03 December 2014

Vultures' guts destroy toxins in rotting meat

Vultures' guts have evolved, allowing them to consume toxic bacteria.


Vultures have developed highly specialised ways of dealing with the toxic bacteria they ingest when eating dead animals, researchers report.

Destroying dangerous bacteria

The new research investigated the different types of bacteria found on the faeces and in the guts of 50 turkey vultures and black vultures in the United States. On average, the faces of the vultures had more than 500 different types of microorganisms, compared with 76 in their guts, the study found.

The findings suggest that a vulture's digestive system destroys most of the dangerous bacteria they consume, according to the researchers.

The birds – who regularly consume decaying flesh – also have a tolerance towards some of the deadly bugs, the researchers noted. In addition, they said some species of bacteria that could kill other animals appear to flourish in the vulture's lower intestine.

The toxic bacteria residing in the vulture's lower intestine break down the dead meat, providing the bird with important nutrients, the scientists explained.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

More information

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has more about turkey vultures.

Read more:
Good bacteria vs. bad bacteria
Combat Candida with good bacteria
Bacteria can be good for you

Image: Turkey Vulture from Shutterstock

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