An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Coprophagy

Rabbits and hares generally deposit their scat pellets one at a time, so when you find several in one spot, you know they’ve been there a while, either eating or resting.  The little round, brown, fibrous rabbit and hare pellets we are familiar with have actually been ingested twice – a process referred to as coprophagy.  On its first passage through the digestive system, bacteria act on the food in the large caecum (a pouch near the start of the large intestine, which most herbivorous mammals possess) reducing it to a more easily digestible form and concentrating it, particularly its vitamin B and protein content.The caecum, however, is past the portion of the digestive tract in which most resorption takes place.  It is therefore necessary for the animal to reingest the resulting pellets, which are soft and green and covered with mucous, to extract as much of the nutrition as possible.  These soft pellets are eaten directly from the anus. Coprophagy increases protein digestibility from 50 percent in one pass through the digestive system to 75 to 80 percent upon reingestion. Cellulose digestion is increased from 14 percent in one pass through the digestive system to two or three times that amount when the feces is re-ingested.  

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3 responses

  1. Libby

    How is this adaptive? Is it a net energy savings to eat the same food twice? If a rabbit has to stay in one place long enough to eat twice, isn’t it more vulnerable? What a fascinating process.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:59 am

    • Coprophagy allows the animal to eat quickly and then reinjest it at a later time when the animal is in a more protected spot — a clever adaptatation for digesting cellulose.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:40 am

  2. Pingback: Rabbit Scat & Our Remarkable Daughter | tutordoctorwny01

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