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Do you like to clean your room? How about the street? The park? Picking up litter isn't so bad, but how about dead animals? If you have a pet, you probably have to clean a cage or scoop the yard. Imagine if you had to do that for all the wild animals, too! And what would you do with all that waste??
Fortunately, nature has its very own clean up crew. In the air, on the ground, and even in the dirt critters are hard at work cleaning up, and thank goodness they are!
Turkey vultures use their keen sense of smell and sight to look for road kill. The turkey vulture is one of the few birds known to rely on smell. Its featherless head allows the bird to poke into messy carcasses and clean up afterward. Audubon helps you tell the difference between turkey and black vultures. If you FETCH with PBS, you can watch a show on turkey vultures and watch the characters' progress online.
Black vultures prefer cruising over open fields using their sharp eyesight to look for food although they sometimes follow turkey vultures and bully them out of a meal. You often see black vultures in a group. Big Bend National Park has an interesting page on "vulture culture."
Eagles and hawks rely heavily on their keen eyesight. As a matter of fact their eyesight is 8-times sharper than humans, and their eyes take up more space in their skulls than their brains! PBS has a great tv show on eagles.
Coyotes do their part as well. Animal carcasses make up over one third of their diet. They also keep the rat and mice population at bay. There's more about coyotes at National Geographic kids.
In the water, crabs, catfish and shrimp are on the job. Blue crabs eat decaying plant and animal material. People trap crabs with bait of dead animals. Learn about shrimp and through NOAA's Shrimply Fun activity book.
When the large predators are done the invertebrates take over. Ants, termites, earthworms, millipedes and beetles break down organic matter. Dung beetles clean up animal poop. Dung beetles have a big job with all those Texas cow patties! Learn more from National Geographic.
One of the more fascinating creatures is the Dermestid beetle. These little guys are so efficient that scientists and museums actually use them to clean bones and skulls for display cases. Read more at the US Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab!
So the next time you see road kill, never fear. It's a TV dinner, a turkey vulture dinner that is, and the clean up crew is on its way!