Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal (corpses or carrion
Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

) and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism
Cannibalism (zoology)
In zoology, cannibalism is the act of one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. Cannibalism is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom and has been recorded for more than 1500 species...

. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

 by contributing to the decomposition
Decomposition is the process by which organic material is broken down into simpler forms of matter. The process is essential for recycling the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biome. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death...

 of dead animal and plant material. Decomposer
Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so carry out the natural process of decomposition. Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic, meaning that they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and...

s and detritivore
Detritivores, also known as detritophages or detritus feeders or detritus eaters or saprophages, are heterotrophs that obtain nutrients by consuming detritus . By doing so, they contribute to decomposition and the nutrient cycles...

s complete this process, by consuming the remains left by scavengers.


Scavenger is an alteration of scavager, from Middle English skawager meaning "customs
Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country...

 collector," from skawage meaning "customs," from Old North French escauwage meaning "inspection," from escauwer meaning "to inspect," of Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 origin; akin to Old English scēawian meaning "to look at", and modern English "show" (with semantic drift).


Well known scavengers of animal material include vulture
Vulture is the name given to two groups of convergently evolved scavenging birds, the New World Vultures including the well-known Californian and Andean Condors, and the Old World Vultures including the birds which are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains...

s, burying beetle
Burying beetle
Burying beetles or sexton beetles are the best-known members of the family Silphidae . Burying beetles are true to their name. Most of these beetles are black with red markings on the elytra . They bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and rodents as a food source for their larvae...

s, blowflies, yellowjacket
Yellowjacket is the common name in North America for predatory wasps of the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula. Members of these genera are known simply as "wasps" in other English-speaking countries...

s, owls
OWLS is a mnemonic used by general aviation airplane pilots to assess an unprepared surface for a precautionary landing.Like all mnemonics this check has become part of aviation culture and folklore.OWLS:* Obstacles* Wind direction...

, and raccoon
Procyon is a genus of nocturnal mammals, comprising three species commonly known as raccoons, in the family Procyonidae. The most familiar species, the common raccoon , is often known simply as "the" raccoon, as the two other raccoon species in the genus are native only to the tropics and are...

s. Many large carnivore
A carnivore meaning 'meat eater' is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging...

s that hunt regularly, such as hyena
Hyenas or Hyaenas are the animals of the family Hyaenidae of suborder feliforms of the Carnivora. It is the fourth smallest biological family in the Carnivora , and one of the smallest in the mammalia...

s and lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s, will scavenge if given the chance or use their size and ferocity to intimidate the original hunters. Dog
The domestic dog is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. The dog may have been the first animal to be domesticated, and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in...

s and crow
Crows form the genus Corvus in the family Corvidae. Ranging in size from the relatively small pigeon-size jackdaws to the Common Raven of the Holarctic region and Thick-billed Raven of the highlands of Ethiopia, the 40 or so members of this genus occur on all temperate continents and several...

s frequently exploit roadkill
Roadkill is an animal or animals that have been struck and killed by motor vehicles. In the United States of America, removal and disposal of animals struck by motor vehicles is usually the responsibility of the state's state trooper association or department of transportation.-History:During the...

. Scavengers of dead plant material include termites that build nests in grasslands and then send out workers to collect dead plant material for consumption within the nest.

Animals which consume feces
Feces, faeces, or fæces is a waste product from an animal's digestive tract expelled through the anus or cloaca during defecation.-Etymology:...

, such as dung beetles, are referred to as coprovores
Coprophagia or coprophagy is the consumption of feces, from the Greek κόπρος copros and φαγεῖν phagein . Many animal species practice coprophagia as a matter of course; other species do not normally consume feces but may do so under unusual conditions...

. Animals that collect small particles of dead organic material of both animal and plant origin are referred to as detritivore
Detritivores, also known as detritophages or detritus feeders or detritus eaters or saprophages, are heterotrophs that obtain nutrients by consuming detritus . By doing so, they contribute to decomposition and the nutrient cycles...


As a human behaviour

In humans, necrophagy is taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

 in most societies. There have been many instances in history, especially in war times, where necrophagy was a survival behavior.

In the 1980s Louis Binford suggested that early humans
Homo (genus)
Homo is the genus that includes modern humans and species closely related to them. The genus is estimated to be about 2.3 to 2.4 million years old, evolving from australopithecine ancestors with the appearance of Homo habilis....

 were obtaining meat via scavenging, not hunting
Hunting is the practice of pursuing any living thing, usually wildlife, for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, the term refers to lawful hunting, as distinguished from poaching, which is the killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species contrary to applicable law...

. In 2004, Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman also proposed that early humans
Homo (genus)
Homo is the genus that includes modern humans and species closely related to them. The genus is estimated to be about 2.3 to 2.4 million years old, evolving from australopithecine ancestors with the appearance of Homo habilis....

 were scavengers that used stone tool
Stone tool
A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric, particularly Stone Age cultures that have become extinct...

s to harvest meat off carcasses and to open bones. They proposed that humans specialized in long-distance running to compete with other scavengers in reaching carcasses. It has been suggested that such an adaptation ensured a food supply that made large brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

s possible.

The eating of human meat, a practice known as anthropophagy (and known more commonly as cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

), is extremely taboo in almost every culture.


Scavenger appears as an occupation
Occupation may refer to:*Job , a regular activity performed for payment, that occupies one's time**Employment, a person under service of another by hire**Career, a course through life**Profession, a vocation founded upon specialized training...

 in the 1911 Census of England and Wales. This job title was used to describe someone who cleans the streets, removes refuse, generally a workman (a modern-day garbage collector
Garbage collector
Garbage collector may refer to:* Waste collector, a person employed to collect waste* A waste collection vehicle* A waste picker, or a dumpster diver* Garbage collection , the detection and pruning of unused or inaccessible data structures...

, janitor
A janitor or custodian is a professional who takes care of buildings, such as hospitals and schools. Janitors are responsible primarily for cleaning, and often some maintenance and security...

, or street cleaner) employed by the local public health
Public health
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...

 authority. The name is properly "scavager" or "scaveger", an official who was concerned with the receipt of custom duties and the inspection (scavage) of imported goods. The "scavagers" are found with such officials of the City of London as an aleconner or beadle
Beadle, sometimes spelled "bedel," is a lay official of a church or synagogue who may usher, keep order, make reports, and assist in religious functions; or a minor official who carries out various civil, educational, or ceremonial duties....

. These officials seem to have been charged also with the cleaning of the streets, and the name superseded the older rakyer for those who performed this duty.


A Scavenger can also refer to someone who is a member of Scavenger, a group of people who are trying to reduce the amount of waste that they produce by giving away their unwanted/redundant things to other people rather than disposing of them.

There are approximately 800 members of Scavenger. Most of them are within the UK but there are members from all over the world.

Scavenger is just one of the many groups, that are springing up around the world, involved in the free gifting movement (gift economy).
Gift economy
In the social sciences, a gift economy is a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards . Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community...

 Other examples of groups involved in this movement are freecycle, don't dump that and efreeko.

External links

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