All animals, including humans, crave the taste of salt.
It is also an essential part of life, as this essential mineral plays an important role in regulating the body’s physical processes.
But this may make you wonder, “Where do wild animals get their salt?” The answer to that question is surprisingly complex.
Salt Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay
Salt, or sodium chloride, is a simple chemical compound made of sodium and chlorine atoms.
(Umami tastes savory, like meat.) Most people use it in the form that comes from a salt shaker to season their food or in the form of rock salt to melt ice.
Salt is one of the essential nutrients.
The body cannot do without salt.
It uses salt to regulate fluid balance, which is important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, keeping the body’s cells filled with the right amount of fluid, and the proper functioning of certain internal organs.
Both sodium and chlorine are needed in salt, with sodium needed for the neurons in your brain to fire properly.
When the concentration of salt in the blood is too high, even just 8 percent too high, cells are dehydrated and damaged.
Low salt concentrations cause cells to drink too much water, causing them to swell and cause damage.
Salt also plays an important role in regulating hormones, so it has an important effect not only on mood but also on how well the body responds to stress.
Some people even believe that moderating the salt content of your diet can be an effective form of natural birth control.
The negative effects of a poor salt balance in the diet are many.
Too much salt in your diet leads to strokes, heart disease, and kidney damage.
Too little salt leads to confusion, dizziness, and other mental effects.
Mineral licks are an important source of salt for many wild animals.
Some mineral licks are natural salt licks, naturally occurring high concentrations of salt along with other important trace minerals that animals need in small amounts.
This is one of the best ways for wild animals to get salt.
Wherever these deposits occur, animals gather to lick them to get the salt they need.
However, mineral licks are rare, so most animals need another source of salt.
Farms, zoos, and game preserves often use artificial salt licks to ensure their animals stay healthy.
These usually come in the form of simple blocks of salt, salt in block form, set where animals can easily find it.
These man-made salt licks only serve a relatively small amount of animals, though.
The Effect of Salt Licks on Animal Behavior and Distribution
Salt is necessary for the healthy development of young animals and the general fitness of adult animals.
The natural habitats of animals, therefore, are often determined by the presence of salt licks.
If these licks are rare, high concentrations of different species sometimes squeeze into a small area to stay close to them.
Animals will travel great distances to get salt, but they prefer not to if they can avoid it.
When local laws allow the practice, hunters often place artificial salt licks in the forest, and this is sometimes the reason deer congregate in certain areas.
Scientists in a research project in Malaysia studied salt licks in the Royal Belum Rainforest.
They discovered that this incredibly diverse and complex ecosystem is literally organized around naturally occurring salt licks.
The universal popularity of salt licks means that the populations of most animals are centered around them.
These salt licks actually have a lot to do with the long-term stability of these animal populations.
And, consequently, the territories of apex predators are also centered on these salt licks.
It is clear that a study of the behavior of animals regarding salt is an important part of understanding the behavior and distribution of wild animals in general.
Knowing the required levels of salt to be included in the cow’s milk diet at different stages is an important part of milk production, for example.
Salt is a natural part of the soil almost everywhere, though it has a higher concentration in some locations than others.
And because plants grow in soil and get their nutrients from it, they also take some salt from the soil and into their tissues.
So many species of animals with plant-based diets are able to ingest that salt when they eat the plants, giving them enough salt to avoid health problems.
Because plant-eating animals eat a lot of plants, they concentrate the salt from the plants in their bodies.
Natural predators take advantage of this high salt concentration when they eat their plant-eating prey, getting the sodium intake they need from them.
Some animals get all the salt they need from their water consumption, as do many animals that live in salt marshes.
They get all the salt they need that way.
Small animals can obtain their salt requirements more easily this way than large animals.
Birds and Salt
Some birds get their salt by licking any nearby deposits of mineral salts.
Those who cannot eat often eat salty clay or soil and get some of the salt and other minerals they need from it.
Some birds get their salt from things they find in bird feeders, too.
Many bird species are known for their avoidance of salt, however, because they need very little and get it from their natural diets.
Salt Regulation in Wildlife
In fact, nature seems to have made salt avoidance a natural part of most animals’ behavior, even in certain situations.
This must be because a high salt diet has some serious negative health consequences.
Wild animals have to have some instinct that tells them to avoid high salt concentrations to avoid these consequences.
Animals know to avoid too much salt.
Through the efforts of Dr. Zucker and Dr. Oka, who is a postdoctoral fellow working in the lab of Dr. Zuker, we now know a lot about different taste receptor cells and how they affect the behavior of wild animals about salt.
Wildlife biologists have observed that most animals are naturally attracted to low-salt tastes and naturally repelled by high-salt tastes.
So they hypothesized that there are two different taste cells for salt: low-salt receptors and high-salt receptors.
However, the scientists found no evidence of different cells for tasting salt.
As it turns out, there is only one type of taste receptor for salt.
The aversion pathways for high salt concentrations use other taste receptors, oddly enough.
High salt concentrations activate sour-sensing cells and the cells responsible for the bitter taste.
Between these two responses to the taste of salt, wild animals adjust their water intake and select food sources to maintain an optimal salt balance in their bodies and meet their nutritional needs.
Scientists may one day use this information to develop taste modulators that prevent people from eating too much salt.
How Did Ancient People Get Salt?
While most people today find salt in stores and restaurants, or in potato chips, people living before the modern industrial age had to rely on many of the same sources as wild animals.
Native Americans, for example, practiced different methods of making salt, extracting it from salt springs and ocean water, extracting it from plant ashes, extracting it from salty sand, and rock salt mining.
Salt plays an important part in the diet of wild animals.
If you want to understand wild animal behavior, you need to understand the locations and sources of salt in their environments.