Friday, October 6, 2006
The fine art of scatology
I sent this photo to my old friend Brian Miller for help in identification. (Brian manages the Wind River Ranch in NE New Mexico). I found the scat on the trail next to the house. It was big and packed full of jackrabbit fur.
Brian answered: "Halfpenny says red fox scats are less than 18 mm wide (92% of the time), and coyote scats are between 18 mm and 25 mm wide (63% of the time). So it is too big for both of them. I use the sniff technique to separate felid, canid, and ursid scats. Every member of the canid family has that acrid, sharp smell. Pumas and bobcats have a smell just like domestic cats leave in the litter box. Bear scat smells like a musty old cigar. Of all the scents, I prefer bear. If the scat is still there, break it open and see if there is any scent left."
The timeless art of scat identificiation is a stepwise process starting with visual inspection, and usually ending with the sniff test. (The boy scout joke about the taste test is probably fiction, though biologists have shown that there are consistent differences in the pH of dog and cat poop.)
It is a moot point whether Brian lit and smoked the scat to get that cigar smell. But this all goes to show that identifying scats is truly a fine art. Like other paleolithic inventions such as cheese making, brewing, and the barbecue, scat identification is still alive and well in some quarters of modern society.