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This aardwolf skull exhibits greatly reduced molars and carnassials, teeth that are redundant in a large, insectivorous animal subsisting on soft insects such as termites. The dentition of a shrew is very different. The aardwolf uses its canine teeth in self-defence and, occasionally, in digging; accordingly, the canines have not been greatly reduced.

File:Common brown robberfly with prey.jpg

A robber fly eating a hoverfly

File:Pegesimallus sp robberfly.jpg

A robber fly feeding on a beetle

An insectivore is a carnivore that eats insects.[1] An alternative term is entomophage,[2] which also refers to the human practice of eating insects.

The first insectivorous vertebrates were amphibians. When they evolved 400 million years ago, the first amphibians were piscivores, with numerous sharp conical teeth, much like a modern crocodile. The same tooth arrangement is however also suited for eating animals with exoskeletons, thus the ability to eat insects is an extension of piscivory.[3]

At one time, insectivorous mammals were scientifically classified in an order called Insectivora. This order is now abandoned, as not all insectivorous mammals are closely related. Most of the Insectivora taxa have been reclassified; those that have not yet been reclassified remain in the order Eulipotyphla.

Overview of insects

Although individually small, insects exist in enormous numbers - they number over a million described species[4]:1958 and some of those species occur in enormous numbers. Accordingly insects make up a very large part of the animal biomass in almost all non-marine, non-polar environments. It has been estimated that the global insect biomass is in the region of 1012 kg with an estimated population of 1018 organisms.[5]:13 Many creatures depend on insects as their primary diet, and many that do not (and are thus not technically insectivores) nevertheless use insects as a protein supplement, particularly when they are breeding.[6]


Examples of insectivores include different species of Chameleons, nightingales, aardwolfs,[7] echidnas,[8] swallows, anteaters, carp, frogs, lizards, bats, and spiders. Even large mammals are recorded as eating insects;[6] the sloth bear is perhaps the largest insectivore. Insects also can be insectivores; examples are dragonflies, hornets, ladybugs, and praying mantises.[9]:31 Insectivory also features to various degrees amongst primates, such as marmosets, tamarins, tarsiers, galagos and aye-aye.[10][11]:56-57 There is some suggestion that the earliest primates were nocturnal, arboreal insectivores.[12]

See also


  1. Miller, George A. (2009). "WordNet - About Us." : entry on insectivorous.. Princeton University. URL accessed on 1 April 2010.
  2. (2005) The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. & Falcon-Lang, H.J. (2010). Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetrapod diversification in Euramerica. Geology 38 (12): 1079–1082.
  4. Capinera, John L. (Editor). (2008). Encyclopedia of Entomology, (2nd ed). Springer Reference. ISBN 1-4020-6242-7, ISBN 978-1-4020-6242-1. Ltd preview in Google Books. Accessed on 1 Apr 2010.
  5. Dudley, Robert (2002). "Flight and the Pterygote Insecta" The biomechanics of insect flight: form, function, evolution, 3–35, Princeton University Press.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Whitney, Stephen R. & Sandelin, R. (2004). Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics, 317, The Mountaineers Books. URL accessed 2010-04-01.
  7. Holekamp, Kay E.. Aardwolf (Proteles cristata). URL accessed on 1 April 2010.
  8. "Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijni)" (entry) in West of Scotland & Ayr Group. URL accessed on 1 April 2010.
  9. Hill, Dennis S. (1997). The economic importance of insects, Springer. URL accessed 2010-04-01.
  10. Stetoff, Rebecca (2006). The Primate Order, 92, Marshall Cavendish.
  11. (1994) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  12. Weiss, M. L., & Mann, A. E. (1985). Human Biology and Behaviour: An Anthropological Perspective., Boston: Little Brown & Co..

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