In the late 1970s, a team of researchers doing a geological survey of Australia found a kind of crystal that they’d never seen before. They grabbed some and studied it, and eventually named it moolooite. Then they found out it was made by bird crap.

These researchers were taking a geological survey of Mooloo Downs in Australia when they found long lines of quartz deposits. Quartz is pretty, but common; it happens whenever silicon-rich earth meets a pocket of oxygen. The two elements blend together into a white, shiny, semi-translucent crystal.

Advertisement

This quartz was a little different. In its crevices it had deposits of a strange, sandy-looking aquamarine crystals. Grabbing a sample, they analyzed the substance and found that it wasn’t completely unlike anything they’d ever known – just unlike anything made in nature. The basic structure seemed to be two alternating layers of material. One layer consisted of positively charged copper ions, while the next was a negatively charged grouping of some carbon and a lot of oxygen. Add just a little water and voila! The combination was something like what had been synthesized in various labs, but had never been shown to occur naturally.

The geologists searched for what kind of technology could have synthesized this in the wild, and found only one likely candidate – bird poop. Bird crap contains a high level of phosphates, a grouping of atoms in which phosphorous is paired with a lot of oxygen and some hydrogen. Birds perched on the quartz formations and did what birds do; it collected in the crevices and somehow, due to the conditions in that part of Australia, formed rather pretty crystals that had never been formed in nature before.

Advertisement

Some argue that lichens in the area might have been responsible for the moolooite, rather than the birds. We might get a chance to find out — it’s possible that some moolooite has been found outside a mining facility in France. Either French birds or French lichens could give us the answer.

Top Image: Brisbane City Council

Moolooite Image: Mindat

Via Mineralogical Magazine twice.