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Don’t poo-poo Poo!

14 Feb 2022

By our resident Poo Expert, Allan Archer

Okay, so I know very few people are fans of poo, especially if it is suddenly discovered on the bottom of your shoe. However, poo is a vital part of any habitat assisting growth and regeneration. Here are a few facts that may change the way you look at poo…or not!

Community cow-pat

Poo can be a micro-habitat. Think of a cow-pat. It will contain a complete community of insects. Some will be feeding on the dung. Others will be hunting those that are feeding on the dung. There will be a significant amount of mating happening on, in and around the dung. Eggs will be laid, and full life-cycles played out in it. Dozens of species of insect rely on cow dung, from tiny mites to large flies and beetles. Fungi and bacteria join in the fun. Between them all, they cause a breakdown in the community cow-pat, but not to worry, there are always new pats dropping onto the market.

What goes in – must be cast out!

So, all this breaking down of dung is returning vital nutrients to the soil, helping plants to grow and therefore enabling the food-chain to continue its cycle. But there is one group of animals that must be the superheroes when it comes to pooing – earthworms. No, really, I’m not kidding. Dead plants and leaves, fungi, dead animals, you name it, and a worm will eat it! And when it comes out the other end its poo, called casts, are literally oozing nutrients.

Not so ‘social’ media

Many animals use poo to communicate, especially those which lead a solitary life. Otters spend most of their lives alone so only rarely come into contact with other otters. For this reason, they are unable to use visual or vocal signals to communicate, so therefore rely on smell. By sniffing another otter’s poo, called a spraint, an otter can learn about the age, size, and health of a potential competitor in its territory. Females can also send messages about their sexual phase through their spraints. It is a case of staying in touch via Faeces Book!

Good enough to eat!

Lots of animals such as hippopotamuses, elephants, gorillas, and hamsters eat their own poo, especially as babies. By eating the poo of adults, the young can build up the bacteria they require in their stomach to aid digestion. Rabbits are famous for eating their own poo! But have you ever seen one doing so? Possibly not as this usually happens at night. The rabbit’s initial poo is black and soft and due to a glitch in the digestive system, still contains lots of nutrients which have not been absorbed. They eat this poo, having another attempt at absorbing the nutrients. The second poo is the small hard brown pellets that you see regularly.

Some animals eat the poo of other species. Where would we be without dung beetles? These industrious animals not only eat the dung, they also roll it into neat balls and bury them. As if that wasn’t enough, they lay an egg on the dung and when they hatch, their larvae, yes you guessed it, eat the dung!

Don’t look up!

Trees, especially oaks, are known to be exceptional habitats for insects. Some housing hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. So, consider a walk through a woodland. Loads of insects will be chomping away in the trees around you. I think you know where I am going with this! Insect poo, commonly called frass, will be raining down from above. Don’t worry, it is all natural material and, being full of nutrients is great for plant growth. You might want to keep your mouth closed when looking up though!

When is a poo not a poo?

When it is a moth! Various moths, both in larvae and adult stages, mimic poo to make themselves look unattractive to predators. Other insects such as bugs and beetles do the same. Some choose to look like poo as camouflage. There is a spider that not only looks like but smells like poo. What better disguise is there than looking like poo!

Another example of something which looks like poo, but isn’t, is pellets. These consist of the undigestible parts of the prey such as bones, teeth, fur, and insect exoskeletons. They are generally produced by birds which swallow their prey whole, like owls, gulls, and crows. Rather than pass through the bird these are regurgitated – so not poo…vomit!

There you have it. Clearly a fascinating topic. Surely, W. B. Yeats missed a couple of lines off his famous poem –

“I have spread my poo under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my nutrients”

Want to learn even more about poo? Come and see us this February half term and join us on our poo trail around the park!


Above (left to right): rabbit poo, otter spraint, owl pellet, goose poo.
Banner image: worm castings