Nuggets from our natives

Department of Conservation —  28/12/2017

Poo matters in conservation. Especially when that poo may have come from an invasive species. This was the case on Whenua Hou recently. Rangers became quite worried when a small dropping was found on the pest-free island sanctuary near Stewart Island. It looked a LOT like a Norway rat poop, which is a worrisome find on an island that is home to vulnerable species like kākāpō.

rat scat credit Johannes Fischer.JPG

Mystery poo on Whenua Hou. Photo: Johannes Fischer

Luckily, speedy DNA testing by EcoGene® confirmed that the offending turd was not made by a rat, or any invasive species for that matter. It is most likely a kererū poo. While it is an odd shape to have been made by a kererū, lots of things can change the look of the stool including the bird’s diet and environment.

In light of this, we wanted to share a few other interesting native species poops.

Takahē latrines

This is a bunch of takahē poo, or more accurately, a latrine.


Takahē latrine. Photo: Karlene Taylor

Any collection of takahē dropping in a row like this is called a latrine, and is usually found beside their nest. This makes for easy toilet access when incubating eggs!

Scientific kākāpō stool

This more substantial number is a kākāpō poo.

Kakapo poo. Don Merton

Many scientists have spent a lot of quality time with kākāpō stool, which has proven important in researching this critically threatened species. Researchers have analysed their poop to figure out everything from which gut-microbes the birds have, to whether there are dietary triggers to kākāpō breeding.

Seedy bug poo

Most insects, like the New Zealand grasshopper below, are too small to pass seeds in their faeces. However, there is one bug big enough for the task – our very own wētā.


Grasshopper pooping. Photo: Rosalind Cole

Scientists have found that wētā are able to poop viable seeds. The pooped seeds will not only survive, they’re actually more likely to germinate than those that fall to the ground.

Gardener’s gannet guano

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the gannets from the guano. This is a flock of Australasian gannets sitting on a lot of Australasian gannet poo, known as guano (that’s the white stuff underneath them and running down the cliff).

Gannet_colony,_Muriwai. Gary L. Clark

Australasian gannet colony, Muriwai. Photo: Gary L. Clark

Guano is the word used to describe a build-up of seabird or bat poo. You might notice that the grass around seabird colonies like this one is particularly lush. This is because guano makes an excellent fertiliser. Guano is high in nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, which are all essential for plant growth.

Sloppy sea lion stool

Sea lion poo comes in many colours and consistencies. It can come in snow-freeze shapes, blobs or stacks, and is sometimes pasty clay coloured, but can be grey or white. At other times it is black and runny like the stool pictured below. Scientists think this variable poo may be useful in the ocean, as, much like gannet guano, it contains nutrients that promote growth of smaller organisms.


Sea lion behind runny sea lion poo. Photo: Rosalind Cole

Sea lion guts have lots of bacteria that can break down iron and phosphorus, which are important for phytoplankton growth. These gut bacteria end up in the poo and release the nutrients they don’t need into the sea, making them available for phytoplankton to use.

Just for good measure – sea lion vomit

Not poo, but fairly close-to. Sea lions aren’t able to pass hard things like squid beaks, so they need to vomit to get rid of them. They cough a whole lot and then perform the most spectacular helicopter vomits.


New Zealand sea lion. Photo: Rosalind Cole

Their tendency to projectile vomit is another really good reason to respect a sea lion’s space and keep your distance.

Its reputation might be a bit stink, but poo is awfully useful in conservation. As the lecturer of our senior ranger Ros once said:

“Wildlife management is about three things – counting things, killing things (pests) and looking at poo” – Henrik Moller