Did you know that you are sharing your home with wild animals?
Whether it’s city or countryside, wild creatures share our habitat, our gardens, roads and routes to school. Some animals such as pigeons and squirrels are easy to see and we can all identify them, but many animals are nocturnal or just difficult to spot.
One of the best ways of finding out which animals live around you is by becoming a Scatologist – a studier of animal poo. Poos are really important for discovering what sort of animals are present in an area, how many there are, where they are going, and what they have been eating. Animal poo is known as scat and the study of it is called scatology. Having the knowledge to identify different poos means that you will be able to discover more about the wildlife where you live.
If you have a garden then this is a good place to start, you will be familiar with the area and it will be easy to spot even a small poo!
Out and about can be more challenging, watch out for dog mess which can easily put a novice scatologist off the scent. Once you actually inspect some dog poos, you will see that in general they all look similar; they all smell similar, and you can disregard them keeping your eyes out for more interesting scat.
Fox Poo looks like a small dog poo but is even more smelly. When you have noticed the smell you will be able to identify it again surprisingly easily. The poo is almost black with a twist at one end. The twist is made by the fur and hairs of the animals the fox has eaten. They make the poo quite fibrous – like hand made felt – and if you look closely you can see hair and probably some small bones. You could poke it with a stick to see the bones inside but don’t touch the poo! Do wash your hands afterwards and again before you eat.
The reason it’s so important to wash your hands is not only to get rid of invisible bacteria such as salmonella, which can cause a very upset stomach, but also wild animal excrement can contain eggs or parasites such as toxoplasmosis which you can easily transfer to your mouth and ingest without realising.
Badger Poo also smells, but differently to fox poo. If you are lucky enough to have badgers and foxes near you then you can compare the scents. How would you describe them? I think that the badger poo smells musky and the fox poo has a more bitter smell. Dogs adore rolling in stinky mess so watch out if you have got yours with you!
Badgers dig holes called latrines, which they use as their loos. Their poos are usually more squidgy or sloppy than those of the fox and may have seeds and fruit stones in them. If they are in a shallow hole they might have been covered up with grass so watch where you are walking! You may be able to see paths in the grass where the badgers follow the same route every night, sometimes there is a badger hair to be found snagged on a wire or a piece of wood. If you find one have a close look, how many colours does it have? Is it like the hair on your head?
Hedgehog Poo is small and dark, quite compact and firm and it does not have a strong aroma. This is the most exciting poo to find; not only does it show that hedgehogs are present in the area you are surveying, but hedgehog poo is glittery!
Hedgehogs are insectivores and their favorite snack is beetles, they don’t digest the shiny wing cases, which are munched up, and come out in the poo as little glinting pieces. A nice glittery hedgehog poo is a good sign that your area has a healthy ecosystem supporting lots of insects and beetles.