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I'm designing a dualistic pair of factions of post-apocalyptic scrappers with views based on opposing concepts of scavenging; renewal, re-use, and removal of hazards versus thievery, opportunism, and leaving a messy heap. The first are themed around Vultures, getting an equally bad reputation but they tend to actually be helpful - also like vultures. I'm intending to design the opposition in a way thematically related to what you might consider a bad scavenger. Part of the idea is something like flies and maggots, or mold, but I want to consider larger complex animals before I settle on those. Invasive species might be what I'm looking for, but specifically anything that causes more harm by scavenging than environmental good.

Edit: Alright, so I've gathered lots of good answers from you wonderful people. Dogs, Locusts, and Maggots are all great. I get that opportunism is sort of what scavenging is about, and that it's not all together a bad thing, so I'm looking to expand on that a bit. I've been thinking about spread of disease, hoarding, and general wastefulness are pretty good themes. I'm also going to make a slight adjustment here; they don't have to be scavengers either. So what are some really nasty, unhygenic animals that are associated with death that just make a huge problem for the whole ecosystem?

Humans are not an option, unfortunately, this is somewhat about visual storytelling and while that's a brilliant answer it's also beyond my abilities to pull off.

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    $\begingroup$ Apparently Goats eat sufficient vegetation to cause large erosion problems. Also it seems that humans are pretty bad for the environment, and I think we are classed as scavengers... $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Jun 22 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ When you say scavenge, are you referring to dead material? I'd have thought goats were grazers. Humans, definitely muck things up to a great degree. $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ Scavenging dead material, but mostly carrion. $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jun 22 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Scavenging carrion is always good for the environment, unless you're party to the Bacteria Foundation. "Bad" for whom? Aquatic life love what beavers do; trees don't. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 23 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ Do starlings count as scavengers? $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Jun 23 at 8:08

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Invasive Maggots

Inv

There is an invasive species of fly that lays its eggs in carrion. The maggots eat the flesh and turn into more flies. The flies land on animals and drink their blood, to get the protein to make more eggs.

Here's the problem -- the flies carry a disease to which the local wildlife has little immunity. Large animals that take years to mature die from bites from itty-bitty flies that grow up in weeks.

Every wet season most of the large herbivores are killed off. This has a domino effect because the local plant life needs these grazers to function.

Without grazers the grass gets long enough to suffocate smaller plants. Then it dies in the dry season and leaves a layer of dried grass that stops anything else growing next year.

The grazers are supposed to eat all that grass to make way for new growth next wet season. But now there are no grazers.

The end result is a once-lush savanna becomes a barren wasteland.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good answer. The scavenging is not bad but this particular scavenger has side projects that are bad. An analogous situation is feral dogs taking over from vultures in places where there has been a mass vulture die off. Dogs return nutrients to the circle of life just as well as vultures, but dogs transmit rabies to humans and vultures do not. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jun 22 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ Not just to humans. Rabies used to be the cause of significant loss of livestock from time to time, because it can spread without bites (saliva contact with mucous membranes or in a skin break, for instance). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jun 22 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ the other problem maggots have is on island environments the flies are so much better at finding carcasses they start to starve out the native scavengers. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 23 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ THIS is what I'm looking for. Something that would wholly benefit the environment if it was just culled a bit. Also, ew. $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jun 26 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Quinn They would benefit the environment if they did not carry the new disease. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jun 26 at 16:04
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Mold

Grey Goo is usually a nanotech weapon that breaks down anything it comes in contact with, but we can lift that concept and you realize, that this behavior is also common to mold. A kind of mold that is toxic to inhale and eat is Black Mold. Now, in the hypothetical, you could ramp up the mold's deadliness and speed some and you'd see the side effect of it liquefying any organic matter it grows on and you get a rather deadly infection that slowly wanders over the landscape, destroying the ecosystem that was. It leaves behind a corpselike, blackened landscape, not unlike the fields of Verdun in WW1. But while any mold, after breaking down the biomatter, leaves behind highly fertile soil, if there are no seeds left not consumed by the mold, then nothing will ever grow again.

Rabbits

Yes, Rabbits. Rabbits are an invasive species in Oceania. And they are responsible for extreme devastation by eating everything in an area and leaving it defoliated and exposed to erosion. The result is the loss of farmable land in some regions of Australia, the local death of endemic species, and desertification. And then those populations don't die off, they wander to consume neighboring areas until nothing is left!

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Locusts.

First and foremost, yes, I am aware they're not exactly scavengers. However, they match almost perfectly your second group. Let's look at your opposing concepts of scavenging:

renewal, re-use, and removal of hazards...

This is your trademark scavenging, it's all about making use of things that others might consider as waste and using them for yourself, reintroducing them into the cycle as a result. Fungi, bacteria and scavenging creatures are important precisely because they ensure that things aren't lost. No corpse will be left pointlessly hanging around when it could be useful to the other living creatures like you'd see in certain polar islands where corpses just mummify and remain there.

versus thievery, opportunism, and leaving a messy heap.

This isn't really scavenging though, it is as you said it: thievery and opportunitism. It can happen among scavengers (such as when hyenas shoo away vultures from carrion), but is certainly not restricted to them. If anything, what you're describing is an uncontrolled expansion of something, much like what you'd expect of a virus, parasite or invasive species.

And that's where locusts come in in terms of flavor and behavior: grasshoppers are herbivorous, solitary creatures that usually don't get close to one another and just munch on their greens in peace. However, in situations where food is more scarce, grasshoppers suddenly find themselves having to stay in smaller areas (because food is also restricted to said smaller areas) and so they start bumping, rubbing and staying closer to one another. This more intimate contact between grasshoppers causes their brains to release serotonin, which develops their appetite and makes them more sociable, while also causing a number of changes in their metabolism, making them enter a gregarious phase and turning into what we know as locusts, at which point they begin to swarm, traveling incredible distances in search of food.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Now, locust swarms are no joke, especially species like the desert locust. When they swarm, they can really do it big, with swarms spanning literal miles in size and able to eat as much in a day as the entire population of a small country (some swarms can eat as much food as then entire daily amount consumed in France in a mere 2 days). They are more than capable of causing famines even in the modern day with all our technology, and in more ancient times they were essentially living, traveling natural disasters. They fly in, they eat anything and everything they can, and when they're done they move on, completely uncaring about the destruction they leave. Locusts don't really follow any kind of harmony or balance outside of their own group, and only while there's enough food. Other than reproduction, their main goal is to eat, and if there's nothing to eat they can easily start cannibalizing one another (which technically kinda sorta can be treated as scavenge behavior, since as far as I found they have no problems with eating one another, dead or alive, when other food sources are scarce) until the last one dies.

Essentially I'd say it sounds fitting enough for your other group, because opportunism and thievery are not about recycling, they're about taking what you can use from someone else, be it through force or sheer numbers, and few things spell out "leaving a messy heap" as a locust swarm does.

But if a locust swarm doesn't quite have the emblematic vibe you're seeking:

Komodo dragons.

enter image description here

If you really gotta stick to a large scavenger that's frightening in its own right, I'd say one of your best picks is the komodo dragon. These creatures are the largest living lizards in the world, feed on both live prey and carrion, are persistence predators and rely on a mix of potent venom and a myriad of toxic bacteria in their mouths, gathered from their scavenging diet (so much so that it was originally thought they relied exclusively on said bacteria to kill prey, though later studies have shown they were actually venomous). They're also not the worst climbers and great diggers, forcing the humans in their habitat to dig very deep holes just so their dead aren't uncovered and turned into a snack. Their sense of smell is so potent that they can essentially find you no matter where you are so long as you don't leave the island they're in.

Also, they have a complex system of osteoderms below their skin, which are essentially meant to protect them among others of their kind, as they're apex predators in their own habitat. Basically komodo dragons have anti-komodo chainmail built into them.

enter image description here

They don't exactly collect anything that can become a biohazard from an external perspective, but their mouths do have a wide collection of deadly bacteria, some of which we have no real cure for as far as I know, and which are gathered through their diet. So if you want a large scavenging creature that's potentially deadly, has somewhat nasty habits and that can cause a large amount of trouble, they might be among the best picks you can get.

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  • $\begingroup$ Then I'll likely retool the second faction to fit a better narrative theme for these things. Is there anything with particularly nasty habits liable for spreading lots of awful and nasty disease? Or something which tends to just collect detritus, rot, and carrion that continues to fester and become a biohazard? Biohazards in general are very on theme. Locusts are great, and one of my first picks, but I want to exhaust all options for large fauna first. Easier to have a memorable visual that way. $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jun 26 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Quinn I see. Well though they're not really scary, mosquitoes are the animals that kill most people yearly, which is due to the sheer amount of diseases they can transmit. I've made an addition to my post to include a specific predator that might be closer to the atmosphere you seem to want. $\endgroup$ Jun 26 at 15:17
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Prions

OK, they aren't actually alive, but they do digest proteins, in living or dead bodies, and ruthlessly replicate, causing various deadly diseases, most notably Mad Cow Disease. You do NOT want to eat something that has had prion exposure; it's a lethal transformation.

The only problem is that 'prions' sounds a bit too cerebral for a post apocalyptic gang...unless they have an evil genius mastermind. Calling them the Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakobs Gang will ensure their eventual outrecruitment by the Vultures.

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  • $\begingroup$ I suppose you could call them Kuru -- after the prion disease that was endemic among the cannibal tribes of New Guinea (and possibly other places, but New Guinea was where it had that name). AFAIK, it's the same prion, same disease as VCJD, Mad Cow, Scrapie, Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, etc. -- but endemic to cannibals. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jun 22 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ The Mad Cows would be a pretty cool name for a gang $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 15:49
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DOGS!

As with humans, there are just too many of them for the carrying capacity of our world. If they were strictly scavengers in small numbers they would be innocuous, but they are often apex predators, and they are second to humans in consumption of meat either as direct predators or as indirect predators (dog food and table scraps.

Add to this, dogs are vectors of diseases that may have done even more to kill off competing predators -- rabies and parvovirus that kill hyenas and Big Cats in Africa. In India, tigers have an infamous reputation as man-eaters; canine rabies kills more people.

Do you like dogs? Sure. Dogs are among the few creatures that can get along with us humans. But consider what a dog is, and it is in many ways just another Big Cat, a strong, powerful, agile, swift, resourceful, voracious killer. Dogs are ecological disasters in their own right for causing mass extinction, and not only of prey.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've heard that Wild Dogs are pretty much like worse Hyenas, but Hyenas wouldn't be such a bad pick either. Are they especially bad for things like that? $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jun 26 at 5:48
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Humans

There are many examples, but to pull out just one, many beetle larvae grow inside dead wood, but pesky humans have a habit of picking it up and putting it into fires. Much better for the beetles to leave it rotting in the forest.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don’t know if humans can be considered as scavengers. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Jun 22 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Topcode do you hunt ? Or are you a vegetarian ? Majority of humans eat dead animal meat.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jun 22 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies most of that meat is also meat killed by humans... $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Jun 22 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, but the behavioral pattern scavenging remains the same. Scavenger eats another animal's prey. In a sense, lots of lions are actually scavenging prey from other members of the group. But we don't call them "scavengers". One nice aspect about the solution is humans are invasive and complex animals, and not necessarily toxic. They just rule and destroy. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jun 22 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies “we don’t call them scavengers” because they aren’t. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Jun 23 at 0:30
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Scavengers that take biomolecules out of circulation.

shelly limestone

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelly_limestone

This is scavenging considered over geologic time. Consider CO2. The Earth once had as much as Venus. Now our atmosphere just has a tiny bit, with plants fighting over that fraction of a percentage? Where did it go?

It is underground, locked into carbonate rocks by biological action over the ages. CO2 in a carbonate rock is out of circulation and no longer available to make sugar or build bodies. One could accuse life forms that make hydrogen gas of the same crime. Some of that hydrogen they make floats up and is lost into space, and to life. Way to go, bacteria.

This could happen with other biomolecules - phosphates, mineral nutrients, etc. Molecules that circulate in life cycles eventually become available. Molecules lost to space or locked away in the earth are no longer available. A scavenger that does not return the molecules it scavengers to the circle of life is ultimately a detrimental scavenger.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hard to make a visual aesthetic on that. Lol. But chilling nonetheless. $\endgroup$
    – Quinn
    Jun 26 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Quinn - I was thinking about some alien silicon based crystalline life. The indestructible crystals heap up on the land and in the water. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jun 26 at 14:31

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