Coprophagous Animals and Aesthetic Feelings

November 8, 2010

Some animals are coprophagous only in their infancy. The Australian eucalyptus forests are inhabited by charming little animals which look like cuddly teddy bears. They are koalas, reared in their mothers’ pouch which, unlike that of a kangaroo, opens to the rear. To begin with, the young feed on their mother’s milk and then eat her excrements which consist of a peptone-rich pulp of digested eucalyptus leaves. Since the pouches open to the rear, the young can easily obtain their food during flight (koalas live at the tops of tall trees and never come down to the ground).

And what about us, humans’.’ You may imagine that it is our natural aesthetic feelings that guard us against feeding on such strange things. Far from it. Don’t forget honey. This tasty and widely-used food is of a rather non-aesthetic origin. The raw material is flower nectar which is first processed in the craws of the foraging bees where cane sugar is partially converted into fruit and grape sugar and then discharged into the honeycomb cells. This is how honey is obtained from flowers.

Even less aesthetic is the origin of honeydew which is collected in vast amounts in Western Germany. This is simply the same excrement of the aphides as the wood ant eats, but, nonetheless, the people of that country consider it to be a great delicacy.

But, ignoring the somewhat exotic tastes of coprophagous creatures, one must admit that they are very useful. They not only make our planet cleaner, but retain valuable organic compounds within a natural cycle, and this is even more important.

It seems that in the past there were fewer coprophagous animals on the globe than now. At any rate they evidently did not cope with their duties. About seven to eight million years ago Europe was inhabited by ichthyosaurs, gigantic predatory reptiles. They were so big, there were so many of them and their reign lasted so long that in some parts of the Earth the ichthyosaurs left rather conspicuous traces of their existence in the form of huge dung heaps.

They say that time exerts an ennobling effect on all things. This is true to a certain extent. Common pine resin which has lain underground for a few million years turned into stone and became noble amber. Over thousands of years the dung of the ichthyosaurs has turned to stone which enhanced it in that its unpleasant smell disappeared. The largest accumulations of coprolite (fossilized excreta) were found in England, not far from York, and in Western Germany where they have long been mined and used to advantage. When finely crushed, coprolite has proved to be a very good fertilizer.

Strange as it may seem, this is not the only use for coprolites. Owing to the fact that they contain much cemented sepia (the ink sacs of fossilized mollusks), fish-scale and undigested bones, the polished surface of coprolite has a beautiful pattern. This explains why fossilized ichthyosaurian dung is used for making various small articles, brooches, beads and other adornments for women.

Indeed, history sometimes works in a very curious way and the whims of women’s fashion are limitless.

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