Finally! Scientists Have Figured Out How Wombats Poop Cubes

iStock.com/burroblando
iStock.com/burroblando

The fact that wombats use their poop to mark their territory isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom. What does separate them from their furry peers is the distinctive shape of their droppings. Wombats are the only animals to poop cubes, according to Science News, and researchers think they have finally figured out how they do it.

Mechanical engineers David Hu and Patricia Yang at the Georgia Institute of Technology received a lovely gift of two frozen wombats—roadkill, mind you—from an Australian colleague. After dissecting the specimens, they analyzed the animals’ intestines and discovered that they’re incredibly stretchy. Wombats' intestines expand to two or three times their original width when feces passes through, the researchers reported at an annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Atlanta.

Wombat dung
Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

To test the elasticity of different sections of intestine, the researchers took skinny balloons (the kind used to make animal shapes) and inflated them inside the organ. Not all of the sections were stretchy, though, and Yang suggested that the stiffer areas might help form the edges of the poo cubes as waste gets pushed through the last few feet of intestine. (Wombat digestive tracts measure about 30 to 40 feet, according to another study of digestion in wombats.)

The final eight percent of the intestine is also where the feces changes from “a liquid-like state into a solid state composed of separated cubes,” each measuring about three-quarters-of-an-inch in length, according to researchers.

The advantage of wombats' oddly-shaped dung, according to Science News, is that they’re better for stacking and they don’t roll off rocks as easily. Wombats tend to produce 80 to 100 turds per night, and they prefer to deposit them atop rocks, logs, and piles of dirt, where they can easily be seen. The smell also helps them navigate better at night.

Although impressive in their own right, wombats aren’t the only animals whose fecal matter seem to defy physics. Take sloths, for instance: A single bowel movement can weigh up to a third of a sloth’s body weight.

[h/t Science News]

Pet Obesity is Causing Big Health Problems, According to a New Report

iStock/dennisvdw
iStock/dennisvdw

If you’ve recently picked up your cat and felt your back give out, your furry friend may be among the 60 percent of the feline population that’s overweight. Dogs are also getting chubbier: about 56 percent of pet pooches are obese.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, America's largest general veterinary practice with more than 1000 hospitals nationwide, those fat cats and chunky puppies are at risk for chronic health issues. In a new report, the hospital finds that osteoarthritis (OA) in pets is on the rise, with a 66 percent increase in dogs and a 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years.

Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis caused by inflammation or damage in joint tissue. Genetics, injury, or bone abnormalities can all be factors. The disease is chronic and degenerative and can make it difficult for pets to move around as they get older.

Excess weight can both precede OA and make it worse. When a pet is overweight, they can develop chronic pain that leads to stress on joints. If they already have OA, that joint discomfort can prevent them from being active, leading to weight gain. That worsens the condition, and the cycle continues.

A dog is 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA if it's obese, while cats are 1.2 times more likely. Dogs suffering from the condition tend to display symptoms like putting their weight off to one side when sitting, avoiding stairs, or appearing uninterested in playing. Cats might have loose or matted hair because they can't maneuver to groom certain parts of their body.

Although OA can be seen at any age, it’s often mistaken for old age and a pet slowing down naturally. If you notice your pet is either soft around the middle or moving more slowly, it’s best to see a veterinarian. Pets who are overweight or suffering from OA—or both—can benefit from treatments like special diets.

There Are 2373 Squirrels in New York's Central Park, Census Finds

iStock/maximkabb
iStock/maximkabb

Central Park in New York City is home to starlings, raccoons, and exotic zoo animals, but perhaps the most visible fauna in the area are the eastern gray squirrels. Thanks to a team of citizen scientists, we now know exactly how many of the rodents occupy the space—approximately 2373 of them, according to a census reported by Smithsonian.

In October 2018, a group called the Squirrel Census—with help from the Explorers Club, the NYU Department of Environmental Studies, Macaulay Honors College, the Central Park Conservancy, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—organized a squirrel survey across all 840 acres of Central Park. For 11 days, more than 300 volunteers staked out their sections of the park twice a day—at dawn and dusk when the crepuscular animals are most active—and noted each squirrel they spotted. They also recorded how the squirrels looked, vocalized, behaved, and reacted to humans.

The research was analyzed and presented at an Explorers Club event in New York City on June 20. All the non-peer-reviewed findings—which includes a printed report, an audio report on a vinyl 45, 37 pages of data, collectible squirrel cards, and large maps of the park and the squirrel locations—are available to purchase for $75 from the Squirrel Census website.

This isn't the first time a massive census has been conducted of a public park's squirrel population. In 2011, the Squirrel Census launched with its first survey of Atlanta's Inman Park. They've conducted satellite squirrel counts at other parks, but Central Park is just the second park the organization has investigated in person.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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