Do other species carry things in their bodily orifices?
August 22, 2011 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Are we the only species that transports items in our body cavities?

A friend and I were recently discussing the human tradition of conveying drugs or other contraband items in their anuses or (if available) vaginas, and the conversation circled around to other animals. I'm not really sure how to Google this, since other creatures wouldn't have a concept of smuggling things illegally across borders, but is there another species that uses its below-the-waist orifices to carry things? Marsupial pouches don't count. I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, a lot of bees have pollen baskets, which are orifices of a sort.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2011

The Janitor Fish carries its huge key ring in its abdominal pouch....

I made that up. Other than carrying food (chipmunks?) or babies (in egg form), I can't think of what an animal would carry "hidden."

I sometimes see slugs around here (PacNW) who seem to have stuck dirt and sticks to a part of their body in an attempt, I'm guessing, at blending in. I've seen it enough times that I don't think it's an accident. But, that's sort of different.
posted by amanda at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pelicans and many other birds transport fish and other food back to their young in the nest using their beak pouches and even their gullets; many birds regularly regurgitate eaten, partly digested meals to young in the nest, after a specific set of "feed me" behaviors by the young.

But closer to your point, some species of penguins (emperors) insulate their eggs from frozen ground with their feet, for months, and settle over the egg with their lower bellies and ventral slits to incubate it. They turn it regularly to even out the incubation heat, and even do a modified "walk" with the egg held between the tops of their flipper like feet, and their bodies, so as to move around in the flock while continuing incubation of the egg.
posted by paulsc at 8:49 AM on August 22, 2011

Well, we're also the only species that has an incentive to hide contraband at all. Contraband does not apply unless there are laws, and punishment, and rewards for doing it anyway.

Other animals have no such concept. They'll carry things in their orifices if it's convenient to do so (see: chipmunks and hamsters for example), but there's no incentive to HIDE anything from other animals that isn't food or babies and it is contraindicated to shove either of those in a cavity where there are feces or other bodily waste.
posted by lydhre at 8:50 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ooh, I thought of one! Listen to this story from RadioLab about Fu Manchu, a orangutan who hid a tool from his zookepers.
posted by amanda at 8:50 AM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Lydhre's comment reminded me that one of our German Shepard dogs growing up used to spit out her heart worm pill and then cover it with her paw to hide it from us. Very funny and very smart. Our cat also has an uncanny ability to hold a pill in his mouth for way longer than you would think and then spit it out when we let him go.

What am I still doing in this thread? Too much coffee....
posted by amanda at 8:54 AM on August 22, 2011

Chipmunks have internal cheek pouches that help them store and carry food!
posted by zizzle at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Female kangaroos can "store" an embryo in their uterus in sort of suspended animation until during say droughts until times get better.
posted by wwax at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2011

I am the friend in question. We're specifically interested in examples involving the anus or vagina, because humans share those features. (Still haven't located my pollen baskets yet.)

I figured few animals have a concept of "hiding", but that some would probably have figured out circumstances when it was necessary or desirable to transport objects in this way. The Fu Manchu story is definitely the most helpful so far.
posted by hermitosis at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our third grade hamster got its dumb ass stuck in its hamster tubing because it crammed its mouth so full of food. She was trying to bring the food up to a little crow's nest tubing attachment. We thought for sure she'd wiggle her way free, but after an hour of death squeaking and flailing (during which she didn't open her mouth at all to spit out any food), we finally realized we'd have to dismantle the tubing and get her out. Stupid hamster.

But I would put rodents on the list of animals who transport stuff in their bodies.
posted by phunniemee at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2011

Peach face love birds will tuck nesting materials in amongst their tail feathers to take back to the nest. Though they don't really hide it and it looks cute when they have lots of newspaper shreds in there.
posted by wwax at 8:57 AM on August 22, 2011

Plenty of animals carry eggs or their young of course. Many can consume and secrete food.

This is a recent story about a species of rat that licks a poisonous bark and can then store the poison in specially evolved hairs to poison anything which tries to eat it.
posted by biffa at 8:58 AM on August 22, 2011

Other than carrying food (chipmunks?) or babies (in egg form), I can't think of what an animal would carry "hidden."

There is a type of fish that carries its hatched young form. But that's in the mouth so that's not quite your search.

This isn't "below the waist," but "on the back" -- the female Surinam toad (warning: ICKY IMAGE towards bottom of screen) also carries its fertilized eggs in pouches on its back and the young hatch into tadpoles, gestate through that phase, and then emerge as fully-formed frogs. (That would be the "icky image" I warned about.)

You may be running into problems with the "specifically the anus or vagina" in some cases as not every animal has that, of course...unless you're counting the cloaca, which is kind of both.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on August 22, 2011

What's this 'we'?

I think the answer is 'we' are the only species (with a few minor exceptions) who use tools. the fact that sometimes some people utilize anuses and vaginae for purposes which are different than the common use is much more about human brains than it is about orifices. No other animal has brains like us, no other animal will use their anus as a makeshift tool.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:58 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might get some value out of looking at the literature on mating or copulatory plugs and squirrels. Mating plugs are a plug which forms in the vaginal opening as a result of male ejaculate. The general goal is though to be blockage of the channel to prevent further male insemination, but there are quite a few species where this is not achieved and IIRC there are some species of squirrel where the females have learned to remove the plug.
posted by biffa at 9:05 AM on August 22, 2011

Sea Horse males will store the fertilized eggs and even babies. Many fish will hid babies in their mouths.

Duck vaginas are like mazes so prevent the rapist ducks sperm from impregnating them.
posted by Napierzaza at 9:18 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if you dismiss things like marsupial pouches, then yes, we probably are the only species that does this as this is arguably tool use. Tool use in other animals isn't uncommon but I imagine tool use to get around a social problem is very uncommon. Heck, its uncommon in humans.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:22 AM on August 22, 2011

It's not exactly well-documented, but the internet (and QI) claim that bears will make a tappet or tompion out of dirt and saliva to plug up their rears before hibernating.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:30 AM on August 22, 2011

I think the answer is 'we' are the only species (with a few minor exceptions) who use tools.

Sorry, but this is an outdated notion and not considered accurate today. Also, what you were describing is not really what tool use is all about.

Gorillas will sometimes carry things in the hollow where their thigh meets their abdomen. I've seen similar behavior from chimps and bonobos also, tucking objects in between their leg and body to carry them while locomoting to keep their hands free.
posted by illenion at 9:42 AM on August 22, 2011

What about birds who feed their young the semi-digested contents of their stomachs?

I would argue that the stomach in that situation is akin to a shopping bag.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2011

Alligators (or was it crocodiles?) transport their young hatchlings in their mouths, a behaviour that was mistaken for cannibalism until relatively recently.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2011

The Surinam toad carries her hatchlings embedded in the skin of her back.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:55 AM on August 22, 2011

Link to the wiki on the surinam toad. Don't scroll down if you are easily squicked.
posted by annsunny at 10:40 AM on August 22, 2011

posted by blue_beetle at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2011

If you're interested in animal tool use generally then look up New Caledonian Crows, apparently the only aminal outside humans and great apes who can make tools and innovate them to suit their needs.
posted by biffa at 2:48 PM on August 22, 2011

Rules lawyering - many plant species depend on animals carrying their seeds in their anus. They do this by having delicious fruit outside and indigestible seeds inside. It also helps that bird digestive tracts are fairly short (carrying partially digested food makes it harder to fly) so their digestion is fairly ineffective.
posted by plinth at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2011

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