COPYRIGHT 2009 DICK NEWELL
Scratching, spraying and depositing scat is all part of a complex communications system within the animal kingdom. Droppings or scat as most biologists and trackers call it is but one more important source of information for us to consider in determining the species and activity levels of our wildlife. It is often a very quick, and positive way to learn more about the animals in any given area.
Shape of the deposit is often diagnostic. Feline scat is tubular and usually sectioned off at right angles as is a tootsie roll. Canine scat is tubular, often with a twisted end and it's not sectioned at right angles.
Content will usually tell us if we are dealing with a herbivore, an omnivore or a carnivore and thus will allow us to rule out many possible donators. For example felines are obligate carnivores and don't consume plant material other than an occasional blade of grass. Canines are omnivores and will eat anything including seeds, berries, etc. Canines don't digest their food very well and their scat will not completely break down under the pressure of a boot as will the feline's.
Size of the scat, specifically the width of a sample is important to note as you can make certain assumptions as to the relative size of the animal that donated it. This information is best gathered using calipers to obtain an accurate measurement. While this is not an exact science it will reveal if you are dealing with a bobcat as opposed to a cougar or a fox versus a coyote.
Color of any scat varies based on type of food consumed, age of the scat and recent weather conditions. Dark scat is usually a sign of having consumed organ meat but even this scat can go from very dark to ashen white in several days of hot weather.
Location where the scat is found will also provide the tracker with needed information. Gray fox will frequently find a rock or other raised surface to deposit their scat upon. Felines will occasionally scrape the soil with their rear feet before leaving a deposit on top of that scrape. Canines will often scratch the adjacent soil after leaving a deposit almost like wiping their feet, both front and back, but they show no attempt to cover the evidence. Some observers report that non-domestic felines cover their scat but we have not witnessed that except in a few isolated cases. Clearly more research needs to be done in this area.
More information and photos of this evidence is available for each species listed below.