Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature Marine Herbivores: Species and Characteristics Share Flipboard Email Print Paul Kay/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images Animals & Nature Marine Life Key Terms Marine Life Profiles Marine Habitat Profiles Sharks Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Insects Forestry Dinosaurs Evolution View More By Jennifer Kennedy Marine Science Expert M.S., Resource Administration and Management, University of New Hampshire B.S., Natural Resources, Cornell University Jennifer Kennedy, M.S., is an environmental educator specializing in marine life. She serves as the executive director of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation. our editorial process Jennifer Kennedy Updated December 13, 2019 An herbivore is an organism that feeds on plants. These organisms are referred to with the adjective herbivorous. The word herbivore comes from the Latin word herba (a plant) and vorare (devour, swallow), meaning "plant-eating." An example of a marine herbivore is the manatee. The opposite of an herbivore is a carnivore or "meat-eater." Organisms that eat herbivores, carnivores, and plants are referred to as omnivorous. Size Matters Many marine herbivores are small because only a few organisms are adapted to eat phytoplankton, which provides the bulk of the "plants" in the ocean. Terrestrial herbivores tend to be larger since most terrestrial plants are large and can sustain a large herbivore. Two exceptions are manatees and dugongs, large marine mammals who survive primarily on aquatic plants. These animals live in relatively shallow areas, where light is not limited, and plants can grow larger. Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Herbivore Plants such as phytoplankton are relatively abundant in ocean areas with access to sunlight, such as in shallow waters, at the surface of the open ocean, and along the coast. An advantage of being an herbivore is that food is pretty easy to find and eat. Once it is found, it can't escape like a live animal might. One of the disadvantages of being an herbivore is that plants are often more difficult to digest than animals. More plants may be needed to provide adequate energy for the herbivore. Examples of Marine Herbivores Many marine animals are omnivores or carnivores. But there are some marine herbivores that are well-known. Examples of marine herbivores in various animal groups are listed below. Herbivorous Marine Reptiles: Green sea turtle (who are named for their green fat, which is green because of their plant-based diet)Marine iguanas Herbivorous Marine Mammals: ManateesDugongs Herbivorous Fish Many tropical reef fish are herbivores. Examples include: ParrotfishAngelfishTangsBlennies These coral reef herbivores are important to maintaining a healthy balance in a reef ecosystem. Algae can dominate and smother a reef if herbivorous fish aren't present to help balance things out by grazing on the algae. Fish can break down the algae using a gizzard-like stomach, chemicals in their stomach, and intestinal microbes. Herbivorous Invertebrates Some gastropods, including as limpets, periwinkles (e.g., the common periwinkle), and queen conchs. Herbivorous Plankton Some zooplankton species Herbivores and Trophic Levels Trophic levels are the levels at which animals feed. Within these levels, there are producers (autotrophs) and consumers (heterotrophs). Autotrophs make their own food, while heterotrophs eat autotrophs or other heterotrophs. In a food chain or food pyramid, the first trophic level belongs to the autotrophs. Examples of autotrophs in the marine environment are marine algae and seagrasses. These organisms make their own food during photosynthesis, which uses energy from the sunlight. Herbivores are found at the second level. These are heterotrophs because they eat the producers. After herbivores, carnivores and omnivores are at the next trophic level, since carnivores eat herbivores, and omnivores eat both herbivores and producers. Sources “Herbivory in Fish.” Herbivory in Fish | Department of Microbiology, https://micro.cornell.edu/research/epulopiscium/herbivory-fish/.Map of Life - Convergent Evolution Online, http://www.mapoflife.org/topics/topic_206_Gut-fermentation-in-herbivorous-animals/.Morrissey, J.F. and J.L. Sumich. Introduction to the Biology of Marine Life. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012.