Plant-Based Behemoths: Which of Our Planet’s Large Mammals Are Vegetarian?

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day, which celebrates the benefits of vegetarianism, on both personal health and the environment. People may choose to mark the day by having plant-based meals with their friends. Many of the world’s biggest mammals always opt for plant-based meals because they’re herbivores. To mark World Vegetarian Day, let’s take a look at a few.

American Bison

bison walking in front of geothermal features at Yellowstone

American bison can weigh over 2,000 pounds and stand at over six feet tall at their humps, making them the largest mammal in North America. With this kind of size, you’d think a wide range of foods would be needed, but some simple plants will do! Bison keep their weight up on mostly grass, though they’ll snack on flowering plants, lichens, and woody plant leaves when given the chance. A good chunk of their day is dedicated to chowing down on these plants, too, as it’s estimated that they eat 1.6% of their body weight – or well over 20 pounds – each day. So the next time you eat a little too much at the salad bar, remember at least it wasn’t 20 pounds’ worth of food.


two camels walking through desert sand

Another large plant-lover is the camel. The dromedary species, which accounts for the majority of the world’s camels, stands up to 6.5 feet at its shoulders and can weigh more than 1,300 pounds. They keep their figures by eating grass and grains. Camels are ruminants, which means like cows, they regurgitate their food, chew it, and swallow it again to get more nutrients from it and improve digestion. When food becomes scarce in their arid environment, they use fat stored in their humps for energy. Because of this, they can go months without food.


elephant walking through grass

African elephants are the largest land mammal on the planet, standing nearly 10 feet tall and weighing up to 13,000 pounds. As this requires some substantial meals, they can eat more than 300 pounds of food per day and spend up to 18 hours chowing down. These giants, too, get all of these calories from plants. Talk about dedication to their vegetarian diet. They’re not overly picky, though, eating everything from grass and fruit to tree bark and roots. It depends on what’s available. To get extra nutrients, they also use their tusks to dig into the ground and chew on soil that comes up. The diet seems to work for them, as African elephants can live up to 70 years.


mother and baby giraffe snuggling in front of trees

Giraffes can grow up to 18 feet tall and weigh up to 3,000 pounds. Their necks alone can also be six feet long. That’s a lot of weight and height to maintain. Since giraffes are also plant eaters, it seems your parents were right when they told you to eat your veggies to grow big and tall. Like elephants, giraffes spend most of their day eating, sometimes up to 20 hours. This adds up to about 75 daily pounds of mostly leaves, which are their favorite food. They especially like acacia leaves, though the trees have many thorns on them. The thorns are no match for their 18-inch tongues, however, which deftly maneuver around them. They’ll also chow down on herbs, vines, flowers, and fruit. They don’t really need a reminder to drink water, either, because the plants they eat supply most of their hydration.

Gorillas… Mostly

gorilla walking on all fours on grass

Gorillas can weigh well over 400 pounds and reach heights up to six feet. These muscle-bound primates look like they could walk into the gym and outlift the best of them. What do they eat to attain such a physique? Their greens, obviously. Depending on the species, this can include fruit, stems, seeds, leaves, roots, and flowers. However, they aren’t entirely plant-based, as they’ve been known to eat insects, including ants, caterpillars, and termites. They’ll even chow down on some snails. Okay, so maybe they’re flexitarians. They spend about half their days eating, taking in around 40 pounds of food each day. Looks like this fuels them well for arm day at the gym.


two kangaroos standing in grass

Another beefy member of the animal kingdom is the kangaroo, which looks like it never misses arm day, or leg day, either. In fact, the red kangaroo’s kick force is well over 700 pounds. The power for these kicks comes from plants, with kangaroos mostly eating leaves and grass. They’ll feed on ferns, flowers, fruit, and moss, too. Like camels, they also regurgitate and re-chew their food.


manatee swimming through water

For an animal called the sea cow, it would make sense that manatees enjoy a plant-based diet like their land friends. These large mammals, which can weigh more than 3,000 pounds and measure up to 13 feet in height, can spend a third of their day eating up to 9% of their body weight. This mostly comes from seagrasses and other marine plant life. However, they may also eat plants overhanging the water, as well as those on the shoreline. Despite the amount that they can eat, they can also fast for months if needed, due to their slow metabolism.


bull moose standing in grass

Have you ever been out on a hike and seen a moose? You may have been startled by their size, as males typically stand at a height of six feet at the shoulder and weigh well over 1,000 pounds. You’d probably feel safer observing one from your car, which may actually be shorter than the moose. These behemoths keep their weight on by browsing on leaves, twigs, bark, and buds from trees and shrubs. Some of their favorites are willows, aspen, and balsam fir. They’ll also eat aquatic vegetation in streams and ponds, like water lilies. They can even dive for food and eat it underwater, holding their breaths for up to a minute. Throughout the day, they can eat up to 60 pounds of food.

Pandas… Mostly

panda chewing on food

Pandas like bamboo, so much so that they can eat up to 80 pounds of it every day. Not even young kids show that much dedication to their favorite chicken nuggets. The 80 pounds are a huge share of the panda’s body weight, with males topping the scales at a little over 300 pounds. If they must stray from their favorite food, about 1% of the rest of their diet consists of other plants, like grasses, bulbs, and fruits… and the occasional meat. They will sometimes eat carrion or hunt for small rodents like pikas. Like gorillas, let’s mark them down as a flexitarian… a flexitarian that spends half its day eating.


rhinoceros in dry field by trees and grass

There are five species of rhinoceros, and all of them stick to plants. White rhinos are the biggest, sometimes weighing more than 7,000 pounds. They also stand up to six feet tall. In fact, the only land mammals larger than them are African and Asian elephants. Much like elephants, they spend a good chunk of their day eating, up to half of their waking hours. Depending on the species, they may eat grass, leaves, fruit, stems, or twigs. By the end of the day, they may have eaten more than 100 pounds.

So this World Vegetarian Day, you may just need to spend the majority of your day eating piles of plants in honor of all these glorious herbivores.

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