How Wombats produce their distinctly cube-shaped poop?


From fluffy to firm and liquidy to lumpy, feces come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, textures, colors, and scents.

But wombats poo out up to 100 cubes on a daily basis - and scientists might have worked out how they do it.

But no one has been able to work out how they get it to be shaped like a cube, until now. Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, set out to investigate.

Yang primarily analyzed the differences in wombats' digestive processes and soft tissue structures. For this, she studied the hydrodynamics of fluids, including blood, processed food, and urine, in the bodies of animals.

"The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology". That was a mystery.

'I didn't even believe it was true at the beginning.

In wombats, the faeces changed from a liquid-like state into a solid state in the last 25% of the intestines - but then in the final 8% a varied elasticity of the walls meant the poop would take shape as separated cubes.

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. Carver, the scientist, and Australian partner to the gathering of American mechanical engineers provided the wombat intestinal examples.

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They found that the last section of the chubby marsupials' intestine does not stretch evenly which distorts their faeces into 2cm (0.8 inch)-wide cubes.

Yang said, "We now have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mold it, or we cut it. Now we have this third method", Ms Yang said.

"We now have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mould it, or we cut it".

Wombats are the are the only known species capable of producing cubes organically.

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. They pile their feces in prominent places (e.g., next to burrows, or on logs, rocks and small raises) because they have poor eye sight.

Despite having round anuses like other mammals, wombats do not produce round pellets, tubular coils or messy piles. Therefore, it is important that their droppings do not roll away, and cube-shaped poop solves this problem. "We can understand how to move this stuff in a very efficient way". She also emphasized that the group's research involved mechanical engineering and biology, and their findings are valuable to both fields.

During the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics 71st Annual Meeting, which will take place November 18-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, Yang and her co-authors, Scott Carver, David Hu and undergraduate student Miles Chan, will explain their findings from dissecting the alimentary systems, or digestive tracts, of wombats.