AskDefine | Define scavenger

Dictionary Definition



1 a chemical agent that is added to a chemical mixture to counteract the effects of impurities
2 someone who collects things that have been discarded by others [syn: magpie, pack rat]
3 any animal that feeds on refuse and other decaying organic matter

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A street sweeper.
  2. Someone who scavenges, especially one who searches through rubbish for food or useful things.
  3. An animal that feeds on decaying matter such as carrion.
  4. A substance used to remove impurities from the air or from a solution.


animal feeding on decaying matter
substance to remove impurities

Extensive Definition

Scavengers are animals that consume already dead animals (carrion). Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by contributing to the decomposition of dead animal remains. Decomposers complete this process, by consuming the remains left by scavengers.
Well known scavengers include vultures, burying beetles, blowflies, yellowjackets, and raccoons. Many large carnivores that hunt regularly--such as hyenas and lions--will scavenge if given the chance.
Animals which consume feces, such as dung beetles, are also referred to as scavengers. Animals which primarily consume dead plants (litter) are referred to as detritivores.
In 2004, Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman proposed that early Homo were scavengers that used stone tools to harvest meat off carcasses and to open bones. They proposed that humans specialized in long-distance running to compete with other scavengers in reaching carcasses[2]. It has been suggested that such an adaptation ensured a food supply that made large brains possible.


  • Smith TM, Smith RL (2006) Elements of Ecology. Sixth edition. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco, CA.
  • Chase, et al. The Scavenger Handbook. Bramblewood Press, Santa Barbara, CA.
scavenger in Aragonese: Carnotaire
scavenger in German: Aasfresser
scavenger in Spanish: Carroñero
scavenger in Basque: Sarraskijale
scavenger in French: Nécrophagie
scavenger in Croatian: Strvinar
scavenger in Ido: Manj-kadavro
scavenger in Icelandic: Hrææta
scavenger in Italian: Saprofagia
scavenger in Hebrew: אוכלי נבלות
scavenger in Dutch: Aaseter
scavenger in Norwegian: Åtseleter
scavenger in Polish: Padlinożercy
scavenger in Serbian: Лешинар
scavenger in Swedish: Asätare

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