The humans can barely stand the smell of rotting flesh, let alone think about eating it. The mere thought will bring us a sick feeling. Many animals on the other hand, eat dead meat without any problems. And when it comes to the case of vultures, it is nothing short of incredible. They have no qualms about eating carrion that has been decaying for quite a while. In fact, they prefer to have such a kind of meal. Vultures can feed on dead animals in any stage of decomposition. Though they are known to prefer mammal carrion, they would also eat carcasses of reptiles, fishes and other birds. The vultures usually locate their food with sight or smell.
The decayed meat is playing ground for different kinds of bacteria that are dangerous to human body. These include the bacillus anthraces, which are known for causing anthrax. These bacteria are poisonous to most of the creatures. Studies have found out that the stomach of vultures is filled with two species of bacteria, both very dangerous. The first one is the flesh-degrading fusobacterium, which causes blood infections and the other one is clostridium, which can produce deadly botulism toxins. These are also found on the face of the birds. Yet, vultures seem fine with it. The question is how do they do it?
The major part of the vultures’ ability to eat decaying carrion can be attributed to the highly acidic character of the gastric juices in their body. These juices are so strong that they will kill most of the deadly bacteria before they can get into intestines and begin their activities. To get a clearer picture, you would like to know that the stomach acids of vultures are 10 to 100 times stronger than those in humans. While the human gastric juices have acidity around 2 on the pH scale, the vultures’ is close to zero. That is, the digestive system of the vultures is very harsh compared to humans or any other scavengers.
It seems that the vultures have developed a strong digestive system over the years, especially considering they are spending their whole lives near rotten flesh. It is also apparent that they have built some tolerance to the deadly clostridia and fusobacteria. Interestingly, these bacteria seem to help the digestion in the birds by breaking down the rotten flesh. The immunity towards these toxic bacteria appears to have evolved over thousands of years. However, there are things that even vultures can’t stand. Lead and certain drugs, which are incidentally fine to humans, are toxic to them.
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