This has been a fairly excremental afternoon. It began quite innocently with a coworker, who is expecting a new baby in March, talking about how he had completed the refinishing of the changing table.

I allowed as how that was probably a fool’s errand given what sorts of abuse it was going to take over the next few months and suggested stapling black plastic to the ceiling might be a better use of resources—they are expecting a baby boy.

This led to a discussion with other co-workers who had experienced only girl babies and we finally wound up at which was easier to toilet train.

On this, I could comment with authority. I am in charge of all house-breaking, whether it is puppies, kittens, children, or even the occasional rabbit. The fact is it depends on date of birth. If the male child is a year or better when the warm weather begins, he can be thoroughly housebroken in a couple days.

In cold weather, it requires Cheerios and a couple weeks. Girl children never get it in less than about three weeks and it requires Oreo cookies.

The reason boys are easy in summer is because one of the most joyful and rewarding acts is urinating outdoors. Once introduced to the delightful act, no diaper could ever hold allure and toddlers will even hold it while indoors while begging at the door like a puppy. As with most things, this is not entirely without dangers.

I had the boy happily peeing at random (we lived at the end of a dead-end road) up until the school bus began coming to pick up his sister. We were blessed with a real pill of a bus driver (how we got shed of her is another delightful story.) I came home to the news that the school called because the bus driver complained that my son had his pants down taking care of business when the bus arrived.

This annoyed me but I just had a talk with the boy and said he was now much older and had to get up against a tree when he had to go. He understood perfectly, proud to have taken another step toward adulthood. When I came home the next day it was to a report that the bus driver complained again because he was backed up against one of the white birches, directing a great arch toward the bus, and waving enthusiastically with the other hand.

The Daddy-to-be had a similar experience with his first-born. He was putting groceries in the car when he heard laughing and horn-tooting. Seems his outdoor-trained 18 month old and dropped his drawers to his ankles and was making a nice arch right out into the driving lane of the parking lot.

It was fun reminiscing on the foibles of child-rearing but then the excretory theme continued. About a half hour later, someone asked me if bugs poop. I said, of course and not only were there federal government regulations about how much bug poo is allowable on the fruit and vegetables you buy at the market, there was also a terrible problem in Antarctica caused by bug waste.

That one I handled just fine but, literally within minutes, a person in the car beside me in line at the carwash said, “Is it true that bug can fling their pee?” That one took a bit more work.

If you happen to get the question on trivia night, it is in fact true that some bugs sling pee for quite a distance using what is essentially a tiny catapult.

For insects that feed on sap, there is a huge amount of water that must be removed from the actual nutrients.

Think of the process of boiling down sap to make maple sugar—the process and amounts are about equivalent. This is not necessarily a problem for the digestive system but there can be a mechanical issue if the bug is eating in a head down orientation on the stem.

In this case, the excreted water and other urinary waste would run down all over the larvae and its future meals. In addition to the obvious issues, this could also provide a great way for predators to detect their urine-drenched prey. Scientists at Georgia Tech studied some insects known, appropriately, as sharp-shooters.

On their rear end they have a small spike known as a stylus. Suspended from this stylus is a basket-like series of hairs. Urine is released into this structure, the stylus which is coiled like a spring. When the basket is full, this spring releases.

The effect is very much like the sling attached to ancient catapults and the drop is flung several inches away from the sharp-shooter. People walking under trees are often showered with droplets of bug pee, much like rain.

If I do not return to the bug threatening Antarctica, I will get a hundred more questions so, briefly, there are a number of plants that thrive in the sparse summer sunlight.

These divide into two basic types adapted to two very different zones. One is the typically nutrient-poor soil of a cold desert area. The other, in areas where seals and seabirds are present, have higher nitrogen levels in the soil. The nitrogen-poor areas are known as “moss-banks.” At one point in the 1960s, some scientists performed some plant introduction studies in the moss banks.

The plants could not survive but a small flightless midge that was on them did just fine. These midges are all females so even a single one can quickly populate an area causing a rapid spread regardless of the inability of the flies to fly.

Not only do these midges eat dead plants and other organic debris (typically only very slowly broken down in an environment without earthworms) but they do what all vegetarians do—they defecate prolifically.

While individually, this does not seem very significant, these midge populations have raised the nitrogen levels in the soil to a point even greater that seal and seabird areas. This has the potential to completely collapse the fragile ecosystem and cause extinction of very specialized Antarctic mosses.

And you thought peeing in a parking lot was a problem…

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