Since my April blog post fell by the wayside, it’s only fair that I post something doubly-amazing for the month of May, so here it is: a two-part feature on the uuber-glamorous topic of scat and tracks. That’s right, I’m talking about the clues and “number twos” that wildlife leave behind.
Part I: SCAT
Most people shutter at the sight of poop. It’s not often something that warrants a double-take – unless you are like me and look at it like a mystery, dissecting the clue-filled lumps to find out “who done it?”
Now I’m no professional dung-detective, but through observation, I’ve learned that one of the most important things you can gather from examining an animal’s scat is what their diet consists of. This is important because 1) it can help you narrow down the species of animal based on what it eats, and 2) if you can find their food source(s), then you probably can find them. In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes you can even differentiate the gender of a species based on its scat. For instance, scat from a female turkey will tend to be more popcorn-like, while scat from a male turkey is more likely to resemble the letter “J,” or my favorite: a cheese curl!
To lay down some ground work, here are some basics to keep in mind:
1) An animal’s diet can be categorized into one of three categories: carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous. This is important to know as it can quickly help narrow down your list of potential animals by process of elimination. For example, deer scat will never contain bones or feathers since deer are herbivores and only eat plants.
2) Moist foods are going to produce slimmer scats, while more fibrous foods are going to produce larger scats.
3) When examining scat, it’s best to consider the total quantity of scat in addition to the individual pieces. Although individual pieces of scat may resemble a certain species, the total quantity may serve as the deciding factor in differentiating between species. Smaller animal – smaller scat.
4) Scat varies. By that I mean, think of how much your own number twos vary – animals are no different. Fortunately, animals are creatures of habit, so a consistent diet tends to produce a consistent scat.
With that in mind, listed below are common examples of scats left by various animals:
Rabbits and relatives: spheres
Rodents/shrews/deer and relatives: elongated spheres
Raccoons/coyotes and relatives: long, thick cords
Weasels/mink and relatives: cords (often folded)
Birds, reptiles, and amphibians: long, thin cords (often with nitrogenous deposits; can sometimes be a shapeless, semi-liquid excretion)
In the following pictures, I’ll go through five different types of scat and explain why I came to the conclusion I did. Now, let’s get this fecal-fiesta started!