Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) remind me of 16th century European royalty (you know those “ruffs” they wore around their necks?). That regal appearance results from a bald head, which keeps the birds a little cleaner as they dig around in decomposing roadkill.
Evolving with bacteria goes beyond losing some feathers though. After all, if you ate rotten meat, you’d get sick. Vultures, however, have extremely acidic digestive tracks and host special gut bacteria that help them digest those rotten meals.
Oh, and don’t bother vultures while they’re feeding. They’re known to vomit as a defense mechanism.
p.s. Robert Krulwich of NPR wrote a super-amazing post about vultures and their sense of smell (keep reading for the part on the oil pipelines – awesome!). As a painter, I think some of the early experiments sound like great fun!!!
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