21 Dec 2018

The Mystery of cube-shaped poop

I know this blog is supposed to be written as a puzzle blog. I should write about a topic that is related to puzzles, but I cannot ignore this unique topic. Before I start writing, I will tell you that this topic may not be suitable for people who are about to eat a meal. The reason is, as you already know seeing the title, it's about wombat droppings.

All right. I warned you enough, so if you feel awful while you are eating your meal, I'm not going to accept any complaints, O.K?

I have read an article about wombats. It's on the National Geographic website. The surprising thing is that wombats are the only animals in the world that produce cube-like shaped scat. This article intrigued my curiosity. It's like a biological puzzle.

There is one postulation that is common which is cube-shaped scat cannot be rollable and can be put around the territory to mark its territory to other wombats.


This postulation describes the purpose of using cube-shaped poop, it's not how it is made. I'm interested in how it can be cube-shaped. I thought it's strange that a cube which is about 2 cm size exists in nature. There must be a reason.

The first thing that popped into my head is a process of making macaroni. There are different shapes of macaroni extruders and depending on the extruder attachment, the shape of macaroni would be very different.

Patricia Yang, a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says that at first she thought that they have square anuses. However, the samples of intestines of two roadkill wombats showed the expectation was wrong. The pig intestine is a relatively uniform elasticity, but the wombat intestine is a much more irregular shape. She thinks that two distinct ravine-like grooves in the wombats' intestine help make cube-shaped poop.
Hmm, the wombat mystery is getting more interesting.

Mike Swinbourne, from the University of Adelaide, says that the shape of wombat poop is more likely related to the dry environment.
Bill Zeigler, Brookfield Zoo and Peter Clements, the president of the organization of Wombats SA, have the same opinion that two elements, intestine and moisture, might be the reasons.

What I thought strange was "two distinct ravine-like grooves of a wombats' intestine." I wonder why there are two grooves, not four? I couldn't find the picture of two grooves. I wonder if two grooves are spiral or straight?

I think it's rare to see something shaped like a polyhedron in nature. I know bacteriophages have a dodecahedron head or there are rocks that are shaped like a hexagon. I don't think those are strange but wombats!

Can you guess how it's made?
This must be a new type of puzzle challenge from wombats!

photo credit: tomosuke214 ウォンバットの「チューバッカ」@多摩動物公園 via photopin (license) photo credit: Andrew C Wallace upwind via photopin (license)

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