Why are bird droppings so hard to remove from buildings? Uric acid.
Why are they white and pasty? Uric acid.
Why are they corrosive to car paint and metal structures? Uric acid.
These answers are based on the prevailing wisdom that ranks uric acid as the primary ingredient in bird “poop,” which is comprised mostly of urine. (Birds release both solid and liquid waste at the same time. The white substance is the urine).
But according to Nick Crouch, a scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, uric acid can’t be the answer. That’s because there is no uric acid in excreted bird urine.
And after analyzing the excretions from six different bird species — from the Great Horned Owl to the humble chicken — he’s pretty positive of that statement…
Crouch said that this research opens the door to new research questions, from the power of the bird microbiome to identifying the two unknown substances. He said that most of all, it shows the value of taking the time to question conventional wisdom. Paper. (paywall) (paywall) Nicholas M. A. Crouch, Vincent M. Lynch, Julia A. Clarke. A re-evaluation of the chemical composition of avian urinary excreta. Journal of Ornithology, 2019; DOI: 10.1007/s10336-019-01692-5More.
The main thing to see here is that we just assumed that there was a lot of uric acid in bird droppings. No one tested it.
Here’s a truism (but that doesn’t make it any less true): Incurious certainty is the most serious enemy of new discoveries.
See also: Intelligent Design And Ecology: Environmental Change Via Biosphere Feedback Mechanisms: Sarah Mims, daughter of Forrest (one of 50 best brains in science) Mims discovered a couple of years ago, that fungus spores travel on smoke from forest fires, establishing themselves in non-burnt-out zones. Here’s more. Sarah Mims has the unusual distinction of being the lead author of a science paper* while still in high school. (Sarah A. Mims and Forrest M. Mims III, Fungal spores are transported long distances in smoke from biomass fires, Atmospheric Environment 38, 651-655 (2004).)
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