These tree-climbing goats spread seeds by spitting

Goats climb mountains. Why wouldn’t they climb trees, too? But the sight of a herd of goats perched in a tree like a flock of birds is pretty startling.

It certainly was to biologists traveling through Morocco. “We were astonished to see between 10 and 20 goats regularly climbing thorny [26 to 32 ft tall] argan trees,” they wrote in a study published this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The goats in the area—encouraged by their human herders—were up there eating the small, pulpy fruit whose seeds are crushed to make argan oil, a popular hair treatment.

People tend to root around in manure to find argan seeds for oil extraction, because it’s thought that the digestive system of a goat makes them easier to crack. But the biologists knew that large seeds (like argan, which measures about 0.86 inches long to 0.59 inches wide) don’t often pass through a goat’s digestive system. So they decided to take a closer look into what the goats did with the seeds after eating the fruity flesh.

Herders reported that goats sometimes spat out seeds while chewing their cud—a behavior the researchers had also seen with goats eating olives and the fruit of the dwarf palm in Spain. Goats, like cows, are ruminants: animals that swallow their food, let it ferment in a stomach, and then puke it up to chew it again.

So while the seeds and manure are often found in the same place, it might not be just because the goats are helpfully digesting and then pooping out the precious seeds. It might also be that the goats do, in fact, poop where they eat, and the spat out seeds are getting mixed up with the manure.

Listen, don’t judge. They’re goats. They don’t know any better.

To observe whether or not the goats were spitting the seeds or pooping them, the biologists fed goats fruits with different sized seeds. The seeds contained in the fruits ranged from the relatively large seeds of a dwarf palm fruit (0.64 inches by 0.43 inches) to the relatively…

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