All Mammals Take the Same Amount of Time to Poop, Scientists Find

iStock
iStock

Yes, everyone poops. Moreover, at least when it comes to mammals, everyone poops for about the same amount of time, according to a new study. The research, described in the journal Soft Matter and brought to our attention by the Science of Us, examined mammals as small as cats and as large as elephants, finding that they all took around 12 seconds to defecate.

The study examined elephants, giant pandas, and warthogs at the Zoo Atlanta, dogs at a park, the dimensions of feces and large intestines, and mathematical models to better understand how animals poop. The Georgia Institute of Technology researchers found that regardless of the animal’s total size, the mammals studied had feces that were double the length of their rectum, and whether that rectum was an inch-and-a-half long or almost 16 inches long, their feces took about 12 seconds to exit the body.

The researchers only studied animals with cylindrical feces (excluding rabbits, rodents, and ruminants like cows in the process), collecting stool samples from 34 zoo animals, seven farm animals, and two species of animals (unidentified) living at Georgia Tech. They also observed animals pooping at Zoo Atlanta firsthand and watched 19 different YouTube videos that featured animals doing their business.

Through their observations and theoretical calculations on the fluid mechanics of defecation, the researchers found that all animals exert the same amount of pressure while pooping. They also found that bigger animals had more poop to get rid of, but they also had thicker mucus layers lining the walls of their large intestine, which helps move the poop out of the body at a faster clip. Combine these two factors, and you get pretty consistent poop durations across the animal kingdom—12 seconds—despite the wide range of body sizes. (Constipation happens when the feces moving through the large intestine soak up that mucus layer. Think of it like trying to go down a waterslide that is completely dry.)

This study did not examine every animal on Earth, but the finding is in line with research on the other potty habits of mammals. Previous work—awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2015—found that all mammals pee for about the same amount of time (21 seconds). It’s evolutionarily plausible, too. Pooping makes it hard to run away from predators (a significant number of sloths die when they leave the treetops to poop at ground level, in fact) and a quick heave-ho of the bowels is safer than straining in one location for 20 minutes.

The researchers hope their study will be used for more than just satisfying the curiosity of colon obsessives, though. “By understanding the physics of defecation, we will provide not only new ideas for medical diagnostics, diapers, and incontinence products but also transport methods for the feces of humans, pets, and agriculturally important animals,” they write.

[h/t Science of Us]

Lítla Dímun: The Smallest of the Faroe Islands Has Its Very Own Cloud

While some islands are known for their unusual geography or unique history, Lítla Dímun is notable for its weather. The island, which is the smallest of Denmark's Faroe Islands chain, is often capped by a lens-shaped cloud, making it resemble a scene from a fairytale.

According to Mental Floss's own Kerry Wolfe writing for Atlas Obscura, the cloud floating above Lítla Dímun is a lenticular cloud. This type of cloud forms when moist air flows over a protruding geological feature, like a mountain top. When the wind moving up the landmass hits the air current directly above it, a sort of wave is created on the downwind side of the mountain. The moist air falling down this wave evaporates and then condenses into a large, flying-saucer-shaped cloud atop the mountain peak as a result.

Another factor that makes Lítla Dímun distinct is that it's the only one of the 18 main Faroe Islands without human inhabitants. Visitors to the mystical location will instead find a thriving population of sheep. Originally, Lítla Dímun was home to a group of feral sheep likely dating back to the Neolithic era. But they were hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Domesticated sheep were introduced there around the same time, and today, farmers visit the island once a year to round up their flocks.

One of the few signs of human life are the ropes farmers use to scale the cliff faces bordering the island. Even if you have rock-climbing skills, Lítla Dímun may be dangerous to visit. A boat ride to the rocky shore is only possible when the surrounding sea is calm.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER