Wombat poop: Scientists have finally discovered why it’s cubed

19 Novembre, 2018, 19:07 | Auteur: Therese Cote

Wombats, the chubby and beloved, short-legged marsupials native to Australia, are central to a biological mystery in the animal kingdom: How do they produce cube-shaped poop?

By inflating the intestine with a long balloon, the researchers found that the wombats' intestine walls stretch unevenly, allowing for the formation of the cube shapes.

Why the pudgy marsupials might benefit from six-faced faeces is generally agreed upon: wombats mark their territorial borders with fragrant piles of poo and the larger the piles the better.

The higher and more prominently placed the pile of feces, the more visually distinctive it is to attract other wombats to smell and engage in communication. Currently, wombats are the only known species capable of producing cubes organically.

Just like a cake maker squeezing out icing with a piping bag, wombat bums appear to be built for the tricky job of squeezing out cubes, researchers found.

They studied the digestive tracts of wombats that had been euthanized following motor vehicle collisions in Tasmania, Australia.

Near the end of the intestine, scientists observed that there are feces that transform liquidlike states to solid states made up of small, separated cubes.

This last section is stiff in different places (the stiff regions form flat faces while the stretcher parts form corners) which deforms the faeces.

This distorts their faeces into 2cm (0.8 inch)-wide cubes.

Yang hopes that the group's research on wombats will contribute to current understandings of soft tissue transportation, or how the gut moves.

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Every evening a wombat will drop 80 to 100 dry, cube-like droppings around its territory in prominent places like next to burrows or on logs.

Lead study author Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, investigated if differences in wombats' soft tissue structures may have an impact on the shape of their poo.

'The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology.

To gain new insights into the mystery, they studied the digestive tracts of common wombats that had been put to sleep after being struck by cars and trucks on roads in Tasmania.

Researchers believe these stiff and stretchy areas may only be visible when the intestine is inflated.

A wombat's food travels through its system at a very slow pace, typically 14 to 18 days.

"We now have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mould it, or we cut it". Now we have this third method, ' Dr Yang said. "It would be a cool method to apply to the manufacturing process", she said.

Dr Yang and her colleagues will present their findings at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics 71st Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, this week.

Associate Professor Stephen Johnston said the females would bite males on their rumps, often tearing off clumps of fur, as a come-on.

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