Animals That Eat A Lot: 15 of the Hungriest Animals

Animals That Eat a Lot
Fact Checked and Reviewed by: Mark Rhodes, Ph.D. - Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Mark Rhodes holds an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife along with a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology. He helps maintain our editorial standards of accuracy and quality. You can read more about Dr. Rhodes here.

From carnivores to herbivores and everything in between, the diet of various animal species changes based on factors like their diet, their digestive system, how often they eat, and how much food is needed to sustain themselves.

This means that there are a lot of big eaters in the animal kingdom. Some animals are big eaters just because of their massive size, while others eat a lot of food relative to the size of their bodies.

There are even some animals, like the tardigrade, that can go without food or water for as long as 30 years. But, we aren’t here to talk about them.

So, what are some animals that eat a lot?

Some big eaters in the animal kingdom include blue whales, Burmese pythons, big cats, hippos, rhinoceroses, bears, giraffes, giant pandas, and elephants. Extinct animals like the mammoth and giant apes were also known for having big appetites. Finally, animals like hummingbirds, Tasmanian devils, and pygmy shrews are small, but eat a lot for their size. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look at animals that eat a lot in the animal kingdom. I’ll also talk a little about each animal’s diet, size, digestive system, and the role that these factors play in how much they need to eat to survive.

Blue Whales

As the largest known mammal in the world (and the animal with the biggest head), it makes sense that the blue whale would have a massive appetite. Surprisingly, despite their massive size, blue whales eat tiny microorganisms like krill.

To sustain itself, the average blue whale eats around 2 tons of krill every single day. However, some large blue whales are known to put away up to 6 tons of food. They are able to do this using baleen plates on the roof of their mouth that helps them filter krill out of the water.

Even though tons of food really is a lot, blue whales actually don’t eat a lot for their size. Species of blue whales in the waters of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans weigh an average of 100,000 pounds, but Antarctic blue whales get much bigger and can weigh up to 330,000 pounds.

Burmese Pythons

Burmese pythons are big eaters, partially because of their big size. In the wild, these pythons average about 6-9 feet in length, though the biggest one caught in Florida was an incredible 18 feet long.

Pythons eat huge meals that are often bigger than them. They’ve been known to eat small deer and other mammals, reptiles, and some bigger pythons have even swallowed alligators. Since they take a long time to digest their food and eat massive meals, pythons may only eat once every two weeks.

In 2013, a group of researchers studied the Burmese python and its unique genes that allow it to eat and digest prey bigger than itself. Interestingly, these snakes undergo a type of “interior remodeling” where their bodies literally change to allow them to consume bigger meals.

After a big meal, the python’s metabolism kicks into overdrive to help them digest prey. Scientists have even noted that the snake’s organs grow, some of them by as much as 150%. Then, the organs return to normal about 24-48 hours later, once the prey is completely digested.

Big Cats

It’s hard to give a daily amount for what big cats eat in the wild, but many of them have a habit of gorging when they get a kill because they don’t eat every day.

Tigers, for example, have been known to eat as much as 90 pounds of meat in a single sitting and then go for as long as 2 weeks without needing to eat again. Researchers estimate they kill about 50 deer-sized animals per year though, which comes out to about one per week.

Leopards are another big eater, though they don’t gorge themselves like tigers. Instead, leopards are known for dragging their prey up into a tree with them to keep it away from the lions and hyenas that compete with the leopard for food.

Leopards have to be really strong to drag big prey up in trees (especially since they’ve been known to drag 275-pound giraffe calves, which are 2-3 times their size) in the wild. Even lions, which are known to share their food with their pack, are capable of eating up to 110 pounds of meat in a single sitting. They eat every 3-4 days.

With big cats, you can see a trend of gorging on their prey and then not eating for several days or even up to two weeks. If they were to leave it unattended, it’s likely it would be picked clean by other animals.

Additionally, many animals that big cats prey on, like deer, are capable of galloping at high speeds that allow them to outrun even the cheetah. They don’t run faster, but they are capable of sustaining their high speeds for longer.

Giraffes

Giraffes are another big land mammal, with adult members of the species being between 17 and 19 feet tall. They also weigh a lot, with males being as big as 4,200 pounds.

To keep up this massive body weight and ensure that the giraffe has enough energy for movement, giraffes are constantly seen eating the leaves of trees. On average, they consume around 75 pounds of food per day.

Since many of their preferred foods are water-dense like the leaves of the Acacia tree, giraffes also rely on this for water and can go several days without drinking.

Hippos

Even though many people associate the mighty hippopotamus with being an herbivore, they can and will eat animal-based foods if it’s absolutely necessary.

This big, round animal is also surprisingly the most deadly in Africa because of its aggressive nature and sharp teeth. When they aren’t chasing off those that have encroached on their territory, the hippo spends its time floating on top of the water.

Hippopotamuses eat up to 2% of their body weight each day, which doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot when you compare it to other animals.

Because of the hippo’s massive size, however, this comes out to around 88 pounds of food per night. Males of this species can be almost 10,000 pounds, while female hippos only grow to about 3,000 pounds.

Rhinoceroses

The biggest rhinoceroses, white rhinos, can get anywhere from 1,800-3,100 pounds in size. It takes a lot of food to maintain this week and on average, a white rhino is known to consume up to 120 pounds of grass every single day.

Unlike the hippopotamus, rhinos are herbivores. Their diet may vary based on where they are in the wild and the vegetation that is available to them.

Scientists believe their status as grazing animals may be one of the reasons they have horns since they use them for foraging, among other things.

Bears

Bears are omnivores that get nutrition from plant and animal food sources. There are several species of bears and those that are the biggest bears (and eaters) include the grizzly bear or brown bear, and polar bears.

Brown bears are known for consuming an average of 5,000 calories per day. In the fall, before some bear species go into hibernation, it’s also common for them to start bulking and consume almost four times the calories that they normally would.

This comes out to 80-90 pounds of food per day!

Grizzly bears might eat all day, but polar bears only eat every few days. They have massive stomachs and are known to eat up to 150 pounds in a single setting.

In the wild, polar bears usually catch and eat a seal every few days to keep up with their high energy demands. They use a lot of energy to keep themselves warm in the arctic and the high-fat content of seals also helps them bulk up to keep warm in the cold Arctic tundra.

Giant Pandas

Giant pandas are pretty close to the size of a black bear, with most members of its species weighing somewhere between 200 and 300 pounds. Unlike other bear species that eat a variety of foods, giant pandas only eat bamboo. They consume anywhere from 26-84 pounds of bamboo per day.

The food choice and inefficiency of the giant panda’s digestive system is the reason that it eats so much. Despite pandas being known for eating bamboo, they actually have a digestive system that’s better set up for eating meat like grizzly bears and black bears.

Since pandas do not have extra stomachs for processing fibers found in the bamboo, all the food they eat doesn’t actually have a lot of nutrition and they can only process about 20% of it. This means that they have to eat a lot to get the nutrition that their body needs to survive.

Interestingly, researchers learned that while giant pandas prefer bamboo, they actually eat different types of bamboo depending on the nutrition they need.

For example, pandas eat young arrow bamboo leaves when they are pregnant because of the higher levels of calcium and wood bamboo when they need more nitrogen and phosphorus in their diet.

Elephants

As the biggest known land mammal, it’s no surprise that the elephant is a big eater.

Like the giant panda and other big herbivores, part of the reason for their constant eating is that their digestive system works inefficiently for their dietary choices, and around half of what an elephant eats leaves the body undigested.

While the amount an elephant needs to eat varies depending on its size, it is estimated that they generally eat around 330-375 pounds of food every single day. Their high food demands mean that the average elephant spends 16-18 hours, or around 80% of its day, eating.

Even the elephant’s ancestor, the mammoth, was known for its big diet. While they are extinct, they share more than 95% of their DNA with modern-day elephants, so it can be assumed that they shared a lot of other traits as well. This includes their big appetite because the wooly mammoth could get up to 6 tons and need to eat almost 400 pounds of food every day.

From the shape of the mammoth’s teeth and stomach contents that have been found in these extinct elephants, it can be inferred that they were grazers who primarily ate grass.

Mammoths grind their food between their teeth and then it moves to the big stomach where it is slowly digested. Researchers also discovered feces in the belly of young mammoth remains discovered in 2007 and believe that young mammoths ate this to help with the balance of bacteria in their gut.

Gigantopithecus

Gigantopithecus was a giant ape that is believed to have become extinct around 100,000 years ago. While it isn’t known how much these massive apes would eat,  it is known that they called the tropical forests of China home.

It’s also known that these apes stood as tall as 10 feet and could weigh up to 1,100 pounds, so that explains their big appetite.

Additionally, these apes’ big appetite and their diet are believed to be linked to their extinction. When forested areas became savanna lands during the last of the Pleistocene ages, about 100,000 years ago, it also took away the gigantopithecus’ food.

It’s likely that these apes ate a lot because of their size and scientists know that they preferred eating foods like fruits and berries.

When these foods became obsolete, these giant apes didn’t adapt their diet to the vegetation and roots available, so it’s likely that a lack of food played a major role in their extinction.

What Small Animals Eat All the Time?

In addition to all the big eaters above, there are quite a few animals in the animal kingdom that eat a lot for their size.

Here are a few honorable mentions known for their massive appetite.

Hummingbirds

The hummingbird is one of the best examples of a small animal that’s always hungry. In fact, hummingbirds burn through energy so fast that they can starve if they go more than two hours without eating.

Compared to a hummingbird, a human would have to eat 300 hamburgers to consume the same amount of food.

If they do ever run out of energy, hummingbirds go into a type of sleep state called “torpor”. This is a deep sleep where their heart rate slows and their energy levels significantly decline.

The reason hummingbirds eat so much is because of their high metabolism. It takes a lot of energy to stay in flight- plus, they are one of the few birds that can fly in all directions and hover for more than just a few seconds. This is necessary since the flowers they drink nectar from don’t come with a perch.

Hummingbirds also aren’t the only birds that are big eaters. It’s fairly common for birds like the blackpoll warbler and bar-tailed godwits to “bulk up” before long migratory flights.

Tits and chickadees in the Arctic circle also eat a lot to stay warm in cool temperatures.

Pygmy Shrews

The American pygmy shrew is another example of a voracious eater. These critters are incredibly tiny and are thought to be the world’s smallest mammal, with most of them weighing around .07 ounces and only being 1.5 to 2 inches long.

Despite their tiny size, the average pygmy shrew eats at least 1.25 times its body weight every single day. The American pygmy shrew, however, eats an average of 3 times its body weight every day.

To keep up with its big appetite, the average pygmy shrew eats every 15-30 minutes and if it went more than an hour without food, it’d likely die because of its fast metabolism and heartbeat. Pygmy shrew’s hearts beat at around 1,200 beats per minute, faster than any other known mammal.

Black-Footed Cats

Unlike the big cats I covered earlier, black-footed cats are significantly smaller and might weigh around 3-5 pounds. That being said, they are still voracious carnivores known to eat up to 20% of their body weight every single night.

While they are closely related to other felines, the black-footed cat has an incredibly fast metabolism and cannot go long stretches without food.

At night, they are known to eat about every 50 minutes or so. They can kill and eat up to 12-14 birds in a single night and are known for having a hunting success rate that is three times higher than a lion’s.

Locusts

The average locust eats its body weight in food every day. While locusts are small and this amount generally equates to less than an ounce, the problem is that locusts aren’t solitary creatures.

Small swarms contain up to 80 million locusts and they can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in a single day.

When you add up that small amount for every locust, they can decimate entire fields of crops.

Additionally, desert locusts only hatch under the right conditions. Since these conditions don’t happen often, it’s pretty common for huge swarms to hatch at once.

Tasmanian Devils

On average, Tasmanian devils eat around 2 pounds of food per day. As an animal that weighs about 20 pounds, that’s about 10% of its total body weight.

As the average human eats about 3-4 pounds of food per day, it’s surprising that such a small creature can put this much food away.

In addition to their daily eating habits, Tasmanian devils are carnivores that take advantage of eating whenever they can. They are even known to gorge themselves and eat up to 40% of their body weight if they aren’t sure when their next meal will be.

Unlike many other big eaters that eat all day long, Tasmanian devils consume up to 40% of their body weight in just an hour of eating.

What Animal Eats the Most Every Day?

When it comes to the animal that eats the most food every day, the clear winner is the blue whale. Bigger species of blue whales eat as much as 2 tons of krill each day.

By contrast, elephants are the land mammal that eats the most food. They eat more than 300 pounds of food each day, with bigger elephants eating closer to 400 pounds of food.

What Are Animals That Are Always Hungry?

Many of the animals that seem to always be hungry are herbivores. For example, elephants and giant pandas spend a huge portion of their day eating because their digestive systems don’t break down all the food that they eat. So, they have to eat more than usual to get adequate nutrition.

Sloths are another animal that is constantly eating. In addition to having a digestive system that doesn’t necessarily give the sloth a ton of nutrition from the hard-to-digest foods they eat, sloths have an incredibly slow metabolism and move so slowly that they generally spend most of their waking hours eating.

Final Word

There are some voracious eaters in the animal kingdom, starting with Antarctic blue whales that can consume as much as 2-4 tons of food every day. There are also many land mammals like elephants, rhinoceroses, hippos, bears, big cats, Burmese pythons, giraffes, pandas, and giant apes known for their big appetites.

Many of these animals that eat a lot do so because of their large size. However, there are also other big eaters that are much smaller. Animals like Tasmanian devils, locusts, pygmy shrews, hummingbirds, and black-footed cats all consume a large percentage of their body weight in food each day.

Can you think of any big eaters I may have missed? Feel free to leave a comment.