Everything Poops

A bison makes a big poop. A fox makes a small poop. No matter what the animal is, from you to me, and everything in between, all animals poop. All animals are heterotrophs, meaning they must consume other organisms or products for nourishment. Leopard sharks are carnivores, mule deer are herbivores. No matter what they eat, both must excrete the waste products, or in other words, they must poop.

One animal poop of particular interest on the island is that of the Catalina island bison. Bison produce large stools, called chips or pies. On the mainland, many decomposers – such as dung beetles – have adapted over thousands of years to breakdown bison chips with relative ease. They utilize the nutrients in the bison pies for sustenance. However, on Catalina island, the bison are relatively new to the ecosystem (they have only been here since 1924), therefore decomposers have not developed the adaptations needed to consume the large quantities of feces. For this reason, the bison chips take much longer to degrade on the island than on the mainland. They can be found scattered throughout the landscape of Catalina, marking where the bison have been foraging.

You may be thinking, why are we talking so much about poop? It’s gross and smelly and I don’t want to get anywhere near it. If that’s the case, then I have some bad news for you. You many be inadvertently putting whale poop on your body everyday if you happen to use certain perfumes. Many perfumes contain a substance called “ambergris”, which is the waxy, and musky smelling fecal matter of the sperm whale. After dining on the squishy and delicious meat of a giant squid, the sperm whale encounters the problem of digesting the squid’s hard and sharp beak. As a means to protect itself, the whale coats the potentially hazardous beak in a thick greasy substance as it passes through the digestive tract. Known colloquially as “Black Pearls” for their dark appearance, these time-hardened whale poops are worth more than your average excrement. Some can be sold for almost $200,000!

Though not as physically large as whale poop, the environmental impact of bird poop, called guano, is immense. Guano is very rich in nitrogen and acts as a fertilizer for coastal plants and algae, helping sustain a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Washed into the ocean via waves or rain, the nitrogen from guano is absorbed by photosynthesizers and used to grow. When plant and algae density increase, fish come to take shelter under their canopy. A surge in fish populations attracts more birds which hunt the fish. More birds with full bellies means more bird poop on the coastal rocks; thus, the nitrogen cycle begins again.

Scat. Chips. Pies. Ambergris. Fecal Matter. Stool. Feces. Doo Doo. Excrement. Manure. Number 2. Dung. Guano. Though we have lots of names for it, remember that no matter what we call it, everything poops. Stay tuned for more Scat Raps!

Written by: Max Veenema

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