This trope, along with Predators Are Mean
, are by far the most common approach to Carnivore Confusion
in fiction. Basically, all the villains are carnivores and all the herbivores, particularly if they can talk
, are heroes.
Like Predators Are Mean
, this trope has been around for such a long time that it may be one of The Oldest Ones in the Book
. Herbivores Are Friendly often, but not always goes hand-in-hand with Predators Are Mean
This trope and Predators Are Mean
are so strong culturally that people assume that many Real Life
predators (whether omnivorous or carnivorous by nature) are mean, evil, and nasty, and all the herbivores are cute, cuddly, and friendly!
This is not true for the most part
. For example, the common house cat
, one of the world's most popular pets, is carnivorous and the harmless whale shark, the gentlest of all sharks, is omnivorous. Inversely, the big herbivores are some of the most dangerous, surliest animals; the loveable hippo and elephant
are known for attacking and killing humans (even) without being provoked. In other words just because an animal won't eat
you, doesn't mean it won't hurt
For example, Temple Grandin
's book Animals in Translation
shows that, surprisingly, even the huge, social, herbivorous domestic cow can be more dangerous to handle than the large, largely solitary, predatory tiger is. A cow or bull can attack a person out of dominance, but a tiger won't because they don't care about constant jostling within a social hierarchy. You obviously have to be extremely
careful not to trigger any big cat's prey drive, but there isn't any dominance aggression.
Sometimes, the nice, friendly herbivore is actually a Vegetarian Carnivore
Goes hand-in-hand with and opposite of Predators Are Mean
. See also Good Animals, Evil Animals
. Subtrope of Carnivore Confusion
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Anime and Manga
Film - Animated
- The main dinosaur characters from The Land Before Time.
- Often averted and subverted with the recurring buffalo in the Kung Fu Panda movies and TV series. Played straight with the recurring rabbits though.
- In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White has deer, rabbits, squirrels, songbirds, and a tortoise helping her work.
- In An American Tail, Tiger, a Vegetarian Carnivore, is the only nice cat in the film. He befriends Fievel, a mouse, after confessing that his favorite food is broccoli.
- Unlike most sharks, Lenny from Shark Tale is actually a vegetarian and is also pretty friendly since he doesn't want to hurt other fish. That doesn't stop the fish from being scared of him though.
- He also tries to befriend the other fish by masquerading as a dolphin. Dolphins are carnivores too. (They're also a great deal nastier than most people would believe, as they routinely conduct rape, sexual coercion, and pleasure killing.)
- Another dinosaur example is the movie Dinosaur. The main characters are all herbivores, and even the mean herbivore rivals are only trying to accomplish the greater good.
- Inverted in A Bug's Life. The grasshoppers (herbivorous insects) are villains and the ants (omnivorous insects) are good.
Film - Live Action
- Mothra is among the most peaceful of all kaiju and happens to be a necter-feeding butterfly/moth. So long as you don't kidnap her fairy companions or harm her children in any way she won't hurt you.
- A subversion occurs with Godzilla Junior. Though he is shown eating leaves in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, his species is actually carnivorous. Though, compared to his more agressive father, he is quite friendly.
- In Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant calms Alex down when she sees nearby Brachiosaurus by reassuring her that they're plant-eaters.
- The second film averts this.
- The herbivore dinosaurs in Terra Nova are shown to be playful in the pilot episode. The main character's youngest daughter even feeds them treats.
- Averted on The Jeff Corwin Experience. Jeff frequently pointed out to viewers that large herbivores, such as elephants and hippos, are far more likely to kill you than the most feared of African predators.
- Brian Jaques's Redwall series often shows this. Squirrels (not entirely herbivorous), hares, and other herbivores, and a few omnivores such as badgers, mice, and hedgehogs, are the heroes, where wholly carnivorous species such as weasels, stoats, wild cats, snakes, hawks, ferrets, foxes (actually omnivorous, but still predatory), and the like are the villains. This is rather odd considering the fact that the most prominent species, the mice of Redwall, are omnivores but never eat any meat besides fish. One would reason that they never eat any intelligent creatures, but there has been at least one intelligent talking fish in the series.
- Averted and discussed in Life of Pi when Pi's zookeeper father gives Pi and Ravi an Anvilicious lesson that all of the animals in the zoo are dangerous, even the herbivores. He concludes the lesson with a straight example by letting them play with the harmless guinea pigs.
- Averted in the original The Jungle Book (not the Disney version). The elephant Hathi was an aggressive elephant, who once destroyed a village in revenge. Mowgli then persuades him to do the same in the human village, because Buldeo threatened to kill Messua and her husband, Mowgli's human foster parents.
- Averted in Watership Down with rabbits, as many of them are aggressive and will rip each other apart in a fight.
- Averted in Larry Niven's Known Space series. Puppeteers are descended from skittish herd animals, and while this means that they're personally Dirty Cowards, it also means that they're deceitful, paranoid and xenophobic. The carnivorous Kzinti hold this as a belief; herbivorous animals are inherently weak and stupid. After all, "you don't need brains to sneak up on a leaf!" This belief has backfired spectacularly in their faces on many occasions, such as the "plant giants" of Ringworld, humans, and the previously mentioned Puppeteers.
- Discussed in March Upcountry: Captain Pahner sees a large herbivore on an unfamiliar planet and tells his troops not to fire. Prince Roger shoots the thing anyway, because he has actually been on safari and knows that herbivores are not harmless (and because he hadn't figured out the com software yet and hadn't heard the order).
- Tunnel in the Sky averts this. Rod sees a herd of antelope-like herbivores but keeps his distance knowing that a herd with hooves and horns is still dangerous.
- Played around with in Dinoverse. In the first set of books, the Leptoceratopses abduct Candayce and shove Janine around, and Candayce figures out that they were trying to protect her - she's in the body of a Leptoceratops and they don't understand why she's hanging out with a Tyrannosaurus rex. Similarly, when they encounter a Triceratops herd the herd is hostile in defense of their nests, but are less so later, realizing that a little Leptoceratops and a wounded Quetzalcoatlus aren't threats. The Ankylosaurus met later on is friendly to the boy in the Ankylosaurus body, but wary at best of all the others.
Myth and Religion
- Some Christian sects in the United States, such as those behind the Creation Museum (Answers in Genesis) believe that this was the literal truth. All animals before the Fall were friendly herbivores, with one diorama showing a T-Rex chomping on pineapples and another section allowing visitors to pose on a large, saddled model of a triceratops. Likewise, the group maintains no animals were venomous before the Fall. The Texas-based Creation Evidence Museum believe the pre-Fall atmosphere made creatures live longer, made them more intelligent, and made them nicer. Commentary regarding their beliefs is probably subject to the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment.
- Played straight and averted in the Monster Hunter series. Most herbivores, like Aptonoths, really are friendly and peaceful. Herbivore bossmonsters like Diablos? Not so much.
- Inverted and played straight in Dinosaur King where while the heroes normally use herbivorous dinosaurs, one exception is a Carnotaurus.
- Subverted in Dino System Unless attacked, most herbivores are usually quite placid and ignore the player. Which can make it all the more surprising during survivor mode when a calm male Triceratops enters breeding condition and suddenly starts trying to kill the human survivor.
- Spore has creatures evolving. The first two stages (Cell and Creature) are spent deciding on a creature's diet. Later stages have the creatures evolved more, with their own moralities. Herbivores tend to be nice and social, carnivores tend to be hostile, while omnivores tend to be neutral and economic.
- Kevin & Kell likes to subvert this often. Kevin and Kell's daughter is a rabbit that eats meat. Kevin himself is generally friendly, but are not above punching predators trying to eat him. In fact, for a mini-arc it ended up a problem for Kevin as one of predator sued him for "breach of nature, rabbits should run". And was retorted "breach of nature, predators should eat rather than sue".
- Subverted in Freefall; Sam's Bizarre Alien Biology is edible and appetizing even to Terran herbivores.
- Averted by Manly Guys Doing Manly Things...line-of-sight is an important thing to consider when around large animals.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic pretty much everyone's a herbivore of some sort. This is pointed out in one episode when Pinkie Pie tries using it to create some common ground between some settler ponies and buffalo.
- The exact quote is, "both our diets, I should mention, are completely vegetarian..."
- Spike the gem-eating dragon also gets a pass for being a lithovore, as it's not herbivory, but not carnivory either.
- Interestingly, in the opening of the episode "Dragonshy", Friend to All Living Things Fluttershy is shown feeding some otters (ferrets?) with fish, as well as giving worms to birds. While some fans think this contrasts with her characters, others argue that being so close to nature means that she accepts the necessity of the circle of life.
- There's actually some people in real life who do this, as well - some strict vegetarians will still keep carnivorous pets even knowing that their food was made from animals (though others try to force a vegetarian diet on said pets, which can very easily go wrong).
- Crops up in the fandom more generally with the often seemingly inherent assumption that as plant eating social animals ponies are intrinsically less aggressive or warlike, even though posturing and fighting for position and resources are as endemic to equines as most other social animals(humans included).
- A few episodes show that the ponies still have their share of jerks and bullies.
- Ponies are technically omnivores; in "Applebuck Season," Pinkie Pie mentions eggs, and in "Sisterhooves Social," Rarity makes fried eggs. By some definitions, they still qualify as vegetarian, but not as herbivorous. There's also the question of why pigs are raised.
- Something was said about this in the Magic School Bus episode where they went back in time and saw dinosaurs.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Momo and Appa are both herbivores.
- Nyla the Shirshu is a predatory meat eater.
- The cat belonging to the crazy potion maker is apparently also herbivorous or omnivorous. The woman making her dinner says plum blossom is her favourite.
- There's mention of a poodle-monkey but we never see it.
- The King's bear appears to be omnivorous (as are real bears), and friendly enough.
- Turtle Ducks: herbivorous and friendly unless you tick off the mama by bothering her babies.
- Penguins: carnivorous, but friendly once bribed with fish.
- The Wild Thornberrys plays it straight and averts it. Eliza easily makes friends with plenty of herbivorous animals, but she also encounters some aggressive ones as well, such as hippos and water buffalo which are true.
- Real Life aversion: the vast overwhelming majority of unprovoked bird attacks on people are from herbivorous birds like swans, pheasants, geese, ostriches, and, most famous of all, the [almost entirely frugivorous] cassowary. Hell, if one considers the few annecdotes about eagles killing people to be fictional, all incidents of human deaths by avians are from herbivorous birds.
- Often averted. Many large herbivores are extremely territorial and will kill you deader than dead. The hippo (which, by the way, is more dangerous to humans than the predatory crocodile), the elephant, the rhino, and the cape buffalo are all among the most dangerous animals of Africa. Giraffes have been known to kill lions with their kicks.note
- In captivity, elephants in particular remain dangerous due to sheer size. Even an elephant that is friendly can easily kill its handler through mere clumsiness, and when a captive elephant loses its temper or panics, whole cars can get thrown aside or crushed by its bulk and muscle-power.
- Real Life Subversion: Herbivores (like cattle) tend to be seen as meat-slaves by humans. Cats and dogs, which are the animals most commonly seen as family members, are carnivores and omnivores respectively.
- Real Life subversion: Deer. People often mistake these herbivores to be gentle beasts of the forest, but they are actually extremely dangerous especially during rutting season. One particularly tragic example of this is when a man was gored to death by his pet buck when it attacked him (most likely thinking he was a rival male) and ended up stabbing him in the eye and piercing his brain.
- Does, too, have killed people when they get hit by a car, come through the windshield, and start kicking out with their sharp, hard hooves in a blind panic.
- Does will usually leave very young fawns to hide in the bushes while they go to feed, and will typically run from danger in the hope that the baby will stay hidden. If you happen across a doe and she doesn't run away, then back off quickly - her baby is probably close enough that mama thinks fighting is a better option than running.
- Near Kyoto, there is a place called Nara Park, which is (heavily) populated with deer, which are considered sacred there. Many tourists visit to see the deer (and temples, statues, etc.), and are warned by these signs that this trope is not necessarily true.
- Often played straight with rabbits. But not always.
- Usually played straight with guinea pigs.
- Turtles and Tortoises (including herbivorous ones) are generally the most tolerant and friendly of reptiles to humans, and those who aren't tend to be very shy. Also, while Iguanas can vary wildly per creature in terms in disposition, they can still form a close bond with humans akin to a dog or cat, depending on their personality. So it seems as though the most aggressive and dangerous herbivores in real life tend to be mammals. Though turtles don't usually appreciate being handled, and carnivorous ones can take fingers off if they're big enough (so keep your hands away from their faces). The herbivores play the trope very straight in most cases.
- There however, have been reports about herbivorous reptiles (namely Iguanas though possibly with other species) biting and even inflicting serious wounds upon a few unlucky victims. So this should not give you the wrong idea that it's safe to approach any sort of animal at anytime, rather herbivore, mammal or non-mammal. Also, no reptiles are truly domesticated yet.
- This trope is mostly an artifact of urban and suburban living, as rural communities where people have regular contact with horses or cattle see proof it's invalid every time a temperamental animal sends someone to the emergency room.
- Bulls are notoriously aggressive. And they're a lot faster than they look.
- Even cows can be quite dangerous when provoked. Regardless of gender, a 1,000 pound animal is still a 1,000 pound animal, and it can use that bulk to its advantage.
- The wild ancestor of cattle, the Aurochs, were among the most aggressive animals known to cavemen at the time. Yet somehow, they were domesticated and were practically bred into stupidity to live with us. Living wild cattle such as African Water Buffalo and Gaur are just as deadly.
- Simply put, if any wild mammal herbivore were "friendly", it would guarantee extinction. Otherwise it would mean that it evolved in a place without any predators (very unlikely) or has a high rate of reproduction to compensate.
- Some species of herbivore play this straight with each other, roaming in multi-species herds. Usually this is a sign that their dietary preferences are slightly different (e.g. grass vs. shrubs), and that each species in the group has a different well-developed sense (scent, hearing, sight) with which to detect herd members' mutual predators. Less competition, more chance to pick up on danger that way.
- Then mating season comes and males get very aggressive as they compete with each other for females. Only the strongest males will be able to mate with all the available females.
- Depending on the species, swans and geese can co-exist in close proximity to people and it's not uncommon to see them in urban ponds, lakes, and waterways. They are also extremely unfriendly when threatened and will attack if provoked. Especially if they have cygnets in their care. An adult Mute Swan (one of the heaviest birds capable of flight) is strong enough to break a man's leg by battering it with their wings.
- Compared to the other great apes, gorillas are generally more peaceful and don't eat any meat beyond the occasional insect.
- Dinosaur Media tends to play with this trope. Plant eating dinosaurs (like the Brachiosaurus pictured above) are usually depicted as docile creatures that are always at the mercy of the scary carnivores. Hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs) are especially depicted as such, due to having no obvious defenses against predators. In reality, it's believed by scientists that these "peaceful herbivores" would actually have been just as capable of fighting as their predatory counterparts. Even the hadrosaurs were armed with long, whiplike tails and in some species (like Iguanodon) sharp thumb spikes. Additionally, the herbivorous lineages had many dinosaurs that were more than capable of fighting carnivores, including Triceratops (with its massive horns, though it is now thought that it may have been an omnivore), Stegosaurus (the razor sharp spikes on its tail) and almost all of the sauropods (which were so incredibly huge that very few animals even tried to attack them).