Definition of scavenger in US English:



  • 1An animal that feeds on carrion, dead plant material, or refuse.

    • ‘The fact that many crustaceans, being omnivorous, may act as scavengers and eat the corpses of fellow aquatic creatures need not be a deterrent.’
    • ‘Vultures will be replaced by less favoured scavengers like rats and dogs.’
    • ‘The omnivorous scavengers could find food sources virtually anywhere and could survive without human care in the proper environment.’
    • ‘Primarily a carnivore the wolverine captures most of its prey, though it is also an extensive scavenger, eating quantities of carrion.’
    • ‘I was intrigued by the passage of time and the parade of scavengers, including bears, that reduced a giant among animals to scattered bones and a grease slick.’
    • ‘This lizard is a fierce predator and scavenger, and is thought to have caused human fatalities.’
    • ‘The word dogs is a strong insult in the Mediterranean world since dogs are generally regarded as scavengers.’
    • ‘Land crabs are nocturnal scavengers that climb trees, enter holes and are the invertebrate ecological equivalent of rats.’
    • ‘It is pointless to note that incisions to a carcass by the teeth of predators or scavengers often resemble knife cuts.’
    • ‘Some are scavengers - hagfish, crustaceans, sharks - which devour much of the whale's flesh and tissue over the course of a few months.’
    • ‘In ancient times this was done by carrying the body to a high hilltop, leaving it bare for nature's scavengers to feed on.’
    • ‘There were the small herbivores and scavengers and hunters scuttling in the undergrowth, hiding from the larger predators who occasioned down from the heights.’
    • ‘When the bison slaughter rose to its height, wolves and other scavengers thrived on the availability of carrion, and wolf numbers probably spiked briefly.’
    • ‘Experts on the red kite - a spectacular bird with a wingspan of up to 6ft - say it is essentially a scavenger which feeds on carrion rather than attacking sheep or game birds.’
    • ‘The buzz of flies permeated the air and the scavengers of meat fed on the dead.’
    • ‘Introducing water plants and scavengers such as water snails and tadpoles into a pond is an easier and less expensive solution.’
    • ‘Carcasses left by wolves supply food for scavengers such as ravens, eagles, magpies, and wolverines.’
    • ‘The saltwater crocodile is carnivorous and a scavenger.’
    • ‘Their island-home always seemed to be inhabited by great black birds - ravens, crows, scavengers of all sorts.’
    • ‘The destruction of nests discourages infestations by dermestid beetles and other insect scavengers which could move to other household items.’
    1. 1.1 A person who searches for and collects discarded items.
      • ‘Before the stallholders could even open the boot, scavengers were on the back seat searching for tarnished gold.’
      • ‘According to Alamsyah, most of the squatters in the area work as garbage men, scavengers and do other odd jobs.’
      • ‘Metal scavengers dismantled 155 mm artillery rounds, spreading gun powder on the ground at the depot, which housed old artillery.’
      • ‘Peddlers also performed an ecological function as consummate street scavengers, collectors, and recycling artists.’
      • ‘There are still one million people working as manual scavengers all over India.’
      • ‘He is a scavenger who collects waste paper.’
      • ‘Only scavengers came regularly to collect discarded plastic and steel.’
      • ‘In this picture, an Indonesian scavenger takes a break from collecting plastic from garbage clogging a Jakarta canal.’
      • ‘All that is left is a grim arena where matter is collected by scavengers and transformed into useful merchandise.’
      • ‘To this end the city directed its scavengers to deliver ‘clean’ garbage free of rotting vegetable matter to the site.’
      • ‘Immediately she got involved with the scavengers and asked them to collect specific items like cellophane wrappers that cannot be recycled.’
      • ‘Although the scavengers could also collect organic trash that can be transformed into organic fertilizer, most of them are loath to touch the putrifying garbage.’
      • ‘The charred remains of a body was discovered by scavengers searching for scrap metal yesterday morning.’
      • ‘Telephone and electric lines drooped in useless loops from poles and then disappeared entirely where scavengers had picked them clean.’
      • ‘Each scavenger could collect about 14 kilograms of plastic waste per day.’
      • ‘Scrap firms sometimes employed peddlers and scavengers, but they more frequently relied solely on the skills of the owner to sort and evaluate scrap from refuse.’
      scrounger, forager, gatherer, collector, accumulator
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2British archaic A person employed to clean the streets.
    3. 1.3Chemistry A substance that reacts with and removes particular molecules, groups, etc.
      ‘4-aminosalicylic acid is not an effective free radical scavenger’
      • ‘Whenever the antioxidants are present, antioxidant enzyme activity and scavengers of the free radical will be induced to prevent the oxidative damage.’
      • ‘Our study has shown that CDA-II was a good scavenger of hydroxyl radical, and it inhibited lipid peroxidation in brain homogenates.’
      • ‘HDL, or ‘good cholesterol’ acts like a scavenger in the blood looking for harmful cholesterol.’
      • ‘Low levels of natural antioxidants in pancreatitis indicate their increased utilization as scavengers of free radicals.’
      • ‘Free radical scavengers, however, do not completely prevent the loss of diaphragmatic force associated with delayed injury, indicating that other mechanisms are involved.’


Mid 16th century: alteration of earlier scavager, from Anglo-Norman French scawager, from Old Northern French escauwer ‘inspect’, from Flemish scauwen ‘to show’. The term originally denoted an officer who collected scavage, a toll on foreign merchants' goods offered for sale in a town, later a person who kept the streets clean.