Why Pooping Can Be a Life-Threatening Experience for a Sloth

iStock/Damocean
iStock/Damocean

Being a sloth isn’t all lazing around in trees and munching on leaves. Occasionally, the slow-moving animals have to make their way to the forest floor to do the one task no animal can escape: pooping. It’s a much more intense process than heading to the bathroom is for humans. And for a startling number of sloths, it turns deadly.

The sloth metabolism, like everything else about these odd rainforest animals, works very slowly. It can take them up to a month to digest a meal. Their extra-slow digestion means they might only take a dump once a week, if not once a month. The poor creatures are always incredibly constipated.

So when they do poop, the result is enormous. A single bowel movement could be up to a third of the sloth’s body weight—a measurement that’s 282 percent of what scientists would expect to see in an animal of that size, according to one sloth-poop analysis from 1995.

The particular bathroom routine depends on the type of sloth, though. Two-toed sloths are often fine with letting it rip from the forest canopy (woe to any animals that might be hanging out below), while three-toed sloths determinedly make their way to the ground to do their business. Once they get down to the forest floor, they dig a hole, take a poop, then cover it up with leaves and make their way back up to the canopy.

That’s where the danger comes in. Pooping on the ground is one of the most risky things a sloth can do in life. By one estimate, up to half of sloth deaths can be linked to these rare bathroom trips. Sloths can barely walk, thanks to their long claws and limbs that are designed to hang from trees; they don't support their weight on the ground very well. (They have significantly less muscle mass than other mammals.) Instead, they crawl, dragging themselves forward with their forelimbs. That makes them laughably easy targets for predators.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure why three-toed sloths take this huge risk to poop. One study has suggested it could be related to the symbiotic relationship the animals have with the critters that live in their hair, which include a specific type of potentially nutritious algae that may benefit from the journey to the ground. That hypothesis is fairly controversial among sloth experts, though, because it’s not clear that the sloths actually eat this algae, or that it makes any kind of real impact on their diet.

For now, sloths’ dangerous bathroom habits remain mostly a mystery.

Want to Give a Retired Police or Military Dog a Forever Home? Mission K9 Rescue Can Help

Mission K9 Rescue
Mission K9 Rescue

Over the course of their careers, working dogs perform lifesaving duties while assisting members of the police force and military. These dogs receive a lot of appreciation while they're on the job, but as they enter retirement, they're often forgotten in animal shelters. An organization called Mission K9 Rescue is dedicated to placing these dogs in loving forever homes after they've served the United States.

"Our mission is to give K9 veterans—and other working dogs who have served our country—safe, peaceful, and loving homes upon retirement from service," K9 co-founder and president Kristen Maurer tells Mental Floss. "There are so many animal-loving patriots in America, and most don't realize that many of these brave, selfless dogs often remain overseas much longer than needed when they are no longer able to work. Some do not receive adequate care. We bring awareness of their plight to the public, and we work tirelessly to rescue, reunite, re-home, rehabilitate, and repair these dogs so they can live out the rest of their days in a safe and comfortable environment."

Many retired dogs are abandoned in kennels—both in the U.S. and abroad—but for some, the situation is even more severe. According to Mission K9 Rescue, working dogs are sometimes euthanized en masse when they can no longer do their jobs. The organization aims not only to remove these dogs from harm's way, but to find them forever families that are a perfect fit for them.

After rescuing dogs from both the U.S. and overseas, Mission K9 Rescue matches them with new owners. If the dog has a past handler who is interested in adopting them permanently, reuniting the pair is a priority. For all other cases, the organization goes through a rigorous process to find dogs a brand-new home.

Mission K9 also specializes in rehabilitating dogs who have suffered either mental trauma or physical injuries in their work. Just like humans, canines can develop PTSD from working in stressful, high-pressure situations. After they're rescued, animals are given as much time as they need to decompress and reintegrate into society before they're adopted. On top of the mental demands, being a working dog causes physical strain, and Mission K9 provides medical care to dogs with injuries and other issues.

Anyone can apply to adopt a retired working dog from Mission K9 Rescue. If you're interested in bringing one into your home, you can fill out the application on the group's website.

German shepherd in a bed at home.
Mission K9 Rescue

Two dogs in the backseat of a car.
Mission K9 Rescue

Dog and owner in front of home.
Mission K9 Rescue

Some Fish Eggs Can Hatch After Being Pooped Out by Swans

iStock/olaser
iStock/olaser

A question that’s often baffled scientists is how certain species of fish can sometimes appear—and even proliferate—in isolated bodies of water not previously known to harbor them. A new study has demonstrated that the most unlikely explanation might actually be correct: It’s possible they fell from the sky.

Specifically, from the rear end of a swan.

A study in the journal Ecology by researchers at the Unisinos University in Brazil found that killifish eggs can, in rare cases, survive being swallowed by swans, enduring a journey through their digestive tracts before being excreted out. This kind of fecal public transportation system explains how killifish can pop up in ponds, flood waters, and other water bodies that would seem an unlikely place for species to suddenly appear.

After discovering that some plants could survive being ingested and then flourish in swan poop, researchers took notice of a killifish egg present in a frozen fecal sample. They set about mixing two species of killifish eggs into the food supply of coscoroba swans living in a zoo. After waiting a day, they collected the poop and dug in looking for the eggs.

Of the 650 eggs they estimated to have been ingested by the swans, about five were left intact. Of those, three continued to develop. Two died of a fungal infection, but one survived, enduring 30 hours in the gut and hatching 49 days after being excreted.

Because killifish eggs have a thick outer membrane, or chorion, they stand a chance of coming through the digestive tract of an animal intact. Not all of what a swan ingests will be absorbed; their stomachs are built to extract nutrients quickly and get rid of the whatever's left so the birds can eat again. In rare cases, that can mean an egg that can go on to prosper.

Not all fish eggs are so durable, and not all fish are quite like the killifish. Dubbed the "most extreme" fish on Earth by the BBC, killifish have adapted to popping up in strange environments where water may eventually dry up. They typically live for a year and deposit eggs that can survive in soil, delaying their development until conditions—say, not being inside a swan—are optimal. One species, the mangrove killifish, can even breathe through its skin. When water recedes, they can survive on land for over two months, waddling on their bellies or using their tails to "jump" and eat insects. A fish that can survive on dry land probably doesn't sweat having to live in poop.

The researchers plan to study carp eggs next to see if they, too, can go through a lot of crap to get to where they’re going.

[h/t The New York Times]

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