Everybody Does It

Everybody Does It

I adapted this blog from an article I wrote for a newsletter that I edit:

Whenever we’re talking about kids being kids, one of my brother’s favorite stories to tell is this: The first time he took his youngest to a zoo, one of the first animals they encountered was an elephant. As they stood there admiring the beast, they noticed a pair of elderly ladies nearby. Just then, the elephant decided it was a good time to defecate. PLOP!!! A large, steaming pile landed on the ground. The elderly ladies were appalled by the sight! My nephew, on the other hand, was enthralled! He and my brother continued on their way, seeing many other fascinating creatures –

a giraffe, a cheetah, some monkeys and more. As they were driving home, my brother said, “So, Drew, what was your favorite thing at the zoo today?” Drew replied without hesitation, “When the elephant made that big poop!” It was apparently the coolest thing ever!

The Scoop About Poop

Poop is important, and not just for the amusement of little boys. It can tell us a lot. It also plays a significant role in the life of plants (and they don’t even poop!)

Poop and Conservation

If you’re out in nature, poop can let you know that certain animals are around. That can be helpful. After all, it might be good to know if there’s a black bear around, and if you see fresh bear scat there’s a good chance there’s a bear in the vicinity. (There are plenty of apps and guides to help identify whose scat you’re seeing.) But there’s a much bigger picture to consider.

Wildlife biologists analyze scat for several purposes. They can look for clues about an animal’s diet, habits and movement. They can determine the animal’s movements and even if and how it is related to other animals in the area. They can determine its diet and whether it has any diseases or parasites. As you can read at themeateater.com, “in terms of biology, poop paints a picture, and biologists can read that crap as if it were a book about the animal’s life.” Poop is important!

This is where dogs come in. Studying scat is becoming so important for conservation of species that Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) and other groups are training dogs to sniff out scat of endangered species, invasive species, animals that might be carrying diseases in wild populations and more. By analyzing scat, biologists can learn about animals without having to capture, test and release them – which is expensive, difficult to do, very stressful for the animal and dangerous for both the animals and the people involved.

Poop and Seed Dispersal

We all know that plants form fruits with seeds and that the seeds germinate and grow into the next generation of plants. But have you ever noticed a plant or a tree growing nowhere near any others of its kind? Did you ever wonder how it got there? Some seeds are dispersed by wind or water, but many types of seeds are dispersed by… you guessed it! Animal poop!

Here’s how it works: a fruit-eating animal eats the fruit containing the seeds. The seeds pass all the way through the animal’s digestive tract and are deposited in the animal’s poop, sometimes far away from the parent plant. Sometimes, the animal that ate the fruit gets eaten by something else – a coyote, for example – and the seed will be deposited in the predator poop even farther away from the parent plant.

Take this fun Poop Quiz!

Fun Facts! Six animals are notable for having weird poop.

Match the animal in the left column with the poop fact in the right column.

1. Parrotfish

a. They poop cubes

2. Sloth

b. They clean with their poop

3. Wombat

c. They poop sand

4. Giant Panda

d. They only poop once a week

5. Capybara

e. They poop up to 50 pounds a day

6. Turkey Vultures

f. They have 2 kinds of poop

For the answers, and for more information, see Poop Quiz Answers below.

An additional bonus for the seed? The poop surrounding it acts as a natural fertilizer, providing the new plant with the nutrients it needs to grow.

Poop Quiz Answers

1. Parrotfish: c. They poop sand

The parrotfish’s diet is high in coral. As they digest, the body breaks down the coral into sand. Those gorgeous white sandy beaches in Hawaii? Almost all parrotfish poop!

  1. Sloth: d. They only poop once a week.

They poop only on the ground, where they are very vulnerable. To lessen the risk, it is believed that they only poop once a week. When they do, they lose up to 50% of their body weight!

3. Wombat: a. They poop cubes.

Wombats have very slow digestion and their intestines have ridges. Their diet is also very high in fiber; their poop comes out in almost perfect cubes – 80 to 100 pellets daily!

4. Giant Panda: e

They poop up to 50 pounds a day. They only eat bamboo (which contains hardly any protein and lots of indigestible fiber). They need to eat between 26 and 84 pounds of food each day. That produces a lot of poop – about 50 pounds a day! (It’s why they usually have dedicated ACSs – in addition to regular care, they’re moving up to 50 pounds of poop every day!)