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Proud of what you just did in the bathroom? You should be, but here are 6 animals who are masters of the art of pooping!

Hosted by: Stefan Chin
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Sources:

https://io9.gizmodo.com/5872472/the-wombats-cubic-poop-is-one-of-natures-weirdest-superpowers
https://theconversation.com/why-do-wombats-do-cube-shaped-poo-55975
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3797445
https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/blog/2015/02/25/julie-craves-explains-droppings-reveal-wild-turkeys/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00300-003-0563-3
http://mentalfloss.com/article/70087/some-penguins-are-projectile-poopers
https://www.livescience.com/59601-why-do-animals-eat-poop.html
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1344-3941.2003.00124.x/full
https://www.reed.edu/biology/professors/srenn/pages/teaching/web_2008/ryaw_site/index.html
http://www.reed.edu/biology/professors/srenn/pages/teaching/web_2008/ryaw_site/mechanism.html
https://www.wired.com/2015/06/absurd-creature-of-the-week-tortoise-beetle/
http://www.pnas.org/content/97/6/2632.long
https://www.wired.com/2012/08/blue-whale-poop/
http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/277/1699/3527.full
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0013255
https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2014/04/03/298778615/the-power-of-poop-a-whale-story
https://www.livescience.com/8788-whale-poo-ocean-miracle-grow.html

PICS

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vombatus_ursinus_-Maria_Island_National_Park.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Certified_Wombat_Faeces.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_pod_recolored.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_Tim_Cole_NMFS_crop.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_drawing_with_skeleton.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_don_macauley_-_Deadly_Nightshade.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Southern_Hairy-nosed_Wombat.jpg
[ INTRO ].

Everybody poops -- from beetles to blue whales. After all, it’s a good way to get waste out of your body, even if we tend to dispose of it as discreetly as possible.

However, a turd can tell us a lot about the animal it came from, and some species have even found ways to put this stuff to good use. Here are six animals with really fascinating — and useful — feces. Wombats -- those cute Australian marsupials -- produce about 80 to 100 dry, fibrous turds every evening.

Which is… a lot of poop. But they aren’t just notable for how many of them there are. They’re also… square.

That’s right, each one is a two-centimeter cube -- but for good reason. Wombats are nocturnal and live in burrows, where they rely mostly on their sense of smell rather than vision. Strategically leaving piles of four to eight turds scattered around their territory creates a sort of wall of smell to let other wombats know that the area is occupied.

Kind of like a strange, smelly picket fence. They leave them in conspicuous spots like on top of rocks and logs, and their square shape helps keep them from rolling off and being lost. That weird shape is produced thanks to wombat’s very slow digestion and very long digestive tract.

It takes more than two weeks for the vegetation they eat to pass through their gut, and this lengthy process lets their feces become dry and compact. Stiff ridges in a portion of their large intestine help mold the turds into cubes, and because they’re so hard, they don’t get squeezed into another shape when they pass out of the anus. Now, passing up to a hundred turds the size, shape, and hardness of dice every day seems like it would leave wombats’ rears a little sore.

But thankfully, they seem to be doing alright. In most animals, poop pretty much looks like poop no matter what sex you are. But not for wild turkeys.

Besides males having brighter plumage and flashier wattles, you can also tell males and females apart by their turds. Male, tom turkeys produce long, thin turds, while female turkeys make small, coiled clumps. This might seem pointless, but it’s actually because of differences in their internal anatomy.

See, male and female birds both have a single opening, the cloaca, that they use for both sex and defecating. Female turkeys have plenty of room inside their cloaca -- after all, it has to be big and stretchy enough for eggs to pass through. All this space lets their feces get bunched up and rounded on the way out.

Males, however, have a little phallus taking up real estate inside their cloaca, so their droppings get squeezed out in long worm-like shapes. In most bird species, male genitals are even smaller or nonexistent, and a result this difference in poop doesn’t happen. But turkeys can’t help leaving clues about their sex wherever they go.

Not that researchers — or hunters — are complaining. There are lots of reasons to love penguins. I mean, they just look so dapper in those feather tuxedos.

But two species -- chinstrap penguins and and Adélie penguins -- have another awesome trait: they’re champion poopers. These guys can projectile poop about 40 centimeters. Which is a lot for a bird just 70 centimeters tall!

It’d be like if you could shoot your poop almost a meter. Penguins are protected by law and can’t be approached closer than 5 meters without a special permit. So, to get around this, a group of scientists who wanted to study this pooping power examined photos of birds caught in the act.

Their calculations, published in the journal Polar Biology in 2003, show that these penguins’ cloacas generate around 60 kilopascals of pressure. That’s three times what our human anuses can manage. And there’s a good reason for this pooping prowess.

Adult penguins are the only thing standing between their eggs and all sorts of nasty. Antarctic predators. If they left their nests to poop, they’d be leaving their eggs vulnerable -- but pooping in place could make their nests and feathers a stinky mess.

This way, they can waddle over to the nest’s edge, aim away from the eggs, and pow -- mischief managed. So think about that the next time you visit the zoo. There’s a scientific name for almost everything, including eating your poop: coprophagy.

The animal most notorious for this is the innocent-looking bunny rabbit. Rabbits eat tough, cellulose-filled plant material, which is hard to digest. So to handle this, they’ve evolved something called hindgut fermentation.

All that partially digested grass and stuff gets broken down by bacteria in a specialized pouch called the cecum, which is located at the start of their large intestine. The problem is, this happens after the material has already passed through the stomach and small intestine, where most nutrient absorption happens. So at night rabbits produce special turds called cecotropes, which are soft and dark like tar… and then eat them.

Not my first choice for a midnight snack. This gives them a second pass at absorbing nutrients once the tough material has been broken down by their gut microbes. And after the second time through, the feces come out dry and hard.

If you own a rabbit, this is usually the stuff you’ll find in their cage in the morning. It’s basically the same as cows chewing their cud -- it’s just that rabbits do it from the other end. The larvae of certain Chrysomelidae beetles, like the tortoise beetles, have found a unique purpose for their poop.

It’s actually pretty awesome. They save their poop -- or frass, as insect feces are technically known -- and stick it together along with discarded exoskeletons to form fecal shields that they suspend over their backs. Yeah.

Poop shields. They accomplish this thanks to a long, flexible anus that lets them deposit their poop right where they want it. The shield is attached to a structure called the anal fork, and the beetle larva can even swing it around to smack at incoming predators.

You can’t make this stuff up. Admittedly, fecal shields are actually chemical weapons, not physical ones. Baby tortoise beetles, for example, eat the leaves of a specific plant in the nightshade genus that’s full of nasty chemicals.

Rather than breaking down these noxious compounds in their bodies, the larvae just poop them out, and they’re what drive would-be beetle predators away. When the larvae eventually grow up to be adult beetles, they leave their fecal shields behind like a beloved childhood stuffed animal. Or something.

But thanks to poop, they’re able to get a much safer start in life. Most of the animals in this list seem to poop mainly for their own benefit. But whale poop serves a much bigger purpose.

If you haven’t noticed, whales are huge. They also consume a lot of nutrients and travel long distances, so it’s no surprise that their poop has a similarly outsized effect on ocean ecosystems. It turns out the ocean food web is powered in part by something scientists call the “whale pump,” and yes, it has to do with poop.

See, whales descend into deep waters in search of food, as many species do, and gobble up the nutrients down there. Then, when they poop, it floats -- because instead of producing dense turds, they poop out a fluffy slurry that rises to the surface. Normally, organic matter in the ocean sinks, but this redistributes nutrients in the opposite direction.

That poop recharges the surface water with nutrients that feed plankton, which feed… pretty much everything else in the ocean. Scientists have calculated that before commercial whaling got going, this whale pump action distributed three times as much nitrogen across the Gulf of Maine as it got via the atmosphere. Even with today’s reduced whale populations, whale poop is putting more nitrogen into the region than flows in via all the rivers and streams that drain into it.

This is important because nitrogen is a key nutrient for phytoplankton, the kind that photosynthesize, and at northern latitudes it’s otherwise in short supply. It isn’t just nitrogen, either -- krill, an important type of zooplankton, need plenty of iron, another nutrient that can be hard to come by in the ocean. And whale poop is, surprise, iron-rich.

Besides feeding all kinds of little ocean creatures, whale poop also creates a surprisingly useful carbon sink, which can take potentially harmful carbon dioxide out of the oceans. When all those Poop-fueld plankton eventually die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor and are buried in sediment--. This is called sequestering carbon.

According to some estimates, sperm whale poop could indirectly be helping sequester 400,000 tons of carbon in the Southern Ocean each year. Which is especially helpful as more carbon dioxide enters the ocean thanks to climate change. So whale poop, it seems, might be one of our best secret weapons against a changing climate.

And the ocean would be a very different place without it. It’s too bad that talking about poop is a bit taboo. Because if nothing else, these examples tell us that poop is actually awesome.

Instead of just burying and forgetting about it as quickly as possible, some animals use it to communicate, defend themselves, and even fertilize their habitats. They recycle it to get as many nutrients as possible… and they shoot it surprising distances to keep themselves neat and tidy. So even though it’s easy to make jokes about it, poop is actually really useful, and our world wouldn’t be the same without it.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you love learning about animals — and maybe their poop — you can check out one of our sister shows, Animal Wonders at youtube.com/animalwondersmontana. [ OUTRO ].