The grass is not always greener…

This blog post is offered as a public service. There are times when life seems altogether too grim – and at times like those, it’s always helpful to be able to look at some other poor blighter’s lot and say to oneself “hey ho – it could be worse after all…”.

New reaches us of a piece of research fieldwork from 2007, in which two ecologists diligently monitored the deposit of otter faeces along a 28km stretch of Polish river-bank. Among their findings:

  • removing otter poo from sections of the river-bank prompted the otters to raise their “drop rate” there by about 50%, at the expense, so to speak, of other sections of the river-bank;
  • replacing one otter’s poo with another’s did not prompt the original donor to retaliate with an increased drop rate.

At one level, that second finding is just interesting; if otter poo is used as a territorial marker, one might think that finding the markers left by a possible rival would unleash an escalating otter poo fight. Not a pleasant thought. However, at another level, it’s worth considering the practicalities of this degree of… hands-on specialisation.

The researchers were obviously knowledgeable enough to distinguish different otters’ leavings, and dedicated enough to collect and re-distribute them manually.

As I say, every now and then it does one good to know that someone else is probably having a more miserable time than oneself.

Lexicological note:

Although I have used the technical term “otter poo” here, generalists may be interested to know that the English term “spraints” is also correct when referring to the poo of large wild mammals such as deer and otters. This term comes from the French word “épreintes” – a word which they reserve exclusively to refer to otter poo, partly in recognition of its unique and characteristic odour: ‘a not unpleasant blend of mead and dried fish’. Not unpleasant, one supposes, if you are fond of a bit of dried fish chased down with mead. Bon appetit. I should perhaps qualify that last quotation by mentioning that it was from the zoology website of a Belgian university.

The prosaic old Anglo-Saxons didn’t waste much time or vocabulary on excrement, indiscriminately applying those safe old fallbacks, “dung” or “sh*t”, regardless of the precise species concerned – presumably because, by that stage in the digestive process, they didn’t think the distinction was worth drawing. The Francophones, on the other hand, invest in a whole taxonomy of turds, including crottes (dog/cat), bouzes (cow), bombes (horse), fiante (bird), etron (among others) for humans … and probably others I have, thankfully, never had cause to discover.


One thought on “The grass is not always greener…

  1. Hmm, thank goodness Dr Hawcroft never forced me to go into such detail during our vocab tests at university. 10,000 French words lacked a detailed section on faeces, fortunately.

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