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Whose pooh are you? #2
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When you’re out in the woods, you come across your fair share of animal scat. Most of the time it appears old, which is reassuring, but sometimes it’s extra fresh, as I’ve written about before. Either way, it may be gross, but poop is a great way to identify the animals that have been there before you.
You can tell a lot from a pile of scat. My dad likes to tell the story of a park ranger he knew out west who enjoyed shocking the guests he guided around the park. He’d come to a large pile of elk scat, reach down to get a pellet, and pop one in his mouth. Unbeknownst to the crowd, he had palmed a black olive as a substitute. As the group looked on in horror, the ranger thoughtfully rolled the olive around his mouth, finally declaring it to have come from a 600-pound female elk headed eastward to forage since her diet was currently a bit heavy in alfalfa.
That’s a little more familiar with animal feces than I want to be. But when I come across it out in the woods, I still often wonder:
Whose pooh are you?
For the most part, animal scat comes in two shapes: pellet and tubular. Herbivores, animals that eat only plants, have pellet-shaped scat and generally leave it in piles. Carnivores and omnivores, who eat meat, have tubular scat. That includes us humans as well. Then there’s the wombat, who poops in cubes…
Below is an illustrated guide to a few kinds of animal poop you might encounter, along with the defining characteristics of each.
Coyotes are omnivores. They eat meat when they can get it, but will eat grass, berries and insects if they can’t. Their resourcefulness is one reason they can be found in most wild, rural and urban areas. Most of the time, coyote scat is full of fur and bones. If you’re not too squeamish, you can dig through it and find interesting bits and pieces, like the deer tooth I have sitting on my bathroom counter. The poop usually has a curled end and is dark in color from the blood of the animal it ate.
Deer and Rabbit
Deer and rabbit, like the elk above, poop in pellets. Their pellets can look very similar to each other. Deer and elk are ruminants, meaning they’re hoofed animals that regurgitate and rechew their food, which makes their digestive systems very efficient. As a result, deer pellets are harder than rabbits’ and generally don’t contain any visible plant matter, whereas rabbits may leave bits of grass in theirs. Deer pellets are oval-shaped while rabbits leave round pellets. Shiny deer poop means it’s fresh, and the size of the pile corresponds to the size of the deer, both features that hunters pay close attention to.
Bobcats are small, short-tailed wildcats about twice the size of a domesticated cat. We’ve seen a mother bobcat and her kittens on our property using a nighttime trail cam, so we know they live in the area. Like domesticated cats, they can cover up their scat with dirt, though sometimes they leave it out to mark their territory. Their scat is very hard and usually segmented, like the specimen above, whereas coyote scat is ropy and much less dense.
Bears have very large poop that changes consistency based on what they’re eating. The bear above had been eating lots of berries (I was relieved to see mold growing on it, meaning this bear was not around the corner of this trail). Because they’re omnivores, their poop is tubular and can look similar to human poop but darker. In the Southeastern U.S., bear poop is the largest you’ll see.
Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians
The picture above on the left might be snake scat. I’m not sure about that, but it does have a white section, which likely means it was produced by some type of reptile or amphibian. Birds, reptiles and amphibians only have one hole to evacuate waste from their bodies, where mammals have two. This means they pee and poop from the same hole. The white splotch that you always find on your car along with the bird poop? That’s nitrogen from the urea that is emitted with the feces.
I don’t have a chance of encountering a wombat in my part of the world, but who can resist an animal with cube-shaped poop? Scientists have discovered that the last 17 inches of a wombat’s 33-foot intestines is responsible for forming the cubular shape, and they suspect it has to do with helping them mark their territory, since the square pellets won’t roll off rocks and logs. Wombats poop about 100 of these 2 cm square pellets a day and then distribute them around the boundaries of their areas to ward off competitors or to attract mates. If you’re a wombat, maybe you like that sort of thing.
*I’d like to take a moment to thank my Pooh Patrol, who started out by putting up with me stopping my bike at every pile of feces we encountered but who now occasionally send me pictures they’ve found of crap in the woods: Beth, Mel, Susan, Carolyn, Steve, Woody and of course Andrew.
Have you come across animal scat on your forays in the forest? Do you know how to identify any scat for animals I didn’t mention? Are you the member of a Pooh Patrol with your friends? (If not, you’re missing out)
Nature break: While you’re out in the woods, keep an eye out for animal scat. If you’re really brave, take two sticks and pull it apart to find out what the animal ate. (Don’t use your fingers - some animals carry parasites you really don’t want any part of) What can you learn about this animal from what it left behind?
(click to see the full picture)
In case it’s your dream job, they’re looking for poop fairies
Take the poop quiz at Scoutlife
How to identify dinosaur pooh
The earth doesn’t have enough poop because our megafauna are going extinct
What dung beetles do with pooh
Moose turd jewelry: this family uses locally sourced moose scat to make art. Slogan: Wicked Good Moose Tirds [Language Warning]
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