Jambo! My name is Chase and I’m the newest RA situated at the beautiful Talek camp. As I’m sure you can gather from reading these blog entries, there is a lot to learn out here in Fisi camp. However, there are some natural processes that everyone can recognize.
One such activity is waste excretion. Also known as pooping. Prepare yourself for a digestion digression.
When I first arrived I was presented with a new area to do my personal business, known to us lovingly as “The Choo” (Pronounced: Cho). The hyenas we study, on the other hand, use a large plot of land known as the Mara. It is a vital part of our job, when recording observations on aggressions, to also be aware of when a hyena has to excrete some fecal matter.
|The infamous Choo|
Why does the matter matter to us?
|Kenna Lehman sporting a hefty poop bag and a can-do attitude!|
Although poop can be used to analyze DNA and determine paternity for cubs, back at the lab they also look at hormones. The amount of a hormone in an individual’s excrement represents the level in the body. In fact, one intrepid researcher Sarah Jones uses poop to look at the hormonal basis of sex reversal in hyenas. So, why are females more aggressive and socially dominant to male hyenas? (Future Dr.) Jones looks specifically at the hormone androstenedione, which can act similarly to testosterone, but doesn’t usually have the same side effects that would be bad for females (reducing fertility or parental care.) In fact, female spotted hyenas exhibit higher levels than males till they’re at least five years old! The largest difference between sexes is actually when they are born, suggesting why most females assert dominance over their brothers at a very early age. Jones is looking at whether androstenedione concentrations in poop are related to female aggressive behavior and their rank. Do higher ranked, more aggressive females have higher levels of androstenedione? Stay tuned for that dissertation!
|Wilson Kilong thinks poop is just the best thing.|
|Two poops in one obs session? It's my lucky day!|
Additionally, Tracy Montgomery examines poop with a passion. She’s curious about male dispersal and what hormones play a role in that process. Adult natal males actually have lower testosterone than immigrant males, even though both are reproductively mature. Why might that be? What hormonal changes occur during the dispersal process? But, Montgomery doesn’t stop there. She’s also looking at the hormone progesterone and how it may be associated with affiliative and cooperative behavior.
|Ashlei Tinsley handling hyena excrement with class.|
But, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How can I do this at home? I want to analyze my bowel movements!”
Here is my advice:
1. A keen eye is important. When we see a hyena get into that well-known position (the squat) we use our binoculars to assess whether the bomb has been dropped or if it is simply urination. Once we decide the poop is indeed a poop, we drive over and scoop it up using a plastic bag (a large one if you’re lucky.) On the bag, we write the time it was collected, the location, and which hyena did the deed.
|Chase O'Neil, aka expert poop collector, does her job.|
|We see a variety of colors like above: pale banana cream pie.|
|A typical sample complete with white hairs from a tasty wildebeest dinner. But look, your expert eyes are right! BONUS: there are worms.|
|Foot-smashing time! Socks with sandals recommended.|
|A researcher with steady hands shoves pieces of the droppings into a tube.|
|This is known as the icing technique. Sometimes a hyena has a soupy poop (hey, we've all been there.) In this case, we cut a hole in the bag and squeeze out the future data. Just like icing a cake.|
So far, I have been lucky enough to see many hyena feces and participate in the collection. Everyday is an adventure here, but even more so when we have to scoop poop into tubes!
If you have a lab at home to analyze your poop, Julie did a wonderfully detailed post about poop processing in the lab that will give you step-by-step instructions (http://msuhyenas.blogspot.com/2012/07/what-do-we-do-with-all-this-poop.html