Keystone Science School’s Thinking Outside the Classroom: Scat Happens! | SummitDaily.com
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Keystone Science School’s Thinking Outside the Classroom: Scat Happens!

Susan Juergensmeier
Special to the Daily

One of the hottest-selling items at the Keystone Science School Store is our scat T-shirt. Yes, scat – otherwise known as animal droppings, dung, and a number of other colorful monikers that make kids giggle uncontrollably.

When we talk about scat with our students, initially we tend to see lots of wrinkled noses and cries of “Gross!” But once they get past the ick factor, students discover that scat can actually be a pretty useful tool for learning about wild animals. It’s a pungent little bundle of information that provides us with clues to an animal’s identity, health and diet.

When you’re out snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or hiking in the woods this winter, keep an eye out for scat. Because animals tend to take the easiest path possible when traveling, they often use the paths made by humans, which makes signs of them easier for us to spot. Where animals leave their droppings, however, is not always random. Just as your dog marks her spot in your neighborhood, some wild animals use their scat and urine as a way to define their territory, a tangible warning to animal trespassers.



When using scat to help identify an animal, size and shape are the primary things to pay attention to. If the scat is a small round or slightly flattened sphere, it is probably from a lagomorph – the scientific name for our local snowshoe hares and pikas. Larger elongated spheres that are two to four times longer than their width will most likely belong to an herbivore such as an elk, mule deer or moose. Cylindrical scat that’s much longer than wide is a product of carnivores and omnivores such as coyotes, foxes, bears or raccoons.

Color, texture and composition offer even more information – bits of bone or fur, for example, indicates the leavings of a meat-eater, while a blue-ish color might indicate an animal that’s recently feasted on berries. Scat location can help us identify an animal as well. Some animals, such as martens, prefer to leave their droppings in prominent locations such as atop rocks or other objects, while others, like wild cats, possess an instinct that prompts them to bury waste. And if you find scat at the base of a tree, look up – you might see a squirrel’s or raccoon’s nest.



The scientific study of scat is called scatology. When combined with other indicators, animal scat can provide researchers important clues about how many of a certain animal are present in an area, the composition of their diet and their seasonal eating patterns. Many books are written on this topic, including “A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America” by James Halfpenny; “Mountain State Mammals: a Guide to Mammals of the Rocky Mountain Region” by John Rosso; and – for a lighter take on the subject – “Who Pooped in the Park?” by Gary Robson.

Or you can always stop by Keystone Science School and pick up a scat T-shirt of your very own.

Susan Juergensmeier is the campus registrar at Keystone Science School. Contact us at (970) 468-2098 or visit our website, http://www.keystonescienceschool.org for more information.


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