Tales From the Tail End

Animals have some interesting ways to deal with their waste. Chinstrap and Adélie penguins like to keep clean, so they shoot their poop far away from their bodies. Silver‑spotted skipper caterpillars go one better: To keep wasps and other predators away, they can eject their frass more than 15 meters (50 feet) from their nests.

Lots of animals mark their territory with their waste. Hippos do it in style. They spin their tails like propellers to spread their poop over a wide area.

Naked mole rats build large underground colonies with special toilet areas where they go to roll in their poop. This marks them as a member of their clan in case they get in a fight with another colony.

keeps tidy

Adélie penguin

sends a message


Sending a Message

Peccary poop is used as kind of a short‑hand to fill everybody in. These wild pigs from Central and South America tend to poop in a big pile. Each time a peccary goes, it has a sniff at the pile to find out what’s going on with the group and who is close by.

Giant river otters also create community toilets, but they do so to send a message. The message is: Stay away! These otters live in big family groups in rivers in South America. Together, they create special places along the riverbank where all the otters poop. The stinky mess that they create scares away other animals.

Some animals, like ovenbirds in Africa, build with poop. They make complex predator‑proof mud nests from the poop of large animals, like antelope or water buffalo.

Dung beetles in Africa roll balls of dung— poop from larger animals. They eat part of it and lay eggs in it. When baby dung beetles are born, they have an instant food source.

Turkey vultures poop on their own legs and feet. This cools them off and cleans away any germs they pick up from the dead animals they devour.

feeds the family

dung beetle

cools off

turkey vulture

Better Out Than In?

If the purpose of pooping is to eliminate things the body doesn’t need, then why do some animals eat poop? Rabbits do this. Some animals—mostly herbivores—can’t get enough nourishment from their food the first time they eat it. So, they need to eat it twice by eating their own poop. By digesting the food a second time, rabbits get additional nutrients from their food.

There’s another reason animals do this. Koalas live off a diet of eucalyptus leaves. These are tough and hard to digest. Special microbes in their stomachs help koalas break down this food. When a baby koala is born, it doesn’t have these microbes yet. So, the mother koala will feed the baby some of her poop. That helps the microbes start to grow in the baby’s stomach. The same is true for giant panda cubs. Microbes in the mother’s poop help the cubs digest their bamboo meals. It’s true, talking about poop can sometimes make us giggle or want to wrinkle up our noses. Yet, poop is a remarkably useful thing. Now that you know more about it, you may never think of it in the same way again!

feeds the baby