Quirks & Quarks

Rhino social network rhymes with 'twitter'

White rhinos post 'poop emojis' to convey social information.
White rhino using 'social media.' (Courtney Marneweck)

We know from a range of behavioural studies that both terrestrial and marine animals use their urine to communicate with each other.

Much less is known about how feces is used in this way. But a new study by Courtney Marneweck, a PhD student in the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, has found that white rhinos use communal defecation sites much like humans use social media. 

By analyzing the various odours in the dung, the researchers were able to tell the age and sex of the rhino, as well as the territorial state of males, and the oestrous state of females. The researchers determined that male rhinos can figure out how many other males are around, as well as the reproductive state of potential female mates.   

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