During review of an article I found an erroneous sentence:

The known predators of the plant are sheep, donkeys ...

I am an engineer, with not so much knowledge in ecology. Based on my earlier studies I suggested to change predators to consumers. I checked it with a search on the net. Surprisingly I found too few hits in my search.

Consumers of a plant is acceptable? Can you recommend alternatives?

  • English uses the word "herbivore" for those animals. – user140086 Dec 1 '16 at 11:11
  • I think predator is itself acceptable, if a bit of a stretch. 'Grazers' are included as a category on the wikipedia entry on Predation, so it is clearly an association that is common. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predation – Spagirl Dec 1 '16 at 11:40
  • Many thanks @Rathony! Herbivore of has many more relevant hits. I have not enough reputation to upvote your comment, but if convert it I can accept. – kaliczp Dec 1 '16 at 11:47
  • Thank you for your hints @Spagirl! I read the article. In this case animals not kill the full plant. So I will not neglect the original sentence. – kaliczp Dec 1 '16 at 11:52
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    It should be noted that an herbivore does eat almost nothing but plants. If you don't want to refer to those who eat only plants, then predator is probably the better word choice, seeing as an omnivore, and rarely even a carnivore, can also be a predator to a plant. – Hank Dec 1 '16 at 14:09

According to the wikibook Predation and Herbivory:

ecologically, predation is defined as any interaction between two organisms that results in a flow of energy between them. This definition is applicable to both plants and animals. There are four commonly recognized types of predation: (1) carnivory, (2) herbivory, (3) parasitism, and (4) mutualism.

So, this reference, in ecological situations, clearly accepts an animal eating a plant as a "predator" of that plant.

However, in more general non-technical contexts, dictionary.reference.com defines a predator as (depending on which of its sources you use) either:

any organism that exists by preying upon other organisms


any carnivorous animal

The second definition would preclude its usage for eating plants. The first hinges upon the definition of "preying". Using dictionary.reference.com again, prey as a verb is:

to seize and devour prey

where that prey (as a noun) is:

an animal hunted or seized for food

I would therefore suggest that unless you are talking to a technical ecological (or possibly biological?) crowd, predator would not be an appropriate term.

Possible terms (thanks to Hotlicks for the first one, and typing it into thesaurus.com gave the other two):

eater: from the verb to eat: to take into the mouth and swallow for nourishment

devourer: from the verb to devour: to swallow or eat up hungrily, voraciously, or ravenously

consumer: an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.


Most of the online definitions of 'predator' such as the ODO, the Cambridge and the Macmillan define 'predator' as an animal which eats other animals so it would seem that to describe a herbivore as a predator of plants is not really valid.

Not only that but there is a difference between predation on animals and the majority of grazing because predation involves killing, or at least seriously and permanently injuring, the target: whereas most grazing involves eating only part of the plant which, in most cases, regenerates. Creatures like us who eat the entire root, or the whole, of some plants like potatoes and carrots are only a subset of herbivores and omnivores.

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