat Geo, 2010.  <http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/omnivore/?ar_a=1>