Written by Raymond Nakamura
Once upon a time, Raymond earned his doctorate studying the hydrodynamics of sand dollars. Nowadays, when he’s not employed as personal assistant to his lovely and demanding daughter, he enjoys creating fun and educational experiences in science and history using facts and fiction, words, pictures and whatever else is handy. Follow him on Twitter @raymondsbrain

Talk about leftovers

I had just been talking to my almost four-year-old the other day about her mammoth poop, when I came across an  article on Woolly Mammoth dung. They ate it. I wonder if this will feature in the next  Ice Age movie.

In the gut of a four-ton adult male found in northern Russia, who entered the deep freeze twenty thousand years ago, scientists discovered fungal spores that only grow on dung exposed to air. This was considered further evidence that the Woolly Mammoths were in desperate times. They ate grass, but as the climate warmed, forests took over the landscape and took away their livelihood. Woolly Mammoths went extinct about ten thousand years ago. Humans have also been implicated, but climate change nows seems to be the main  culprit.

Having dung like dinner is not totally random behaviour. Eating plants is tough work. Most animals need special bacteria to help.  Bunnies commonly eat poop that has only gone through once.  Cows take advantage of their gut bacteria by chewing their cud. The little useless bit in us known as the appendix is a great big thing in elephants (as most parts of elephants are). It stores bacteria for breaking down cellulose. But elephants are not that efficient at getting nutrition from the vegetation they eat, so they have to eat a lot and their dung still has a lot of good  fibre left in it. Modern elephants are known to eat dung in desperate times and  young Asian elephants eat the dung of their mothers, apparently to pick up bacteria capable of breaking down cellulose into digestible bits.

I was going to say I don't expect dung to be on my dinner table any time soon, but some people are into the world's most expensive  coffee, which comes out the end of a civet cat.

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