Think Tortoises, Mallards and Giraffes Are Vegetarian? Think Again

Believing these animals to be herbivores is a big misteak.


Eleanor Higgs


Eleanor Higgs

Creative Services Assistant

Eleanor is a content creator and social media assistant with an undergraduate degree in zoology and a master’s degree in wildlife documentary production.

Creative Services Assistant

Tortoise about to eat a forkful of steak and rosemary

Though steak isn't on the menu, you'll be surprised what is. Image credit: Igor Normann/yhelfman/Shutterstock. Edited by IFLScience.

Most people get taught in school that certain animals eat certain things: the lion hunts the antelope, the spider catches the fly, and the herbivores of the animal kingdom happily chow down on the tastiest leaves they can find. Not that this is necessarily wrong, but the truth is a little more complicated.

Take the humble Seychelles tortoise. You might think that they would be happily mooching round the forest floor hoovering up leaves and fruits, and for the most part they are. But research suggests that it’s not just leaves that make up their diet. 


Shocking footage shows a tortoise taking part in a rather brutal attack on a tern chick before devouring it whole. While eating meat is not as uncommon as you might think in the tortoise world, researchers now believe some tortoises are adept at hunting birds, like this one, which have fallen from their nests onto the forest floor.

Not that the birds themselves are much better. Mallard ducks are famously fed bread by children (even though you shouldn’t), and according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSBP) eat a diet of seeds, acorns, berries, plants, insects, and shellfish. 

However, in Romania, wild mallards have been observed adding something rather unusual to their menu. They have been found to be actively eating other birds, including a young black redstart and a gray wagtail. Researchers think they may have turned to eating other birds due to a lack of more typical food, caused by fish introduced by the local angling club eating all the insect larvae.

Across the world, everyone's favorite long-necked mammals are also breaking with zoological tradition and chowing down on impala skulls. Animals that practice osteophagia, like giraffes, seldom eat the whole bones, but having a little nibble helps draw out important nutrients like phosphorus and calcium. At Werribee Open Plains Zoo in Australia, Tony the giraffe was also notorious for eating dead rabbits in front of visitors, rather ruining the staff talk explaining how giraffes are herbivores.


One of the world’s most famous species, the giant panda, is known for its ability to eat bamboo by the bucketload, but you might be surprised to hear that they are not strictly vegetarian and will sometimes hunt pikas and other small rodents, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).

While people love to assign dietary categories to animals, pandas, mallards, and tortoises have no concept of this and – as we have discovered – will happily take a chomp out of anything that takes their fancy. 


  • tag
  • animals,

  • carnivores,

  • diet,

  • Herbivory,

  • pandas,

  • food,

  • herbivores,

  • tortoises,

  • tortoise,

  • giant panda,

  • giant pandas,

  • eating,

  • mallard duck