Is Deer A Herbivore?

The deer is a herbivore as its diet consists almost entirely of plant-based food. In fact, they are specialized herbivores as they mostly feed on certain types of plants. Deer favor plants that are low in fire but are easily digestible with high protein content. They love to eat plant matter such as herbs, buds, foliage, fruit, aquatic plants, lichens and woody shoots.

Even though deer have the specialized teeth and complex digestive tract of a herbivore, they have been known to occasionally eat meat, especially dead animals. However, despite being somewhat fickle with their vegetarianism, deer are still regarded as herbivores.

Why is deer classified as a herbivore?

Deer are considered herbivores as they almost exclusively eat plants. Like most herbivores, their teeth and stomach have evolved specifically to break down and digest plant-based food. The deer’s front teeth are small and sharp, enabling them to cut up small branches and leaves.  Their molars are flat and large, with rough surfaces that can break up plant tissue. Deer also have diastema, a gap between the front and back teeth that allows plant tissue to be repositioned during chewing.

In addition, deer have a specialized four-chambered stomach. Found in some herbivores, these four chambers – rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum – help break down and digest the tough tissue and fibers in their food before being released into the body. 

What kind of herbivore is deer?

Herbivores are divided into two main groups – the grazers who primarily eat grass, and the browsers who mostly eat the leaves and fruits of plants. Deer are considered browsers as they favor shrubs, fruits, twigs and leaves.

In addition, deer are classified as ruminants, like cows, goats and sheep.  These animals have a four-chambered stomach and regurgitate their food from the first chamber, the rumen, and chew on it. This is known as chewing the cud and aids the digestion of tough fibrous plants.

Why do deer eat meat?

Deer have been observed eating meat from time to time. In most cases, meat eating is done opportunistically, with the deer typically consuming the carcases of small animals, birds and fish. However, on one occasion, a deer was even observed preying on a human corpse. 

The exact reasons deer do this is unclear. Like cattle, deer may resort to meat eating due to hunger when there is a scarcity of plants. They may also seek to consume different nutrient sources for essential minerals.. 

Can deer be considered omnivores?

Although deer occasionally eat meat, they  cannot be classified as omnivores as they don’t do it on a regular basis. Furthermore, their digestive systems are not adapted to digesting meat and their teeth are not designed to tear flesh. This means that they derive limited benefit from consuming meat and do it only on rare occasions. Therefore, deer are still considered to be herbivorous.