Scoop on Poop Dished Out by New Exhibition

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Other highlights include a dung beetle race, a touchable replica of a termite mound (which in nature is glued together with the insects' own feces), and a video of a hippopotamus spinning its tail to wildly spread its excrement as a territorial marker.

(Related video: African dung beetle.)

There's also a world map that allows visitors to learn how to say "poop" in different languages.

In Spanish, it's "caca" and "poopoo." In French, it's "merde."

When Cristina Heredia, the exhibitions manager for the Miami Metrozoo, learned about "The Scoop on Poop," she thought it could be a way to turn a distraction into an educational tool.

"Whenever we have programs with live animals—close encounters or hands-on—with kids, we'll have their attention," she said.

"But if the animal poops or goes to the bathroom, the kids explode with laughter and we lose [their attention] for a while.

"But it's fun," she added. "Kids are fascinated by poop."

The exhibit, she notes, captures that fascination and does an "amazing" job of teaching the science of scat.

Scat Science

Peeling says that his team spent more than three years researching and developing the exhibit.

"We ended up connecting with scientists from all over the world who study feces in many different ways," he said. "Veterinarians, farmers, wildlife biologists, paleontologists … there's a lot there."

For example, the exhibition includes an interview with Karen Chin, a scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies fossilized poop, or coprolites, to understand ancient ecosystems.

Her research has included the examination of coprolites from Tyrannosaurus rex to tease apart details on the meat-eater's diet and bite force. (Related news: "Dino Dung: Paleontology's Next Frontier?" [March 12, 2003].)

Other scientific uses of poop detailed in the exhibit include tracking grizzly bears and mountain lions in Yellowstone National Park and unraveling the life histories of monitor lizards in Indonesia.

"In many [scientific] fields, studying scat is so routine that scientists don't think of it as a big deal," Peeling said. "On the other side, there're aspects of scat to science that are very cutting edge."

Heredia, the Miami Metrozoo exhibitions manager, says visitor response to "the Scoop on Poop" has been overwhelmingly positive.

Attendance to the museum has risen by about 35 percent since the exhibit opened on October 13.

In fact, Heredia says, some visitors have been so taken with the exhibit that they have donated their own fecal treasures for display.

For example, one zoo member loaned the museum a piece of manure, enclosed in a glass globe, from the stall of the famous racehorse Secretariat.

"We had no idea," she said, "this was going to have so much attention from the public."

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