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Geophagy: Why do animals eat Clay?


November 27, 2014

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By now, you should be familiar with our consistent mentioning of our Blanquillo Clay-lick and our Mammal Clay-lick, where routinely, dozens -if not hundreds- of individual animals go on a daily basis to feed on clay. Geophagy, is the scientific term that describes the behaviour of an animal feeding on soil-like substrates like clay or chalk. However, the reason on why animals actually do this, remains a mystery.

The famous Blanquillo Clay-lick  Photo by Bertie Gregory

The famous Blanquillo Clay-lick
Photo by Bertie Gregory

 

One of the most accepted hypothesis, on why animals -sometimes including humans- do this, is that they lack some essential nutrients and minerals in their diet.  Some of the most important minerals, are Salt and Magnesium, which are essential for the functioning of the nervous system, as well as the proper functioning of some muscles, the most important of all being the heart.

Another hypothesis to this estrange, but common behaviour is that Clay, more often than not, is a Basic substance (has high pH number). This fact could make sense, since there is an acidic fungi that attacks most of the fruits that exist in the rainforest. This acidic fungi is known to decrease milk and egg production, liver damage, and a lowered immune system. It is believed that some species feed on the clay for it to neutralize the acidic compounds, avoiding these health problems.

It is important to notice that this two plausible explanations are not mutually exclusive. It could be the combination of the two that actually drives fauna to perform such a bizarre action.

A group of Capybaras feeding on the Clay at the Blanquillo Clay-lick.

A group of Capybaras feeding on the Clay at the Blanquillo Clay-lick.

 

If you happen to have any questions about any behaviours or you’re interested in any topic regarding the amazonian rainforest. You can send us a message though our Facebook page, we will answer you question and we might do a blog post about it.

Enjoy!

 

Reference

Limpitlaw, Ulli G.(2010) ‘Ingestion of Earth materials for health by humans and animals’, International Geology Review, 52: 7, 726 — 744, First published on: 19 March 2010 (iFirst)

    1 Comment

  1. Ryan Biddulph November 29, 2014 at 1:37 am

    Hi Stefano,

    Loving your blog! I found you via your interview on Loz Jame’s blog. Your energy rocks, and your online presence is impressive.

    Are those Mealy Amazons in the picture above? We had a beloved Mealy as a pet in America. Her name is Pickles. My parents bought her, and we showered her with love, but honestly, I much prefer to see them in the wild. So much better for them 😉

    I did Cusco and Lima but never made it to Manu. Since my blog name is “Blogging from Paradise”, heck, it would not be complete without a trip to Manu, right? Adding your lovely paradise to my travel list and I look forward to meeting you in person down the road.

    Thanks for sharing the awesome images and stories Stefano, and keep up the great work!

    Ryan

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