May 30, 2022
Image credit: Image credit: Rachel Tribout.
There’s a lot more animal poop and vomit than you might think! Let’s find out more.
We love the new book by Nic Gill and Romane Cristescu Poo, vomit and other gross animals Do! We think you do too! Let’s meet the authors.
What inspired your new book?
Nic: I was talking to the excellent Melinda Chandler from CSIRO Publishing at the Ecological Society conference in Launceston, and we were talking about the fact that there are so many gross, but ecologically interesting things that animals do. “You should write a book about poo!” Melinda said, and I immediately thought of Romane, who is an expert in poo science. I called her, she was excited as it should be, and poo and vomit was born!
Novel : I always talk about poo! I’m an ecologist and I work on very elusive species, including koalas. This makes my job of studying them particularly difficult, as I rarely see them in the bush. So conservationists like me who work on rare or cryptic wildlife are looking for their droppings or droppings. For koalas, it’s much easier – they poop up to 150 pellets a day, which stick around for weeks or even months. There are so many more koala poop than koalas!
Plus, fresh poop contains a wealth of information. We can determine the genetic characteristics of a koala, its sex, the diseases it carries, its diet, its hormones, its intestinal microbiota, it is almost endless. With poo you can learn a lot about an animal without even seeing it!
I spend a lot of time and energy looking for poop, recording data on poop, taking poo to the lab for analysis, and then writing articles about… well, you guessed it, poop!
What reaction did you have to it?
Fuck: So far the feedback has been really good! I was a bit worried that people would think it was too silly and not scientific enough, but it was very well received. I recently did an interview with Matt Preston on ABC Melbourne, where I was thrilled to learn that not only does he know about naked mole rats, but he’s also been in some poo spitting competitions. impala in Botswana. I didn’t expect to hear that, but I’m here 100% for it!
A bookstore in Sydney recently posted that they think this could be their best-selling non-fiction book of the year, so fingers crossed they’re right! And as for reader feedback – I get a lot of parents telling me that their kids are thrilled with gross science and insist on telling them about it, so that’s the best answer we can get!
Novel : Everyone is disgusted of course! No, in fact, many who have read the book simply cannot believe how gross being such a critical part of wildlife success is. Usually when we think of success in nature, we think of a lion or an eagle. Top predators, strong and fast. When in reality, success comes in all forms, and sometimes in crude and hilarious ways.
What’s your favorite raw story in the book?
Fuck: My favorite right now is the mystery of why cats run away from their litter boxes. I love that it’s an unsolved mystery, and I’m particularly fascinated by the concept of “poo-phoria”. And when it comes to clever adaptations, I’m in love with Hardwicke’s woolly bats, which roost in pitcher plants. A form of symbiosis so beautiful, disgusting and comfortable. And the photo of the bat is fantastic – look at his little face!
Novel : The fact that there are small creatures living on our face (Demodex mites) is a bit of a gross revelation, I don’t think we should think about it too much.
What’s the rudest encounter you’ve had with an animal?
Fuck: With one of my dogs! I have two working conservation dogs, Zorro and Gromit. Gromit is still young, and unfortunately still a bit obsessed with the contents of my cat’s litter box. If I had a dollar for every time I caught him stealing cat nuggets, I’d at least have enough money to buy a security camera and an alarm system to keep the litter box out of the cat.
Novel : It was with a koala… They pee and poop in the trees, so sometimes when you’re busy collecting data under them…. well, there have been incidents of downpours…
How did the co-writing with work?
Fuck: Romane and I split the book in half to begin with, mainly choosing the sections we thought would be the most entertaining or well-known, and wrote our chapters separately. We then met for a week on Bruny Island, where we worked together editing each other’s work.
We were also doing field work with my dog Zorro, so I would go out with him in the morning and then work on the book in the afternoon. As we were on Bruny Island, it was of course very important to make sure we tasted lots of local cheese, which Romane was deeply opposed to.
When you dreamed of being a writer, did you imagine writing about animal poo?
Fuck: I can’t say that I ever imagined that I would write a book about bodily waste. In fact, I don’t even particularly appreciate crude humor for the sake of it. But for some reason, when it comes to gross stuff about animals and the clever things they do to survive, I can talk about it for hours! Kinda hoping I don’t become this author of poo and vomit. It might be a bit silly.
When you first dreamed of being a scientist, did you imagine studying animal poop?
Novel : I think animal lovers like me start with a little more glamorous idea of our work. We imagine ourselves spending time in beautiful nature, tracking and observing stunning wildlife… But in the end, for many of us, our wild subjects are just too elusive and we end up looking for signs – often their poop, like me for koalas, or spit, like Nic for his masked owls.
Can you tell us about your other books and writings on nature?
Fuck: My first book was Animal ecological warriors, a bunch of stories about animals that help people solve environmental problems. It was so much fun researching – I got to go out on little adventures with all these really cool scientists and dog handlers and goat herders to watch the environmental projects they were working on, and of course I got to pet many animals.
I almost lost my notebook at one point to a particularly curious goat, which was supposed to eat environmental weeds, but those are the risks you take as an intrepid environmental writer. In fact, I met Rom while researching this book, when I interviewed her about her amazing dog Maya, who was the first dog in the world to detect koala habitat by finding koala poo! Writing Animal ecological warriors also led me to redirect my career from surveying plants on my own to working with conservation dogs in the field.
What was the launch of Poo and Spew like?
Fuck: Rom came down to Tasmania, and it was an absolute poop stravaganza. As the kids came in, they were given a cut-out dung beetle to stick on the picture of a big poop – kind of like ‘pinning the tail on the donkey’, only cruder.
We talked about the book, Rom talked about his work with his koala poop detection dogs, and then there was a “Know your poo” quiz, where we threw poop-shaped erasers into the audience for them. children who were able to identify the feces. My detection dog Zorro demonstrated his owl sniffing prowess. The event was capped off by my friend Ben, who dressed up as a giant masked owl and set up a pooñata wombat, which the children hit with a broomstick with violent enthusiasm. It was exciting and slightly terrifying. The best book launch ever!
Ever wish you had taken marine science, which seems to involve more snot than poo?
Novel : No, I’ll stick to the poo: it’s so much richer in data! As scientists, we are always looking for ways to better understand the world. So having access to all of this information from just one little nugget, can’t top that.
How fun was it to research this book?
Novel : It was so much fun! Nic and I literally couldn’t stop laughing sometimes! We had to do most of the book via video conference because of covid, and we were reading and writing and suddenly one of us was bursting out laughing and we were telling each other yet another crazy hippo dung shower, poo of whale-nado or constipated lizard story.