Surprise discovery: Researchers caught moose eating faeces
Researchers in Norway observe a moose eating faeces from another moose, a behavior that has not been seen before
Several animal species eat faeces. Coprophagy is a fine word for this behaviour.
Animals can eat their own faeces, the faeces of their own species, and sometimes the faeces of other animal species.
But researchers had no idea that moose do this.
In a forest in Central Norway
It was in a forest in Meråker in Central Norway that a female moose was caught on video in the spring, as she was consuming faeces from another moose.
“On the video, it looks like this is a very deliberate action on the part of the moose,” Christer Moe Rolandsen tells sciencenorway.no.
He is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Natural Research (NINA) in Trondheim.
“Perhaps this is more common behaviour in moose than we think,” he says. “Or perhaps it was something that just happened completely randomly. We don't know.”
Wrote a research article
Regardless, Rolandsen and colleagues at NINA and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) thought this was such an interesting observation that they have written a research article about what they discovered.
Coprophagy is quite common behaviour in some species.
“For example, hares do this to be able to digest more of the nutrients in the plants they eat,” Rolandsen tells sciencenorway.no.
It might also relate to strengthening the immune system.
“But as far as we know, this has never been observed in moose before,” he says.
Here you can watch the video of the moose eating faeces:
A one-time incident?
The moose in Central Norway could possibly have reaped some benefits from eating faeces from other moose.
“But eating faeces is also something that can transmit diseases between deer. It can also lead to the spread of parasites,” Rolandsen says.
If it turns out that coprophagy is common in moose and other deer, it could increase the researchers' understanding of disease transmission in these animals.
But first, researchers need to know if these animals really have a habit of eating faeces.
Or if what they witnessed in Meråker was just a completely random incident.
Insects and dogs eat faeces
Many insects eat faeces from other animals.
Dogs can also eat their own faeces. The same can be done by hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.
Young elephants and hippopos eat faeces from their mothers or other animals in the herd, presumably to ingest important gut bacteria.
The same has been observed in horses.
Both beans and dung
Did you know that it is only in winter that moose leave behind their characteristic dry beans in small piles in the forest?
In the summer, the moose’s faeces comes out in the form of dung.
The explanation for the latter is that in the summer, the moose can indulge in grass and herbs, food that contains a lot of moisture.
In winter, such food is hard to find. Then the moose has to make do with twigs and the bark on trees. This is food that contains little water, so the faeces comes out in the form of dry beans.
In the magazine Titan at the University of Oslo, biologist Kjetil Lysne Toje tells more about this (link in Norwegian).
Spitzer et al. Coprophagy in moose: A first observation, Ecology and Evolution, 2023. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.9757
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.