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This brilliant plant pretends to be poop

Dung beetles are known to roll turds around and bury them. They do the same with certain stinky seeds. ( <a href="">Andi Gentsch via Flickr</a> )

You know how some people make a living on their resemblance to a celebrity? Well, this is kind of like that. But the lookalike is a plant, and the celebrity is poop.

[This beetle’s butt is basically a machine gun]

In a study published Monday in Nature Plants, researchers report that the nut seeds of Ceratocaryum argenteum, a South African plant, are probably meant to mimic antelope droppings. Anyone can see that the seeds resemble small turds, but the researchers found that their unusually unpleasant odor actually features some of the same chemicals that scent antelope poo. 

And the plant benefits from this deception: The researchers observed dung beetles -- which are known to roll up balls of feces and save them for later meals -- rolling and burying the seeds as if they were actual fecal matter.

It's an especially impressive example of a plant evolving to rely on an insect for help, because the beetles don't get anything out of the deal — they're just duped into burying "food" they'll never be able to eat, and that will grow into a new plant as a result of their labor. And it's no small thing to trick a dung beetle, because the creatures have a sharp sense of smell.

[More than 300 kinds of spiders pretend to be ants]

“I guess that a mutant individual, which had some chemical on the seed coat, attracted the odd beetle and the seed was buried," study author Jeremy Midgley of the University of Cape Town told Discovery News. "This plant then did very well because fewer seeds were discovered and eaten by small mammals, and that fires damaged fewer of the buried seeds."

However the stinky deception began, it's evolved to be a major win for this plant.

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