Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Physiol Biochem Zool. 1999 Jan-Feb;72(1):78-86.

Daily rhythms of food intake and feces reingestion in the degu, an herbivorous Chilean rodent: optimizing digestion through coprophagy.

Author information

  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.


Animals must match their foraging and digestion to seasonal changes in availability and quality of food. When these parameters decline, the animal's performance limits for extracting energy and nutrients may be challenged. In the laboratory, we investigated daily patterns of food processing on a low-quality (high-fiber) diet of alfalfa in an herbivorous, day-active rodent, the degu (Octodon degus), which inhabits semiarid central Chile. We manipulated timing of food availability, from continuous availability down to as little as 5 h/d. Degus maintained weight while digesting only 53% of dry-matter consumption. With food continuously available in a metabolic cage, the animals ate more food and deposited about twice as much feces in the day as at night. Continuous 24-h behavioral observation revealed that degus were actually defecating at the same rate both night and day but then ingesting most of the feces they produced at night. Further experimental treatments challenged animals with limited periods of food availability that matched natural foraging patterns. With either 11 h of daytime food availability or only 5 h (in morning and afternoon periods of 2.5 h each), degus consumed as much food as those with 24-h food availability. Continuous 24-h behavioral observations revealed in the 11-h group that nearly all feces produced at night were reingested and nearly none were reingested in the day, whereas the 5-h group resorted to further coprophagy during the 6-h midday interval with no food. Despite these differences in timing of food intake and coprophagy in response to the three experimental treatments, the degus were defecating at the same rate both night and day, which indicated a constant rate of output from the colon. This suggests a range of adjustments of digestive physiology to the timing of gut function by balancing coprophagy with ingestion of food. Overall, 38% of 24-h feces production was reingested, and 87% of this coprophagy occurred at night. The ingestion of feces during parts of the day when food is unavailable provides for continued intake into the digestive tract and appears to represent an increase in overall efficiency of gut use.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for University of Chicago Press
    Loading ...
    Support Center