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Horse feces (foreground), Horse (background)

Feces, faeces, or fæces (see spelling differences) is a waste product from an animal's digestive tract expelled through the anus (or cloaca) during defecation.


The word faeces is the plural of the Latin word fæx meaning "dregs". There is no singular form in the English language, making it a plurale tantum.[1] There are many colloquial terms for feces, of which some are considered profanity


File:Kasuar fg1.jpg

Cassowaries disperse seeds via their feces.

File:Earthworm faeces.jpg

Earthworm feces aid in provision of minerals and plant nutrients in an accessible form

After an animal has digested eaten material, the remains of it is excreted from its body as waste. Though it is lower in energy than the food it came from, feces may still contain a large amount of energy, often 50% of that of the original food.[2] This means that of all food eaten, a significant amount of energy remains for the decomposers of ecosystems. Many organisms feed on feces, from bacteria to fungi to insects such as dung beetles, which can sense odors from long distances.[3] Some may specialize in feces, while others may eat other foods as well. Feces serve not only as a basic food, but also a supplement to the usual diet of some animals. This is known as coprophagia, and occurs in various animal species such as young elephants eating their mother's feces to gain essential gut flora, or by other animals such as monkeys.

Feces are also important as a signal. Kestrels, for instance, are able to detect the feces of their prey (which reflect ultraviolet), allowing them to identify areas where there are large numbers of voles.

Seeds may also be found in feces. Animals which eat fruit are known as frugivores. The advantage in having fruit for a plant is that animals will eat the fruit and unknowingly disperse the seed in doing so. This mode of seed dispersal is highly successful, as seeds dispersed around the base of a plant are unlikely to succeed and are often subject to heavy predation. Provided the seed can withstand the pathway through the digestive system, it is not only likely to be far away from the parent plant, but is even provided with its own fertilizer.

Organisms which subsist on dead organic matter or detritus are known as detritivores, and play an important role in ecosystems by recycling organic matter back into a simpler form which plants and other autotrophs may once again absorb. This cycling of matter is known as the biogeochemical cycle. To maintain nutrients in soil it is therefore important that feces return to the area from which they came, which is not always the case in human society where food may be transported from rural areas to urban populations and then feces disposed of into a river or sea.

Human feces

Main article: Human feces

In humans, defecation may occur (depending on the individual and the circumstances) from once every two or three days to several times a day. Hardening of the feces may cause prolonged interruption in the routine and is called constipation.

Human fecal matter varies significantly in appearance, depending on diet and health. Normally it is semisolid, with a mucus coating. Its brown coloration comes from a combination of bile and bilirubin, which comes from dead red blood cells.

In newborn babies, fecal matter is initially yellow/green after the meconium. This coloration comes from the presence of bile alone. In time, as the body starts expelling bilirubin from dead red blood cells, it acquires its familiar brown appearance, unless the baby is breast feeding, in which case it remains soft, pale yellowish, and not-unpleasantly scented until the baby begins to eat significant amounts of other food.

Throughout the life of an ordinary human, one may experience many types of feces. A "green" stool is from rapid transit of feces through the intestines (or the consumption of certain blue or green food dyes in quantity), and "clay-like" appearance to the feces is the result of a lack of bilirubin.

Bile overload is very rare, and not a health threat. Problems as simple as serious diarrhea can cause blood in one's stool. Black stools caused by blood usually indicate a problem in the intestines (the black is digested blood), whereas red streaks of blood in stool are usually caused by bleeding in the rectum or anus.

Food may sometimes make an appearance in the feces. Common undigested foods found in human feces are seeds, nuts, corn and beans, mainly because of their high dietary fiber content. Beets may turn feces different hues of red. Artificial food coloring in some processed foods such as highly colorful packaged breakfast cereals can also cause unusual feces coloring if eaten in sufficient quantities.

Laboratory examination of feces, usually termed as stool examination, is done for the sake of diagnosis, for example, to detect presence of parasites and/or their eggs (ova) or to detect disease spreading bacteria.

Personal hygiene

Main article: anal cleansing

All cultures practice some form of personal cleansing after expelling feces.

  • In Western society, the use of toilet paper is widespread.
  • Other paper products were also historically used (before the advent of flush toilets).
  • Several companies market toilet tissue or wipes for babies and campers.
  • In some European countries, the use of a bidet for additional cleaning is common.
  • In South Asia and South-east Asia, showers are provided for use in toilets.
  • In Islam, washing is prescribed by ritual cleansing with water, of which washing of the anus is part of the ablutions. The "act" of passing toilet, in Islam, requires entering the toilet room with left foot first, ritual cleansing with water using the left hand, and stepping out with right foot first,[4] as toilet rooms are considered by Islam "houses of Satan". In many Muslim countries, piped water is supplied inside toilets for both bathing and washing in addition to flushing of fecal matter. Such toilets are also common in Greece, Spain and parts of Eastern Europe.
  • In India, the anus is also washed with water using the left hand. As with all such practices, hand washing after use of the toilet has become a very important public health issue.
  • In England, the Indian toilet was adapted as the WC or water closet and widely deployed in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. London was the stage for several instances of food poisoning resulting from workers handling food after using the toilet. Cleansing of the anus was an arbitrary practice left to personal choice and facility available.
  • In Ancient Rome, a communal sponge was used, which was then rinsed in a bucket of salt water.
  • In Japan, flat sticks were used in ancient times, being replaced by toilet paper as the country became more "Westernized". Toilets that include built-in bidets have now become widely popular in private homes; these can be very sophisticated appliances, allowing users to adjust the temperature, direction and force of water jets, and offering warm air to dry the anus and surrounding regions. The toilet automatically flushes when the buttocks leave the seat.

Bristol Stool Scale

Consistency and shape of stools may be classified medically according to the Bristol Stool Scale.

Pica, a disorder where non-food items are eaten, can cause unusual stool. Intestinal parasites and their ova (eggs) can sometimes be visible to the naked eye.



The molecule hydrogen sulfide contributes to the smell of feces.

The distinctive odor of feces is due to bacterial action. Gut flora produce compounds such as indole, skatole, and thiols (sulfur-containing compounds), as well as the inorganic gas hydrogen sulfide. These are the same compounds that are responsible for the odor of flatulence. Consumption of foods with spices may result in the spices being undigested and adding to the odor of feces. The perceived bad odor of feces has been hypothesized to be a deterrent for humans, as consumption or touching it may result in sickness or infection.[5] Of course, human perception of the odor is a subjective matter; an animal that eats feces may be attracted to its odor. Vegetarian diets produce feces with less odor from the standpoint of human perception than diets containing large amounts of meat, in both human beings and animals; for example, the odor of feces produced by carnivores such as lions or tigers tends to be much stronger than that of feces produced by herbivores such as horses or cows.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


Pets can be trained to use litter boxes or wait to be let out via several methods, such as crate training for dogs. Several companies market carpet cleaning products aimed at pet owners. However pet feces can be cleaned with just dishwashing detergent or liquid soap.[6]


Human feces may be used as fertilizer (See also: Humanure) in the form of biosolids (treated sewage sludge). The feces of animals is often used as fertilizer; see manure and guano. Some animal feces, especially those of the camel, bison and cow, is used as fuel when dried out.[7] Animal dung, besides being used as fuel, is occasionally used as a cement to make adobe mudbrick huts[8] or even in throwing sports such as cow pat throwing or camel dung throwing contests.[9] Kopi Luwak (pronounced ˈkopi ˈluwak), or Civet coffee, is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).

See also Fewmets for the use of faeces in Venery, or Hunting in the Middle Ages

Animal feces

The feces of non-human animals often have special names. For example:

  • Non-human animals generally –
    • As bulk material – dung
    • Individually – droppings
  • Cattle
    • Bulk material – cow dung
    • Individual droppings – cow pats, meadow muffins etc.
    • Figuratively – bullshit
  • Deer (and formerly other quarry animals) – fewmets.
  • Wild carnivores – scat.
  • Otterspraint.
  • Birds (individual) – droppings (also include urine as white crystals of uric acid).
  • Seabirds or bats (large accumulations) – guano.
  • Herbivorous insects, such as caterpillars and leaf beetles – frass.
  • Earthworms, lugworms etc – worm casts (feces extruded at ground surface).
  • Feces when used as fertilizer (usually mixed with animal bedding and urine) – manure.

See also



  1. Feces definition - Medical Dictionary definitions of popular medical terms easily defined on MedTerms.
  2. Biology (4th edition) N.A.Campbell (Benjamin Cummings NY, 1996) ISBN 0-8053-1957-3
  3. Heinrich B, Bartholomew GA (1979). The ecology of the African dung beetle. Scientific American 241: 146–56.
  4. Protection From Toilet Jinns?
  5. Curtis V, Aunger R, Rabie T (May 2004). Evidence that disgust evolved to protect from risk of disease. Proc. Biol. Sci. 271 Suppl 4: S131–3.
  6. Cleaning Tips. The Partnership for Animal Welfare.
  7. Dried Camel Dung as fuel.
  8. Your Home Technical Manual - 3.4d Construction Systems - Mud Brick (Adobe). URL accessed on 2007-07-09.
  9. Dung Throwing contests.

Further reading

  • Laporte, Dominique G. (2002). History of Shit (Documents Book), Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

External links

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