Every animal needs to eat. Food supplies energy to grow, move and reproduce. Nutritional needs are met by a whole range of different feeding systems, diets and digestive processes.
Rather than dividing up species into herbivores, carnivores and omnivores, in 1928 Sir Charles Maurice Yonge suggested making a distinction between species based on whether they have a solid or liquid diet, were mobile or inert, or were small or large (in relation to the size of the consumer).
This very subjective method shows the often arbitrary limitations of classification. It does, however, offer an alternative perspective which the Museum of Bordeaux has chosen to present. Stuffed specimens, jaws and teeth, to-scale and vastly enlarged models as well as photos showing animals in the process of feeding alongside original scientific drawings depicting details of organs and how they function.
While certain animals feed on liquids or through a filtering structure, others consume large species. Among these, some animals look for stationary food while others extract nutritious elements from sediment. As for humankind and certain other species, they capture, tear up and devour their prey. This food acquisition strategy is common for us, but is relatively rare in the animal world in the sense that most predators devour their prey directly. Chewing before swallowing prepares the food for digestion. Only a few species possess teeth. These species feature exclusively among jawed vertebrates. In one part of the room, two large displays present teeth and jaws which illustrate the diversity of the forms and growth processes of these bodily structures.
A multimedia terminal has games to understand this classification method and how this gallery in the museum is organised. There are also objects on display as a nod to how animals have adapted to feed themselves: a syringe for the piercing stylus of the common mosquito; a hand brush for the baleen of Greenland whales, and pincers representing the mouth of turtles.
The semi-permanent exhibition Eat me if you can! casts a light on an alternative method for classifying animal species.