Wombat intestines are approximately 10-metres long, ten-times the length of a typical wombat’s body.
When humans eat, food items travel through the gut in a matter of a day or two. A wombat’s digestive process takes up to four times as long so it can extract all the nutritional content possible. They are also more efficient at extracting water from the intestine, with their faeces a third dryer than humans.
The results could be used to help inform wombat digestive health when in captive management.
"Cube formation can help us understand the hydration status of wombats, as their faeces can appear less cubed in wetter conditions. It also shows how intestinal stiffening can produce smooth sides as a feature of pathology," Dr Carver said.
"Now we understand how these cubes are formed, but there is still much to be learned about wombat behaviour to fully understand why they evolved to produce cubes in the first place."
Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, added that the research could have a number of uses. "We know, for example, that one of the early symptoms of colon cancer is that part of the colon can become stiff. It’s possible then that this form an edge or unusual shape in the faeces and could be an early indicator about the health of the colon.
"I don’t know if people will be interested in cubic sausages in future, but this could change the way we shape soft matter, or how we can manipulate soft robots, in future."
Laura Ghandhi, Development Editor of Soft Matter from the Royal Society of Chemistry said: "This is a terrific example of how cross-discipline research and a passion for questioning everything can yield surprising and useful results. It also shows how creative approaches in science can inspire and ignite a passion for research that lasts a lifetime."
The team of Australian and US scientists were awarded an Ig Nobel prize for "research that makes you laugh then think" in 2019.