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Coprophagia is the consumption of feces, from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (eat). Many animal species have evolved to practice coprophagia; other species do not normally consume feces but may do so under unusual conditions. Only in rare cases is it practiced by humans.
Two butterflies feed on a small lump of feces lying on a rock.
Coprophagous insects consume and redigest the feces of large animals; these feces contain substantial amounts of semi-digested food. (Herbivore digestive systems are especially inefficient.) Many species exist, the most famous probably being the scarab, sacred in ancient Egypt, and the most ubiquitous being the fly.
Pigs, like the above insects, will eat the feces of herbivores that leave a significant amount of semidigested matter. In certain cultures it was common for poor families to collect horse feces to feed their pigs. Pigs are also known to eat their own feces and even human feces as well. However, domesticated pigs should not be allowed to eat any sort of feces, as this contributes to the risk of parasite infection. Muslims cite this behavior as a prime reason why they do not eat pork.
Rabbits, cavies (guinea pigs) and related species do not have the complicated ruminant digestive system. Instead they extract more nutrition from grass by giving their food a second pass through the gut. Soft caecal pellets of partially digested food are excreted and generally consumed immediately. They also produce normal droppings, which are not re-eaten.
Young elephants eat the feces of their mother to obtain the necessary bacteria for the proper digestion of the vegetation found on the savannah. When they are born, their intestines do not contain these bacteria. Without them, these elephants would be unable to get any nutritional value from plants.
Hamsters eat their own droppings; this is thought to be a source of vitamins B and K, produced by bacteria in the gut. Apes have been observed eating horse droppings for the salt. Monkeys have been observed to eat elephant droppings.
Several companies produce food additives that can be added to the troublesome animal's food to make its feces taste excessively bad.
Coprophagia is a behavior sometimes observed, with considerable disgust, by dog owners. Hofmeister, Cumming, and Dhein (2001) write that this behavior in animals has not been well-researched, and they are (as of this writing) preparing a study. In a preliminary online paper, they write that there are various theories explaining why animals consume other animals' feces. According to various theories—none proven or disproven—dogs might do this:
Another theory proposes that carnivores sometimes eat the feces of their prey in order to ingest and exude scents which camouflage their own.
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