Animal Appetites

By Charlene A. Shuler

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    You may think you have seen people who eat a lot, but no one can match the appetites of some animals.

    The stomach of the hippopotamus can hold 3/4 to 2 hectoliters of food at one time! Its favorite dinner consists of grass, reeds, and other plants found in the shallow waters of the rivers in Africa where it lives. The hippo likes to spend its days in the water to avoid the heat, but at night it comes out to feed along the riverbank.

    Another big eater is the elephant that must also consume great quantities of food. Its trunk is used like a hand to grasp food that’s stuffed into its mouth, but how messy that is! An elephant blows food, throws it, and stomps on it until the jungle is a shambles.

    Elephants can shake down the nuts from a coconut tree by wrapping their trunks around the tree’s trunk and then giving it a good shake. When the nuts fall on the ground, the elephants crack them open with their front feet.

    One of the elephants’ favorite tricks is to pull up bunches of grass with their trunks and remove the dirt clinging to the roots by beating each clump against their front legs.

    Another land animal, the box turtle, has an interesting feeding problem. She sometimes eats so much she can’t fit back into her shell. This member of the reptile family is fond of wild strawberries and blackberries. Coming upon a patch of these fruits, she will eat all she can hold. Then much to her dismay she is no longer able to get both her head and feet under the shell at the same time without something hanging out. Thus the box turtle becomes a victim of her own appetite.

    The pelican is often called a walking fishnet because of a huge fish-catching pouch attached to the underside of its bill. Its appetite is enormous. Plunging into a school of fish, the pelican scoops them into its pouch. Oftentimes, because of the bird’s greediness, it does not stop to eat the first fish it catches but instead rushes on to gather up more fish until its bulging pouch will hold no more.

    The skyscraper neck of the giraffe, another big eater, is his most valuable asset at feeding time. The giraffe prefers to munch among the tender treetop leaves that he can reach quite easily with the help of his long neck and a limber tongue that is 45 centimeters long! He can also spot danger from that height while he feeds.

    Although the blue whale is the largest inhabitant of the ocean, it eats the tiniest food. The whale’s diet consists of plankton, tiny plants and animals that float through the water. When the whale is hungry—which is most of the time—it simply opens its huge jaws and strains tons of food into its mouth, then the water is spit back out. Thus some of the smallest plants and animals in the ocean help keep the world’s largest mammals alive.