It sounds like something out of a grimy fairy tale: The mountain shrew visits some species of pitchers to grab a bite of nectar and poop in the plant dresser cup. These plants seem to have evolved so that their openings adapt perfectly under the shrew is behind, and they are strong enough to support the weight of the animal.
It’s a crappy relationship, in the sense that the pitcher plant is actually shit – but the pitcher plant gets nutrients from the deal by extracting them from the shrew’s droppings. “Everything that has led to this is incredible,” said Ethan Kocak, illustrator of the new book True or Poop? The Definitive Field Guide to the Facts and Lies About Dirty Animals. The book, due out in the US on October 23, explores the stories people tell about animals – speaking the real facts and pooping lies. The pitcher toilet is, deliciously, real.
The authors of the book, graduate student in zoology Dani Rabaiotti and postdoctoral researcher Nick caruso, are the same team that brought us the best-selling guide to animal gas, Does it fart?. Corn True or Poop? covers a wider range of topics, from tapeworms fighting with their genitals (true) to the myth that camels store water in their bumps (poo). The team disagrees somewhat on what the book is. really In regards to. Rabaiotti says he covers the poo and coarse habits of animals. But Kocak, the illustrator, says it’s actually a quest for truth.
Ultimately, the team’s goal is to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding animals – like this, if you cut an earthworm in half, you end up with two earthworms. (You don’t. You just get a sliced worm.) They set out to find the origins of these fictions and supplant them with incredible facts. “You don’t have to make things up about them,” Rabaiotti says. “They’re doing enough weird stuff already.”
Rabaiotti works in the UK, and Caruso and Kocak are both in the US – so even though this is the team’s second book together, they always have never met in person. For this book, too, they relied heavily on tools such as email and Google Docs that allowed them to work together remotely. Caruso says his inbox still hasn’t recovered after last year’s deluge of fart emails. “Now it’s just poo and penises,” he says. “So that’s pretty good. “
The edge talked with Rabaiotti, Caruso, and Kocak about elephants that eat poop, glands adjacent to the anus, and why electric eels are liars.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Were there animal facts that were almost too much gross to include?
Dani Rabaiotti: There was one thing in particular that there was a disagreement between the American and British editors, because our British editor found it so disgusting: that baby elephants would reach for their mother’s buttocks and eat their poo in order to get them. good bacteria in their digestive systems. Our editor just highlighted and just said, “Too rude? ”
Ethan Kocak: I didn’t think I was going to get away with the penis fencing illustration. It’s two flatworms but they fight with penises, and I literally draw them like fences, with the masks and so forth. I didn’t think it was going to do it, but it did.
Can we talk about beaver butts? Because I keep hearing that the vanilla-scented secretions from beaver butts flavor my food – but your book tells me that’s usually not true?
Nick Caruso: Yes, there is some fear, because it’s like, “Oh, this substance is produced pretty close to the beaver’s butt – I would describe it as adjacent to the anus – and it’s in your food.” Even if it does, it’s perfectly certain: just because it’s near the buttocks doesn’t mean it’s poo. But also it’s just very expensive. You’re thinking of producing something where you actually have to milk it from an animal to get excretion rather than producing it artificially. It is much easier to not go take some beavers and milk them, their uh –
Rabaiotti: – buttocks!
Why demystify animal myths? What’s the harm in believing that there are beaver butt gland secretions in my vanilla ice cream?
Kocak: In the climate of fake news and all that, I think it’s more important to be truthful and not allow even “harmless” myths. It may not be very funny, but it is how I feel.
Rabaiotti: Even some of the most harmless can change the way a person treats an animal and have a negative impact. For example, many people believe that if you cut an earthworm in half, you end up with two earthworms. If a child believes this, he could cut tons of worms in half. And it’s not cool because you just damaged this animal for no reason.
What turned out to be poop that you thought was true?
Rabaiotti: This vulture poo is disinfectant and it poops on its legs to kill bacteria. But actually, when I read it and talked to vets and vulture experts, they were like, “Oh my god no, vulture poop is really full of horrible bacteria. Don’t touch that thing. It was a bit of a shock to me.
Kocak: I should stop rubbing that in my wounds …
Caruso: I should have known, but in jurassic park, where the T. rex I can’t see you if you stand still. I guess I never really thought about it too much, but I was like, “Why would they lie to me about this?” But that’s not true, they can definitely see you – and even if they couldn’t, they could smell you!
What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned?
Kocak: Parrotfish poop sand. The principle being that the humpback parrotfish eats coral, digests it and poops white sand, and so this is where white sand beaches come from.
Rabaiotti: And that’s true. Not all white sand beaches, especially the Maldives. It must be so uncomfortable being a humpback parrotfish. I’m glad I didn’t have to poop sand.
Kocak: I like the idea of people paying extra money to go and lay on fish crap.
Rabaiotti: For me, the most surprising thing was that platypuses don’t have a stomach. It was the one where I was like, “Noooo, that can’t be true!” And then it was absolutely true. They eat their food and then it passes directly into the intestines without there being a pocket that produces acid. Weird.
Were there any myths that puzzled you and made you investigate?
Rabaiotti: The one about the fact that you’re always within six feet of a rat. It was the one where it was like, “Ooh, not sure.”
Caruso: So this myth began in the early 1900s when WR Boelter asked country residents how many rats they saw. He was writing a book on the rat problem. And then he estimated on the basis of this little survey how many rats there are in the whole country. And from there it was like, “Oh [the number of] rats are equal to people all over England. It took some pretty big assumptions that clearly weren’t correct to get these numbers.
Rabaiotti: One of them that I found very difficult to verify was that black widows ate their mates, as many species of spiders share the same name. In the United States, apparently, the species that people call a black widow does not eat its mate, and many spiders in the widow family do not eat their mate, or at least very rarely do. But the Australian widow actually eats her mate most of the time. So it was quite difficult to understand. So we opted for a sort of myth that not all black widows eat their mates. But some do.
A bunch of them – like those fire-born salamanders, or ostriches bury their heads in the sand, or earwigs lay eggs in their ears – come from a Roman naturalist whom you write “was very wrong about. a lot of things ”, right?
Rabaiotti: Three words: Pliny the Elder. He invented so many of these myths. Every time you think to yourself, “Oh, I wonder where this myth came from? It’s like, “And then Pliny the Elder made it up.” Basically he just wrote this really big book about the natural kingdom, but that was around the time when they were almost looking for morality in animal behavior. He sort of merged animal behavior according to his agenda at the time, which meant that not everything was quite right. Classical Pliny.
Caruso: We are cursing Pliny as we write this. Waving our fists to the sky.
Are there any that you are just devastated to find out that are wrong?
Kocak: Electric eels not being eels. I am crushed. It is a beautiful fish.
Caruso: Didn’t you draw it by saying “liar” in electricity?
Kocak: I did.
Rabaiotti: That’s how crushed Ethan was.
Did you learn anything by posting Does it fart? has it changed your approach to this book?
Kocak: Don’t shout “asshole” in an interview.
Rabaiotti: I obviously did not learn that …