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. They are generally considered to be timid and nonaggressive. However, there are some examples of wombats displaying aggressive tendencies towards one another in captivity.
Wombats are small animals, about one meter or 40 inches in length and weighing between 20 and 35 kilograms or 44 and 77 pounds. Their fur is usually sandy brown but can also appear black and grey. They easily adapt to a variety of environments and are found in mountainous forests and heathland areas of Australia. Wombats are closely related to the koala bear, and there are three species that are endemic to Australia. The most common of these is the Common Wombat, followed by the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat and the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.
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 burrows can be as long as 30 meters or 100 feet in length. This seems like a feat beyond the wombat’s diminutive size, but they can dig around three feet a day, making it easy to construct their elaborate burrows. They make their nest in one of the many chambers of the burrow and line it with bark and leaves. 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, meaning they eat only plants. Mainly, they enjoy eating grasses, such as snow grass, wallaby grass, and kangaroo grass, according to Environment. They can spend between three and eight hours eating every night and are quite capable grazers, using their sharp teeth to easily cut down what they need. They also enjoy eating roots of shrubs and trees, as well as sedges and bark for which they sometimes travel great distances from their burrows.
Incredibly, wombats get almost all of the water from the food they eat. This means that they can go for years without actually drinking water. This is an amazing evolutionary advantage for a creature that lives in an incredibly dry environment. 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.
Interesting Facts about Wombats
- Their square-shaped poop is completely devoid of moisture.
- Wombats walk with a distinct waddle due to the proportions of their body and their legs. But, don’t be fooled! They can run up to 25 miles an hour.
- They have slow metabolisms and it takes them up to 14 days to digest food.
- Their teeth are similar to rodents and they never stop growing.
- Wombats mark their territory by defecating and they produce around 90 cubes of poop a night.
- They are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants.
- They have leathery skin on their rumps which helps protect them when they’re burrowing. Any creature that came up behind them would be stymied by this thick layer of skin.
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!