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We have apex predators for animals that have no natural predators. But it only applies to animals that are themselves predators.

Are there more concise or pithy terms for "animals/organisms with no natural predators" that would encompass herbivores?

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    For example, elephants? Any others?
    – Mitch
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:23
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    Also, you may get more expert advice about technical language from a dedicated site like biology.stackexchange.com.
    – Mitch
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:24
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    @Mitch Elephants totally can become prey of wild cats. I am struggling to think of any herbivore that no carnivore would kill and eat when given the opportunity.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:34
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    @RegDwigнt - Many whales. Also I believe there are lower animals and plants that are so toxic that nothing eats them.
    – feetwet
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:37
  • Plankton is not a vegetable or shroom, so whales are apex predators alright. Poisonous animals and plants are a fair point I guess, but you can go ahead and call them just apex consumers or apex species or what have you. When the word predator does not apply, you don't have to use it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:48

4 Answers 4

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The term apex species is fitting. This term is not widespread, but, being obviously related to "apex predator", it will be easily understood. The term is used here, for example.

After looking further into this, I found some evidence that the term is used research papers:


You might also be interested in the term megafauna, which includes megaherbivores. According to Wikipedia:

Megafauna – in the sense of the largest mammals and birds – are generally K-strategists, with high longevity, slow population growth rates, low mortality rates, and (at least for the largest) few or no natural predators capable of killing adults.

Megafauna includes a number of species that aren't very large, like white-tailed deer and humans.

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  • Or "apex consumer". For a reference, see blog.nature.org/conservancy/2011/07/20/…, which actually uses both terms. Sep 7, 2016 at 17:19
  • @DougWarren Hey that's my source! They define it as synonymous with "apex predator", but it may be used for non-predators, I guess.
    – Laurel
    Sep 7, 2016 at 17:38
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    "Apex species" is vague. What feature is it atop -- a hill?
    – AmI
    Sep 7, 2016 at 20:34
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    'Apex predator' means 'at the apex of predators' {and not, of course, 'a predator of apexes'}, but 'apex species' would mean 'at the apex of species' -- which of the many things that species do defines the direction of this apex?
    – AmI
    Sep 7, 2016 at 21:00
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    .. and like I implied: 'predator' is much more closely related to 'food chain' than 'species' is. {'Species' is more about 'procreation'} The term may be accepted by biologists, but not for a good reason.
    – AmI
    Sep 7, 2016 at 22:00
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One possibility would be 'species not subject to predation'.

(Note: 'unpredated' also comes to mind; I have not been able to find an authoritative dictionary-based source to back this up, but the word is definitely used. For example:

'Distance of predated and unpredated nests of Honey Buzzard to the next Goshawk nest at the two study sites (means ± standard errors).' Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/264409021_fig1_Figure-2-Distance-of-predated-and-unpredated-nests-of-Honey-Buzzard-to-the-next-Goshawk )

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  • 'unpredated' is a clear and accurate coinage.
    – AmI
    Sep 7, 2016 at 20:35
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Top of its food chain

EDIT: initially I used top of the but have changed answer to top of its to emphasise there may multiple food chains with various tops.

food chain
noun 1.(ecology) a sequence of organisms in an ecosystem in which each species is the food of the next member of the chain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition

An organism is

an individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form.

So using the above definitions at the top of a food chain, you find organisms (which may or may not be predators themselves) without natural predators.

To better show the multiple food chain approach here is snippet from a BBC revision page.

A food web is a network of interconnected food chains. It shows the energy flow through part of an ecosystem. The diagram is an example enter image description here

The example above contains lots of information. Here are three food chains from it:

  • oak tree → squirrel → fox.
  • oak tree → earthworm → wood mouse → fox.
  • oak tree → earthworm → wood mouse → owl.
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    Having no natural predators is not the same as being at the top of the food chain.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:42
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    This isn't quite right because again it suggests that the animals on top are eating other animals (the next in the "chain"). E.g., consider whales (so big they are virtually immune to predation) that eat plankton (which are at the bottom of the food chain).
    – feetwet
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:43
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    @Centaurus Can you clarify? I can't see how they are not the same!
    – k1eran
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:53
  • @feetwet I deliberately picked a dictionary definition that talks about sequence of organisms rather than a sequence of animals - I have seen both.
    – k1eran
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:55
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    @k1eran Take for instance the remora and the barnacle. They spend their whole lives attached to whales or sharks, have no natural predators and are not considered to be at the top of the food chain. A biologist would certainly have much more to say about this.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 7, 2016 at 15:57
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How about inviolable

mid-15c., "that is to be kept without violation" (of an oath, etc.), from Latin inviolabilis "inviolable, invulnerable," from in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + violabilis "that may be injured, easily wounded," from violare "to do violence to" (see violation). Meaning "having a right or guaranty of immunity" (of a place of sanctuary, etc.) is from 1570s. Meaning "incapable of being injured" is from 1520s. Related: Inviolably.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=inviolable

I think it would be accurate to say that such an animal is "inviolable".

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