Ask any gardener and they will tell you that animal poo is something natural that really helps your garden grow. There is a whole industry dedicated to processing and sale of animal manure. Even zoos have jumped on the zero waste bandwagon by wrapping their animal poop into a product known as Zoo Doo or Zoo Poo. In nature plants and animals have worked out some symbiotic relationships. Perhaps none of these is quite as unusual as that between shrews and a type of pitcher plant that is also known as the toilet plant.

A shrew on a toilet plant
A shrew on a toilet plant.

Image via Why Evolution is Real

People have been fascinated by carnivorous plants ever since they were first discovered. Most of these plants, such as the Venus fly trap and pitcher plants, primarily feed on insects and possibly tiny rodents. One type of pitcher plant in the mountains of Borneo has found that insects weren't quite enough to satisfy its nutritional needs so it worked out a way to draw shrews into helping them. This particular symbiotic relationship could be described quite accurately as a load of crap.

A shrew on a toilet plant
A shrew on a toilet plant.

Image via Live Science

Nepenthes is a class of pitcher plant that is euphemistically called the toilet plant. It's shape rather does resemble the standard commode that we all know and use frequently. It even appears to have a lid. As with other carnivorous plants it exudes a tasty nectar to lure in the unsuspecting creature. In other pitcher pants the animals fall into the plant's "pitcher" which is filled with fluid where they drown and are digested.

In the case of the toilet plant it exudes its tasty nectar on the toilet "lid" to draw in its "prey." Enter the shrew. The plant effectively becomes a shrew loo as the little mammal climbs on the plant's tpilet seat to lap up the nectar. Like many other animals the shrew poos wherever it happens to be. The feces collect in the bowl of the plant. As one blogger put it, it's "good to the last dropping."

The toilet "flushes" when the rains come and wash out the plant. This is when the shrew poo provides the plant with the nitrogen crucial to its survival. In return the shrew gets a tasty bit of food to help with its survival. Ultimately the plants own nectar becomes a part of the shrew poo. It is something like one hand washing the other, which is always a good thing after going to the toilet. Even a poo in a shrew loo.

Sources: New York Times, Discover, Live Science, Why Evolution is True, Powerhouse Hydroponics


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