A unique, identifying task

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, September 4, 2018

I really enjoyed my career as a forester, partly because of the variety. It was rare that I did the same thing two days in a row. I could be walking in the woods collecting field data in the morning and be on a wildfire that afternoon. If you like routine, forestry is not for you. One unique task I did on occasion was identifying animal poop, especially when people would find droppings in their house and badly wanted to know what uninvited visitor left it.

Animal excreta deserves more credit that people give it. It is often the only way you know an animal was present, and if you can get good at poop identification you can know what left it. Scientist studying some species of wildlife can examine its poop to determine its diet, or what species are using a certain habitat. The science-ese term for poop is scat, and the study of poop is called scatology. Would that not be a cool topic of conversation at a party when asked what you do for a living? Heh!

My experiences in scatology normally involved identifying what animals were using certain woodland habitats. But on occasion I was asked to identify droppings found in someone’s house, so they would know what critter they were dealing with to get it out of the house. Often the scat I examined was really small. Most people have a handle on identifying mouse droppings, but beyond that it gets sketchy. So what follows is a quick lesson in identifying scat you would most likely find in your house or campsite.

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Mouse: Brown or black droppings shaped like grains of rice but not as big

Cockroach: Big ones leave droppings similar to a mouse but with blunt ends, and the surface has ridges running longways. You’ll need a magnifying glass to see the ridges.

Bat: Similar to mouse droppings but have a shiny rough surface and pointy at both ends. Can be found stuck to vertical surfaces.

Rat: Dark color and the shape of a grain of rice, but bigger.

Squirrel: Slightly smaller than a grain of rice, with blunt ends.

Reptile: Includes snakes and lizards; Shiny brown with a blob of white on one end. If you dissolve the droppings in water, strain them through a paper towel, and see insect fragments, it’s probably a lizard. If you go through this much trouble, you have the makings of a scatologist.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.