Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Candy Balls....Or are they?

In the middle of a hot desert, few hungry gold miners stumbled upon some naturally growing candies. When they licked it they tasted sweet. The miners started eating the sweet candy-like things until they felt nauseated. Soon, to their horror, they realised what they just ate.

This story of gold miners is from mid-19th century Nevada.

Those sweet candy-like things were actually packrat middens!

Now let me explain what that means.

Packrats are large rodents that constructs ball-shaped debris piles called middens. Middens are used to built their den. They consists of plant fragments, small rocks, dungs, bones, food remains and their own feces.

But why sweet candies?

This is the interesting part. The naughty rodents urinate on their own den. The sugars, along with other things, crystallize from the urine on the top of the middens, making it sweet. The hard sugar coating also helps in binding the middens and preserve the materials inside.

Midden is derived from the word 'mess'. They did mess with the poor gold miners. Packrat poop and urine for dinner! Yummy!

The middens are actually important pieces of mess. Under right (dry) conditions they can can be preserved for ~50,000 years. Geologists, palaeontologists to be precise, love them. They are like libraries that preserve the climate information, flora and fauna of the past. Important shit these.

1] Collapse by Jared Diamond, Penguin India, 2011
2] Wiki

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