Digestive Physiology

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.[1] 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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