Rubber Worms

Next time you shoot a rubber band, think about where it might end up. White Storks in France often snap up the stretchy strips, mistaking them for worms, a new study finds. Sometimes, the case of mistaken identity can be deadly.

“Contamination of the environment with nonedible items that mimic food can cause health problems in invertebrates, fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals,” Pieere-Yves Henry of the Natural History Museum in Brunoy, France and colleagues write in Waterbirds. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellies, for instance, but examples from land creatures are rarer. But when it comes to birds, “rubber bands are one of the commonest anthropogenic items ingested… likely because their shape and color mimic prey such as earthworms.”

The gangly White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is one worm lover. To see if the bird – which is beloved in many European towns – was choking down the strips, in 2003 and 2004 the researchers asked stork banders to survey the debris found in nests in nine regions. Overall, they discovered bands in about 5% of 227 nests – and that just 10% of nests more than 3 kilometers from a trash dump had bands. And after reviewing necropsy records of dead storks, they found that about one-quarter had rubber bands in their stomachs – and that 7 birds had died after bands blocked digestive paths. “Immature birds may be more exposed to rubber band ingestion than adults because of their lower ability at discriminating and regurgitating non-edible items, as well as their higher frequentation of rubbish dumps,” they note.

There was one piece of good news: “The western European population of White Storks is increasing,” the authors write, “hence rubber band consumption most likely does not pose a global conservation problem for the species.” David Malakoff | February 6, 2012

Source: Henry, P., Wey, G., & Balança, G. (2011). Rubber Band Ingestion by a Rubbish Dump Dweller, the White Stork. Waterbirds, 34 (4), 504-508 DOI: 10.1675/063.034.0414

Image © Photophreak |