Jun 5

Today is World Environment Day, an opportunity for millions of people across the globe to take positive action to help build a healthier and more sustainable world.

This year’s theme is Think.Eat.Save, an anti-food waste campaign encouraging us all to reduce our foodprint by thinking about the environmental impacts of our food choices.

The natural world is full of thrifty super-scrimpers which employ a range of food-finding and food-saving techniques to ensure they aren’t running on empty or wasting time, energy or, most importantly, food. We’ve foraged around the ARKive collection to reveal some of nature’s most frugal species and see what tactics they employ to reduce their foodprints.

Grow your own

Take a leaf out of the fungus-loving leaf-cutter ant’s book and grow your own food! These clever critters grow a patch of nutritious fungus using specially prepared mulch, which is cultivated using leaf segments that the ants dutifully collect and carry back to their garden.

Photo of leaf-cutter ants in fungus garden

Watch a video of the leaf-cutter ant gardeners in action!

Nature’s freegans

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure”. Well in this case it’s “one creature’s waste is a vulture’s treasure”! Like most vultures, the opportunistic lappet-faced vulture is primarily a scavenger, preferring to feed on the carcasses of smaller animals such as gazelles and hares rather than expending energy hunting.

 Lappet-faced vulture coming in to land

Nature’s larders

If your vegetable patch has been particularly fruitful, why not follow the lead of the American pika by preserving some of your haul. During the summer months, the American pika displays ‘haying’ behaviour, whereby it collects food in hay piles on rocks or in crevices and stores it ready for winter when food is scarce.

 American pika collecting vegetation

Entomb leftovers

American burying beetles may not have freezers and Tupperware, but these intriguing insects have their own totally organic solution for preserving food! By covering the carrion in antibacterial and antifungal oral secretions, American burying beetles are able to slow the decaying process.

Digging and lining a tomb with the fur or feathers of the dead animal, the beetles bury the carcass and dig a chamber above it where the female lays her eggs. The developing larvae can then easily feed on the carrion. This takes mums leaving food in the freezer to a whole new level!

 American burying beetle on carcass

Cheek pouches – the ultimate bag for life?

Like other chipmunks, the eastern chipmunk has large internal cheek pouches which it uses to carry dry food such as nuts and seeds back to its burrow to store for the winter months. This behaviour is aptly described by the eastern chipmunk’s scientific name, Tamias, which means ‘storer’.

Eastern chipmunk with filled cheeks

Chipmunks aren’t the only mammals to have facial shopping bags though! Check out this video of a cheeky monkey stealing food directly from another’s cheek pouches!

Faecal feasts

Some of nature’s herbivores have a rather unique, if slightly gross, way of ensuring they get the most from their food. Gorillas, rabbits and capybaras all practise coprophagia – the consumption of faeces. It gives these inefficient digesters of plants a second chance at gaining important nutrients. In some species such as the koala, infants eat their mother’s poo or ‘pap’ in order to cultivate important gut bacteria to aid the digestion of plant matter.

Photo of young mountain gorilla

If you’ve got a strong stomach you can watch coprophagia in action with this video of a mountain gorilla making the most of its own faeces.

Hungry for more?

Find out what you can do to reduce your foodprint this World Environment Day.

Check out ARKive Education for some great resources on food chains and human impacts on the environment.

Lucie Muir, ARKive Content Manager