Friday, June 27, 2008

Scatology: Who Left the Poo?

Scatology is the study of scat, otherwise known as poo, doo-doo, feces, turds, dung, excrement, and other terms that are not kosher to write on this family-friendly website. Scat is the "technical" term for what comes out after something has been eaten and digested, and it can tell you a lot. Over the years I've looked at a lot of scat. The desert is a great place to look for scat. It doesn't decompose all that fast, so there's lots of scat around, and if you're a scatologist, you're in luck.

Most of the scat I see comes in two forms, pellets or turds. The photo above shows jack rabbit scat, with rounded form and brown color. Rabbits are herbivores, so their pellets all have about the same consistency. Other pellet scat found in the area include deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. 
This scat is obviously not a pellet and it obviously does not have uniform consistency. If you look closely (you can click on the photo to see a larger version), you can see bone fragments and matted fur. This animal is a carnivore, it eats other animals. To determine what animal left this scat, I look at the size and shape. Blunt ends are left by cats, and it's about four inches long, so it appears to be bobcat scat. 
This scat has some similar characteristics to the bobcat scat, but it seems hairier and is smaller. The animal was probably eating mice and voles. The ends are tapered, which means that it is from the dog family, which includes coyotes and foxes. Based on the size and habitat, it's probably gray fox scat.
Here's some more pellet scat. If you look carefully, you can see the pellets aren't rounded like the jackrabbit scat at the top; instead they have a pinched end. This is deer scat.

Now I want to make sure that you notice I haven't included Desert Boy in any of these photos. I do have some sense of propriety, plus I know all too well that just seeing the scat wouldn't be enough for him to learn about it. 

I've done some talks about scat for school kids, and one of my favorite ways to help them learn about different types of scat is to show them a variety in ziploc bags. Then I ask them how to tell the difference between old deer scat and new deer scat. After I hear a couple suggestions, I tell them that the best way is by taste. I secretly put a Raisinet in my fingers, pretend to open the deer scat bag and pull out a pellet, and put the Raisinet in my mouth. All the kids look aghast until one figures out what I've just done. I've always wondered if any have gone home and tried to do the same thing with their parents.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's good to learn about different things, even if it's poo. After Grandma changed my sister's diaper, we knew that she ate blueberries recently.
Karla A.

Kristen said...

I'll never look at a Raisinet the same way again. :o)

Norma said...

Thank you ever so much you answered my question. I saw pellets in the yard and wanted to know who they belonged to. Guess it was deer.

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