Mitragyna Speciosa

Have you ever seen an animal scat on the ground and wondered who it belonged to? Perhaps you pictured a bobcat slinking down the trail just before you, marking its territory before continuing its travels? Or a pair of coyotes cruising around looking for their next meal? I certainly have! Leaving a scat is not just a simple biological necessity for animals. Many species communicate territoriality or reproductive status with their scats. Collecting animal scats can provide a unique, non-invasive method to look at diet, space-use, and stress, among many other things. This is because scats carry prey remains, DNA, and hormones that can be analyzed in a laboratory setting.

Fox scat, characteristically on top of a rock. Photo: Justine Smith.

In 2014, I (Justine Smith, a PhD candidate with the Santa Cruz Puma Project) started a citizen science project with the help of puma project alumni Dr. Yiwei Wang to collect mesopredator scat samples. Mesopredators are mid-sized predators, such as bobcats, coyotes, and gray foxes. We were interested in seeing how their diets change in response to human disturbances, but were unsure how we were going to collect enough scats to answer our questions. We decided to reach out to you guys, our community of fellow naturalists that are interested in learning about our local environment and doing research to contribute to its conservation. We started the group Conservation Scats, and have been having a great time hiking trails with our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers ever since. Since we began, our team has collected over 200 scats! Our project is about to come to a close, so if you are interested in learning about animal tracking and assisting in local research, please contact me through our webpage, conservationscats.com. Our last field days are tentatively scheduled for February 21 and 28. Please drop by the website to learn more about our project and check out our local scat identification guide!

Scat containing feathers from a Steller’s Jay. Photo: Justine Smith.