Search
  • J. Woken

Scat, scat.

If you have been blessed to enjoy the close company of a toddler in the past few decades, you may be well familiar with the famous picture book “Everyone Poops”. Japanese author Tarō Gomi originally published the informative title back in 1977 (translated to the English in 1993). The book is a raging hit for children (especially, it seems, those children in transition from diaper to toilet). My own toddler was gifted with this particular book over Christmas by a diligent aunt, and the perusal of the colorful illustrations has rightly led my son to an inquisitive – and sometimes hilarious albeit awkward – interest in scat of all variations.


Poop, feces, stool, droppings, dung, ca-ca, poo poo… “scat” is yet another word for the waste all living creatures expel. The black bear’s fecal plug, mentioned briefly in our last column about the big hibernating omnivore, is composed of masses of dehydrated hair, fibrous plant material, cellular waste, and other unknown material, and is an excellent example of what scat can tell us about the animal from which it came: Not only their species and diet, but also where they spend their time, their grooming habits, and their overall health.

A scattering of deer scat in snow near my home. / Jessica Woken

Forgetting for a moment the huge American stigma surround poop-talk, anyone interested in venturing through the outdoors will find that scat is an unusually critical topic. Seasoned hunters, hikers, and local wild foragers will habitually scan the ground for footprints, trails, plant growth, soil disturbances, and scat, all of which can be important clues about the fauna and flora in the area as well as lead to sources of potentially life-saving food or groundwater. Being able to identify animal droppings can help even a novice outdoorsman track game or, in the least, stay clear of any potential predators.


B

oy Scouts can choose to earn a Mammal Study Merit Badge for gaining proficiency in mammalian wildlife knowledge. Included in that study is usually some form of scat identification. Anyone who wants to test their own scat knowledge can visit boyslife.org/quizzes/153553/can-you-identify-this-animal-poop. I did and earned a score of 81%. Not too shabby for a city-grown gal.

Even if you don’t aspire to be an outdoorsman, being able to identify basic types of droppings can be helpful, especially to homeowners who are encountering some pest problems.

Scat that commonly finds its way near or into homes is that of mouse, rat, opossum, bat, owl, and raccoon, and all these droppings can leave behind very dangerous disease. The dried droppings of raccoons who hang around gardens or lurk in attics can turn to dust and go airborne, or get mixed into potting or gardening soil. If inhaled or ingested, individuals can become ill from Baylisascaris, a parasite more commonly known as Raccoon Roundworm. This parasite can cause nausea, tiredness, liver enlargement, loss of coordination, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of muscle control, blindness, or, in very severe cases, coma.[i]


Furthermore, if you are able to distinguish raccoon droppings from that of your pet (i.e. cat or dog), you may be able to keep yourself that much safer by saying “Scat – away with you! – scat!” and (carefully) cleaning up the unpleasant article[s] with haste.


###


Author’s Note & Word Fun: “Scat” has an interesting etymology (word history). It’s origins are unclear: some etymologists say it is derived from the Greek ‘skat’, which more directly means ‘dung’ or ‘to cut off’. Other word historians affiliate scat to a shortening of the word “scatter”.


[i] “About Baylisascaris”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11April2018. URL: www.cdc.gov/parasites/baylisascaris/gen_info/faqs.html. Accessed 17Jan2020.

1 view