Here’s Why Glitter Is Being Used To Study Animal Feces


| LAST UPDATE 12/27/2021

By Hayden Katz
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The feces of animals can tell scientists a whole lot of information about their health status. Researchers have come up with an easy way to inspect the waste of animals - and it has to do with glitter. Here's how it's done.

For starters, dung contains crucial details regarding the species it came from. For example, it can tell scientists about an animal's diet, hormones, and possible parasites. And since it will always be released, it's an easy way to analyze animals - especially without having to conduct intrusive approaches. The only problem is knowing which droplets belong to which animals. As Ian Smith, senior veterinarian at Zoos South Australia, explained, "You can't always sit around watching an animal until it drops something on the ground for you."

animal feces glitter study
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This is where glitter comes into play. When a certain animal needs to be examined, scientists will give it a handful of sparkles to ingest. That way, when it's time for the animal to defecate, their feces will contain glitter and be easy to spot. But why specifically glitter? Well, one, it's a bright color that is hard to miss. And secondly, "Glitter is great, it's non-toxic, it doesn't get digested," Dr. Smith clarified. 

Unfortunately, glitter was recently condemned for its harmful impact on the environment - since it's mainly composed of aluminum and plastic. But, some scientists continue to use it because they clean up the affected areas after their analysis is over, meaning no leftover glitter makes it into the environment. Despite the potential effects on the Earth, this method of testing poo is still used in many zoos. But some opt for dyed corn, like the Taronga Zoos. They were able to make an important discovery by investigating the hormones found in the dung of rhinos. As they uncovered, when a female rhino is placed with a male to mate, she must be prepared to reproduce and be fertile. Otherwise, the male rhino can become violent.

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The manager of science and conservation at Taronga Zoo, Justine O'Brien, further explained: "The animals are at risk of injury if the breeding introduction isn't conducted at the correct time." The best way to know when a female is ready to mate is by examining her droppings. This research proved that analyzing feces is crucial in understanding animals.