The cubed shape of wombat poop is a mystery that’s inspired scientists and avid animal-lovers alike. Wombats are the only animals in the world that produce this unique, cube-shaped poop, or scat.
So why exactly is wombat poop cube-shaped? Finally, it seems, scientists have landed on a reason. Read on below for an overview of wombats and their peculiarly shaped scat.
What are wombats?
Before diving into the amazing world of wombat scat, it’s helpful to take a few moments and understand a bit more about the wombat. It’s one of Australia’s best-known native animals, well-loved for its round and easily recognizable face.
Wombats are small animals, about one meter or 40 inches in length and weighing between 20 and 35 kilograms or 44 and 77 pounds. They easily adapt to a variety of environments and are found in mountainous forests and heathland areas of Australia.
In addition to having very interesting spoors or scat, wombats have rodent-like teeth and powerful claws, used for digging their systems of burrows. Their pouch, unlike other marsupials, faces backward. This means that their young avoid the brunt of their digging, and the pouch doesn’t fill up with soil.
Wombats are herbivores and eat mostly grasses, herbs, bark, and roots. Every night, wombats produce between 80 and 100 cubes of poop, according to CNN. These are usually outside of burrows or in nearby high places, such as on top of logs.
Why is wombat poop cube-shaped?
Wombat scat is one of a kind. They’re the only animal in the world known to produce cube-shaped poop. They mark their territory with their scat, like other animals, but somehow, they create cubes rather than round pellets.
For years, there has been speculation in regard to how and why wombats produce this kind of poop, but it’s not until recently that scientists believe they have an answer.
It’s been a popular belief for some time now that they create this kind of scat so that it can stack more easily without rolling away. This would, in theory, help them mark their territory more accurately. As noted by Mike Swinbourne on National Geographic, this is a misconception. Swinbourne describes their poop as a result of their dry environments.
Wombats have to take as much moisture out of their food as possible, the wombat specialist says, and the lack of moisture means that the scat is more rigid in shape, less rounded than all other animals’ scat are. Scientists have noted that within captivity, wombat poop often loses some of its distinctive cube-shape when hydration is more easily accessible.
In a recent study, National Geographic reports, Patricia Yang, a specialist in bodily fluids, as well as some of her colleagues, got a hold of wombat innards from Australia. She describes learning how food moves through the gut and intestinal pressure helps to shape the poop.
According to the BBC, wombat feces changes from a liquid state to a solid-state in the last 25% of the intestines. Then, in the final 8%, the elasticity of the intestines changes, and the walls form the poop into its cube shape.
When Yang took a look at the intestines by blowing them up with a balloon, she noted that the wombat intestines had an irregular shape, far less uniform than other specimens she’d studied. She describes observing “ravine-like grooves” in the intestines that are the likely cause of the cube-shaped scat.
Yang adds that this doesn’t answer all their questions but is an important step in uncovering the complexities of the wombat intestinal system. Patricia Yang and her colleagues presented this information at the 71st Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Atlanta in 2018.
When speaking about their research, the co-author Scott Carver mused on the possibilities that this discovery could have for manufacturing. The intestinal grooves might prove useful in creating new techniques for making cube-shaped objects. This, Carver said, would just be one more example of humans looking to the natural world for ways to adapt and create.
That’s your lot for our take on nature’s strangest scat. Have you seen wombat poop in real life? Let us know your experience in the comments section below!