An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Scat

Ruffed Grouse Snow Cave

2-18-14 grouse hole 023When snow depth is over 10” Ruffed Grouse are known to dive into it and often burrow a short distance in order to seek refuge from the wind and the cold as well as from predators, a behavior known as “snow roosting.” Because the grouse flies into the snow leaving no tracks and little scent, predators have difficulty detecting them. The major risk is freezing rain which can form a crust on top of the snow, trapping the grouse. The Ruffed Grouse’s behavior allows it to conserve a great deal of energy, as the temperature inside this roost rarely falls beneath 20°F. This conservation of energy translates into less time spent up in trees eating buds, exposed to hawks and other predators. When morning comes, the grouse usually bursts out of the snow, leaving a hole and wing marks, or, as in this case, shuffles its way to the surface of the snow before taking off. The presence of scat indicates that the left-hand cavity in this photograph is where the bird bedded down and its exit was made to the right. (Thanks to Edith Hoose for photo op.)

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Fisher Sign

1-22-14 fisher bed and scat 074You can spend days following the tracks of a fisher – this tireless member of the weasel family travels up to ten miles a day during the winter, foraging for food and stopping to bed down periodically. One of the more common signs of fisher, other than tracks, is their resting spots. Fishers are active day and night, but even they have to stop now and then to rest, often at the base of a tree. More often than not they defecate before departing. If you look closely you’ll see the fisher’s scat – guide books often state that the scat of fishers is dark and twisted. While this is sometimes so, their scat can also be somewhat mustard-color and not be at all twisted, as in this photograph.

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Moose Scat Form Reflects Diet

1-16-14 moose scatBiologists estimate that moose defecate anywhere from 13 to 21 times a day. The appearance of moose scat, as well as deer, varies throughout the year. Its form depends in large part on the amount of moisture in the moose’s diet. Summer scat often looks like loose plops, or patties, due to heavy consumption of herbaceous aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation. As fall approaches and a moose’s diet includes more woody vegetation, its scat consists of clumps of soft pellets. In the dead of winter, when moose are browsing almost exclusively on trees, individual dry pellets are produced. Spring scat is similar to fall scat, as moose are transitioning into a different diet during both of these seasons.

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Butterflies Obtain Nutrients From Scat

8-14-13 white admiral on raccoon scat 019Nectar from flowers and sugar from running sap (especially at Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes) or overripe fruit provide most, but not all, of the nutrition that butterflies need. The males of some species will also drink at muddy puddles or damp earth for mineral salts and on scat or animal carcasses to get amino acids and other vital nutrients. This added nutrition is needed for them to generate spermatophores, the packets of sperm and nutrients that are transferred to the female during mating. (Photo is of a White Admiral, Limenitis arthemis arthemis, feeding on blackberry seed-laden Raccoon scat.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Porcupine Housekeeping

1-31-13 porcupine in ledge den IMG_2389A recent exploration of some rocky ledges, a favorite winter denning site of porcupines, revealed a virtual maze of trails leading to roughly a dozen crevices where porcupines sought shelter. A look inside these crevices confirmed that porcupines leave something to be desired when it comes to keeping house. Unlike many other animals that keep their dens pristine (e.g. beavers only defecate in water, never in their lodge), porcupines don’t feel the necessity to roust themselves when nature calls. As a result, the floor of their den consists of years of accumulated scat (and urine). In some cases, the pile of scat in these ledge dens was so high that it made you wonder how a porcupine could even fit into the crevice, and indeed, in some cases, porcupines do have to dig their way out of their den. When it became aware of my presence, the pictured porcupine assumed its characteristic defense posture, exposing its quill-filled back and upper tail surface to the intruder. It needn’t have worried, as the opening was barely wide enough to get the camera into, much less the photographer!


Fisher Scat

1-23-13 fisher scat2 IMG_0098Typical fisher scat is anywhere from ¼” to ¾” in diameter, very dark and often quite twisted. It’s not unusual to find just a small amount of scat deposited, as fishers can control the amount of scat they use to mark territory. This scat is a bit atypical, in that it is segmented and not twisted, and there is an ample amount. A close look reveals the dark, stiff hairs and quills of a porcupine, likely the fisher’s most recent meal. Look for fisher scat on raised surfaces such as stumps or at the base of old trees, where fishers occasionally make latrines.


White-tailed Deer Population Estimation

12-14-12 deer scat IMG_6670White-tailed deer are known to eat over 600 species of plants in North America. They consume, on average, about 5 to 8 pounds of food for every 100 pounds of body weight, per day. As a result, a deer, on average, defecates about 13 times a day. A crude but somewhat accurate way to estimate how many white-tailed deer are in your area is to count the number of scat piles you find in a square mile within 24 hours, and divide this number by 13. A little snow on the ground would make this particular method of population estimation a lot easier!


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


North American River Otter Roll

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In addition to their winter slides in the snow, river otters leave distinctive signs year round.  Their scat is unlike most other animal scat in that it has little form and often disintegrates into a pile of fish scales.  Sometimes river otters create what are called “rolls” —  areas near water that they repeatedly visit to defecate, urinate and roll around on the ground.  If used frequently enough, rolls become so acidic that they turn black with dying vegetation.  Being a member of the Weasel family, otters possess oil glands and waterproof their fur with oil. It’s possible that in addition to marking territory at a roll, they are distributing this oil throughout their coat when they are rolling on the ground.


White Admiral Butterflies Puddling

If you’ve been traveling on sunny dirt roads lately, chances are that you have seen White Admiral butterflies all over them. They are in the road to obtain salts and minerals that have leached from the soil into standing puddles and moist dirt. Because butterflies do not have chewing mouthparts as adults, they must drink their meals. While nectar is their main source of nutrition, males often supplement their diet with these minerals. The act of acquiring nutrients in this manner is referred to as “puddling.” If there’s no water around, a butterfly may regurgitate into the soil and then drink in the hope of retrieving minerals. In addition to finding butterflies on dirt roads, look for them puddling on animal scat.


Beaver Scat

 

Beavers are meticulous housekeepers, in that they almost always defecate in the water, not in their lodge, and rarely on land. The best place to find their scat, should you be so inclined, is where they have been working for an extended period of time — for example, in the water adjacent to their dam.  Their scat consists of kumquat-size pellets, which, as you might expect, are full of tiny bits of woody fiber.  The pellets are essentially little balls of sawdust, and disintegrate easily if disturbed. Their light color makes them visible even under water.  Congratulations to all who guessed correctly — I’ll make the next mystery post even more challenging!

 


Mystery Scat

Do you know whose scat this is?  Chances are that you may never have seen the scat of this animal, but a close look at its composition will give you a large hint.  An additional clue can be found by examining the log that the scat is sitting on (the log is there for display purposes – the scat was originally deposited in the water).  The identity of the scat-maker will be posted tomorrow!

 


Fisher Scat

Contrary to their name, fishers seldom eat fish.  While they prey on a wide range of animals and even plants, their preference is for small mammals (80% of their diet), snowshoe hares and porcupines.  Because fishers are well equipped to kill porcupines, and because there is little competition for them, porcupines are an important prey of fishers –up to 35% of fisher diet samples contain the remains of porcupines, as this photograph of fisher scat attests to.  There is no mistaking the bumpy porcupine foot pads (and quills)!


Raccoon Latrine

Raccoons defecate in communal sites, called latrines. Often these latrines are located on a raised, flat surface or at the base of a tree. Over time, the scat accumulates. Should you come upon a latrine, it’s best not to investigate too closely, as raccoon feces harbor roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) eggs which can be easily ingested and cause harm (serious eye disease, spinal cord or brain damage, or death) to humans. One of these roundworms can produce more than 100,000 eggs a day, and the eggs remain viable for years in the soil.


Porcupine Sign

Typically, male porcupines spend days at a time up in eastern hemlocks, eating the tender buds and leaves of branches, while females tend to spend the day in a den, and head for nearby food at night.  In the photograph, a porcupine den tree is on the left, with scat from the den having fallen on the snow below. The trail you see was made by the porcupine, as she went from her den tree to a nearby feeding tree.  Usually a den is chosen within a short distance of food, as was this one.  If you look closely at the uppermost quarter of the photograph, you will see a sign that indicates recent porcupine activity – nipped hemlock branches in the snow, that have been discarded by a porcupine, who’s feeding in the branches up above them.  It’s much safer to remain on a large limb and pull the desired tip of a branch in to you than it is to attempt to climb out on a thin branch.  Once the porcupine nips the tip of the branch off and eats the tender buds and leaves, it drops the branch to the ground below.


Staghorn Sumac Seed Heads and Their Inhabitants

If you pull apart a red, fuzzy seed head of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) this time of year, you will find, in addition  to a multitude of seeds, a profusion of scat in the shape of miniscule round, grey balls.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find the larval insect that produced this scat.  Chances are, according to Charley Eisman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects, that many of the resident insects are in the Gelechioidea family of moths.  The larvae of these moths are consumers of Staghorn Sumac seeds, and judging from the amount of scat usually present, they spend a considerable amount of time inhabiting the seed heads.  It’s likely that Black-capped Chickadees and other birds you see gleaning sumac fruit are actually there  for the larvae as much as the seeds.

 

 


Porcupine Sign

Two inches of snow is enough for even the casual observer to be able to find signs of wildlife in the forest.  This hollow tree occasionally serves as a den for a female porcupine in which she rests during the day before heading out at night to feed on nearby hemlock leaves and buds. Porcupines make no effort to leave their den when they urinate or defecate, so eventually it builds up on the floor of the den and spills out onto the ground. You can see porcupine scat sprinkled over the snow (having fallen from the den entrance above) and if you look closely you’ll see several icicles near the lighter patch of wood on the tree trunk.  One whiff confirmed that they were none other than frozen porcupine urine.


Wild Turkey Scat

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would express my amazement at the fact that by looking at the shape of wild turkey scat, you can often  tell whether it was deposited by a female or a male turkey, due to the different shapes of their intestinal tracts.  Hen turkey scat is often a round plop, whereas tom turkey scat  tends to look like the letter “J”, or is in a straight line. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm


Black Bear Late Summer Scat

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This is the time of year when it’s most interesting to inspect the contents of  black bear scat (those of you who find this kind of activity agreeable), as it can vary so much. In the late summer and fall I have found  bear scat that consisted of predominantly  apples, or grape skins, blackberry seeds or chokecherry seeds.  (Unfortunately for the bird feeder  who hangs up their feeder early in the spring, and takes it down late in the fall, sunflower seeds are often a major part of bear scat at those times of year.)  Often bear scat contains the remains of one predominant fruit, not a mixture.  Orange-colored digested apple, chokecherry seeds and blackberry seeds are discernible in the photographs.

 


Moose Scat

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The form of moose scat, as well as that of most members of the deer family, is highly dependent upon the type of food that they eat, and the amount of moisture and fiber in it.   In the summer, when their diet includes eat succulent green leaves and semiaquatic and aquatic vegetation, as well as twigs and bark of deciduous trees,  their scat ranges from pellets clumped together to plops (see photograph) or paddies.  In the winter, when their diet of mostly conifer twigs and bark is quite fibrous, they produce individual pellets.

 


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