Studying mammals: The opportunists
Studying mammals: The opportunists

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Studying mammals: The opportunists

7 Of rats and men

The two most successful species of omnivore - humans and the brown (or Norwegian) rat - both arose within mammalian groups that are not particularly omnivorous. Most members of our own family, the primates, are exclusively or predominantly herbivorous. However, chimpanzees do occasionally hunt and eat monkeys and the human species is far from being exclusively vegetarian. Brown rats are rodents and almost all rodents use their continuously growing incisors to feed on seeds, nuts, grass, stems, roots, etc. Nevertheless, DA provides an amazing list of items apparently acceptable as food by brown rats: all parts of any plant, slugs, fish, insects, meat, bone, hair, hide, guts, toenails, beeswax, soap, cardboard, lead pipes, concrete and the plastic covering of electric cables [p. 179]!

Can it be coincidental that these two species (rats and humans) - so successful in terms of both population size and geographical range - have avoided becoming encumbered with restrictive adaptations to particular diets in their evolutionary past? Are there omnivore characteristics that have been brought together in these two mammals that may have contributed more generally to their current levels of success as species?

S182_6

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus