animals that gnaw their food

When we say gnawing animals, we think of long-toothed mammals called rodents. The name rodent originated from the Latin word “Rodere” meaning “to gnaw”.

All rodents use their strong incisors to gnaw on hard food, such as woody plants, walnuts, almonds, and other nut fruit. Occasionally, besides dietary purposes, gnawing animals use their powerful teeth to defend against predators.

Rodent dentition is unique in the animal kingdom as their pair of incisors never stop growing. Their upper and lower teeth are made from enamel which is harder than iron. And in order to keep their incisors sharp and worn down, these animals have to gnaw regularly.

However, in case some of the incisors happen to break or get overgrown, the animal will most likely die due to the inability to eat normally.

Without further ado, let us meet animals that gnaw:

  • Beavers
  • Squirrels
  • Rats
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Capybaras
  • Chipmunks
  • Hamsters
  • Porcupines
  • Groundhogs
  • Gerbils
  • Gophers
  • Marmots
  • Muskrats

Examples of Animals That Gnaw

Beavers

wild beaver teeth

Scientific Name – Castor

Diet – Herbivores

Beavers are animals that live in lakes and rivers, mainly in North America and small numbers in Europe. They are true herbivores who prefer woody plants, fruit, roots, herbs, and other vegetation.

Beavers are probably the most known animals that gnaw. These mother nature’s architects use their teeth as the primary tools for building their homes.

Adult beavers are capable of chopping down a 10-foot tree in less than 10 minutes.

Every year, these rodents cut down more than 200 trees! They usually stand on their hind legs, hug the tree with their front legs, and use their powerful incisors to cut down a tree.

Squirrels

Squirrel eating walnut

Scientific Name – Sciuridae

Diet – Omnivores

Squirrels are tree-climbing rodents known for storing food around their territories. They are omnivores which means they eat both meat and plants. However, their preferred food consists of fungi, seeds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nut fruit.

These bushy-tail animals are found all around the world, and there are more than 200 different species.

The largest one is the Indian giant squirrel which can grow up to 36 inches (1 meter). The smallest ones are African pigmy squirrels, and they grow only 5 inches (13cm)

Squirrels usually have 20 teeth, but by being gnawing animals, their specialized incisors are the most important, and without them, they wouldn’t be able to survive.

Rats

 gray rat on a brown floor

Scientific Name – Rattus

Diet – Omnivores

Rats are medium-sized rodents that live in every corner of the planet, except for Antarctica. These creatures eat everything and anything. However, their perfect meal includes grains, fruits, seeds, nuts.

What’s interesting about rats is that despite being usually associated with dirt, they are one of the cleanest animals in the world who spend several hours per day grooming.

Rats are also known for gnawing on different things. Apart from being able to pierce wood and aluminum, these creatures can even cut down through concrete and steel! (source)

Their teeth grow up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) yearly. So it is no surprise that these rodents always gnaw on something.

Guinea Pigs

brown and white Guinea pig on a green grass

Scientific Name – Cavia porcellus

Diet – Herbivores

Guinea pigs have become quite popular pets lately. They are small, gentle, affectionate creatures that do great with children.

Despite their name, these rodents are not related to pigs nor to Guinea, and the origin of their name is still unknown. Guinea pigs are true vegetarians, and their favorite food is based around fruits and vegetables.

Although it may seem like they only have two pairs of incisors, Guinea pigs actually have 20 teeth. It’s also worth mentioning that Guinea pigs do not have yellow teeth, unlike other rodents. Instead, their teeth should be white in color.

If you happen to get one of these tiny rodents as a pet, it is recommended to provide them with twigs and branches so that they can wear their teeth down by gnawing on these materials.

Capybaras

capybara swimming in the water

Scientific Name – Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris

Diet – Herbivores

Capybaras are the largest extant rodents on the planet. Found in almost every country in South America, they are semi-aquatic, meaning they are animals that live on land and water.

Like other rodents, capybaras have razor-sharp incisors that they use to browse on barks, grasses, barks, and other plentiful plants.

Even though they spend most of their time in the water, these giants do well on the land as well, If chased by predators, they can run as fast as 21 mph (35 kp/h).

However, despite their resourcefulness both in water and on land, capyabras are vulnerable to many predators, and so their average lifespan in the wild is less than 4 years. Apart from humans, who hunt them for their meat, anacondas, jaguars, caimans, and birds of prey are their top predators.

Chipmunks

chipmunk eating nut fruits

Scientific Name – Tamias

Diet – Omnivores

Another gnawing animal of the squirrel family is the chipmunk. There are 25 different chipmunks species, mostly found in North America.

These tiny rodents are omnivores, and their diet consists of insects, frogs, worms, grass, shoots, and many other kinds of plants. Chipmunks are unique for being animals with pouches in their cheeks, which they primarily use to carry their food.

While cute and harmless, chipmunks are considered destructive pests that may cause damage to the garden, house, car by gnawing on different objects and materials.

If you happen to have chipmunks harming your backyard, the best thing to do is to make your property unattractive to these critters. In other words, keep your backyard clean and tidy by removing bird feeders and fruits trees from the ground.

Hamsters

a brown hamster standing on a gray ground

Scientific Name – Cricetinae

Diet – Omnivores

Hamsters are small rodents that can be found in warm and dry places in Asia and Europe. There are 19 species of hamsters, most of them living nocturnal lifestyles in order to avoid various predators.

By being omnivores, hamsters eat both meat and plant food origin. However, in the wild, their preferred food is seeds and grass.

Hamsters are great diggers, and besides their legs, they will use their teeth for digging. They have a total of 16 teeth, including 12 molars and 4 incisors.

Interestingly, they are one of the very few animals that are born with their teeth.

Porcupines

porcupine standing on the rocks

Scientific Name – Erethizon dorsatum

Diet – Herbivores

Found in the forests and deserts of Asia, Europe, and America’s porcupines are the third largest rodents in the world. A porcupine is a true vegetarian, and it eats twigs, herbs, leaves, and bark.

These rodents are easily recognized by the quills on their backs, used as a defensive mechanism shield against predators. Each animal has at least 30,000 quills!

Besides their armor, porcupines will emit odor and clatter with their teeth when protecting against their enemies. Even though they are strict herbivores, porcupines will gnaw on bones to keep their teeth short and tidy.

Read Also: Animals Without Bones

Groundhogs

groundhog eating blade of grass

Scientific Name – Marmota monax

Diet – Herbivores

Groundhogs also referred to as woodchucks, are the largest members of the squirrels family. They are mostly found in Canada, Alaska, and United States.

Mostly herbivores, groundhogs’ preferable food include grasses, berries, crops, and other vegetation.

Interestingly, they are one of the very few animals that go into true hibernations. Meaning they drop their body temperature to 40°F while their heartbeat decreases to only four beats per minute. (source)

Also, unlike most rodents, groundhogs have white to ivory-white teeth. They have a total of 22 teeth (18 chewing and 4 incisors). Their incisors grow 1/16 inch per week, so constant gnawing is a mandatory action.

Gerbils

brown gerbil in brown surroundings

Scientific Name – Meriones unguiculatus

Diet – Omnivores

Another animal that gnaws, which is also a widely popular pet lately, is the gerbil. There are more than 100 species, naturally originate from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

They are omnivores rodents, and their favorite food includes insects, fruits, and vegetables. Gerbils are equipped with 16 teeth, 12 molars, and 4 incisors.

As they have their incisors grow continuously, these small rodents have to gnaw daily. In the wild, gerbils mainly chew on wood to keep their teeth in good shape.

This is why gerbil pets need to be provided with hard materials to chew on to maintain their teeth healthy.

Gophers

gopher standing on two legs in a field

Scientific Name – Geomyidae

Diet – Herbivores

Gophers are tiny rodents that live in the backyards of North America. Known for their burrowing skills, they spend most of their time underground.

The main reason these rodents build subsurface burrows is to protect themselves against predators, and also, it is a place where they collect their food. However, these burrowing tunnels make them unwanted critters since they destroy farms and gardens.

Gophers use their claws and sharp teeth for digging. They can even close their lips behind their teeth in order to prevent the soil from entering inside their mouth while digging.

These small rodents are not picky feeders, and their diet consists of various juice vegetables, such as carrots, lettuce, radishes. They’ll also eat plat roots and shrubs.

Marmots

marmot standing on rocks on two legs

Scientific Name – Marmota

Diet –  Herbivores

The last members on our list of animals that gnaw are marmots. Marmots are big rodents that inhabit the mountains and plains of North America, Asia, and Europe.

They spend about 80% of their lives below the ground, while their complex burrows are connected with several entrances, tunnels, and exits.

Underground burrows are used for safe movements, breeding, food storing, and hibernation. Marmots are generally peaceful creatures, but in case they are in danger, they will use their knife-sharp incisors as protection weapons.

The vast majority of their food consists of forbs and grasses. Before the hibernations, marmots double their weight to make sure they’ll survive the cold winter.

Muskrats

muskrat standing in a shallow water

Scientific Name – Ondatra zibethicus

Diet –  Omnivores

Muskrats are medium-sized rodents found in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. Due to their semi-aquatic lifestyle, they are typically seen in a  wide range of wetland habitats.

The bulk of their food intake is based on aquatic plants (95%). However, they will occasionally complement their diet with snails, small fish, and claims.

The muskrats’ incisors are outside of their mouth so that they can use their teeth underwater without getting water inside their lungs. Besides, these rodents are adept swimmers, and they have the ability to hold their breath for 12 minutes straight!

Final Thoughts on Gnawing Animals

With this, we complete our list of animals that gnaw. Many more gnawing animals haven’t been mentioned, such as Nutria, Leming, Pedetes, Kangaroo Rat, Gundi, Hystrix, Hutia, and others. While they have different adaptations and physical traits, gnawing teeth are the feature that every member of the rodent group has in common.

A rodents’ teeth are the most important tools for survival, whereas dental overgrowth can lead to pain, inability to chew, and eventually death. Nature can be both beautiful and cruel, and for rodents gnawing their iron-strong teeth is a task that must not be skipped.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve learned something new today about this interesting group of animals known as rodents.

If you liked this type of article, I would kindly recommend you a similar read – Animals With Fur

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