Brains for shit.
November 23, 2010 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Do Zombies poop?

Being undead, I'm not suggesting that their GI systems still work. Do they bloat after a binge and then slowly rot and shrink?
posted by schyler523 to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
That's like asking what the world's longest imaginary street is, isn't it?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:30 AM on November 23, 2010 [15 favorites]

Well, it isn't addressed in most literature but I'm sure that there are several authors or zombie aficianados that have considered the problem or will consider it now. I don't think that it is completely ridiculous as a question.
posted by schyler523 at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2010

Depends who is writing them. There's no canonical "zombie." 28 Days Later zombies (yes, "infected", whatever) would almost definitely need to get rid of waste. The Walking Dead zombies, who can survive with only their upper halves? Probably not.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a point of reference, the zombies in Left 4 Dead puke- maybe they binge and purge.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2010

This really depends on what you define to be a zombie.

A classic undead zombie (Night of the Living Dead, and the like) would not poop. Their bodies are dead, only a part of the brain remains alive and animates the body. The zombie's bio functions cease to well, function. There is no healing, no breathing (except by habit, perhaps), no circulation, no digestion. They stuff themselves with food (read: your brains and flesh) until they are bloated, or might even split themselves open.

If the zombie in question is of another origin, is not really dead, or whatever other variations might exist in creatures we refer to as zombies... then this explanation might not apply.
posted by utsutsu at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2010

Undead, in general, do not poop. See here: Anus Shades.
posted by The otter lady at 10:47 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

[Folks, please either treat it as a literary question about existing canon or source material or skip the thread. No need for the lulzy non-answers.]
posted by cortex at 10:51 AM on November 23, 2010

Depends. If your "zombies" are really just people infected with something, then yeah, probably. They've still got active metabolisms. But if they're reanimated corpses, i.e. truly undead, then probably not. They wouldn't need to breathe either.

FWIW, the latter are what most genre authors seem to mean when they talk about zombies. The former are a relatively recent innovation.
posted by valkyryn at 10:55 AM on November 23, 2010

There's no canonical "zombie." 28 Days Later zombies (yes, "infected", whatever) would almost definitely need to get rid of waste.

They definitely will-- 28 Days Later 'zombies' are still alive human beings. Their physiology isn't changed, only their personalities.

Romero-type zombies are just body-shaped meat with brain stems. Their circulatory systems don't function, they don't need to breathe (they've been spotted underwater), and thus it stands to reason that any food ingested would just sit in their stomachs or as far down in the GI tract as gravity would take it. You may need to consult a physician or medical examiner who can tell you the state of the various GI sphincters after death to figure out how far down that is, but I highly doubt anything would get all the way to the rectum.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:03 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dr-Baa, the "zombies" in Left 4 Dead are living humans infected with a rabies-like virus. If they eat—which I'm not entirely sure they do—then they would almost certainly need to eliminate waste.

As for classic zombies, I'm with valkyryn. They may be animated corpses, but they're still corpses. They're decomposing, for Pete's sake; I think it's safe to say all biological processes have ceased.
posted by Zozo at 11:03 AM on November 23, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead (Amazon) asserts that zombies do not retain the digestive functions of living humans:

(p. 11-12) "Recent evidence has once and for all discounted the theory that human flesh is the fuel for the undead. A zombie's digestive tract is completely dormant. The complex system that processes food, extracts nutrition, and excretes waste does not factor into a zombie's physiology. Autopsies conducted on neutralized undead have shown that their 'food' lies in its original, undigested state at all sections of the tract. This partially chewed, slowly rotting matter will continue to accumulate, as the zombie devours more victims, until it is forced through the anus, or literally bursts through the stomach or intestinal lining. While this more dramatic example of non-digestion is rare, hundreds of eyewitness reports have confirmed undead to have distended bellies. One captured and dissected specimen was found to contain 211 pounds of flesh within its system! Even rarer accounts have confirmed that zombies continue to feed long after their digestive tracts have exploded from within."
posted by prinado at 11:10 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

The general idea about zombies is that their autonomic nervous system has shut down — this is pretty much what we mean by "dead" — so their hearts are not beating, they're not breathing or sweating or lubricating their eyes (which goes a long way to explaining their bad mood). Without peristalsis, the flesh they eat will not move through their intestines to their colon, so no, they won't poop.

Being undead, I'm not suggesting that their GI systems still work.

Being alive, I'm suggesting that this is the best dangling participle ever.

posted by nicwolff at 11:13 AM on November 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

1) Zombies need nutrition and are not kept alive purely by evil magic
2) Zombies get nutrition more or less the same way the living do, by eating & absorbing nutrients in the stomach.
3) Cranial lesion information from the living can be used to diagnose damaged areas in the undead.

While I'm sure there's a lot of debate in the literary field, this medical student is fairly sure that so long as Zombies ingest matter and gain nutrition from it, they will have to excrete it through their bowels. The vomiting L4D zombies can't have absorbed much nutrition, as there's not a whole lot of absorption in the stomach-- most absorption takes place after you're through the duodenum. This would make L4D zombies INVALID ZOMBIES.

Further, judging by zombie behavior (aggression, ataxia, aphasia, problems with gait and higher-order processing), we might expect to see lesions in the prefrontal cortex (aggression/personality), Broca's and Wernicke's areas (speech production and comprehension), and either the primary/supplementary motor corticies or (more likely) the cerebellum (ataxia, shuffling gait). That zombies don't seem to sleep might indicate a mid-pontine lesion, but that would take away a lot of the higher-order predation functions that most zombies exhibit, so I'd chalk the insomnia up to some thalamic issue-- maybe underactive VLPO.

So we can assume a sick brain. The thing is: the brain isn't totally in control of the digestive system. Distal esophagus and down are controlled largely by the enteric nervous system, which is an incredibly complex processing network (and only modulated by the CNS). Thus, even with a sick brain the zombies would most likely have normal excretory habits, albeit without the conscious sphincter control (CNS) exhibited by most of us living folk.

Your answer, then, is yes. Zombies poop. The probably also pee. It's likely that they're doing these things almost constantly. This isn't to say that the zombies can't have digestive issues that would prevent them from pooping, and I'd get more into zombie gastrointestinal pathology, but that's next year's course and I really don't want to speculate on zombie constipation. Anyway, I hope this helped and please wish me luck on tomorrow's neuro exam.
posted by The White Hat at 11:20 AM on November 23, 2010 [29 favorites]

Awesome question! Watching the new Walking Dead series, I have actually started thinking about these things. I think they maybe don't even swallow, just rip and gnaw. If they don't have a functioning digestive system, it's not like they're feeling hunger so consuming brains isn't actually going to satisfy them. So maybe eating is like a vestigial instinct, they do it, but without any real physical motivation to. Also it's a form of attack and as such actual consumption isn't necessary. If they do swallow I think they'd split.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2010

//begin feed//

I'll take it you're referring to the common zombie, and not any of its variants.

The common zombie is driven by hunger, and in rare cases, residual memories coinciding with extremely strong base emotions.

It can control simple muscle movements in the search of a target, but any complex movements requiring use of involuntary processes in the body are thankfully outside of a common zombie's capabilities. This includes exercises such as traversing extremely rough terrain, climbing, leaping, or jumping. The involuntary processes behind these movements such as balance, muscle group synchronization and depth perception are far beyond even a newly deadened zombie.

While most of the research being conducted at the few remaining facilities, including this one, have been obviously focused on current zombie motor capabilities, with secondary testing being done for any cases showing anything greater than an animal's intelligence, some of this research has shown that all involuntary processes within the body cease to function. This includes, blinking, breathing, danger/pain aversion, and digestion.

It appears that the common zombie loses any natural, or hard-wired, control over all organs, which makes any non-lethal attempts to subdue or capture zombies highly dangerous and ineffective. It is highly suggested to use deadly force with any encountered subjects, regardless of any humans who may be in the unfortunate proximity of weaponry.

With direct regards to your question, I have personally seen many zombies being studied in the feeding chamber, gorge themselves on the test subjects until the meat encounters a blockage or some other unpassable region of their digestive tract, and although the meat is not able to be swallowed any longer, their hunger continues unabated until the subjects are deceased. It appears once deceased, the subjects' meat is no longer of any interest to the common zombie.

If you are interested in witnessing this feeding, perhaps for your own research, feel free to memail me and I can arrange a heli.... hold on, one moment, someone won't stop banging on the office door, I'll be back in a jiffy to give you my gmail....


//feed timed out due to inactivity//

//end feed//
posted by Debaser626 at 11:24 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Common topic ("do zombies X?") of discussion in my household.

Our most recent consensus is that if the body is working, then a zombie will have bodily functions. But the digestive system doesn't do anything without the circulatory system. Does the zombie in question bleed? Then it may also be able to digest.

If the zombie does not bleed, then its body doesn't function, and nothing happens to any matter that the zombie ingests. How do the muscles continue to move? Um, a wizard did it.
posted by galadriel at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2010

Oh man do I love me some zombies. We even have a facebook group for appalachians preparing for the zombie-pocalypse.

Anyway, while there is no "canonical" zombie, I/we really, really enjoy conversations about the medical possibilities *behind* "infection, and what they mean in terms of treatment/speed/brain function, etc. Books like "Patient Zero" do a good job addressing this, and for Vampires, Guillermo Del Toro's "The Strain" series does a good job as well.

Anyway, so let's address your question and I'm sure some other people with more knowledge than I can chime in sometime.

Let's look at vectors:
*Viral. A virus is capable of rapid reproduction and could easily be spread by blood-to-blood contact. It could, depending on its vector, cause interference with neurological process. It could not, *probably* take over motor control of the host subject. Such a vector could be custom made for mass destruction. This vector would absolutely be slave to its host in that it would die when the host died. If the blood stopped pumping and the oxygen stopped dissolving, it would die too.

*Bacterial. A bacterial/fungal infection could pretty well be spread in the same ways, but we'd have to assume that it would be more treatable, and may likely not spread as quickly. Also, it won't mutate as fast or be able to lie dormant very well. While it wouldn't necessarily die with the host, and could possibly explain the necrotization of flesh, it still would want to extract as much nutrient from the host as possible, likely meaning that a "dead" zombie would very quickly turn to bone.

*Parasitic--Think a tiny worm or something, breathed in, eaten, transferred, whatever. This is my personal favorite vector, because not only could it spread FAST, but it would explain the zombie-effect, parasites have already demonstrated an ability to turn their sycophant into a machine existing entirely to do its bidding, such as the caterpillar or the Caribbean living-dead thing. Parasites wouldn't REALLY care even if the host WAS alive, as they could potentially hijack the central nervous system. They wouldn't need bloodflow, positive pressure in the circulatory system, or a working brain. I like to imagine a brain-stem worm, and all he cares about is something IN blood. He loves hemoglobin, or he loves oxygenated iron, or something. That's his food source. So, he infects once, and begins reproducing, dropping himself into the saliva, or into the blood/bile/whatever, he can make the jaws ooze if he wants to, and he has the host go about biting anyone he can. Of course the flesh is being eaten, but it doesn't necessarily go to the stomach. Or just because it's being stored in the stomach, it doesn't mean it's being digested. Perhaps the adult parasite is a very long worm that eats from his head and controls your nervous system from his tail dendrites. You know? Who knows. I mean, bastard could even leak fluids that could slip in between your DNA if he wanted to. I mean, he's a parasite. Theoretically, you could be DEAD and he could still make you move, especially as he broke down your body into raw sugars and let your muscles burn themselves apart.

There are other theories too, like an induced psychotic state, but that's stupid in my book. Few of the other theories are any good from my perspective. I try to avoid the "supernatural" or "demonic" or "alien" or whatever, because, well, this is SCIENCE! With an Exclamation Point.

Anyway---so if it's a virus or a bacterium, we can assume that it needs your parathetic and sympathetic nervous system to sustain itself. The eaten flesh is going SOMEWHERE, and it has to be getting something from it. Whether or not the flesh is being digested...who knows, probably so. If it wasn't, surely the zombie would explode from the buildup of solids/gasses. Likely not so much of a poop but more of a persistent foul dribble.

Whereas with a parasite, well we've got tons of options. Since you can be dead, all he has to do is get rid of his OWN waste. Sure, he can do it through your bowels, but that's a long convoluted trip. He'd probably just burrow out your front. Gasses, well you've already got a great one way valve for that, you just persistently burp out sulfurous, nasty clouds every time the pressure needed relieved. Especially because bowels need positive pressure to push gas downwards (gas wants to float, right), you probably wouldn't be farting much, again it's a convoluted path and he wouldn't want to waste any energy. It is entirely likely that he could be colonizing your bowels with his eggs/offspring/spores/whatever, and when you finally burst open/crack open/fall down/whatever, they could be released...but that's not likely because they're going to want warm and moist, and probably dark.

So that's a start, anyway. Hope it was helpful.
posted by TomMelee at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Vomit figures prominently in much of Zombie lore and depictions. YMMV.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:39 PM on November 23, 2010

The following is purely based on my own experience with zombies in books and movies.

I don't think that zombies poop because zombies don't really eat. If they did eat, they would have periods of satiety that would render them less of a threat. Still scary, but scary in a tiger kind of way rather than a supernatural kind of way.

The terrifying thing about zombies is that they have a never ending hunger for brains and/or other human flesh. This hunger seems to be eternal because zombies are not actually physically consuming people, but more supernaturally consuming them. Zombies are undead and they hunger for life, thus they attempt to "eat" your brains, organs, etc. However, this does not solve their problem of being undead and thus they are forever in search of the next live, warm body. What happens to the actual physical human matter seems to be more supernatural rather than eat, digest, poop. It would be like vampires peeing blood all of the time since that's all they consume. I don't really think that would be the case.

If the issue was creepy sick people with a horrible virus eating you/infecting you, it would be scary for sure but it would eventually be containable. These "zombies" would probably poop. In my opinion, the really horrifying/fascinating thing about true zombies is that there is a supernatural element present that deals with what it means to be truly dead or alive, and it is something that cannot be contained.

Fun question :)
posted by delicate_dahlias at 2:29 PM on November 23, 2010

For clarification, I should have added that I do not believe in anything supernatural whatsoever. This is all speculation. :)
posted by delicate_dahlias at 2:33 PM on November 23, 2010

Just because the zombie is dead doesn't mean the wee beasties in its stomach are as well. I'm no expert on digestion, but assuming whatever the zombie eats eventually makes its way to the stomach and intestines, wouldn't the stomach acids and bacteria in them break down the food at least somewhat?
posted by EatenByAGrue at 3:28 PM on November 23, 2010

1. I've noted that most zombies, despite their apparent voraciousness, actually eat very little of those they attack. When whole groups of zombies take down a victim via ingestion, when the victim returns in zombie form there is still quite a lot of them left. Ditto for discarded non-returning victims left lying about - one never sees a skeleton, just body parts that have been vigorously nibbled.
2. Zombies are usually seen to be actively decaying. As any fan of forensic science knows, decay is largely a process of our own digestive bacteria, set free from the confines of our digestive organs by the natural cellular breakdown that occurs after death.

Thus I have concluded that a) any given zombie will eat only as much as is required to top up their zombie battery at any given moment with little to no extra matter to be excreted and b) what little excreta may exist is dissolved by the freely proliferating digestive/decompositional organisms into gas and sludge. The gas produced creates the famous eau de Zombie, while the sludge is often seen oozing from the mouths and chest wounds of active zombies.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:04 PM on November 23, 2010

Why not...

During the incubation phase (if there is one) yes, but the host isn't usually a zombie at that point. After that it depends on which species we're talking about...

Ampulex compressa/Cockroach - No, they're gone once zoombiefied.
Glyptapanteles/Caterpillar - No, it stops feeding.
Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga/Plesiometa argyra - Not likely during less than one day active control phase.
Plagiorhynchus cylindraceus/Armadillidium vulgare - Unlikely to last long enough to tell.
Ophiocordyceps/ants - Stops eating so unlikely.
Pseudacteon */ants - Stops doing everything, including eating, so unlikely.
Dicrocoelium dendriticum/ants - Possibly as it sounds like they live out their life normally except at night.
Myrmeconema neotropicum/ants - Still foraging (though sluggish) so yes, probably.
Leucochloridium paradoxum/Snails - Yes, but not sure if this is a true zombie since the worms just manipulate the snail's "eyes".
Sacculina carcini/Crabs - Yes, but also not sure if this is a true zombie since they just make the crab hungry.
Toxoplasma gondii/Various, including humans - yep, though the infected and those around them may not know they have been zombiefied, they are to a degree, and still carry on eating and such too.
posted by jwells at 12:59 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Belated, I do.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:45 AM on February 9, 2011

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