From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with Coprographia.
A female Oriental latrine fly (Chrysomya megacephala) feeds on animal feces.

Coprophagia /kɒp.rə.ˈf.i.ə/[1] or coprophagy /kəˈprɒfə/ is the consumption of feces. The word is derived from the Greek κόπρος copros, "feces" and φαγεῖν phagein, "to eat". Many animal species eat feces as a normal behavior; other species may not normally consume feces but do so under very unusual conditions. Coprophagy refers to many kinds of feces eating including eating feces of other species (heterospecifics), of other individuals (allocoprophagy), or its own (autocoprophagy), those once deposited or taken directly from the anus.[2]

In animals[edit]


Two common blue butterflies lap at a small lump of feces lying on a rock.
A female fly feeding on feces

Coprophagous insects consume and redigest the feces of large animals. These feces contain substantial amounts of semi-digested food (herbivores' digestive systems are especially inefficient). A notable feces-eating insect is the dung-beetle and possibly the most common is the fly.

Termites eat one another's feces as a means of obtaining their hindgut protists. Termites and protists have a symbiotic relationship (e.g. with the protozoan that allows the termites to digest the cellulose in their diet via the protists. For example, in one group of termites, there is a three-way symbiotic relationship - termites of the family Rhinotermitidae, cellulolytic protists of the genus Pseudotrichonympha in the guts of these termites, and intracellular bacterial symbionts of the protists.[3]


Domesticated and wild mammals are known to consume feces. In the wild they either bury or eat waste to protect their trail from predators. Mother cats are known to eat the feces of their newborn kittens during the earliest phase after birth, presumably to eliminate cues to potential predators and to keep the den clean.[citation needed]


Rabbits, and some other related species are hindgut fermenters which digest cellulose by microbial fermentation. Rabbits are herbivores that feed by grazing on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds. In consequence, their diet contains large amounts of cellulose, which is hard to digest. Rabbits solve this problem via a form of hindgut fermentation. They pass two distinct types of feces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are known as caecotrophs and are immediately eaten. Rabbits reingest their own droppings (rather than chewing the cud as do cows and many other herbivores) to digest their food further and extract sufficient nutrients.[4]

Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for approximatelythe first half hour of a grazing period (usually in the late afternoon), followed by about half an hour of more selective feeding. In this time, the rabbit will also excrete many hard fecal pellets, being waste pellets that will not be reingested. If the environment is relatively non-threatening, the rabbit will remain outdoors for many hours, grazing at intervals. While out of the burrow, the rabbit will occasionally reingest its soft, partially digested pellets; this is rarely observed, since the pellets are reingested as they are produced. Reingestion is most common within the burrow between 8 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the evening, being carried out intermittently within that period.

Hard pellets are made up of hay-like fragments of plant cuticle and stalk, being the final waste product after redigestion of soft pellets. These are only released outside the burrow and are not reingested. Soft pellets are usually produced several hours after grazing, after the hard pellets have all been excreted. They are made up of micro-organisms and undigested plant cell walls.

The chewed plant material collects in the large cecum, a secondary chamber between the large and small intestine containing large quantities of symbiotic bacteria that help with the digestion of cellulose and also produce certain B vitamins. The pellets are about 56% bacteria by dry weight, largely accounting for the pellets being 24.4% protein on average. The soft feces form here and contain up to five times the vitamins of hard feces. After being excreted, they are eaten whole by the rabbit and redigested in a special part of the stomach. The pellets remain intact for up to six hours in the stomach; the bacteria within continue to digest the plant carbohydrates. This double-digestion process enables rabbits to use nutrients that they may have missed during the first passage through the gut, as well as the nutrients formed by the microbial activity and thus ensures that maximum nutrition is derived from the food they eat.[5] This process serves the same purpose within the rabbit as rumination does in cattle and sheep.[6]

Other vertebrates[edit]

Cattle in the United States are often fed chicken litter due to the high amount of protein and low cost of the feed compared to other sources of protein.[citation needed] It has been reported that this process is made safe in regards to bacteria loading by heating the chicken litter to 160 °F (71 °C) prior to consumption.[citation needed] There are, however, concerns that the practice of feeding chicken litter to cattle could lead to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad-cow disease) because of the crushed bone meal in chicken feed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates this practice by attempting to prevent the introduction of any part of a cow's brain or spinal cord into livestock feed.[7] Other countries, like Canada, have banned chicken litter for use as a livestock feed.[citation needed]

The young of elephants, giant pandas, koalas, and hippos eat the feces of their mothers or other animals in the herd to obtain the bacteria required to properly digest vegetation found on their ecosystems.[8] When they are born, their intestines do not contain these bacteria, they are sterile. Without them, they would be unable to obtain any nutritional value from plants.

Hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas and naked mole-rat eat their own droppings, which are thought to be a source of vitamins B and K, produced by gut bacteria.[citation needed] Gorillas and chimpanzees eat their own feces and the feces of other gorillas and chimpanzees. This may serve to improve absorption of vitamins or of nutritive elements made available from the re-ingestion of seeds.[9]

Pigs sometimes eat the feces of herbivores that leave a significant amount of semi-digested matter, including their own. In some cultures, it was common for poor families to collect horse feces to feed their pigs, which contributes to the risk of parasite infection.[citation needed] The pig toilet is an ancient method of feeding pigs on garbage and human feces, and is used in China.[citation needed]


In medicine

Fecal bacteriotherapy is when feces from a close relative or spouse are given to patients suffering from intractable diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile. The objective is to repopulate the intestines with the normal gut flora (intestinal bacteria) which kill the clostridium. The healthy stool is administered by nasogastric tube, enema, or in a capsule.[medical citation needed]

Consuming other people's feces carries the risk of contracting diseases and bacteria spread such as E. coli, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E, pneumonia, polio, and influenza. Coprophagia also carries a risk of contracting intestinal parasites.[medical citation needed]

Lewin reported that "... consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy (probably attributable to the antibiotic subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis) was anecdotally confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II".[10]

Coprophagia has been observed in a small number of patients with schizophrenia,[11] depression,[12] and pica.[13]

Centuries ago, physicians tasted their patients' feces, to better judge their state and condition.[14]

In sex

Coprophagia is depicted in pornography, usually under the term scat (from scatology).[15]

In literature

In plants[edit]

Some carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes, obtain nourishment from the feces of commensal animals.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coprophagia. (2012). September 2, 2012, from link
  2. ^ Hirakawa, H (2001). "Coprophagy in leporids and other mammalian herbivores". Mammal Review 31 (1): 61–80. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2907.2001.00079.x. 
  3. ^ Noda, S., Kitade, O., Inoue, T., Kawai, M., Kanuka, M., Hiroshima, K., Hongoh, Y., Constantino, R., Uys, V., Zhong, J., Kudo, T. and Ohkuma, M. (2007). "Cospeciation in the triplex symbiosis of termite gut protists (Pseudotrichonympha spp.), their hosts, and their bacterial endosymbionts.". Molecular Ecology 16 (6): 1257–1266. 
  4. ^ "Information for Rabbit Owners — Oak Tree Veterinary Centre". Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  5. ^ "rabbit". Encyclopædia Britannica (Standard ed.). Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2007. 
  6. ^ The Private Life of the Rabbit, R. M. Lockley, 1964. Chapter 10.
  7. ^ FDA Urged to Ban Feeding Chicken Litter to Cattle, 2009-11-02, L.A. Times
  8. ^ "BBC Nature — Dung eater videos, news and facts". Retrieved 2011-11-27. 
  9. ^ "Nutritional Aspects of the Diet of Wild Gorillas". Retrieved 2013-06-29. 
  10. ^ Lewin, Ralph A. (2001). "More on merde". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 44 (4): 594–607. doi:10.1353/pbm.2001.0067. PMID 11600805. 
  11. ^ Harada KI, Yamamoto K, Saito T. (2006). "Effective treatment of coprophagia in a patient with schizophrenia with the novel atypical antipsychotic drug perospirone". Pharmacopsychiatry 39 (3): 113. doi:10.1055/s-2006-941487. PMID 16721701. 
  12. ^ Wise, T.N., and R.L. Goldberg (1995). "Escalation of a fetish: coprophagia in a nonpsychotic adult of normal intelligence". J Sex Marital Ther 21 (4): 272–5. doi:10.1080/00926239508414647. PMID 8789509. 
  13. ^ Rose, E.A., Porcerelli, J.H., & Neale, A.V. (2000). "Pica: Common but commonly missed". The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 13 (5): 353–358. PMID 11001006. 
  14. ^ notes to The Works of Francis Rabelais, Volume II, Volume 2, p. 56
  15. ^ Holmes, Ronald M. Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behavior. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. p. 244. ISBN 0-7619-2417-5. OCLC 47893709. 
  16. ^ le Marquis de Sade (1785) Les 120 journées de Sodome, ou L'École du Libertinage
  17. ^ Thomas Pynchon (1973) Gravity's Rainbow, Part 2, episode 4.
  18. ^ Rabelais, Book 1, ch. 40 and Book 3 chap. 25
  19. ^ Rabelais, Book 1, ch. 40 quote: "ilz mangent la merde du monde, c'est à dire, les pechez"

External links[edit]