Why do wombats poop cubes? Scientists may finally have the answer
By Amy Woodyatt, CNN
Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT) January 29, 2021
The common wombat (Vombatus ursinus), also known as the coarse-haired or bare-nosed wombat, poops cube-shaped feces.
(CNN)For years, scientists have been wondering why wombat poop is cube-shaped (yes, really). Now, they say they have got to the bottom of the mystery.
Bare-nosed wombats, or common wombats, can be found in the woodlands of hilly landscapes in south and southeastern Australia and in Tasmania.
The furry marsupials are renowned for producing distinctive, cuboid poop, which researchers believe they then disperse tactically in order to communicate with one another.
Now, scientists at the University of Tasmania have discovered more about the curious phenomenon.
It is believed that wombats place their cube-shaped poop in tactical areas to communicate with one another.
Using laboratory testing and mathematical models, a team of researchers found there are two stiff and two flexible areas around the circumference of the wombat intestine. The intestine, at 33 feet long, is around 10 times the length of a wombat's body.
"This ability to form relatively uniform, clean cut faeces is unique in the animal kingdom," Scott Carver, a wildlife ecologist from the University of Tasmania, said in a statement.
"They place these faeces at prominent points in their home range, such as around a rock or a log, to communicate with each other. Our research found that these cubes are formed within the last 17 percent of the colon intestine," he said.
The researchers say the distinctive cube shape of wombat poop is caused as a result of the drying of the faeces in the colon, and muscular contractions, which form the uniform size and corners of the poop.
"Bare-nosed wombats are renowned for producing distinctive, cube-shaped poos. This ability to form relatively uniform, clean cut faeces is unique in the animal kingdom," Carver added.
In people, food travels through the gut in one or two days, but a wombat's digestive process can take up to four times as long, so the animal can extract all possible nutritional content from its food. The creatures also produce poop that is much drier than human feces -- because they are better at extracting water from the intestine.
Carver said the discovery that the cubes are created inside a soft tube reveals "an entirely new way of manufacturing cubes," which could have implications for manufacturing, clinical pathology and digestive health.
The research, published in the aptly named journal Soft Matter EXPANDS on previous research from the team.