How rotten is too rotten for scavenging animals? Does it depend on the species?



Animals like hyenas and vultures can eat meat that would kill or incapacitate a human, but is there any limit to that? At which point on the scale between “still kicking” and “liquid that is 50% various fungi” does the meat become inedible to a carrion eater, whether that is by giving it food poisoning or simply not having any accessible nutrients anymore?

In: Biology

I’m not sure about hyenas but vultures have evolved to have an incredibly low stomach acid pH, often around 1, the most acidic of any animal. This kills any diseases or pathogens. Also, since they spot carcasses so quickly and so many vultures get to the carcass, the meat never has much time to rot before getting eaten.

One aspect is that it takes a certain amount of time for pathogens/infections to ‘set in'(incubate), and before that time you could well be infected and have no symptoms.

With that in mind, different species have different lengths of digestive tracts depending on their evolutionary strategy/dietary needs. Herbivores tend to have longer tracts to allow maximum time to extract as much nutrients as possible (since plants are pretty low in energy density), right? Scavengers/carnivores often go the opposite route, very short digestive tracts that basically don’t give most pathogens enough time to incubate before being sent out the other end.

Dogs, for example, can eat raw chicken safely because salmonella physically doesn’t stay in their short digestive tract long enough to be dangerous.

I work with dead people, often I have to collect deceased of more than a week…
If animals got to them, they don’t even eat 1/3 and the rest is left behind ( not counting when it’s a big number of animals like javali/pigs)

So, I believe that 3-4 days old is already too rotten (on 20°C or more)

There are two ways microbes can hurt you–they can grow inside you and muck up your innards making a home there (colonization) or they can produce toxic chemicals in the food before you eat it, poisoning you when it’s consumed. Many microbes don’t actually make food dangerous, they just make it taste so nasty that humans don’t want it.

For colonization, your physiology matters. Different bodies are different environments and some are easier to colonize than others. Some toxins are specialized to certain nervous systems or are produced in doses that might kill a shrew but just mildly sicken a lion. Finally, humans have a much different sense of what’s palatable compared to animals (and a much worse sense of smell, generally). What many humans would consider rotten, many animals would consider ‘just ripe’. Smell can indicate different kinds of spoilage, with a better nose animals may be able to avoid parts of the kill that are excessively spoiled and focus on parts that are still fresh enough.