Look at the Size of That Chinchilla Poop–to Know How Much It Rained

By Joseph Calamia | August 10, 2010 4:22 pm

chinchillaThe bigger the fossilized feces the more ancient rain. A team of paleontologists has uncovered this apparent correlation during a study of chinchilla scat at nine sites in South America’s Atacama Desert.

Claudio Latorre Hidalgo of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago presented his findings on this rainfall metric at a talk held yesterday during the ongoing American Geophysical Union’s Meeting of the Americas. Science News, where we found the story, reports that Latorre Hidaglo looked at fossilized feces from middens–shared rodent poop piles that contain “fecal pellets cemented together by crystallized urine.”

Latorre Hidaglo’s team carbon dated organic bits from the largest twenty percent of the chinchilla pellets (so as to exclude pellets from rodent youth). Given information on rainfall from other sources, they correlated the larger feces with periods of greater rainfall. According to Science News, Latorre Hidaglo suggests that the more rain, the better the environment to support bigger chinchillas; the bigger the chinchillas, the bigger the chinchilla poop. The poop test, the researchers say, may provide a way to estimate past rainfall when other tests aren’t available.

The American Geophysical Union talk announcement advises researchers to keep digging into the middens for more information:

A correlation between the size of rodent droppings and rainfall quantities is enabling researchers to establish a new paleoclimate record. Plus, a study of the contents of middens accumulated long ago by rodents offers further insights into the Atacama’s past.

Related content:
Discoblog: Is Muskrat Poop the Next Penicillin?
Discoblog: Archeologists Find the Darnedest Things Digging Around in Hyena Poop
Discoblog: To Maintain Clean Nests, Social Insects Hold in Poop for a Very Long Time
Discoblog: Whale Shark Poops on Camera; Scientists Rejoice

Image: wikimedia / Rumpelstiltzkin

  • ann aunamis

    That kind of looks like a pika, not a chinch.

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    What’s that expression? “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they finally know everything about nothing.” I’m thinking the field of chinchilla research is well on it’s way.

  • Brian Too

    Really? Do they have to fight off the hordes of grad students clamoring to do this kind of work?

    No, there are lots of positions available? You don’t say!

  • http://actualityscience.blogspot.com/ Justin Lapp (ActualityScience)

    I wonder how far back this method can be used. Does it allow us to go futher back and estimate rainfall than other tests? And I hope the name “Poop Test” sticks.

  • http://animalsbehavingbadly.blogspot.com wombatarama

    If that photo is a chinchilla I’ll happily eat some fossilized rodent poop.

    As a former zookeeper I don’t see why grad students shouldn’t to be clamoring to work on this. I mean, not only is rodent poop no big deal, it’s FOSSILIZED. They could be, say, collecting fresh monkey feces. These researchers should count their blessings.

  • Joseph Calamia

    Ann, thanks for the catch. Very sorry for the rodent picture confusion. Wombatarama, no need to eat any fossilized poop. –Joe

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