Hobbes: Which side will you defend?
Calvin: Oh, I believe they were fearsome predators, definitely.
Hobbes: How come?
Calvin: They're SO much cooler that way.
In fiction (especially xenofiction), a carnivorous animal is very commonly the villain facing off against a bunch of heroic herbivores. But what happens when a carnivore is a hero?
Simple: make the villain a "lesser" carnivore. Or, in other words, a scavenger.
A very specific form of Carnivore Confusion, this trope presents scavengers as ugly, dirty, greedy, and all around unpleasant creatures who would gleefully feast on equally rotten meals that nobody in their right mind would touch. Usually applied to creatures like hyenas, corvids, jackals, and vultures. They will often be depicted as Villainous Gluttons and Dirty Cowards, due to their preference for easy meals that are either lying dead on the ground or too weak to fight back, as well as their habit of mooching off of the hard-working predators who, in our eyes, truly "earn" their own sustenance. Oddly enough, they won't always be depicted as actually scavenging, instead conspiring to eat the still-living protagonists, which kind of defeats the purpose of them being called scavengers to begin with.
This trope is most certainly not Truth in Television. Scavengers in real life are a vital part of any ecosystem, as they feed on the dead and decaying bodies that dirty up the environment and spread disease. And indeed, all active predators (and even many herbivores) will scavenge if they have the chance, even though you will never see a lion, wolf or deer scavenge in fiction. After all, why should they waste energy running after their food (or digesting grass) when a perfectly good piece of meat is lying right in front of them? That being said, their close association with death makes the scavengers' bad reputation at least somewhat understandable and in some places, scavenging animals are known to be serious pests (cockroaches and raccoons, for example). This trope has had an adverse effect on many of these animals: For example, vulture populations have crashed by 90 percent due to people purposely poisoning carcasses in attempts to get rid of them.
A Post-Apocalyptic Dog may also end up as this.
Curiously, scavengers are rarely depicted as the Big Bad of a story; more commonly, they're depicted as Mooks or secondary antagonists—you're more likely to see them as Big Bads if no other carnivores are filling the role. This has a level of Truth in Television to it, as scavengers in real-life generally stay out of conflicts between larger, stronger meat-eaters (but are not Mooks in real-life, obviously).
Sister trope to Predators Are Mean, which one would think would result in scavengers being depicted as nicer, since they at least don't need to kill for food. Often related to Super-Persistent Predator and What Measure Is a Non-Cute?. Related to You Dirty Rat!, Creepy Cockroach, Messy Maggots, and (if humanoid carrion-eaters are included) Our Ghouls Are Creepier. Compare Predation Is Natural, which often goes hand-in-hand with this trope: hunting is part of nature, but scavenging is less so.
No relation to Disaster Scavengers, which are the (mostly human) scavengers in the post-apocalyptic worlds.
- Subverted in Haibane Renmei. Though her friends consider crows to be annoying pests who eat their garbage, Rakka realizes there's more to them then they initially seem.
- Requiem Vampire Knight starts with the hero running into a bunch of zombies (the lowest order of undead, who scrounge what food they can) for who a newly-arrived vampire is a feast before being rescued by Otto.
- Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes once made a report that defended the predator-vs.-scavenger aspect of Tyrannosaurus rex while super-intelligent. While he intended at first to go into scientific detail ("to argue that tyrannosaurs were predators and not scavengers, we'll need to write a brief overview of carnosaur evolutionnote . Then we'll delve into skeletal structure, skull design, arm strength, potential running speed, and environmental factors") to defend his theory, his brain shrank and his bedtime came up, and he ended up going with Rule of Cool as his sole argument.
- Eventually subverted in Leafie, a Hen into the Wild. The one-eyed weasel is depicted both scavenging and hunting, and in fact kills both of Greenie's biological parents. She's the closest thing to the Big Bad the film has. It's later subverted when it's shown she is not any worse than the birds are. She is just trying to eat. In fact the film ends with Leafie allowing the weasel to eat her in order for her to produce milk for her newborns.
- Surprisingly subverted with Adrian Toomes (better known as the Vulture, even though he doesn't call himself that) in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Although he's a black market weapons dealer and literally a scavenger (of technology rather than corpses)note , he's portrayed in a fairly sympathetic light: he only went to the black market to make a living after Tony Stark drives him out of business, he genuinely loves his family and tries his best to provide for them, he avoids unnecessary bloodshed and he has a sense of honor that prevents him from revealing Spider-Man's identity at the end of the movie.
- Erin Hunter works usually present scavenging as demeaning, especially if the animals scavenge from humans (though many of the animals are actually scavengers in real life):
- In Survivor Dogs, very few of the dogs are okay with scavenging off of longpaw trash or eating dog food after becoming Free Dogs. Alpha, a wolf-dog raised amongst wolves, outright refuses to.
- Lusa is seen as less of a bear for trying to eat flatface food (garbage) in Seeker Bears. Ujurak and Toklo consider it unnatural.
- "Crowfood" is the term that characters in Warrior Cats use to refer to rotting food. The cats refuse to scavenge no matter how hungry they are.
- Averted in Bravelands. Unlike in previous Erin Hunter books, scavenging is noted to be a natural and even vital part of life for animals. Scavengers, vultures in particular, are considered borderline sacred. This doesn't mean all scavengers are noble, however. The Heinous Hyena trope is still in use.
- Subverted in Discworld with Quoth, the Death of Rats's raven associate. Although completely open and unashamed about his love of scavenging (eyeballs especially), he's quite helpful and sympathetic, at least when he's not being a Deadpan Snarker. At the end of Hogfather, the Death of Rats locates a dead sheep for Quoth to scavenge, and it's portrayed as a touching Hogswatch gesture on the Grim Squeaker's part.
- In Steven Brust's Dragaera, House Jhereg is named for a species of scavenging venomous reptile, and is the House associated with criminals. Subverted by Loiosh, an actual jhereg who can be quite courageous when acting on behalf of Vlad, who raised Loiosh as his companion and familiar.
- Isaac Asimov's "The Gentle Vultures": The aliens consider unbalancing the Cold War so that one side is ready to devastate the world through nuclear weapons. Then they'll come to "rescue" the survivors. However, when a human that they abduct for information castigates them and compares them to carrion-eaters, they become horrified at the idea of what they're about to do and leave Earth to its own devices.
- In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig, both animals that will scavenge.
- The Jungle Book: While Shere Khan the tiger is the main villain, Tabaqui the jackal is shown as his lackey, reporting to him in the hopes of eating his leftovers and avoiding fights.
- Bothans in Star Wars Legends are said to have evolved from scavengers. Thus, they demonstrate several traits that others find distasteful, like instinctually avoiding open conflict unless someone else strikes the first blow, and delighting in sneaky means like spying, hacking, or politics. Subverted in that plenty of Bothers are heroic, without downplaying their sneakiness one bit. Remember who gave their lives to learn the second Death Star's weakness?
- Subverted in the Tortall Universe, where the Stormwings are scavengers, and who are understandably not well liked, even among heroic characters like Daine. When we get to know them, however, it turns out that they're actually surprisingly likeable, and Daine comes around on them. As they put it, they can't exactly help that they were literally created as obligate corpse-eaters.
- Zig-zagged in Warren the 13th with the three evil witches and their spirit animal forms. One of the witches, Isosceles, turns into a vulture, but her sisters, Scalene and Annaconda, turn into a wolf and a snail, respectively. Also, Isosceles goes through a Heel–Face Revolving Door. She is horrified when Scalene is imprisoned and Annaconda doesn't care. and she flies away. She later pulls a Big Damn Heroes moment, flying Warren back to the hotel, only to run away rather than help the heroes.
- Averted in Louise Searl's novel about lions, The Way of Kings (2021). The lions understand that scavenging helps them survive, and consider it no less noble than hunting.
- The rats in The Wind in the Willows are treated this way: although they are also a product of the author's class-based mistrust of the English working classes, lazy, idle, prone to theft rather than hard labour, ill-educated and vicious to their social betters. (And, unlike the more selective middle-class house-owning middle class voles, moles and badgers, breed uncontrollably). TWITW is a pretty reactionary text, written at a time when the English bourgeoisie was frightened of unrest, labour agitation and socialism among the lower orders, of the proletariat rising up against the hard-working middle classes. (It is no accident the heroes are all members of the stout English yeomanry).
- Savage Kingdom: The Marsh's rival pride is a small but tricky group who will do anything to survive. This is emphasised by their introduction clip showing them stealing a leopard's prey.
- Walking with Dinosaurs: The series, of all things, has a tendency to do the "evil scavenger" trope; while the predatory animals do have a more ominous mood to their presence, they're still depicted in a way that makes them at least somewhat admirable and interesting creatures. The same cannot be said about Coelophysis (opportunistic predator from "New Blood"), Eustreptospondylus (the token land-lubber in "Cruel Sea"), young Ornithocheirus (scavenges the dead protagonist in "Giant of the Skies"—an interesting case, since said protagonist is the same species) or Didelphodon (an annoying, hyena-like mammal from "Death of a Dynasty"), all of which are depicted in a rather negative, or at least macabre light.
- Its spinoff, Walking with Beasts, is also guilty of this.
- The "Sabre Tooth" episode paints the terror birds as carrion-eaters (their actual diets were made almost entirely of live prey) to make the sabre-tooth cats more likeable. This is not only biased but also completely incorrect, as terror birds are very poor scavengers and superb predators. They are shown killing their own prey at least once, though.
- Walking With Beasts also has the Entelodon, which is portrayed in extremely negative light as a hog from Hell and The Bully of the Oligocene epoch.
- Similar to the Walking with Dinosaurs examples above, Valley of the T-Rex describes scavenging in decidedly unflattering terms. The entire point of the documentary is to "prove" that Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't the majestic, noble hunter of popular imagination, but an ugly, smelly scavenger. And yes, those are the literal words they use.
- The Bible describes the dogs, especially feral dogs, to be this trope, associating them with being unclean and malicious.
- The folk tales of "black dogs", ubiquitous in the United Kingdom, can be rooted back to the dogs' scavenging behavior. Some of them are even hellhounds.
- Even though Islam doesn't discriminate any animal, one hadith considers dogs to be unclean, somehow playing with this trope. This stereotype since has expanded from simply feral dogs, to even many domestic dogs (utility dogs are mostly exceptions). And as such, many Muslims, especially the conservative ones, don't allow dogs into their homes due to this trope.
- Pathfinder: The jackal-headed cynosphinxes are the only species of sphinx to be a scavenger by preference — to the point that they even let fresh kills rot before eating them to improve their taste — and of course they're evil, treacherous and vile necromancers to the last.
- Warhammer 40,000: Scavengers (also known as scavvies) are among the lowest social classes in hive cities and are treated as such, though the RPGs that feature them tend to be seen as The Scrounger.
- It is almost guaranteed Pokémon based off of Real Life scavengers are Dark-typed. At this moment we have the hellhounds Houndour and Houndoom (Dark/Fire), the hyenas Poochyena and Mightyena (pure Dark-type), the vultures Vullaby and Mandibuzz (Dark/Flying), the crows Murkrow and Honchcrow, the weasels Sneasel and Weavile (Dark/Ice), the skunks Stunky and Skuntank (Poison/Dark), the rats Alolan Rattata and Raticate (Dark/Normal), the foxes Nickit and Thievul (pure Dark-type), and the raccoons Galarian Zigzagoon, Linoone, and Obstagoon (Dark/Normal). The weasel-like Buizel and Floatzel subvert this for being pure Water type, rather than a Dark-type like Sneasel and Weavile above. On the other hand, many other Pokemon that look like Real Life predators don't always fall in this type. For example, the lions Litleo and Pyroar are dual type Fire/Normal Pokemon, whereas the Shinx evolutionary line, regardless of its black fur, is Electric-typed. The Carvanha and Sandile lines are Dark-type predators, though. Also to note that none of the aforementioned Pokémon except for Mandibuzz are actually said to be scavengers in-universe.
- Spyke, the literal Street Urchin from the first Splatoon isn't exactly evil, but he's a shady back-alley salesman and implied thief. He can steal any item you want for you, but his prices are high. Murch, another humanoid sea urchin from the sequels, is much the same.
- In Freefall Sam's species are scavengers, and consider kleptomania a virtue. He's also afraid of Florence, an uplifted red wolf who's a stickler for the rules, even though she's genetically programmed to be subordinate to her employer, whom he happens to be.
- Zig-zagged on Serina. During the Ocean Age, there are two prominent species of scavenging birds that inhabit the seas and feed off of the scraps of the sea stewards. The sea raven plays this trope largely straight as its a greedy and belligerent creature that will aggressively steal food from other animals and may even sometimes attack the sea steward's children. The other bird, the aukvulture, is a complete subversion as despite its large size and intimidating appearance it's actually a docile and intelligent animal that patiently waits for its meals, even ostracizing the more belligerent members of their kind, the sea stewards prefer to keep them around as they keep away the smaller but highly unpleasant sea ravens.
- A weird example in Dink, the Little Dinosaur — among the enemies the group faced was a generic, predatory type of pterosaur referred to in-universe as "Scavengers". However, they're never shown scavenging, instead actively hunting the protagonists, sometimes persistently.
- The Lion Guard:
Our kind is born a bit smarter than other creatures you might know.And though we seem quite pleasant, our niceness is just a show.We've learned how to beat the system; everyone does our work for us.But before we can take advantage first we have to win their trust.
- Zigzagged. Most of the characters are either carnivores or omnivores. The pilot however portrays scavengers as abhorrent, despite the fact real life lions will readily scavenge too if given the chance. Vultures and hyenas (who do apparently hunt in the series as well) are the villains in the pilot, and the latter are not even considered scavengers in real life anymore than lions are. It's true hyenas will scavenge, but they hunt most of what they eat. This fact is later somewhat shown in the series itself, where a hyena named Jasiri mentions that hyenas serve as scavengers in the Circle of Life and tells Kion that not all hyenas are bad (though she is still one of only "good hyenas" in the franchise).
- There is an entire Villain Song about how jackals pretend to be nice and steal everything. This is presented as a character trait of the species.
- According to Stephen Hillenburg, this was his motivation for characterizing Mr. Krabs in SpongeBob SquarePants. Crabs in many marine ecosystems serve as highly opportunistic omnivores that will eat almost anything they can find, especially if it's decaying—though the idea is never brought up in the show itself, it influenced Krabs's depiction as The Scrooge who will do anything to obtain even the smallest amount of cash. Indeed, at least one episode features him trying to sell and eat food that has visibly decayed to the point of being a health hazard (though his attempt to eat it doesn't end well).
- This was the reason Benjamin Franklin privately wished that the wild turkey had been picked as the national animal of the United States (though he did not, as is commonly believed, voice this opinion in public). He considered the bald eagle, as a frequent scavenger, to be "a bird of bad moral character" who "does not get his living honestly" and is a "rank coward."