Clay Licks in the Amazon Rainforest
| Wildlife & Flora
You may or may not have heard of the famous clay licks in the Amazon rainforest: exotic parrots gather here daily to eat the clay, creating the perfect destination for travelers to observe the dozens (sometimes hundreds) of individual birds that flock here. But why do birds eat clay? What attracts them to these clay licks in the first place? For a bit of insight into this bizarre phenomenon, here are the main hypotheses on why animals eat clay.
The scientific term for the behavior of animals that eat clay or chalk is geophagy, which researchers have begun to study more thoroughly. Though no concrete answer as to why animals eat clay has been agreed upon, there are several hypotheses that are highly plausible.
Why Animals Eat Clay: A Lack of Minerals
One of the most accepted suggestions for animals eating clay is that they lack certain vitamins and minerals in their diets. This may include salt and magnesium, often found in clay, which are essential for healthy operation of the nervous systems, and vital muscles such as the heart.
Why Animals Eat Clay: The High pH Number
Another well-received hypothesis for why animals eat clay is attributed to the benefits of its high pH number in balancing out the effects of acidity in the rainforest. Acidic fungi impacts much of the fruit found in the Amazon rainforest, which then impacts the animals who eat it. The effects? Decreased milk and egg production, liver damage, and a weakened immune system. By eating the clay, animals are able to balance out this dangerous acidity and protect themselves from these health problems.
Realistically, it is highly believable that both of these hypotheses are the reasons animals eat clay. They are not mutually exclusive, and wild animals in environments such as the Amazon are remarkable for their natural instincts that help them adapt like this. What we do know is that eating this clay offer microbiological benefits, such as protecting the animal’s stomachs against toxins, parasites, and pathogens. Perhaps this detoxification process is what leads animals to consume clay after consuming other items.
Where to See Parrots Eat Clay: Manu National Park, Peru
The Blanquillo Clay Lick in Manu National Park is a popular spot to witness this unusual animal behavior. Rainforest parrots congregate at this one bend along the Manu River, feeding on only one specific layer of soil that runs for hundreds of meters horizontally along the bend. See our Manu National Park in Peru post for more information.
Where to See Parrots Eat Clay: Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
The Anakonda Amazon cruise and the Manatee Amazon cruise take you to Yasuni National Park where you can witness the natural phenomenon. These unique pools of mud become rich in minerals and attract hundreds of parrots, parakeets and amazons every day. If weather permits, we will have a chance to marvel at this astonishing natural phenomenon.
By visiting the clay licks with a knowledgeable guide, you can observe the animals who eat clay for yourself and learn more about the different hypotheses of why animals eat clay. For more information about traveling to the Amazon rainforest to see clay licks, please contact us.