Despite their similarities to other birds, ratites have developed unique characteristics, such as modifications in the gastrointestinal tract, in order to survive in their natural habitat. Ratites do not have teeth or a crop (the feed storage organ in other avian species). Ostriches, emus, and rheas could be considered monogastric herbivores, which means they are simple-stomached animals that have developed the ability to utilize forage. Whereas fiber fermentation appears to take place in the large intestine (colon) of the ostrich, the distal ileum serves as a fermentation organ in the emu. The most distinctive characteristic of the gastrointestinal tract of the rhea is the relatively large cecum (Table 1).
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