Another crappy column
Last time I spoke about poop and how animals use it to stay healthy, excrete waste, have a snack or mark territories. Let’s dig a bit deeper and see if there are any other odd things about animal poop which we’re all dying to know. Did you know poop can help generate entire new ecosystems? This is because many animals eat seed-bearing fruits, and often the seeds are not digested. When pooped out, they can either fall to the ground or drift in the water and eventually germinate at some distant place.
Who doesn’t love travelling to a tropical beach? That wonderful fine sand between your toes is made up mostly of the poop of the Parrotfish. These algae-grazing fish scrape the coral and ingest the particles, eventually pooping them out for us to enjoy! Prolific poopers, a single Parrotfish, can generate a ton of sand yearly!
During World War I, soldiers used dried bat ‘guano’ to make explosives. Bat droppings consist largely of potassium nitrate, a key ingredient in explosives and fireworks. Bats poop a lot, and they do it communally and in areas which may be used for decades. These large accumulations are a gold mine, so to speak. The guano was harvested to make gunpowder and other explosives. Guano from seabirds, such as cormorants, was also historically harvested and used as fertilizer due to its high ammonia content.
Can poop be a social media tool? Apparently, it can. The endangered White-footed Sportive Lemur lives near the southern tip of Madagascar, in dispersed family groups. Simply stated, this means they don’t have much family interaction with other members of their tribe. The use of these communal latrines by the entire family allows the different family members to check on their aunts and uncles to see how they’re doing. Oh, by the way, lemurs, like many other animals, are coprophagous. Meaning they eat their own faeces to make sure they recover all the nutrients out of them they can. Many other animals, such as Meerkats, hyenas, Guanacos (sort of like a Llama), some big cats and Howler Monkeys, also defecate in communal latrines. The Capybara (a large South American rodent) poops two different ways. Their black or brown turds are inedible and are simply discarded, while green ones are ingested to recover more nutrients.
Turkey vultures, and many other species of vulture and stork, have a very unusual way of staying cool on a hot day. They lack sweat glands, so they crap on their legs and feet. This has a cooling effect as the moisture-rich faeces evaporate. This is one form of thermoregulation. An added bonus to the vultures is that the bacteria in their own faeces help break down bacteria from the food they have scavenged.
Did you know that in the early 20th century, horses were causing so much ‘poop’llution that automobiles were seen as the ‘green’ alternative?
From butt to table: Sometimes poop becomes a commodity. The Asian Palm Civet cat helps produce one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Civets eat coffee beans, and during the digestion process, the beans undergo fermentation, giving them a unique flavour. This fecal matter is highly sought after and is collected and processed, sold as Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee and can cost up to $100 for a cup or $600 per pound. Beware of the fake civet poop coffee, though – lots of counterfeit poopers.
Okay, here’s an odd one. There is a tropical parasite which infects an ant known as Cephalotes atratus. It causes the ant to transform its abdomen to look like a ripe red berry. Birds see this juicy offering and eat the ant, thinking it is a berry. What the bird doesn’t know is that the ‘berry’ was actually full of parasites, which after being ingested by the bird, are eventually pooped out. Other ants come along and feed on the infected nutritious bird droppings and carry some of the parasites back to the colony, which reinjects other ants, and the cycle continues. Okay, that’s enough about poop!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on LinkedIn and Facebook.