While many people may not realize it, wombats poop in cubes and scientists have figured out how they accomplish this unusual feat.
According to a report from Gizmodo, the usually shaped scat serves the Australian marsupials in two ways — first, they use it to mark their territory and second to attract mates. Each piece of dung measures 2 centimeters across, and each time they go to the bathroom, they produce at least four to eight bits. Each night, one wombat can create 80 to 100 poop cubes, which they can stack. The shape of the waste is an evolutionary adaptation, and the form keeps it from rolling away.
Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, investigated the unusual poop structure of wombats, which are the only animals known to create this unusually shaped dung.
“The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology,” Yang said in a statement. “That was a mystery. I didn’t even believe it was true at the beginning. I Googled it and saw a lot about cube-shaped wombat poop, but I was skeptical.”
One of the most significant discoveries Yang made is that the wombat’s waste does not solidify until near the end of its journey through the digestive tract.
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) November 18, 2018
“Previous studies hypothesized that cubical feces is formed at the very beginning of the small intestine,” Yang said. “Our study shows that it is not the case. The feces gets cubical at the end of the large intestine.”
The very end of the wombats’ intestine does not evenly stretch like the rest of the creatures’ intestine, according to a report from the Guardian. Yang and her group also examined pig intestines to show that they do not unevenly stretch like those they found in the wombat.
“Wombat intestines have periodic stiffness, meaning stiff-soft-stiff-soft, along the circumference to form cubical feces,” Yang said.
Ultimately, Yang still isn’t entirely sure what helps create the unusual shape of the animals’ solid waste, so there is still work left to do in figuring out exactly how it works. The animals would need intestines with four regions that stretch distributed among four areas that don’t stretch to create the cubicle shape.
The ultimate goal of Yang’s research is to help come up with additional ways to create cubes because right now, cubes are made through molding or cutting, and learning how wombats create them could reveal a new way to do things.