Cecum is a part of the large intestine and is situated between ileum and the ascending colon. It is a pouch-like structure that is connected to the small intestine and it also has the appendix attached to it. The opening of the small intestine into the cecum is regulated by the ileocecal valve, that regulates the entry of food and stops any digested material from re-entering the small intestine.
Being an integral part of the digestive system, cecum is found in most amniotes, that includes amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Furthermore, it houses the helpful bacteria that aids in the breakdown of plant material, mostly cellulose. In carnivores, its function is not much and it is often seen to have reduced in size, sometimes even fully replaced by the appendix.
What are its Functions?
It is a vital part of digestive system and it has numerous functions in the digestion. Here is some information about its role in digestion and absorption.
The cecum houses a large number of bacteria that help in digestion of plant materials, mostly cellulose, that remains undigested in the stomach and small intestine. This is done by the process of fermentation that helps in breaking down the plant fibers. The nutrients from cellulose are later absorbed by the large intestine.
It helps to receive the undigested food, as well as the liquids from the small intestine. As the small intestine does not absorb liquid, that becomes the role of the large intestine in digestion. One of the cecum functions is the absorption of salts and electrolyte, mostly sodium and potassium, back into the body. The cecum is made of muscle tissues, that churn the food waste. This is done with the help of the mucous membrane lining it. These salts are necessary to maintain the electrolytic balance in the body and so, are absorbed from the intestine.
The solid waste that is passed to the cecum from the small intestine, is lubricated by the same. The cecum is lined by a thick mucous membrane that produces mucus. This mucus is mixed with the solid waste to lubricate it. This is necessary because the liquids are almost totally absorbed in the large intestine and to pass the solid waste along the same easily, it becomes extremely important to lubricate the solid wastes.
Role in Animals
We already know that it helps in digesting the plant material. The Cecum in herbivorous animals is a developed structure, since their main food intake is that of plants. Furthermore, it houses around 70 different kinds of bacteria that help in digestion of polysaccharides, i.e., the dietary fibers into short chain fatty acids. This helps in the easy absorption of nutrients. In ruminants, it is enlarged and acts as a storage organ. This gives bacteria some more time to digest the cellulose properly. Furthermore, it has only one opening that lets food in and out of it. In pigs and rabbits, it helps in digestion of cellulose.
On a conclusive note, it is essential for digestion and the overall health of the digestive system.