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Posts tagged “Scat

Ruffed Grouse Roosts and Scat

1-30-13 grouse beds & scat IMG_2420A trail of ruffed grouse tracks in the snow led me to the spot where two grouse had bedded down for the night behind a fallen tree. With snow too shallow to burrow into, this was as protected a location as they could find. More often than not, a grouse defecates in its night roosting site before leaving in the morning. Grouse scat comes in two forms, one a dry, fibrous cylindrical pellet with a white-wash of uric acid at one end, and the other a softer, darker brown plop. The vast majority of a grouse’s diet (buds, twigs, leaves, catkins) goes directly through its digestive system and forms the dry, courser scat. Finer (and more nutritious) material such as the cambium layer of woody plants enters the caeca, two specialized pouches, before passing through the large intestine. The caeca contain bacteria which break down cellulose and produce the more digested, and therefore more liquefied, scat. Sometimes the two kinds of scat are deposited separately and sometimes, as in the bed on the right in the photograph, together. (Thanks to Dr. Alcott Smith who clarified grouse digestion for me.)


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.


Fisher Tracking

If you ever think you work hard for the food you eat, try tracking a fisher!  I would estimate that I followed a fisher’s tracks for at least three miles today and other than stopping to mark its territory once, and investigate a log or two, there was not a sign of its finding a thing to eat.  Fishers travel widely in search of prey — one was recorded travelling 56 miles in three days.  The fisher I followed traveled through prime snowshoe hare (their most common prey item) habitat, as well as areas where porcupines have been known to den.  A fisher’s food requirements are about one snowshoe hare per week, a squirrel or two per week, or 2 – 22 mice per day.  A porcupine will feed a fisher for a month or so. (Note snowshoe hare tracks on bottom left of photograph, and fisher tracks running diagonally across the image, where the fisher left its mark.)


Coprophagy

Rabbits and hares generally deposit their scat pellets one at a time, so when you find several in one spot, you know they’ve been there a while, either eating or resting.  The little round, brown, fibrous rabbit and hare pellets we are familiar with have actually been ingested twice – a process referred to as coprophagy.  On its first passage through the digestive system, bacteria act on the food in the large caecum (a pouch near the start of the large intestine, which most herbivorous mammals possess) reducing it to a more easily digestible form and concentrating it, particularly its vitamin B and protein content.The caecum, however, is past the portion of the digestive tract in which most resorption takes place.  It is therefore necessary for the animal to reingest the resulting pellets, which are soft and green and covered with mucous, to extract as much of the nutrition as possible.  These soft pellets are eaten directly from the anus. Coprophagy increases protein digestibility from 50 percent in one pass through the digestive system to 75 to 80 percent upon reingestion. Cellulose digestion is increased from 14 percent in one pass through the digestive system to two or three times that amount when the feces is re-ingested.  


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!

 


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.

 


Raccoon Latrine

Raccoons often create large communal latrines along the paths that they frequent. Likely spots to look for them include the base of good-sized conifers, especially those near water, as well as on top of stone walls, rotting logs or under rock outcroppings.  Often latrines are located near denning or resting sites.  The pictured latrine was located on a path between two bodies of water, and was totally hidden by tall grasses.  Raccoon scat can carry the parasitic roundworm Baylisascaris procyonis, which can be fatal in humans, so it’s best not to handle their scat.