You know how important it is to maintain a well-balanced diet that incorporates the nutrients your body needs for survival. Animals know this instinctively. Instead of meal planning and counting macronutrients, they do what their bodies tell them without much forethought. Sometimes that means eating the bark off a tree and sometimes it means snacking on leaves and insects. But on occasion, it gets a little weirder (at least from the perspective of humans). They also eat poop. Their own poop, their mother’s poop, and others’ poop. Discover eight animals that eat poop and learn how their bodies are able to handle such an interesting meal!
8 Animals That Eat Poop (and How They Do It Without Getting Sick)
1. Elephant Calves
While it may sound counterintuitive to you as a human to consider that a baby elephant may need to consume its mother’s dung, for a baby elephant, this is all about nutrient absorption. Elephants are herbivores, meaning they have to digest some rather tough plant materials. They have microorganisms that help them with this process of breaking down what they eat. When an elephant calf consumes its mother’s dung, it’s also taking in these beneficial microorganisms, which help to develop its own digestive system.
2. Hippo Calves
Hippos are herbivores that live in a semi-aquatic environment. Most of the time, they are immersed in the water, but they do exit the water to go feed on grasses and a range of other plants. While they do consume some aquatic plants, the majority of their diet is made up of grass. Considering the vegetation they consume; they need specific bacteria in their guts to properly digest their meals. When a hippo calf is born, its intestines are not equipped with these bacteria. So, hippo calves consume the poop of their mother and other members of the herd to equip their bodies with what they need to properly digest their food.
Poop as a meal has long been documented. For example, mammoths frequently ate their own feces. They typically feasted on grasses, but researchers found that they regularly feasted on their own feces as well. When grass was scarce, it makes sense that mammoths would turn to their own nutrient-dense productions. Within mammoth poop, there were solid concentrations of several vitamins and essential nutrients. Although it doesn’t sound particularly palatable, this was a way for mammoths to ingest a healthy diet.
That’s right, even your precious pooch enjoys some poop. Dogs eating feces isn’t that uncommon! Some dogs enjoy the flavor and texture of poop, particularly if it has just been excreted. Nothing quite like a fresh meal! According to The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, one in six dogs are “serious” about eating poop, and that means that they were caught eating feces at least five times. However, there are one in four dogs that have consumed feces at least once. Dogs don’t get their nutrition from poop, so they don’t have the same biological drive to consume feces as other animals. They just seem to find it appealing! Go figure.
Rabbits eat poop because it’s the method by which they obtain key nutrients. This is a necessity for rabbits because if they don’t consume feces, they’re at risk of developing a host of health issues. When a young rabbit first starts to eat, its body is unable to absorb all the necessary nutrients. It then eats its poop to allow its body to absorb those nutrients during the second pass-through. As herbivores, rabbits have a rather rich, fibrous diet that isn’t the easiest type of diet for the digestive system. So, even as rabbits move into adulthood, they continue this practice of eating their own poop.
Hamsters eat a range of foods though a healthy pelleted rodent diet helps to provide them with the nutrients they need. However, there are some human foods hamsters can enjoy like apples, cucumbers, carrots, and even raisins. Their diet also consists of poop. In fact, their health and survival depend on those poopy meals because the nutrients they’re unable to absorb during the first round get absorbed during the second round, even though the second meal is a bit gross to humans.
Gorillas can snack throughout the day with ease. Their diet is primarily made up of leaves, stems, and shoots but they also get a little creative with what they eat. They can eat ants, bark, and even snails. Rotting wood is on the menu for gorillas as well because it provides them with the sodium they need. Just like every other animal on this list, gorillas also eat poop. Considering gorillas have a high-fiber diet naturally, their digestive systems just aren’t equipped to handle the richness of this food. So, by eating their poop, they’re able to get the nutrients they otherwise miss.
8. Rhesus Monkeys
Rhesus monkeys are omnivorous mammals that eat a range of plant matter and insects. It’s not unusual for a rhesus monkey to snack on leaves, tree bark, roots, mushrooms, and fruits. But they also eat insects, spiders, fish, and even bird eggs. Like other nonhuman primates, feces provide beneficial nutrition for rhesus monkeys, which is why they keep it in the rotation of meals.
How Animals Eat Poop Without Getting Sick
It’s called coprophagia. That’s a fancy way of describing the behavior of animals when they ingest poop. The behavior occurs throughout the animal kingdom and sometimes involves the animal eating their own feces, the feces of their mothers, and even the feces of other animals. The behavior, though seemingly repulsive, is actually an important adaptation for many animals because it allows them to absorb nutrients they otherwise miss. They can also eat the microorganisms in feces that allow them to properly digest their natural diet. It’s not just herbivores who exhibit this behavior, omnivores also eat feces as well.
So how can they consume fecal matter and not get sick? Because this behavior supports their survival, these animals have developed the appropriate physiological adaptations to handle what’s in the poop. Poop gives them necessary nutrients, beneficial microbes, and their immune systems have adapted in such a way that they can handle any parasites or bacteria that may be present in the poop they consume. Additionally, some animals, like rabbits, have a hindgut where there are fermentation chambers that help with the breakdown process. As their hindgut works post-meal, the microbes produce essential nutrients. Then, it’s a whole new meal full of the good stuff they need!
Do Carnivores Eat Poop?
Coprophagia is significantly less common in carnivores. But just because it doesn’t happen more regularly doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur at all. Take cats, for example. They’re obligate carnivores, requiring meat in their diets for survival. They don’t exactly relish poop, extracting nutrients the way other animals do and they don’t find it particularly appealing like some dogs do. But mother cats consume both the poop and urine of their kittens early on. Their kittens are born both deaf and blind, which makes them unable to help themselves. For the sake of cleanliness, mother cats take care of cleaning their kittens, which means they consume poop too. In the wild, carnivores may exhibit this behavior but most often this occurs when food is scarce. The poop they consume offers extra nutrients.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Uryupina Nadezhda/Shutterstock.com
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