Everybody poops, some animals also eat it

Photo Credit: Amy Loves Yah via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Amy Loves Yah via Compfight cc

Living in East Bay is always an interesting experience.  Where else can you engage in paratheater, uncomfortable zones of fun and midwifery for humanity all in one weekend?

Living in a former pagan temple, I get even more exposure to the whimsy of the local community than most.  People not realizing that my house is now just a regular home, send spell books hand-bound in goat skin and leave tomes to human spiritual evolution at my door step.  Men in orange robes run across traffic to hand me texts exclaiming “you look so spiritual!”  And more than once I’ve had to assess whether a simple dinner party invitation was a stealth attempt at an encounter group.

In all honesty, as much as I gripe about it,  I really love it.  I love the cults, I love the whimsy, I love the uncomfortable zones of fun…or I like the idea of it, I’ve actually never been. I love the Bay!  Except for one thing.  The poop.  The entire Bay area has a serious problem with poop.

There is poop everywhere! Escalators in downtown San Francisco get shut down from too much excrement, poop piles line the sidewalks above every major subway stop, mailboxes are removed because some dude just couldn’t stop leaving his non-mail deposits there.  As you wander the streets contemplating deep thoughts, you have to keep one eye on the sidewalk to avoid the deep [expletive].  Of course the recent drought hasn’t really helped, because rather than washing away all the feces, a lack of water leads to the poop desiccating like mummified statutes memorizing our healthy and vibrant colons.

And it’s not like anyone wants to deal with the poop.  Who wants to be head poop-cleaner for the city?  That’s a job that I just don’t think you could fill.  In nature though there are plenty of animals whose jobs it is to eliminate the poop – because let’s be serious, without them the woods would be one giant toilet.  In addition to microbes, there are flies and butterflies that consume poop in the wild (sorry butterflies can be gross too ).  But most infamous of the poop-eaters are the dung beetles, who not only eat it, but some varieties use it to attract a mate – hey baby, I got you this giant turd, let’s do it!  If only dating people was that easy.

Now, there are a couple different flavors of dung beetles: the rollers, who roll the poop into balls; the tunnelers, who bury the poop where they found it; and the dwellers, who just chill in the poop where ever it falls.  This is sort of like the difference between you and your college roommates: there was the fastidiously clean roommate who hid her filth in her own room, there was the one who tried to shove things behind the couch where no one would notice, and then there was you who just let it all hang out, cause like, whatever it’s college, right?

You know I mock these poop-lovers (and you, slob), but really they are incredibly important to ecosystems.  They consume and bury poop, keeping it away from flies, reducing the risk of poop-related diseases, and enriching the soil as they go.  Also, they make an amazing necklace charm…so I’ve heard, from the Egyptians.  Now they were fashion forward!

Given how important these animals are to de-pooping the landscape, you may be interested to hear that much like many other organisms, these little poop-dudes are changing their habitat in response to a warming climate.  Yes, like other plants and animals, many dung beetle species are expanding their habitat and moving up mountainsides.  This is a pretty common thing that we’ve seen with other species, where a warming climate makes higher elevation locations a little more hospitable to organisms, allowing them to expand their habitat.

What does an expanded habitat mean?  Well, it could be a good thing if you were worried about poop in these higher elevation regions.  Or it might be bad thing if you are concerned about preserving habitats as they are, and are concerned about the impacts of moving ecosystems or species.  Or it could be a gross thing, if you find poop and the animals that make love inside them disgusting.  Or it could be a really satisfying thing, if like, you are into that sort of thing.  No judgment.

I for one am in favor of dung beetles expanding their habitat.  I just wish they would consider moving to the Bay.  Yeah, the housing is expensive, and the enlightenment runs rich, but I can’t think of a better place to find some sweet, sweet feces, laying desiccated in the street just waiting for a special coprophage to enjoy the fruits of the land.  I can see the ads now, “California, the land of plenty…especially for the dung beetle.”

Further Reading:

Climate change and elevational range shifts: evidence from dung beetles in two European mountain ranges


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