When’s the last time you considered how certain unavoidable bodily functions tie the animal world together? Well, today we’re discussing one of them: urine.

There are a few animals that use this waste in surprisingly innovative ways for their survival, and as it turns out, we can as well!

Image: stump that looks like a toilet

Source: Pixabay

Let’s begin with a frog. A wood frog to be exact. Unlike most of their hopping cousins living in cold climates, they don’t disappear under the frozen water throughout the winter, but instead, the wood frogs of North America burrow themselves in leaves and let themselves freeze solid.

How do they do this and avoid both frostbite and death? That’s exactly what’s been stumping researchers and scientists for years. Apparently, months before the freeze comes upon them, the wood frogs begin eating ferociously, storing up the sugar compound, glucose, and their urine. The urea (what makes up urine aside from water 1) becomes a part of their bloodstream, and as their cells are under threat of losing all of their water and collapsing (which causes frostbite 2)… well, this video can explain it better than I can.

Okay, so there’s the first use: homemade antifreeze.

Brown bears take a similar approach in the way that they store up their urine before the deep sleep. They hibernate a bit differently than most animals. While most everyone else is doing what’s called “deep hibernation” — waking up from every week or so to nibble from their food storage and to relieve themselves 4, bears don’t do anything but breathe for up to 6 months. Here’s NPR with the insights…

Via: NPR 5

They’re able to safely recycle all of those nutrients that normally would be expelled from the body! Think of what could be possible for humans in the future if scientists are able to figure out how bears are able to do this and maintain their internal temperature and muscle mass. The universe may end up feeling a bit smaller, but more attainable!

Alright, we’ve covered a few of the interesting adaptations in the natural world (if you’d like to see a few more, check out how the Dorcas Gazelle and the Road Runner have adapted)…

but what can we do with our urine?

Well, there seems to be a slew of options for us to choose from, but let’s focus on this one: fertilizer.

In an article from Modern Farmer, they reported on the practices of Rich Earth Institute, an organization in Brattleboro, Vermont who collected thousands of gallons of urine from local residents to use as a natural fertilizer instead of using chemicals (no need to dilute!)

Image: Hay bails in field, fertilizer is one of the many potential uses for urine.

Source: pxhere

“Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — essential plant nutrients that are usually mined from the earth or the air for agricultural use. In collecting human urine, Rich Earth is diverting the same chemicals from waterways to farms, making a potentially harmful substance a boon to crop production.” 6

When it came to testing if it would actually work, they would need some help from farmers in their area.

“Jay Bailey, who owns and operates Fair Wind Farms with his wife Janet Bailey, volunteered a few hay fields for the initial stages of the project in 2012.

He spread a urine solution from the Brattleboro volunteers over the crops from a horse-drawn applicator and, come harvest time, observed that urine-treated fields were twice as productive as unfertilized controls.” 7

Interested in knowing more? Here’s their research.

Who knew urine could be so useful when saved from the drain! See what else it can help us out in this article from a few weeks ago…

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  1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Urea.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/science/urea>.
  2. NHS Choices. NHS, n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/frostbite/#what-causes-frostbite>.
  3. “Frogsicles: Frozen But Still Alive.” YouTube. Smithsonian Channel, 18 June 2015. Web. 19 Dec. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLPeehsXAr4>.
  4. Hibernation. The Pennsylvania State University, 12 Jan. 2009. Web. 27 Dec. 2017. <http://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/winter/hibernation.htm>.
  5. Palca, Joe. National Public Radio. NPR, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2017. <https://www.npr.org/2011/02/18/133849231/hibernating-bears-a-metabolic-marvel>.
  6. Brasch, Sam. “Can Human Urine Replace Chemical Fertilizers?” Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2017. <https://modernfarmer.com/2014/01/human-pee-proven-fertilizer-future/>.
  7. Brasch, Sam. “Can Human Urine Replace Chemical Fertilizers?” Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2017. <https://modernfarmer.com/2014/01/human-pee-proven-fertilizer-future/>.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.