Baby Sloths' Giant Poops Defy Physics/All Decency

There’s one thing that almost never makes it into viral videos (even our own) of adorable sloths, and that’s pooping. Probably because sloths generally go only once a week (and sometimes only once a month), but also because it's mildly scarring. It’s like watching an animal ever so slowly give birth—but to a chunky, blackened turd.

On a recent visit to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, The Washington Post not only asked hard-hitting questions on sloth poop mechanics, as befitting such a storied journalistic institution, but also captured rare video of a baby sloth doing his business.

The adorable, 5-month-old Valentino is a Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth, and he only urinates and defecates once a week, in what an aviary employee described as an opening of the floodgates. It all comes out in one big piece, like a hardy poop snake.

A healthy sloth turd can be up to a third of the animal’s body weight, and when it happens, you can visibly see their stomach shrinking. When Valentino is done, you’ll get a somewhat horrifying glimpse of the gaping cavern that is his anus.

In the wild, three-toed sloths climb down from the canopy just to poop, doing a little “poo dance” to make a little latrine. It’s a risky activity, given how slow the animals are. An estimated half of sloth fatalities occur on the ground (and thus, half of sloth fatalities were sloths who really had to go).

Why some sloths undergo such a production every time they need to poop is a scientific mystery, since they could easily just let loose with their giant turds from the canopy. (Grab your hat, because two-toed sloths like Valentino often let loose from above rather than making the trek to the forest floor.) One hypothesis alleges that it’s part of a symbiotic relationship between the sloths, moths, and algae, though it’s far from universally accepted. It may also relate to sloth courtship, signaling to other available sloths through pheromones. Either way, it’s an elaborate production.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Header image by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GettyImages

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]

31 Facts About Sharks

Simba, the world's most adorable Pomeranian, hosts The List Show. Some enamored human being helps … we think her name is Erin McCarthy.
Simba, the world's most adorable Pomeranian, hosts The List Show. Some enamored human being helps … we think her name is Erin McCarthy.

Sharks are some of the world's most intimidating creatures, right down to their species names. There’s the hammerhead shark, the great white shark, the bull shark—but did you know there’s also a cookiecutter shark? Don’t be fooled by its name, though: Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy says that the cookiecutter shark often preys on animals many times its size, and isn’t afraid to take a chunk out of a human. (And how they take a bite out of something is even more terrifying/fascinating.)

In this week’s edition of The List Show, Erin gives the lowdown on 31 amazing shark-related facts, including details on some Icelandic delicacies that even Anthony Bourdain found disgusting to trivia about Peter Benchley's Jaws.

You can watch the full episode—and catch Erin doing her best Tom Jones impression—below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER