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Press release

Poo: A natural history of the unmentionable


A new exhibition at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum
3 August – 28 November 2004
Media Preview – Tuesday 3 August, 10.30–12.00

Poo, big jobs, number twos… whatever you call it, faeces is everywhere and an essential part of life. But what exactly is poo made of? And where does it all go? Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable is a new exhibition that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about poo when it opens at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum in Tring, on 3 August 2004. The exhibition has been developed with Walker Books to coincide with the publication of Nicola Davies’ book of the same name, and will include original artwork by Neal Layton alongside fun interactives and real poo specimens.

So what exactly is poo? Faeces is mainly made up of the remains of food that cannot be used, after it has been chewed, swallowed and digested, but also includes worn-out blood cells, germs and other unwanted bits, such as worms that try to live inside the gut. A great deal of information can be found out about an animal from its poo: its species, its diet and also how much water it drinks. Poo can even be used to discover what extinct species used to eat – from the fossilised poo (coprolite) of a Tyrannosaurus rex scientists know it was a carcass-crunching carnivore.

Interactives have been specially made for the exhibition, which inform the senses about the different types of animal poo. One recreates their smells – would you be able to smell the difference between the poo of an otter and a fox?

The exhibition also examines those species whose success depends on poo, from the giant otter that uses its faeces to mark its territory to the Egyptian vulture that eats its own poo to make itself more attractive to the opposite sex. A crafty contender is also the mistletoe plant, which has white sticky berries that birds eat. However, the berries are so sticky that when the bird defecates, the seeds cling uncomfortably to the bird’s bottom and it has to rub off the seeds onto a future host tree.

So what happens to all the poo – where does it all go? Some poo gets reused for building – the millipede makes a nest for its eggs from its own poo, using the tiny pellets as bricks. However most poo gets eaten, a habit that has the scientific name ‘coprophagy’, and the dung beetle is the most efficient coprophage around. It is capable of finding poo before the animal has finished producing it, and in the tropics a normal portion of human dung is completely removed within an hour. There are more than 7,000 different kinds of dung beetles all over the world and they all have a favourite type of poo. Not only do the beetles eat it, they also lay their eggs on it and once these hatch the dung provides food for the beetle grubs.

A full range of associated events will be taking place in conjunction with the exhibition. The book Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable will be on sale at The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum shop for the duration of the exhibition and will be available from all other good bookstores from 3 August 2004.

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Notes for editors
The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum is the Natural History Museum’s sister museum in Tring, Hertfordshire. It opened in the late 1800s to house the collections of Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild. The Museum offers outstanding examples of nineteenth-century taxidermy at its very best and was bequeathed to the nation in 1938. It is now part of the Natural History Museum. The public galleries have been modernised, but the fascinating character of the Museum was retained.

Visitor information
Admission: free
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.00,
Sunday 14.00–17.00
Access: Step-free access is limited to Gallery 1, the temporary exhibition gallery, the shop and Zebra Café at present
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 6171
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk/museum/tring

If you would like to interview Nicola Davies or an exhibition officer, or would like to request images or further exhibition information, please contact:

Becky Chetley or Natalie Brooke
Natural History Museum Press Office
Tel: 020 7942 5106/5654
Email: press@nhm.ac.uk (not for publication)

To request a review copy of the book, please contact:

Tamar Burman
Walker Books
Tel: 020 7396 2458
Email: tamar.burman@walker.co.uk (not for publication)

Visit the The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum website for more information.

Issued June 2004