Animal poop is like a crystal ball into an animal’s past, present, and future! Biologists call animal poop by a much nicer name, ‘scat’.
Collecting and studying animal poop is a great way to learn information about population, diet, health, territory, and activities. This method of learning about species and animals doesn’t disturb the animal either!
Biologists get every bit of information they can from scat: location, shape, size, surroundings, how much there is, and what’s in it. The location of the scat indicates what animals are in the area, how far an animal travels, and how their territory overlaps with other animals. How much scat in a given area can indicate the population of animals. For example, when mice are in a home or cottage you can determine where they are and how many there are by the amount of mouse poop around!
Just looking at animal scat you can only see so much. To get a better idea of what’s inside scientists can dry and dissect it or extract DNA. For meat-eating animals, DNA in the scat can show what animal the fox ate even if it is fully digested. What biologists find in animals’ poop tells them what certain animals are eating during different times in the seasons, and if they are getting enough food.
Biologists can also look at DNA from the producer of the scat to determine its health by looking at DNA genes. The health of an animal can also be determined by the shape of the scat. Animals can get diarrhea too which can indicate they are sick or have a disease. That’s a lot of info just from one poop!
Biologists attempt to monitor information about endangered species. One way to do this, as we’ve learned, is by analyzing their scat. Dogs can be trained to sniff out a certain endangered species’ poop. The dogs lead scientists to the poop and they can use information from it to learn about the individual animals and the populations. This is extremely useful because the scientist doesn’t have to disturb or potentially harm the animal.
How to Identify Scat
Never touch animal scat with your bare hands. It can contain parasites or diseases that could make you sick.
To identify which animal the scat belongs to, think like a scientist and consider:
- Where is it? What type of animals are in this area? Is it near water?
- How big is it? The scat of some animals are identical and can only be distinguished by size.
- What shape is it? Is it long or is it pellets?
- What can you see inside? Is there fur, berries or seeds?
Example: I found some scat by the water. It’s quite large so it came from a bigger animal. It’s pellet shaped and it looks like there’s wood chips inside it. Based on this information I would guess it came from a beaver.