Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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16-Mar-2006

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Inside grasshopper poop




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Grasshopper poop, grasshopper poop, fruit seeds are inside grasshopper poop.




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But not just any old grasshopper poop contains fruit seeds, according to a new scientific discovery. The exciting, seedy poop comes from giant grasshoppers called "wetas" from New Zealand.

By eating and then pooping out seeds from fleshy fruit, the giant grasshoppers appear to perform an important forest job moving seeds away from where they "grew up."

Moving seeds can be an important job, because it gives seeds the chance to grow up far from their parents.

For one group of plants from New Zealand, the scientists discovered that seeds taken from insect poop are more likely to sprout than the same kinds of seeds that did not have the "pleasure" of being eaten and pooped out, the scientists report.




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It is no surprise that some kinds of seeds are more likely to sprout after they have been eaten and pooped out by an animal. For small fruits, mice or other small furry creatures are often doing the seed eating.

The fact that an insect also performs the fruit eating and seed pooping job is the exciting part for the scientists. The giant grasshoppers from New Zealand are the first insects to be certified fruit seed poopers and the first insects known to move or "disperse" seeds by eating them and then pooping them out.

Some weta grasshoppers are threatened by extinction, and the new research may help scientists understand just how important these grasshoppers are to the health of the forest.

New Zealand is an island country far from other large masses of land. New Zealand includes two main islands and many smaller islands. Due to its isolated location, mice probably did not arrive in New Zealand until about 200 years ago, when they hitched a ride on ships.

Long before mice arrived, it appears that giant grasshoppers took on a role in the forest that is usually filled by mice in other parts of the world eating soft fruits and then scattering the seed-containing poop in other places.

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This research from Catherine Duthie from Victoria University of Wellington will be published in the 17 March 2006 issue of the journal Science.