The scoop on poop

Lindsey Leko

In today’s feature, I am going to really change things up and if you are reading this at the supper table, I suggest you put the paper down until after you have digested your meal.

Today’s theme is “The Scoop on Poop.” The reason I picked this topic is because my wife and I like to take our kids on hikes in our great provincial parks and we are always finding some sort of animal scat. Being a conservation officer, my kids think that I am the Professor of Poo, and they love to quiz me on everything they find from actual scat to a chunk of rock or even a Pepsi can.

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I dazzle them with my brilliance and I am sure that my wife has a migraine from the number of times she has rolled her eyes back in her head after listening to me describe in detail these turd tidbits. My Grade 12 English teacher would be so proud to learn that I have put forth a literary gem like this.

All vertebrates, including fish and wildlife, have the urge to go number two. When out in the wild, we often see various sizes and shapes of dung that come from different animals. In this feature, I will try and describe the shapes and sizes of scat from different Western Canadian wildlife, as well as provide a few intriguing facts about animal dung that you may not know. 

We all know that different animals have different diets. Some are herbivores (plants only), some are carnivores (meat only) and some are omnivores (plants and meat). Depending on what the animal eats, you will see that byproduct in the animal’s stool.

As with humans, once the animal has eaten and fully digested its meal, the digestive system removes and absorbs any nutrients that are required. Then, the remaining material is expelled from its body as waste. Though scat is lower in energy than its original form (when it was food), the feces may still contain a large amount of energy. As a result of the animal passing on food energy as dung, it is readily consumed by the decomposers within the ecosystem.

With the wide variety of wildlife that we have in Saskatchewan, you can appreciate the various sizes and shapes of the dropped dung. Most of the droppings have a shape to them that will help identify what species produced it. The perfect poop, if there is such a thing, is about 75 per cent water. The remaining 25 per cent is comprised of equal amounts of fibre, bacteria, protein, fat and mucous from the lining of the intestines.

There are a variety of shapes to animal poop, which can help you identify what may have stopped at that particular location for a minute. Contents and size of dung can also be used as an identifying characteristic.

The size of the scat should correspond to the size of the animal that left it there. Cattle and buffalo normally pass a plop or a pie. These are normally flat and actually plop and splat when they hit the ground.

Members of the artiodactyla family (hooved animals) produce pellet-shaped feces that may look like chocolate covered-almonds. This thought alone should banish any future thought of eating that snack again.

Smooth round scat the size of marbles is often left by rabbits. Small tubular scat, depending on size, could have been left by an animal ranging from a mouse to a squirrel. The larger tubular-shaped scat that is rounded at one end and tapered at the other end probably would have come from a member of the cat family.

Larger tubular-shaped scat that is tapered at both ends would have come from a fox, and finally larger tubular scat that is rounded at both ends probably came from a larger member of the canine family.

Bear scat is difficult to characterize because dung shape relates greatly to what has been eaten.

Bird poop does not really have a shape. It is something that we really do not pay attention to until one of them decides to open the bombbay doors and drop its waste on a newly washed truck. Birds do not urinate like mammals. Their kidneys extract wastes from the bloodstream in the form of uric acid, unlike humans and animals that will remove urea in the form of urine.

The bird’s uric output combines with material digested from the intestines and is deposited on the hood of your new Chevy. Birds have a cloaca, which is a multi-purpose organ used to get rid of waste, lay eggs and is also used for reproduction. This same biology is true for reptiles and amphibians.

Did you know?

Hippos leave huge piles of dung as a navigation tool to guide them back to the protection of the river after an evening of feeding on the land.

Rabbits, for example, eat their droppings because they cannot obtain all of the required nutrients the first time.

In many species of wildlife, seeds are often found in scat. Once the animal has digested the useful product of a berry, they pass the seeds, dispersing them onto the ground where they will start to grow.

Larger groups of animal or packs will often use their feces to mark an area, telling other animals of the same species to take a hike and find a new territory.

Some animals eat their young’s droppings to prevent predators from finding them.

The turkey vulture often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself.

The colour of poop is often determined by the animal’s diet. If a blue whale eats lots of shrimp, then expect the poop to be pink. If a black bear gets into the blueberries, then the poop will be blue.

Rabbits can produce up to 300 poop pellets a day.

Until next week, keep your rod tip up.

—  Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Officer Lindsey Leko has spent more than 26 years as a conservation officer in Saskatchewan. For many years, Officer Leko contributed a column to local papers on a variety of issues related to hunting, fishing, and other resource-related issues. If you have questions, please contact lindsey.leko@gov.sk.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

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