Chuck Shepherd

"Field work is always challenging," explained Courtney Marneweck of South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal in a recent journal article, but studying the sociology of a white rhino's dung meant developing a "pattern-recognition algorithm" to figure out "smell profiles" of 150 animals' feces — after tracking them individually to observe them in the act. Wrote Marneweck, "I think my record for waiting for a rhino to poo was 7½ hours." Conclusion: Rhinos use feces to send distinct social signals on genetically compatible herds, mating access and predator dangers. Or, in the Los Angeles Times "clickbait" version of the story, rhino dung "has a lot in common with a Facebook post."

Doughnut fix

Doughnut lovers have mused for years how U.S. law could condemn, say, marijuana, yet permit Krispy Kreme to openly sell its seemingly addictive sugary delights on America's streets. Sonia Garcia, 51, realized a while back that residents of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, so much needed Krispy Kreme fixes that she earns a handsome living running a black market from El Paso, Texas, bringing in 40 boxes at a time and reselling from the trunk of her car at a 60 percent markup, pointing out to a Los Angeles Times reporter in January that her trafficking has already put one son through engineering school. Mexico City now has Krispy Kremes, but apparently the company's distribution system cannot yet vanquish Garcia's car.

Least competent criminal

Joshua Concepcion-West, 27, was arrested in Apopka, Fla., with an ingenious license-plate cover that he could raise and lower remotely from his key chain (thus avoiding identification by cameras as he passed through turnpike checkpoints). On Jan. 11 at a $1.25 toll plaza, he had neglected to check his rearview mirror before lowering the cover — and failed to notice that right behind him was a Florida Highway Patrol car with a trooper watching the whole thing.

Right to be grumpy

Trader Joe's has gained popularity among grocery shoppers in large part by having relentlessly sunny employees, but now that the firm has expanded from mellower California to more brusque New York City, it is learning that cheerfulness is harder to find. The company fired Thomas Nagle recently because, though he said he frequently smiled, he was told his smile was insufficiently "genuine," and, backed by several colleagues, he has filed an unfair labor practice charge. The National Labor Relations Board has already ruled against another employer that workers cannot be forced to convey that all-important "positive work environment" because they are entitled to have grievances.

The passing parade

• Jersey Shore, Pa. (pop. 4,300), rarely makes the news, thus allowing it to avoid questions about its name — since it is landlocked and 100 miles from New Jersey. In January, local residents were disturbed about the odor of a farm's prematurely ripening radishes.

• Scientists at Spain's University of Barcelona announced they had reduced the fear of death in some of their 32 research participants by exposing them (using artificial intelligence Oculus Rift headsets) to out-of-body experiences so that they could see and feel themselves "alive" even when they are not actually present.

Read News of the Weird daily at Send items to