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An expensive gourmet item is a daily snack for these forest birds

An expensive gourmet item is a daily snack for these forest birds

Patagonians flock to truffles like these for a hearty, hearty meal.

Matthew E Smith

Whenever I get a menu at a restaurant, the first thing I do is look for anything that mentions truffles. Truffle risotto, truffle fries, truffle aioli, you name it. It turns out I’m not alone. Some Patagonian birds seem to do the same as they roam the woods for dinner.

Of course, there is indeed some evidence that mammals, along with humans, enjoy the umami mushroom, which is often gossip. Animals can help preserve the life of our decorated pasta by sprinkling truffle seeds when their droppings fall into the wild. And now researchers at the University of Florida have published a study It shows that feathered creatures can’t stay away from luxury either.

But the study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, says these gourmet chucao tapaculos and black-throated huet-huets feed on truffles that aren’t as refreshing as the kind we know and love. In fact, there are many types of truffles that are very different from what you’ll find on the shelves in the pantry at Eleven Madison Park. The ones that these birds are looking for probably won’t please us and look like brightly colored berries.

According to lead author Matthew E. Smith, assistant professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Plant Pathology, the discovery of truffles emerged as a favorite food of these birds during one of his previous research projects in Patagonia.

“We work in the woods, shoveling land and digging truffles, and we notice that these birds continue to follow us and inspect the areas where we disturbed the land,” he said. in a report.

He continued, “Then we find cut truffles.” Marcus Kayava, first author of the study, “He even saw a bird eating truffles right in front of him. All this made us wonder if these birds hunt truffles?” Caiafa, a researcher in the same department at the University of Florida, had a special front-row seat for a baby bird that ate the delicacy.


Deluxe Flying No. 1, Tabakulu Chokao.

Neil Bowman / Getty Images

After their surprising experience watching the flying creatures scavenge and consume the mushroom snack, Kaiva and Smith deepened the mystery. They examined bird droppings to see if there was any truffle DNA.

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Fancy Bird No. 2, black-throated hat.

Kagan Hekki Sekercioglu / Getty Images

“DNA-based food analysis is exciting because it provides new information about interactions between organisms that have been difficult to observe directly,” said Michele Gosino, one of the study’s co-authors and a former researcher in Smith’s lab.

“Because fecal sampling does not negatively affect the target species, I think these methods are invaluable for studying and protecting common and rare species in the future,” Gosino said.

After analysis, 42% of chucao tapaculo droppings and 38% of huet-huet droppings contained tangible evidence of truffle DNA — the birds apparently chewed on the colorful, slightly earthy candy. Next, the team used a fluorescence microscope to check if the germs in the stool were still viable. they were. This means that birds help mammals promote the spread of truffles by eliminating spores when they defecate.

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Truffles in the jungle of Patagonia.

Matthew E Smith

Researchers also claim that these fungi play an important role in forest ecosystems: they help colonize tree roots.

“These fungi form mycosis fungoides, a relationship in which the fungus helps the plant absorb nutrients in exchange for the plant’s sugars,” Kayava explained. From now on, the team aims to decipher why the studied truffles are so aesthetically similar to the bright berries. They suspect that this is due to an evolutionary adaptation that better attracts high-end gourmet birds.

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