The eating of feces
Coprophagia refers to the eating of feces or excrement. It is also referred to as coprophagy. Etymologically, the term is a combination of the words copros (meaning feces) and phagein (meaning to eat). The eating of feces may also include the eating of the feces of other individuals or other species. The consumption of one’s own excrement is referred to as autocoprophagy whereas the eating of others is called allocoprophagy.
Humans eating excrement are often associated with mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia and pica). Pica is a psychological disorder characterized by having an appetite for non-food materials (e.g. hair, paper, soap, soil, and feces). Humans are mostly repulsed by feces not only because of the odor but also because they can make humans sick. Feces have bacteria (e.g. coliform bacteria) that when consumed often cause diseases and diarrhea.
In other animals, coprophagy is a normal behavior. Rabbits and hares, for instance, eat their feces as a way to digest more efficiently a plant-based diet. Dung beetle, fly, and termites are examples of coprophagous insects. Termites feed on one another’s feces to obtain symbionts (hindgut protists, e.g. genus Pseudotrichonympha) that help them digest the cellulose component of wood.
Word origin: copro– (“feces”) + –phagy (“to feed on”)
- coprophagous (adjective, of, pertaining to, or relating to coprophagy)