Interesting piece of animal trivia

So, I’ve wondered for awhile why carnivores have shorter guts than omnivores.

You see, the longer an animal’s gut is, the more capable it is of digesting plants. That’s why herbivores have much, much, much longer digestive systems than omnivores. (Cows have four stomachs, for example.) Meat is easier to digest, which is why herbivores can eat meat (and most do!), but carnivores can’t eat plants.

“What is the advantage,” I wondered, “to being a pure carnivore? Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to any species to be capable of eating plants, just in case prey became scarce?”

Well, it turns out there’s an advantage to having a shorter digestive tract!

The shorter the gut, the less time food stays inside the animal. The less time food stays inside the animal, the less time pathogenic microorganisms have to reproduce and spread through the animal.

On top of that, the shorter the digestive tract, the lower the stomach acid pH can be (because it takes a lot of extra work for a body to protect itself from stronger stomach acid). The stronger the stomach acid, the more bacteria get killed in the stomach.

So a short digestive tract not only sends pathogenic microorganisms out sooner, giving them less time to multiply, it also makes it possible to have a lower stomach acid pH, making it much easier to kill them.

In fact, if the pH is really low, the animal can even digest pathogenic microorganisms as a bonus energy source. For vultures, botulism is food!

So that’s why scavengers (like vultures and hyenas) are usually carnivores. Essentially, those species chose to give up being able to eat plants in order to be able to eat pathogenic bacteria.

It’s awesome that that tradeoff is worthwhile, and in fact extremely valuable to all the other animal species in an ecosystem. In a sense, you could say that pure carnivores are eating other predators (the teeny tiny ones), and therefore protecting their prey just as much as they are killing them. Which explains why apex predators and scavengers, who tend to be pure carnivores, tend to be keystone species, and therefore essential to keep an ecosystem working.

I thought that was pretty cool.


That’s wild.

This makes me wonder if people who lose portions of their stomachs/intestines for various reasons would benefit from a carnivore diet… :thinking:

It would make sense too that the carnivore is essentially ingesting the nutrients from the plants through its prey. So it doesn’t need to eat plants if its prey is healthy from eating the plant life.

Hubs and I have discussed growing a garden to feed farm animals to eat them instead of the plants - mostly because I don’t really prefer eating greens most of the time. It’s an interesting consideration. There are always two sides to the argument of course, but I’ve heard that folks eating pure carnivore do well on that eating plan, especially if they have health problems. Growing the plants for the animals could devolve into an interesting thing where we’re testing the nutrient value of the plants to ensure the animals are getting the highest nutrients possible so that we in turn get the highest nutrients as well. I’m not up on all the science of this whole thing, but it’s a fun thought experiment.

It’s a very interesting idea, and I think an entirely valid way to farm.

The main challenge I foresee with that is that you’d probably need a lot more space to grow plants than if you were eating most of them yourselves. But if you have that space, there’s no reason not to.

Thinking about it, that strategy might pair particularly well with trying to breed plants that are tasty to a very picky eater. If the picky eater would snub 90% or more of the produce, feeding that 90% to animals that they enjoy eating more makes sense.

I have a daughter who is extremely hard to get to eat any plants. (Even strawberries!) But she’s quite happy to eat meat and cheese. I think it’s an autism sensory issue, having to do with the textures. Whatever the reason, a strategy like this would probably work well for feeding her.

We don’t have the space to keep livestock, so for me, this has to stay theoretical. But for someone with a lot of space, that may be a neat idea.

We have the space, but it would be a few years before we could ramp up to the production I think we’d need for such an undertaking. Also, if those animals were primarily foragers, then that would take some of the burden off us rather than needing to produce everything for them.

I wonder if raising rabbits would work in your situation? Anybody in your community nearby who could raise animals for you that you could help feed from your garden?

Yeah, I’ve considered that, and started this thread about the idea awhile ago:

Ultimately, I wound up deciding that I just plain don’t have the space. If I had two or three acres, I might want chickens or rabbits, but with a fifth of an acre, I prefer to dedicate all of that space to vegetables and fruit trees.

There’s another consideration that is equally important, and it’s this: I don’t like taking care of animals.

Many people do, and many of them don’t like caring for plants very much. That’s awesome! I don’t like programming, and I love that my brother enjoys it, because I benefit from somebody doing it. He doesn’t like growing plants, and he loves that other people enjoy it, because he benefits from somebody doing it.

It’s a great illustration of why community is so important. When everyone does what they love, and looks for ways to use things they love doing to help others, everyone benefits. :blush:

That’s the most important thing. And it’s really good to know that about yourself so you don’t struggle to do something that becomes a Chore.

I just got off the phone with a dear friend, and we discussed this idea of using our communities to fulfill the “gaps”. She has problems going veggies in her garden and instead has shifted to having a flower garden, but then goes to the farmer market to buy all her veggies. Where my primary goal is growing food (in whatever form), and hubs wants to raise cows, but they arne’t the most reasonable animal unless we clear more forest, but that feels bad just to have more space for animals… etc. But we have a friend down the hill with lots of pasture, so if hubs wants cows, he can have them graze at our friend’s place instead of clearing forest for an animal that isn’t really a forest animal.

Perfect way to put it. :heart: