Evolution Is Absolutely Wild: How Wild? Wombats Poop Cubes (Six Sides)

Giphy Images.

The bare-nosed wombat (Vombatus ursinus), which weighs up to 35 kilograms, lives in the grassy plains and eucalyptus forests of Australia, where it spends its nights grazing on plants and its days in underground tunnels. It’s a territorial animal, leaving its unusual droppings as a calling card. But how does such sharp-sided scat come from a round anus? 

To get to the bottom of the mystery, scientists dissected a wombat that had died after being hit by a car. They examined the intestines and found that they contain two grooves where the guts are more elastic, which the team first reported in 2018.

The intestinal sections contract over several days, squeezing the poop as the gut pulls nutrients and water out of the feces, the team reports today in the aptly titled journal Soft Matter.

The stiffer portions are “like a stiff rubber band—[they’re] going to contract faster than the soft regions,” says David Hu. Softer intestinal regions squeeze slowly and mold the final corners of the cube, the team found. In the wombat, the grooved tissue and the irregular contractions over many cycles shape firm, flat-sided cubes.

That just leaves one mystery: why wombats evolved cubic poop in the first place. Hu speculates that because the animals climb up on rocks and logs to mark their territory, the flat-sided feces aren’t as likely to roll off from these high perches.

God damn what a flex by the wombat! First of all, wombats are so cute that I can barely stand it. I dont know if they have super big teeth that are sharp and can hurt me but, truth be known, Im willing to risk it and kiss it! I would love to just grab a little wombat, carry it in my cargo pocket, climb up a tree, remove said wombat from my cargo pocket, and read it its favorite story while the birds fly by and the earth continues to spin. Just me and my wombat with our literature and without any cares in the word. You know, it would probably remind you of Nell from the movie Nell starring Jodie Foster. 

Id call the wombat "Chickabee." So cute!

Anyway, as someone who is often embarrassed by the smell of their bowels, I admire the courage of Chickabee and others like him. To have the GUTS to have your guts form a caca cube JUST so you can leave it on a rock or something is absolutely special. 

"Hey Rick. Yeah. It's me, Chickabee. I saw you comin down the hill yesterday evening and am just giving you a call to let you know that this is actually my territory. As wombats, you know that we are territorial. I would appreciate it if you would move out of my area with the greatest of haste." Chickabee always handles conflict with great aplomb. I admire that. 

"Hey, Chickabee. I appreciate you calling but I've already moved on from your area. Same that cubed poop on a log and knew it was yours right away. Myself and my lovely wife Rebecca are settling in on a nice piece of land up here by the farmers market. It'll be nice being this close especially during the plum season. When they're ready, and they have a bright blueish hue, I'll take these plums down to the farmers' market with a deal. Two plums for the price of one."

"Sure thing, Rick," said Chickabee. He doesnt care what Rick does as long as it isnt on his log or land. Makes you wonder though right? It makes you wonder what kind of farmer Chickabee is. Guess I'll ask him the next time we have reading corner up in our favorite tree. Maybe we will read some of the Tao of Pooh. Seems appropriate, right? LMAO. Pooh