Foregut Fermentation in the Hoatzin, a Neotropical Leaf-Eating Bird

Science  15 Sep 1989:
Vol. 245, Issue 4923, pp. 1236-1238
DOI: 10.1126/science.245.4923.1236


The only known case of an avian digestive system with active foregut fermentation is reported for the hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), one of the world's few obligate folivorous (leaf-eating) birds. Hoatzins are one of the smallest endotherms with this form of digestion. Foregut fermentation in a flying bird may be explained by increased digestive efficiency by selection of highly fermentable and extremely patchy resources, coupled with microbial nutritional products and secondary compound detoxification. This unexpected digestive system gives a new perspective to the understanding of size limitations of vertebrate herbivores and to the evolution of foregut fermentation.