Wombats leave cube-shaped droppings, a biological mystery that has only just now been solved.
This may be a shocking development for some of you, but Australia’s adorable wombats leave turds the shape of cubes. Or sometimes triangles. Maybe more of a rhombus. But the usual pile or long, tubular excretion is a completely foreign concept to the wombat. They like their crap to be nice a tidy, thank you very much.
We know why combats poop in such a geometrically pleasing way. Wombats use their leavings to mark their territory and also to… well, to attract mates. We’re not exactly sure what qualities the wombat looks for when deciding just which cubic poop indicates a healthy and virile example of wombat-dom, but we’re assuming the more perfectly defined the cube, the better.
But why cubes? It’s so they don’t roll away. You can’t leave a circular log on a hill and expect it to still be there to mark the boundaries of your territory, but a cube will stay put. So, when a wombat hears the call of nature, he or she will drop trow, leave 4-8 cubes of feces roughly 2cm wide, and then heave-ho to the next area that needs more fecal fencing.
We know the reasons why, but the how of the matter has eluded scientists for decades. Until now.
Patricia Yang, a mechanical engineering postdoc at the Georgia Institute of Technology, will present her findings to the world at this year’s 71st Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics in Atlanta, Georgia. But thanks to an interview with Gizmodo, we now know the wombat’s dirty little secret.
Wombats have a very slow metabolism, taking somewhere between 12 and 18 days for ingested plant matter to journey from a wombat’s mouth to its final resting place. For most of the way, the digesting plant matter looks like most other herbivorous creatures, but during the last 8% of the journey, something magical happens.
The wombat’s colon actually molds their poop into cubes by exerting more pressures on the sides than on the corners. This turns the circular, tube-shaped fecal matter into rough approximations of a cube.
“Molding and cutting are current technologies to manufacture cubes,” Yang told Gizmodo. “But wombats have the third way. They form cubical feces by the properties of intestines.”
This could be a revolution for modern manufacturing techniques. Or it could be nothing. Either way, there’s one less mystery in the universe.