Readers beware. Put down that bagel. Hold off on eating your lunch. Do not even consider your mid-afternoon Snickers bar.
Today, we are going to gain insight on a particular substance that, like it or not, unites every living creature. You do it. Bears do it. Caterpillars do it. It is the wildlife kingdom’s lowest common dominator: scat.
Scat, the scientific word for “poop,” is at the center of most naturalists’ worlds. Never is a naturalist more at home than when he or she is circled around a mound with his or her friends.
Being able to properly identify scat in the field enables naturalists to interpret what animals have been in the area. Further examination of a scat pile can reveal what the animal has been eating and where it has been.
Armed with a stick for dissection and a low or non-existent gag reflex, a person can learn a lot about the world.
Today’s question comes in from a curious reader, who as a budding naturalist was unsurprisingly drawn to scat. I will spare you the picture he sent along with his question.
While hiking the Boone Fork Trail, I found a pile of scat. It was near the bog area on the trail. I placed a quarter in the picture with it, so that you can tell how big it was. What do you think produced this smelly mound? — Dave E., Boone
Thank you for the clues, Dave. Your picture and description of the scat help to reveal its secrets.
Judging from your picture, this scat is about 2 x 0.25 inches. It is in the shape of a cord and folds back onto itself.
If you look closely, you will see small fish scales embedded, and the scat looks oily, indicating that there is a high amount of fish oil. This could explain the smell.
Knowing that you found it near the Boone Fork bog, then I would guess that you have found the sign of a mink. Minks prefer aquatic habitat, and their diet is comprised primarily of fish, crayfish and frogs.
Minks are mustelids along with otters, weasels and ferrets. If you were to find tracks in the area, you would notice that minks have webbed feet much like their (much larger) otter relatives.
These amazing animals are known for making “post offices,” repeated scat deposits on logs exposed above the water’s edge. Really.
Any complaints about this article may be sent to my editor. For those of you whose interest has been piqued, get out there and find a mound of your own. You will be surprised at the secrets hidden in the scat.