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10 Animals Whose Poop Comes With Perks

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Every animal excretes its waste; if it didn't, it would die. But sometimes that poop does double—wait for it—duty. Read on to discover the second careers of wombat waste, stork scat, and more. 

1. and 2. Marabou Stork and Vulture Poop // Climate Control and Decontamination

Birds can’t sweat, but black vultures, turkey vultures, and marabou storks might just have the next best thing to keep them cool: They poop on their own legs. (As anybody with a clean car can tell you, bird “poop” is actually a runny mixture of urine and feces.) Ornithologists are split on why they do this. For marabou storks, it’s believed that this practice, known as urohydrosis, makes use of evaporation to lower the birds’ body temperature. But vultures might be using it to decontaminate their legs from the bacteria they pick up after a long day standing in rotting meat.

Black vultures are also tactical pukers, using their vomit defensively “with wonderful quickness and power,” according to legendary bird man John James Audubon. It’s easy to see why that might work.

3. Baleen Whale Poop // Fertilizing Ocean Algae

Baleen whales eat krill. Krill eat algae. And algae … well, algae don’t eat anything. They're more like plants. Even so, they've got needs—sunlight and iron, both of which are found on the ocean’s surface. You can guess how the sunlight gets there, but the iron? Most of the time it comes from continents, but Antarctica is covered in ice, so no iron is entering the Southern Ocean from there. It was a mystery—until scientists analyzed tissue and fecal samples from four species of whale and seven species of krill. In the words of Australian Antarctic Division scientist Dr. Steve Nicol: “There’s huge amounts of iron in whale poo.”

Seen in reverse, the cycle seems simple. When krill eat algae, they concentrate all that algae’s iron. When the whales eat the krill, the iron gets concentrated even further. Then those whales do their business, releasing all that iron back into the water and fertilizing the ocean for generations of algae, krill, and pooping whales to come. 

4. Wombat Poop // Making Fences

Common wombats are solitary animals that, oddly, live in very close proximity. Their eyesight isn’t very good, but their sense of smell is terrific, which is why they mark the edges of their territory with 80 to 100 of these each night:

That’s right: wombats have cube-shaped poop. This is incredibly handy, since wombats like to poo at nose-level, which often means squatting atop a log, a rock, or even a large mushroom. Cylindrical feces would roll right off, but those little cubic turds stay put.

5. Pacu Poop // Planting Trees

It’s well known that certain plants need help from furry and feathered members of the animal kingdom. Because animals can walk, fly, and climb, they can carry a plant’s seeds much farther than the plant could ever take them. But let’s not overlook one of nature’s most efficient seed-spreaders: fish. Fish poop, to be specific.

A fish called the pacu gets its chance to contribute once a year, when massive flooding overtakes the wetlands of its native Brazil. The pacu might look like a piranha’s stunt double (and they are related), but it’s more of a softie, preferring the taste of ripe fruit that drops from tucum palm trees into the water. Belly full of pulp and seeds, the pacu swims for miles, through flooded forests and over watery plains. Along the way, naturally, it poops, leaving deposits of seeds in brand-new territory. The waters recede, the seeds germinate, and the pacu swims on, an unwitting hero. 

6. and 7. Rabbit and Capybara Poop // Recycling

If you’ve ever had a pet rabbit, you know where this is going. Rabbits (and capybaras, for that matter) produce two kinds of poop: hard, dry pellets; and soft cecotropes—poop for eating.

These animals are hindgut fermenters, which means that a lot of the good bacterial stuff happens in the cecum, right next to the colon, where it can’t be absorbed. Making sure none of the bacteria's good work goes to waste, a rabbit or capybara will eat its own cecotropes. Rabbits excrete theirs in what look like clusters of shiny little mucus-covered grapes. Capybaras go straight to the source, in a maneuver that calls to mind a teenager sticking his head under a Slurpee machine. (Sorry.) The nutrients are better absorbed the second time around, and everybody wins, aside from the researchers whose job is to watch this stuff for days on end.

8. Parrotfish Poop // Making Beaches

If you’ve ever enjoyed a stroll along Hawaii’s beautiful white-sand beaches, you can probably thank a parrotfish. Nearly every grain of sand on those beaches, according to biologist Ling Ong, “is of biological origin.” Translation? It’s poop.

The parrotfish, known as uhu in Hawaiian, uses its photogenic face to scrape delicious algae off coral. That beak is not terribly precise, which means these fish swallow quite a lot of coral. Bites of coral travel through the grinding jaws at the back of the fish’s throat, getting even smaller, and then—since the parrotfish has no stomach—shoot right back out into the ocean, now tiny grains of sand.

Urchins, sponges, oysters, and other sea critters all contribute, too, but none is quite so prolific as the parrotfish, which can produce up to 800 pounds of destination-wedding-worthy sand a year.

9. and 10. Bat and Tree Shrew Poop // Gardening

Of all the wily carnivorous plants out there, pitcher plants in the Nepenthes genus have got to be the craftiest. Most pitcher plants are a trap, offering passing insects a lick of nectar if only they’ll come closer. The bugs land, fall down the pitchers’ slippery sides, and end in a stew of juices that will digest them slowly. But not the Nepenthes. No. At least four species in the Nepenthes genus have evolved into full-service toilets. Woolly bats and tree shrews can safely land on the pitchers’ sturdy lips and lean over to enjoy a nectar meal. Once the animal is in this position, the perfectly shrew-or-bat-butt-sized mouth of the pitcher makes a perfect toilet. The bats and shrews partake, leave their deposits, and take off. The poop they’ve left in the pitchers provides the plants with as much nutrition as an insect feast. In fact, researchers estimate that the pitcher species get between 34 and 100 percent of their nitrogen from bat and shrew poop.

So. What has your poop done for you lately? 

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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Animals
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.

1. THEY’RE ACTUALLY PRETTY LIGHT EATERS.

Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.

2. THEY USE “CPR” TO GET AT YOUR FOOD.

A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.

3. THEY CAN CLIMB TREES.

It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.

4. THEY’LL EAT OTHER BEARS.

Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.

5. THEY LOVE MOTHS.

Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.

6. A PAIR OF THEM ONCE LIVED ON WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS.

A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.

7. THEY CAN RUN FASTER THAN USAIN BOLT.

The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).

8. THEY MATE WITH POLAR BEARS.

A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.

9. THEY KNOW HOW TO COVER THEIR TRACKS.

When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.

10. THEY’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET.

A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.

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