They Eat That? Bizarre Poo-Related Behaviours Found In The Animal Kingdom

From opossums to caterpillars, there are many practical uses for poo.

Just as we all experience birth and death, every living animal on this earth poops. Through evolution, the rich diversity of life has created animals that have some bizarre poo-related behaviours. Here are just a few:

Opossum Credit: iStock

Opossums keep predators away with their poo

An opossum is smart enough to know he’s no match for a large carnivore, such as a bear. When being chased, the opossum plays dead — and unleashes a dump that smells like rotting flesh. It seems to do the trick. Carnivores don’t like feasting on dead or diseased animals — they prefer live prey. So the opossum, thanks to its poo, lives to see another day.

Beetle larvae Credit: iStock

Baby beetles protect themselves with their poo

To ward off predators, potato beetle and other beetle larvae get to work as soon as they hatch, covering themselves with a thick layer of poop. It’s called a fecal shield. After eating nightshade leaves, the larvae produce toxic feces that they pile up on their backs. They carry it around, presenting a messy, distasteful and toxic deterrent to would-be predators.

Dung beetle Credit: iStock

Elephant poo is a feast for other species

Elephants eat about 200-250 kilograms of veggies every day, which means a lot of poop — about 50 kg of it! Elephants only digest about 45 per cent of their food, so there’s a lot of undigested plant matter in their poop. Rather than going to waste (no pun intended), a mound of elephant poop is a feast for insects like dung beetles. They roll it, eat it and even lay their eggs in it. It’s a classic example of how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

rabbit with poo Credit: iStock

Rabbits eat their poo

Rabbits don't get enough nutrition from the plant matter they ingest. To compensate, they eat their poop after its first trip through their intestines. This first poo is called a cecotrope and is high in protein and vitamins. By digesting their poop a second time, rabbits get more nutrients from what they eat.

Skipper caterpillars can shoot poop pellets 1.5 metres through the air

Skipper caterpillers throw their poop, 1.5 metres in the air; equivalent to an adult human throwing it 75 metres. Scientists think the caterpillars do this because wasps are attracted to the smell of their droppings, and hurling their feces sends the buzzing bandits on a wild-goose chase.

Wombat poop Credit: iStock

Wombats make cubic poos

Wombats are unique in the animal kingdom because they produce about 80-100 cubes of poo each night. The poo is cubic, not because the wombat has a square-shaped anus, but because the first part of their large intestine has horizontal ridges that probably mold the poo into squares. Their digestive process is very slow — it takes about two weeks — allowing the cube to keep its shape.

The Power of Poo
Six Things Poop Can Do For Us
Is My Poop Normal? Here’s the Scoop.

It’s thought the poo is cube-shaped to prevent their territory-marking poos from rolling off the rocks where they are deposited.

Most animals take about 12 seconds to poo

Clearly, the world of poo is complex. But here is just one more fact that will amaze you. A new study on the hydrodynamics of pooing has shown that the majority of animals (about 66 per cent) take between 5 and 19 seconds to defecate. That’s a surprisingly small range given that elephants can put out 20 litres at a time compared to a dog’s 10 ml!

How does this happen? The large intestine has an ultra-thin but very slippery layer of mucus. When we poo, the feces moves like a solid plug which usually extends about halfway up the length of the colon from the rectum. Bigger animals with bigger poos have a thicker mucus which allows them to achieve high speeds with the same pressure.

And why?  It’s believed that the smell of body waste attracts predators, which is dangerous for animals. So they need to go about their business quickly and move on to survive.

To learn more about poop, watch Myth or Science: The Power of Poo.

Available on CBC Gem

Myth or Science: The Power of Poo

Nature of Things