In nature, the death of one living being triggers a parade of other kinds of life. This teaches us that some ends are really beginnings.
Life & Inspiration
The beginning of November in Mexico is for remembering and celebrating the dead, with many emotions, colors, and culture spicing up these days. Death in Mexico is celebrated because it is accepted as a part of life. For this reason, we want to tell you about a side of death that we often avoid looking at or thinking about, but that is precisely a tangible and real manifestation of the wonderful cycle of life, where birth and death converge in an endless and fascinating dance.
We do not know for sure what happens after death on the spiritual plane, but on the biological plane, many, many things happen and we want to dedicate this article to all the creepy, crawly, opportunistic, ugly, slimy, mysterious, and microscopic creatures that are part of the natural cycle of life.
Within the range of organisms that decompose corpses, a diversity of roles are played, from a large vulture to a tiny bacteria, but they all have the same purpose: to take advantage of the organic matter and nutrients left behind by a living being.
The main organisms that are in the end responsible for decomposing dead matter are: bacteria, insects, and fungi.
Bacteria break down dead matter by releasing enzymes. They are the first organisms to start the decomposition process, beginning with the same bacteria that were already present inside the living body; as there is no longer an immune system working, these bacteria proliferate unchecked. Bacteria normally found in the soil and water join in and all together they act throughout the process until its end, first dominated by aerobic (oxygen-requiring) bacteria and then by anaerobic bacteria. In the end they fulfill the very important task of recycling carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients, allowing these molecules to be incorporated into the soil for plants to then use. Some common types of bacteria in decomposition processes are:
- Pseudomonas bacteria
- Achromobacter bacteria
Insects that decompose are called saprophytes and fall into three categories: those that feed on dead or dying plant matter, those that feed on dead animals, and those that feed on the feces of other animals. Many of these insects lay their eggs in cadavers to use the remaining organic matter as sustenance for their young. Others consume carcasses directly as their main source of food in their adult stage. Still others that form part of the insect community on cadavers are predatory insects that arrive to eat the saprophagous insects. Decomposer insects include:
- Carrion beetles
Finally, fungi decompose organic matter such as fecal matter, dead plants, and animals. They do this by releasing enzymes and then absorbing the nutrients from the dead material (and often also the toxins that a decomposing corpse can produce). These are some of the most common fungal genera on corpses, but particularly in the case of fungi, there is still much to study and learn:
The natural processes of decomposition are studied within the science of taphonomy, which still has much to discover. A better understanding of decomposition allows us to see the cyclic quality of life; that we live in an elegant balance, where even after death we contribute to the living network that surrounds us. When decomposition is over, when there is no longer any visible trace of the dead, the cycle continues within the soil through all the nutrients that plants will absorb to grow, plants that will produce the oxygen we breathe and perhaps becomefood for other animals.
In nature, death is a feast of life!
Just like nature has biological nutrients that are part of a cycle, the circular economy should also have them, in this case called “technical nutrients".
Cycles are all around us (and in us). Energy continuously flows in and out of Earth as sunlight and heat respectively, but generally speaking, the matter on our blue planet is conserved and recycled.