A species of carnivorous vulture has evolved a unique gut bacteria for feeding on flesh rather than limbs.
The gastrointestinal bacteria is so specialized that the gut of the wintering vulture that live around the southwestern part of Argentina is only four cells small, compared to an average gut of eight cells of an adult white-tailed deer.
In the past few decades, the white-tailed vulture has become a common sight on highways around Argentina, mostly driving atop broken tree trunks. The vultures catch food off the ground, such as berries or sunflower seeds. Males are all decked out in flashy, bright yellow jackets, and females are blue.
Researchers from the University of Granada believe the numbers of vultures have increased on highways over the past few decades, due to factors like climate change and environmental degradation, according to National Geographic.
These routes make them more prone to collisions with cars, according to an article published in the International Journal of Zoology.
In the study, scientists collected fecal samples from white-tailed vultures around the Valla del Cachapoal Wildlife Sanctuary of Valledupar, Argentina. The collection shows the vultures to be showing a unique abnormality, Microbevampuritus/Lechlachorum.
The scientists believe that the bacteria could live on dirt. The extra cells were isolated and cultured in a lab. Using a different process, the species also showed unusual levels of the bacterium, only found in bacteria that are used to digest human flesh, per National Geographic.
“It is interesting that in vultures, this bacterium was absent in one species, Vestsia tourna, which lived on migratory birds, and appeared in two species, Vestsia migrica and Vestsia rosacea,” M. Saubel, a biologist and entomologist at the University of Granada told National Geographic.
The scientists also found out that Vestia tourna relies on mushrooms to feed. The same type of mushrooms are often found on desolate highways across the region, according to National Geographic.
Researchers believe the eggs of these animals are ruined by road contaminants and the risk of bioterrorism.
The scientists hope their study will help find a solution to the ills vultures may face.
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