Animals do all kinds of disgusting things. While these rude behaviors can turn our stomachs, they are often crucial to an animal’s survival.
Me and my colleague Nic Gill did the dirty work and collected a bunch of unexpected facts about how these behaviors help animals live their best lives:
make a home, find mates and food, and survive predators.
Our New book – titled Poop, Vomit, and Other Gross Things Animals Do – is aimed at children, but much of it will be news for adults as well.
So what does it take to survive and thrive in nature? It’s not always about being the biggest and fiercest. Many animals have developed much more entertaining – even rude – strategies for successful evolution.
Rudeness in love (and self-defense)
For wild animals, finding a mate is no joke. But the length some animals will go to get one can be.
Female lobsters urinate in the faces of their potential mates for an invitation to their dens. Even weirder, a lobster’s bladder is under its brain – so the pee squirts from their face.
Hippos, meanwhile, have become YouTube sensations for their rather obnoxious “poop-shower” behavior. The hippos spin their stubby tails to propel a mixture of pee and poo up to ten meters – using the technique to mark one’s territory.
Hippos have also been observed throwing poop directly in the faces of their love interests during courtship.
Living in nature can be difficult. Unless you’re a large predator, something somewhere nearby probably wants to eat you.
Some animals are quick enough to flee from predators or, like echidnas, protect themselves with armor.
Others have developed more revolting survival strategies. Sperm whales, for example, are known to defecate in water.for a surprising amount of time” . This creates a “poonado– a cloud of feces that hides them from perceived aggressors (or unlucky snorkelers!).
And some spiders have taken advantage of the fact that birds, unlike other animals, don’t like to eat their own droppings.
As its name suggests, the spider dropping birds evolved to protect itself from bird predators by looking like bird poo.
The spider bears a black, brown, and white color pattern and a stocky shape. It remains motionless on leaves and other exposed places during the day, tricking predators into assuming it is a poop drop.
But if there was a competition for the most repulsive but effective self-defense mechanisms, it would amount to Eurasian roller chicks.
When frightened, these baby birds spit a foul-smelling orange liquid at their attacker and themselves. This not only deters the predator, but warns the parents of the birds of the danger around them. Vomited as an emergency beacon – who knew?
Scats (poo) and rejection pellets (vomit) contain a surprising wealth of information for researchers studying hard-to-study species.
The presence of poo or vomit can help researchers determine where a species lives in the landscape – especially when, as in the case of wombats cube shaped pooit is usefully designed not to roll.
Poop and vomit can also reveal important information about an animal’s diet, through the identification of bones or genetic material present. Taking it to the next level, information from poop and vomit has even been used to describe entire ecosystems.
For example, scientists have used owl vomit to monitor endangered mammals present where the bird lives. And information about an animal’s health status and gut microbiome can all be extracted poo and vomit.
These methods also have the advantage of being non-invasive, meaning researchers can check an animal’s health without physically handling it.
Conservation dogs are becoming an increasingly popular method of detecting these data-rich, smelly goldmines.
3 more poo details
Still not convinced by the power of poo? Consider these facts:
1. Create white sand beaches: Parrotfish have some of the strongest teeth in the animal kingdom, which they use to graze on coral. Their digestive system turns it into fine, white sand, which means parrotfish poop helps create beautiful seaside destinations
2. Threatening the outdoor dining scene: In the 1950s, scientists realized that native beetles were not interested in eating poop from introduced cows. This left the country covered in cow poop – an ideal breeding ground for disease-carrying flies.
At one point the flies were so numerous that eating out was banned to protect public health. Eventually, the poo-eating dung beetles were stolen in from abroad to solve the problem.
3. Cool the planet: Researchers have shown bird poo can help fight climate change. They found that in the Arctic, ammonia produced from tons of seabird droppings helps form clouds that can partially block sunlight.
So now you know a little about how rudeness makes the animal world go round. Feel free to share these treats with your friends, but maybe not while they’re eating.
Poop, Vomit, and Other Gross Things Animals Do by Nic Gill and Romane Cristescu, illustrated by Rachel Tribout, is published by CSIRO Publishing.