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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Picky Eaters of the Animal Kingdom

You think your kids or friends are picky eaters? Wait until you read about the specialized diets of these species. Wild animal specialists rely on a particular food or habitat for survival. This strategy is wonderful when the food or habitat is abundant, but can be detrimental if those resources become scarce. This is why we do our best to ensure vulnerable species have the food and habitat they need to survive.

Everglade Snail Kite

The endangered Everglade snail kite's diet is almost exclusively made up of apple snails. As you can imagine, this makes the management of apple snail populations critical to the recovery efforts of snail kites in Florida.

Snail Kite A snail kite with an apple snail in his mouth. This photo, "Snail Kite" is copyright (c) 2016 Andy Morffew and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

Red Tree Vole

These highly specialized critters live in tops of old growth Douglas-fir trees. Their only source of food is Douglas-fir needles. The needles also provide water (in the form of dew) to the tiny critters. As a result, Douglas-fir trees play a major role in sustaining red tree vole populations.

Red Tree Vole A young (31 day old) red tree vole (Arborimus longicaudus) eating a Douglas fir needle. This photo, "Red Tree vole (Arborimus longicaudus)" is copyright (c) 2014 Michael Durham and made available with special permission.

Valley Elderberry Longhorned Beetle

Adult valley elderberry longhorned beetles eat the nectar, flowers, and leaves of elderberry bushes. Eggs are laid on elderberries, and larvae live inside the stems before emerging as adults.

Valley Elderberry Longhorned BeetleA male valley elderberry longhorned beetle on elderberry. Photo courtesy of Jon Katz and Joe Silveira, USFWS.

Black-footed Ferret

Black-footed ferrets are predators that depend on prairie dogs for more than 90% of the their diet. Loss of habitat and prey are two threats that have led black-footed ferrets to the endangered species list. 

Black-footed Ferret Chasing Prairie DogBlack-footed ferret chasing a prairie dog, which is the majority of the diet for a wild black-footed ferret. Photo by USFWS.

Graham's Crayfish Snake

As you may have guessed by their name, Graham's crayfish snakes feed primarily on freshly molted crayfish.  

Graham's Crayfish SnakeThis photo, "Regina grahamii : Graham's Crayfish Snake" is copyright (c) 2015 Douglas Mills and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.


While most fish-eating birds of prey skim the surface, plucking fish from the water, osprey can submerge themselves completely to catch a fish. They will eat other foods, but fish make up about 99% of their diet.

Osprey with FishOsprey with rainbow trout at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Why is that? As it turns out, monarch larvae (caterpillars) feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed plants. Therefore, to save the monarch butterfly, we need to work together to plant milkweed!

MonarchMonarch caterpillar chomping on milkweed leaves in Minnesota by Brett Whaley.


This is a group of fish species specialized to feed on scales they pluck from other fishes. Though it takes a great deal of energy to attack for scales, they're a nutritional food source.

Cyprinodon Desquamator

By Anthony Terceira (Seriously Fishy) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Red Crossbill

The unusual shape of a red crossbill's bill is adapted to get at seeds protected under the scales of pinecones (its primary food source). Crossbills are able to reach seeds that are not accessible to other species.

Red CrossbillThis photo, Red Crossbill is copyright (c) 2014 Jason Crotty and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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