Sunday, February 10, 2013

Comparison of Ungulate Pellets

I took a hike last week in a place used by three different species of ungulates. I didn't see any of them. So how did I know three species had been there? By their pellets, or scat, that they left behind.
I'm going to show you the photos and give you some clues. You see if you can figure out which three species left the following scat.
The first scat I examined closely looked just slightly larger than rabbit scat, but instead of being brown and totally round, it was black and slightly pointed at one end. The pellets were in a group, but rather scattered within the group.

What's your guess? If you said bighorn sheep, you are correct!

Scat Number Two:
I came across a place where the gravel had been cleared away. Adjacent it to it were two big piles of scat, along with a smaller pile and a wet area from urine in the cleared area. I surmised that this was a favorite ungulate hangout.
A close-up look at one of the piles of scat:
A close-up of the pellets, brownish-black, slightly dimpled, one end (or sometimes two) narrowed.

And your guess? If you said deer, you are correct! We have mule deer out here, a LOT of them. Deer scat is about the size of a raisin, although not quite as wrinkly. I'm not sure if I should admit this, but I have a fun prank that deals with deer scat. (If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you read about it here.) I've given talks about scat to school kids. I like to have samples of various scat with me (in Ziploc bags--in reality, handling scat with your bare hands is not the best idea and can lead to nasty diseases, so don't do what I'm doing.) Anyway, I show the kids the deer scat and ask them how they can figure out how old it is. After I hear their more reasonable guesses, I tell them that the best way to do it is to do a taste test. I pretend to take a pellet out of the bag, while palming a Raisinet instead. I pop the Raisinet in my mouth, bite down on it slowly, and make an appropriately theatrical expression. While the kids look on, faces frozen in horror, I declare the age of the deer scat.

It's an awesome prank.

I may have scarred some kids for life. Probably not. But they may never look at scat the same way again.

Okay, last ungulate scat of the day:
This scat is also black and in pellet form like the other two, but is noticeably larger. Here's a close-up:
Your guess? Elk is the correct answer. They are bigger animals, so it only makes sense that they leave behind bigger poo.

Although all these three ungulate scats look similar, it doesn't take too much detective work to tell them apart. And the more practice, the easier it gets.

Thanks for joining me in this little soiree into the leftover matters of life.

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