Scientists have unlocked the puzzle of why wombats have cube-shaped poo.
Unique physiology allows the Australian marsupial to produce square-shaped faeces that may aid communication.
How wombats produce their cube shape poo has long been a biological mystery but now an international study has answered this unique natural phenomenon.
The cube shape is formed inside the intestines, not at the point of departure, as earlier thought, according to research published in the scientific journal Soft Matter.
The paper elaborates upon preliminary findings first introduced at a meeting of the American Physical Society’s fluid dynamics division in Georgia in 2018.
Dr Scott Carver, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Tasmania and one of the authors of the research paper, said there were wonderfully colourful theories around but no one had tested it.
There was speculation that wombats had a square-shaped anal sphincter and that the faeces got compressed between the pelvic bones, as well as the complete nonsense idea that wombats pat the faeces into shape after they deposit them.
The project began four years ago when Dr Scott Carver was dissecting a euthanised wombat hit by a vehicle and noticed the cubes in the last metre of the wombat’s intestine. Dr Scott Carver described it as an ‘ isn’t that odd moment’, and he said the thing was fascinating because how do you produce cubes inside an essentially soft tube?
The team of researchers in Australia, including the head veterinarian at Taronga zoo, Larry Vogelnest, tested the tensile strings of the intestine while physicists in the US, based at the Georgia Institute of Technology designed mathematical models to mimic the production of cubes.
The team noticed significant differences in the density of muscles inside the intestine, ranging between two stiffer regions and two more flexible regions, and Dr Scott Carver said the rhythmical contractions help form the sharp corners of the cubes.
When preliminary findings were presented in 2018, at that point researchers thought there were four stiff and four flexible regions, but what final research has established is that the wombat’s intestine has two stiff and two flexible regions.
Since 2018, Australian researchers have performed the histology as well as a CT scan upon a live wombat and concluded that the changes in muscle thickness, in addition to the drying out of the faecal matter in the distal colon, produced the distinctive shape.
Odd how the recommendations on the article page include an article from 2018 with scientists explaining why wombats have cubic poo, and now finally, scientific processing has paid off, and now finally we can all sleep well, and you’d think they’d have nothing more important on their desks right now – now when someone asks me why wombat poo is square, at least I’ll know the answer.
But then I guess we should be happy that there’s someone out there that’s curious enough about the mysteries of the natural world, and thankfully, scientists persist in being inquisitive – you never know, one day, wombat poo might form the building blocks of a new renaissance.