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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tracking, part 2: Scat

Does a bear crap in the woods? Well yes, actually, and so do a whole lot of other animals. As a hunter, I use droppings to find game; as a hiker, scat can tell you if the animal crossing your path is a bear or a bunny.

Scat
Scat is any digestive leavings from an animal. In most cases, that's feces. It also includes "pellets" coughed up by certain birds of prey; these pellets contain all the parts of a meal that the bird couldn't digest.

Before you get too involved in investigating scat, be aware that animal waste can contain bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Some of these diseases, such as hantavirus, can even be transmitted by merely breathing air contaminated by waste. Latex gloves are called for in any feces handling, and a surgical-style mask is not out of line in confined areas such as caves and outbuildings.

The form that scat takes depends on the diet of the animal. Animals that eat a lot of plant matter (rabbits, deer, etc.) tend to have droppings that are small and spherical or oblong, and range from the size of small raisins to roughly half an inch in diameter. Animals that consume lots of protein have longer, corded droppings; if you have a dog or a cat, then you have a perfect example of carnivore waste.

Deer pellets (from icwdm.org)
Bear scat. Note the size. (icwdm.org)

Birds and lizards have very similar leavings, and those are different from any other animals. They have a tendency to be smooth and ropy, and are frequently entirely white, or have a white portion on one end. As with tracks, larger droppings or larger piles of droppings indicate a larger animal.

In many species, bird stools are loose to the point of being runny. Think about how pigeon droppings look on your windshield in the morning, and you get an idea of the consistency of some of these leavings.

An owl pellet. (tvja.org)
Next week, we'll look at the other signs animals leave behind and what they can tell us.

Lokidude

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