Why do hares eat their own drop­pings?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&a Q&a - Polly Pullar

Grass is ex­tremely hard to digest due to its high cel­lu­lose con­tent, which mam­malian di­ges­tive en­zymes strug­gle to break down. It was once be­lieved that hares chewed the cud be­cause they ate grass, but un­like most hoofed ru­mi­nants, hares don’t have four-cham­bered stom­achs. So, they eat their own drop­pings in­stead. These soft, green pel­lets, known as ce­cotropes, re­tain many undi­gested nu­tri­ents, in­clud­ing im­por­tant min­er­als and pro­tein. By eat­ing their drop­pings as soon as they pass, the an­i­mals ex­tract this vi­tal sus­te­nance, giv­ing them­selves a se­cond chance to metabolise their food. Thus the dry, hard lit­tle hare pel­lets that we may come across will have lit­er­ally been squeezed of any nutri­ent value by the an­i­mal’s com­plex di­ges­tive sys­tem. All lago­morphs (hares and rab­bits) use this strat­egy, known as re­fec­tion, as a means of ex­tract­ing suf­fi­cient feed value from grasses and plant ma­te­rial to sur­vive.

Hares need to eat their grassy meals twice in or­der to fully digest the nu­tri­ents.

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