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Weird and wonderful scavengers

Scavenging animals are an incredibly important part of our ecosystem. Most carnivores, like coyotes, eagles, bears, or foxes, are willing to scavenge an animal carcass if they happen across it - it is a free lunch after all. This behaviour helps keep the landscape clean, as it would otherwise be dotted with rotting carcasses that could spread harmful bacteria to us. There are far fewer animals, though, who use scavenging as their only food source. Turkey vultures are one of those animals and when freshly-deceased meat isn't available, they are capable of eating meat so putrid it would knock us off our feet in minutes. But if meat that rotten is so harmful to us, how can a Turkey Vulture eat it without getting sick?

Photo: USFWS

As it turns out, Turkey Vultures have incredibly strong acids in their digestive system that are so strong they can even break down DNA molecules, which are some of the strongest molecules in our bodies. This means any dangerous microbes that grow on a rotting piece of meat, like Salmonella, E-coli, or Anthrax bacteria quickly get completely destroyed in the gut of a vulture instead of making them sick like they would a human. In addition to this, Turkey Vultures also seem to have evolved immunity to some potent disease-causing bacteria like Clostridium (botulism/tetanus), and Fusobactera (sepsis/flesh-eating). These dangerous bacteria are actually part of a Turkey Vulture's natural microbiome and likely help break down other toxic microbes even further!


How's that for having an "iron stomach"??


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