Stories tagged poop

Dec
08
2009

Poop with flies: you always manage to find a few of these guys on the pile.
Poop with flies: you always manage to find a few of these guys on the pile.Courtesy PKmousie
Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop. There. Have I got your attention? Of course, who can resist a story on poop? It is such a widely discussed topic with a vast array of monikers. Probably not a decent topic of conversation for invited guests or the dinner table, but it does get its chat time. Despite the disgust that it truly is, there is a curious fascination with the whole matter. It can tell you about your health, especially if you have the runs. It can tell you if you’ve been chewing your food well, or if you need to lay off the cheese. If you are a proper biologist, you’ve probably bent down and touched it or even broke it up to examine what passed. Certain scientists, such as Scatologists pursue the study of scat (poop) as a means to tell us more about a certain animal’s habits. If by the Fates, a poo survives intact and becomes old enough to fossilize, then we would call it a coprolite. Coprolites have been recovered from dinosaurs, ancient whales, fish, and prehistoric mammals to name a few.Coprolite: one very old poo
Coprolite: one very old pooCourtesy AlishaV

Recent news from BBC detailed a story about scientists studying the ancient droppings from mammoths. Well sort of. The researchers were examining mud deposits from a lake for fungal spores that are produced in large herbivore dung (mammoth poo). Their research concludes that the extra large mammals of the recent past experienced a slow and steady decline starting about 15,000 years ago. This flies in the face of the current prevailing theory, that an asteroid impact about 12,900 years ago caused global upheaval, world spread wildfire, and then abrupt extinction of the mega mammals. The asteroid theory had already been under assault by lack of evidence in soil samples. Samples taken all over the continent in soil cores extracted from peat bogs and lake bottoms.
Mammoth: artistic re-creation
Mammoth: artistic re-creationCourtesy ecstaticist
Was early man really responsible for the start of the downfall of the mammoth? I think undoubtedly we had a hand in their fate, but the answer is most likely multifaceted. Taking a closer look at the dung heaps of the past may well continue to give us a better picture of paleohistory. Just watch where you step!

mammoth dung story

mammoth comet story

Nice story on a recent find of a baby mammoth"

General Mammoth info
http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/larson/mammuthus.html
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/mammoth/about_mammoths.html

Jun
15
2009

Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.
Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.Courtesy luis echanove
It’s called growing up, Peter, and everyone does it. Even you. But, on the plus side, you can legally buy cigarettes now.

Or am I just tired of life?

Well, whatever. Poop is in the news. Yawn. Again. And again.

Where others might see a barrel, and be all, “Hey, I’m not scraping the bottom of that barrel,” the cleverest capitalists and the sharpest scientists look at the situation and say, “Are you done with that barrel? And does anyone want to buy what I can scrape out of here? Even if it’s poop?” And of course it’s poop. And of course someone wants it.

Awesome I guess.

I should be more excited, shouldn’t I? I mean, someone out there is taking human waste and turning it into an environmentally-conscious coal substitute. It probably looks hilarious. But there’s only so much human waste a person can take. It’s just not exciting anymore.

So some company is squeezing the water from the brown gold of southern California, and turning it into coal-y stuff. Cement factories buy it, they burn it, they mix the ashes with their cement. At full capacity they’ll produce enough crapcoal to equal the energy out put of a 7-megawatt power station.

Great.

The fecal sciences just seem to have lost their flavor.

Apr
13
2009

An early Hawaii-area triviashipman: Hopefully this triviashipman will come to a better end. I've tried to be courteous to the locals, at least.
An early Hawaii-area triviashipman: Hopefully this triviashipman will come to a better end. I've tried to be courteous to the locals, at least.Courtesy Artmechanic
The Puddleduck has crossed the Pacific! They said it couldn’t be done. But they also said that double-stuff Oreos would fail, and they said that Wham! would never play in China, and they said that Dances With Wolves could never win an Academy Award.

So here we are, on the northern tip of Polynesia, getting ready to answer some random questions.

How did I get random questions? Pff. Duh. I took them with me, of course. I never go anywhere without a few extra randoms, even if it means leaving my anti-psychotics out of my backpack for the extra space.

Man the guns, Buzzketeers! Random questions to port! Let us rake them to Swiss cheese, and send them to Davey Jones. (As answers.)

Elise asks: Are polar bears really bears?

Ka-boom!
Heck yeahs, Elise, polar bears is bears alright. The polar bear belongs to the family ursidae, just like all other bears. It is a pretty unique bear, though, so I can see how the confusion might arise. Polar bears, along with Kodiak bears (they’re big brown bears), are the largest meat-eating land animals. They’re also sometimes considered to be “marine mammals.” When you think about other marine mammals, like whales, seals, and dolphins, that might sound pretty weird, because bears seem pretty different from all of them. Polar bears, however, are excellent swimmers, and they spend months every year living on sea-ice, far away from land.

But, yeah. Polar bears are indeed bears.

Anonymous asks: Do they still say, “Ontology recapitulates phylogeny”?

Swab! Load! Ram! Spark the touchhole!
Um, no, they don’t. Sometimes they say, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” but for the most part nobody says stuff like that. I mean… are you serious? You could have asked about naked mole rats, and this is what you came up with? Shhh… I think I hear your old professor calling. She says that class has been really quiet since you left. Better go fix that.

Anonymous 2 asks: Why does poop smell?

Blam! Direct hit! I think we decapitated someone with that!
See? This is what I’m talking about! Sure, this is a joke question… but so was the last one, and at least this is an answer we can take to the bank. Why, when we eat delicious smelling foods, does poop smell so… bad?

It’s because after we eat food, as we digest it, bacteria inside our bodies help break that food down into other materials we can use for energy, or to build our bodies. But when bacteria do this, they also produce chemicals that don’t smell great. Some of them smell really bad! A lot of the worst smelling chemicals—the ones that make farts so gross too—contain the element sulfur, like the gas hydrogen sulfide, or the chemicals indole and skatole. Skatole smells so bad that its name comes from the Greek word for poop: “skato.” The food we eat can also change the smell of out poop. Undigested spices can show up in the odor, and sometimes eating lots of meat can make it smell worse too.

Lots of animals don’t really mind the smell of poop, but people probably think its bad because having too much contact with poop can make us sick (it can have some pretty bad germs). When we smell that smell, we know it’s something we should probably avoid for our own health.

Annika (with the help of a parent) asks: Why do blue leaves not grow?

Boom!
Good question, Annika. We have blue flowers sometimes, but leaves are usually green. Why? We have to go a couple steps back to get a good answer, I think.

Plants grow with the help of sunlight. They absorb air (or carbon dioxide from the air) and use the energy in sunlight to turn that air into more plant material. “Photosynthesis” is the fancy word for this. Plants use a green chemical called Chlorophyll, and that gives plants their green color. When white sunlight (remember, white light is made up of all colors of light) hits those leaves, the leaves reflect green light back to our eyes, but they absorb all the other colors of light, especially red and blue light. The energy in that light can then be used to help the plant grow.

Oh, man, those questions have been mutilated! I’ve got a thirst for blood now. Let’s sail on, and see which questions are foolish enough to fall into the range of our science cannons. So, until next time…

PS—It’s still Easter in Hawaii right now, by the way, so Happy Easter. (If that’s your thing.) I’m afraid JGordon is alone this Easter, but don’t get too concerned. I’ve got plans. I’m going to spin around until I almost throw up, and then I’m going to take a basket of eggs and scatter them wherever I happen to stagger. When I get my equilibrium back, I’ll go try to find the eggs. It shouldn’t be so hard—the eggs will certainly be uncooked, and the whole thing will take place in an empty parking lot.

Jan
21
2009

He's not eating it: He just thinks there's a millipede inside.
He's not eating it: He just thinks there's a millipede inside.Courtesy abmiller99
There’s an expression that I like… it describes a certain kind of broad, smug, and possibly insincere smile, but one of the words in it is altogether naughty. I am, if nothing else, sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of Buzz’s readers, and I hold the image of the Science Museum of Minnesota in the highest regard. And even though I do not write as a representative of the museum*, it would be a true blow to my childlike heart to see profanity on one of its webpages. (Especially if I were the one to put that profanity there in the first place.)

And so we will tiptoe around this expression, carefully, carefully… like careful cats.

The expression rhymes with “Spit-sleating gin.” Or “kit-beating kin.” Or maybe “wit meeting sin.”

Oh, what’s a good, inoffensive way to put it? Hmm. It has to do with the sort of expression of happiness you might wear if you had just finished eating a pile of poop, especially if you think someone else wanted some of that poop but didn’t get any before you polished it off, or maybe if you didn’t want anyone to know you had eaten the poop in the first place, and so were perhaps overcompensating in trying to look like your normal, smiley self.

Was that good? I think that was perfect.

Anyway, this expression was originally invented to describe the way dung beetles look pretty much constantly. Dung beetles eat poop all the time—some of them eat only poop—and for some reason they have the idea stuck in their heads that it’s a tremendously valuable commodity (little do they know, eh?), so they always have this big ol’ “look what I got, son” smile on their faces. You have to use a magnifying glass to see it, but the smile is there.

While this expression has since fallen into broader use, it seems that its original application is … decaying, if you will. It seems that not all dung beetles eat dung! Ah! Dogs and cats, living together!

That’s right—in the depths of the Amazon jungle, there’s a recently discovered species of dung beetle that has traded its hilarious culinary habits for something a little more awesome: hunting, maiming, decapitating, and eating big, toxic millipedes.

Researchers baited traps in the jungle with a whole variety of dung beetle foods—dung beetles love dung, so that was there, obviously, but some species will also snack on other items, like rotting fruit, fungus, dead animals, and, occasionally, millipedes. The scientists caught 132 species of dung beetles in the traps, but only one exclusively ate the millipedes. No poop for these beetles, or even dead millipedes—they were hunters.

The researchers closely examined the peculiar beetles, and noticed a couple tiny, yet important differences from similar looking species: the hunting beetles had elongated hind legs (trading their dung-rolling function for something a little more suited to grappling with prey), and modified jaws and teeth, for chewing open millipede exoskeletons.

The scientists think that the no-dung dung beetles have undergone speciation. That is, they have evolved into a new species in adapting to the pressures of their environment. See, it seems that dung really is a little scarce on the floor of the Amazon jungle, and some dung beetles moved on to different food sources (millipedes), to the point where they only ate that new food, and became distinct (albeit in small ways) from their old kin. So, while there is one less creature that can truly wear a zit-heating pin, I guess that the Amazonian dung beetles that still eat dung have a little more to grin about these days. It kind of balances out, doesn’t it?

*No, really, I don’t write as a museum representative. Watch: I kind of enjoyed Waterworld. Does the museum think that? Nope. Nobody thinks that, and my writing it doesn’t change the fact.

Apr
05
2008

Dude just took a huge carp: out of the lake. The carp referenced in the article, however, was found in a cave near a lake.
Dude just took a huge carp: out of the lake. The carp referenced in the article, however, was found in a cave near a lake.Courtesy redcarper
Did I write “carp” in the title of this post? That’s not at all what I meant to write. I guess it’s just one of those things spell check isn’t going to catch, you know, because “carp” is a real word. It’s a fish, but I wasn’t talking about fish.

No, I meant to point out that scientists have added another nail to the already pretty well sealed coffin of the Clovis-first hypothesis for the population of the new world. And exactly what is this nail? This crusty, brown nail? Why, it’s an ancient piece of dried human excrement. That’s right, a 14,300-year-old piece of carp.

The carp in question was found in Oregon’s Paisley Caves, a series of eight westward facing, wave-cut caves overlooking Lake Chewaucan. Not a bad place for a carp, I imagine. Apparently ancient Americans thought so too.

The Clovis first/pre-Clovis debate has been mentioned on the site before, but, briefly, here it is: For decades it was generally believed that the Clovis people (named so for the distinct style of stone tools they used) were the very first humans to inhabit the Americas. Clovis people are thought to have arrived in North America about 13,000 years ago at the earliest, and that there could have been people here before then was not seriously considered by most archaeologists. In the last thirty or so years, however, an increasing number of archaeological sites have been excavated that demonstrate very compelling evidence for pre-Clovis cultures in the Americas, people who arrived here thousands of years before Clovis. Clovis-first proponents still argue against the validity of some of these sites, which seem to indicate—stratigraphically and through carbon dating—occupation significantly earlier than 13,000 BP, but the presence of pre-Clovis peoples in the Americas is now more or less agreed upon.

This carppy new find, however, is the first actual example of pre-Clovis human DNA that has been found; it is the oldest human DNA obtained from the Americas. The team’s lucky geneticists were able to extract and analyze mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line, from the dried carp. The carp itself was radiocarbon dated to be about 14,300 years old, and the DNA found was matched to haplogroups A2 and B2, genetic groups common to Siberia and east Asia. Interestingly enough, three of the six pieces of carp also tested positive for DNA similar to red fox, coyote, or wolf. My money’s on the theory that the carpers of Paisley Cave were some kind of wolf-people, although the University if Oregon team working at the site thinks it’s more likely that the people had simply eaten some foxes, or that one of these animals had urinated on the carp later.

Although the Paisley Cave site has generally been very productive in terms of yielding artifacts—archaeologists have found exceptionally fine threads of sinew and plant fibers, hide, basketry, cordage, rope, wooden pegs, animal bones, projectile point fragments, and “diverse kinds of feces”—exactly who its former occupants were is still unknown. The site lacks a broad assemblage of stone tools, something often used to define Paleo-Indian cultures. So we don’t really know how these people relate to the Clovis culture, only that they were definitely present in North America at a much earlier time.

Still, not a bad discovery at all. I mean, who would have thought that the oldest human remains discovered (so far) would turn out to be carp? There’s something like irony here.

A couple other pretty well established pre-Clovis sites:
Monte Verde in Chile
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania

Jul
30
2007

Pooped out?: A new Chinese business venture hopes to convert Panda poop into attractive souvenirs that Summer Olympic visitors will buy next year.
Pooped out?: A new Chinese business venture hopes to convert Panda poop into attractive souvenirs that Summer Olympic visitors will buy next year.
One of my favorite volunteers here at the museum does a lot of activities with artificial scat: that’s science lingo for animal poop.

I guess I’ve been hanging out with him too much, cause this story just jumped off the screen screaming for my attention.

A new company in Sichuan, China, is making odor-free souvenirs for next year’s Summer Olympic games out of Panda poop. You’ll have your choice of everything from dung-y bookmarks to miniature statues of the animals that produced the medium.

"We used to spend at least $770 a month to get rid of the droppings but now they can be lucrative," Jing Shimin, assistant to the base director, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. About 40 pandas are housed at the site and put out nearly a ton of panda poop a year.

A lot of production work goes into the process. All dung is smashed, dried and sterilized at 572 degrees F. The finished products are dyed giving them a variety of colors. The Olympic figurines will show the Pandas posed in a number of athletic positions.

Jun
29
2007

Dear Readers,

Now, please raise a hand or two if I’m getting ahead of you, but I think it’s time we get down to business.

You’ve all heard of “the future,” correct? Flying cars, artificial intelligence, iPhones, and excremental fuel sources? I thought so. Or is there anything here that you are, as of yet, unfamiliar with?

Do your part to solve the energy crisis: A local man prepares to save the future, the only way he knows how.    (photo by Mimi K)
Do your part to solve the energy crisis: A local man prepares to save the future, the only way he knows how. (photo by Mimi K)

Ever since the release of Back to the Future Part II, flying cars have been, more or less, old news, and Tamagotchi has put to rest all fears of A.I. iPones will remain a mystery to all of us for another few hours, at least, but are we all clear on the matter of turning excrement, or “poop,” into sweet diesel fuel?

Oh. I see. We haven’t all been doing our assigned reading, have we?

Well, if the responsible among you would like to put your heads down on your desks for a few minutes, I’ll refresh the rest of the Science Buzz readers.

Chemists around the globe have been hard at work on various processes to convert organic, carbon-based waste products into something very much like crude oil. Examples of organic, carbon-based waste products include, but are not limited to, chicken and turkey guts, old tractor tires, Sega Genesis cartridges (in part), lawn compost, cookie dough, defective jewel cases, ramen noodle wrappers, my fingernail clippings, old magazines, new magazines, tennis shoes (right and left), twine, super glue, baseball hats, worn out VHS copies of “Biodome,” and, naturally, human fecal matter.

The method for turning carbon products back into something like petroleum is relatively new, although certainly not unheard of. By applying the right conditions (heat, pressure, and, uh, other stuff) to the contents of, say, a couple tons of landfill, you can end up with a crude oil like substance, and some left over minerals and metals. The trick is in refining this process so that the energy needed for the transformation is less than the potential energy of the fuel output. As scientists come closer to a workable method, government and industry have been taking a closer look at large-scale applications. This article mentions Britain’s interest in the technology needed to turn their organic waste – of all sorts – into transportation fuel.

As something that produces carbon-based fuels, this process wouldn’t exactly halt the output of global-warming CO2, but it’s not quite so harmful as burning fossil fuels because, as the article puts it, “the carbon produced when the fuel is burnt was absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants or trees used to make it.” That is to say, it wouldn’t create new CO2, because the organic components of the fuel had just been taking in carbon that was already in the atmosphere.

The facilities required for the process are, unfortunately, extremely expensive. Once everything is set up, however, the fuel produced could potentially be very cheap. And the ingredients aren’t generally difficult to produce.

Apr
05
2007


A Rock Pigeon: Rock pigeons are the pigeons that are common in large numbers in most major cities. Photo courtesy Josh215 via Wikipedia.
The City of St. Paul is aiming to look its best when the Republican National Convention comes to town in late summer 2008. Part of the plan to spiff up the capitol city is a crack down on pigeon poop – a daunting adversary for many major cities.

The City plans to build ideal nesting grounds for pigeons on rooftops in downtown and then take the eggs in order to attempt to control the population. The hope is that fewer pigeons will mean less pigeon poop. City officials are not sure the pigeon “condo” scheme will be effective, but they are willing to give it a try after numerous other plans have fallen short of the goal.

Pigeons find food easily in the city: The readily available food in an urban environment allows pigeons to breed year-round.  Photo courtesy Photo courtesy sarmoung via Flickr.
Pigeons find food easily in the city: The readily available food in an urban environment allows pigeons to breed year-round. Photo courtesy Photo courtesy sarmoung via Flickr.
Pigeons love city life

Rock Pigeons, often also commonly called doves, are the most common type of pigeon found in urban areas. They are found in cities all over the world as they find high buildings an ideal substitute for their preferred nesting habitat in the wild – sea cliffs.

Rapid reproduction

Many techniques have been used to attempt to control pigeon populations – but it is a major undertaking. Pigeons breed when they have access to a steady food supply. Given the readily available food in an urban environment – from garbage to residents actively feeding pigeons – the food supplies in cities allow pigeons to reproduce year-round, laying eggs six to nine times a year.