Article image

Herbivorous mammals have tubbier tummies, new research claims

Herbivorous mammals have tubbier tummies, new research claims today.

Herbivorous mammals outdo their carnivorous cousins in at least one way: they have bigger guts. So say researchers in a new study published in the Journal of Anatomy.

It’s also a trait that may be unique to mammals, they found.

The team of researchers, working with the University of Zurich and the Technical University Berlin, studied skeletal remains of 126 different species of land-based tetrapods – four-legged vertebrates, which can include anything from mice to horses to frogs – to measure the size of their body cavity. They included prehistoric species such as dinosaurs and mammoths as well.

Some of the species studied were herbivores, some carnivores, and some ate both meat and plant-based foods.

The scientists used 3D computer modeling and photogrammetry to create a database of each species, then used this database to determine what the volume of each species’ body cavity would be based on its skeletal structure.

They found that among mammals, vegetarian tetrapods have body cavities that are about twice the size of carnivores’ – indicating they may need the room for larger digestive systems. This was what the researchers expected, but they were surprised by the next set of findings: tetrapods from non-mammal species didn’t show any difference in the size of their body cavities compared to their meat-eating cousins, the scientists said.

The study authors suggested the change among mammals might be due to differences in respiratory systems. Mammals are the only vertebrates to have a thoracic diaphragm, a muscular structure in the abdomen that contracts to draw air into the lungs and expands to push it back out.

The study shows that when it comes to morphology, or the form and structure of biological organisms, mammals show some fundamental differences compared to other species of vertebrates.

So if you are worrying about your growing gut, perhaps it’s time to think about adopting a zero-carb diet.

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day