Prairie "Pooch" Poop

Everything poops. I recently read a book entitled "What Shat That? - A pocket guide to matching feces with their species." and was quite entertained by all of the "interesting shit" and peculiar uses of what we usually consider a waste product.

As I've mentioned before, I've had a lot of experience with excrement, particularly the cattle type. Working for an entomologist these past couple summers, I've learned a lot about insects that just never really occurred to me before. This summer, I've been blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program through the University of Nebraska - and my project involves (bet you'd have never guessed) shit. My adviser on the project reached into a pool of recent graduates and managed to snag a PhD that is rocking full steam ahead in one of the weirdest, yet under-appreciated areas of entomology; dung beetles. So with a cute little combination of cow poop, rangeland and dung beetles - he's helping me set up a real nifty research project that will hopefully result in some groundbreaking data.

So, this prelude is all to explain how the heck I ended up here:
following previously mentioned PhD on an adventure into a pasture full of prairie dog holes, armed with a very high-tech sampling device and two staples of any research related venture - sharpies and ziplock baggies.

Our sampling device, lovingly renamed "the pooper scooper" consisted of a kitchen ladle (which his mother never wants to see again) duct taped to a broom handle (she doesn't want that back either).

Oh, and the duct tape is camouflaged, in case you didn't notice. "They'll never see us coming!" He said.

So, we're scooping dirt and poop out of these burrows in hopes of finding some dung beetles that are known to specialize in prairie dog burrows, but as these burrows happen to be located in a state park (Mr. Big Shot PhD is cool enough to have a special collection permit) there ought to be something in there that hasn't been described yet. So here it goes: dig down deep with the scoop...

Quick! Dump it in the baggie before the fleas jump everywhere! (yeah, prairie dogs have fleas... and these have been known to carry the plague. *YUCK*)

So we put our nine bags of burrow dirt in the freezer for a couple of hours to kill the fleas and whatever else might be in it, then went to work sorting it out using a process called "floating". Using a five-gallon bucket, we filled it full of water and then poured in the sample. Dirt sinks, but the insects, poop and other debris will float on the top. That got skimmed off and partially sorted again for beetles or anything else that looked interesting. We haven't had a chance to further analyze or identify anything yet, but here's to hoping we found something... and that neither of us got the plague. Ha ha!

*thanks Dad for taking the pictures!*

No comments:

Post a Comment