Vultures can feed on decaying materials because they have been endowed with specific adaptations, making the impossible possible. Their strong digestive tract, on top of being specially tolerant to certain dangerous bacterial species, is also able to kill most harmful bacteria.
Life on Earth is maintained through the interdependent interactions we have with one another – that is how many of our primary needs are met, including our need for food. Food chains and food webs constitute a very apt example of this interdependence creatures of our planet have developed. Food chains depict how organisms feed on one another: every single one at each level is adapted for its feeding method. For instance, humans, being omnivorous, can feed on both plants and animals, while cattle have specialised guts to effectively digest plants only. But, did you ever give a thought on those organisms found at the very end of food chains, like vultures? The latter feed on carcasses mostly. How can they eat rotten food without having to bear adverse effects? Scientists have recently attempted to confidently answer this question.
Humans cannot eat stale food because of the presence of noxious substances and organisms in it. Sometimes, consuming rotten food might even be fatal. However, scavengers like vultures feast on decaying corpses. They have, in fact, been gifted with specialised digestive systems that confer on them tolerance to toxins present in stale foods, as well as the ability to destroy the harmful bacteria that develop in the decaying materials.
The stomach of these animals are extremely acidic. When they consume the rotten food items coated with the dangerous microorganisms, most of them are killed in the acidic medium of part of their alimentary canal. The researchers found that hundreds of bacterial species were found on the beaks of the vultures, while only two of them remained in their guts: the others were thoroughly killed.
Furthermore, their gastrointestinal tracts have a high selectivity for the destruction of bacteria; the vultures can, as a consequence, make the distinction between those bacteria that have to be destroyed and those that don’t. Vultures not only have a toughened digestive system, but they also are more tolerant to certain lethal bacterial species that would have killed other animals by their mere presence in the digestive tract.