By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Vernon Bailey in Division of Mammals recently, and have come across some interesting references to skat in the field books.
Whatever you choose to call this substance, it can be a great source of information about presence, population, and behaviors of animals. Much like animal prints, it enables scientists to learn about frequented habitat, population, as well as health and diet through non-invasive means. This an important source for ongoing research by organizations like National Zoological Park.
The topic of skat in literature is not a new one. In fact Field Notes on Science & Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield has a chapter that talks about scientists studying skat of pandas to monitor populations and behavior in Sichuan, China. The scientists were rarely able to directly observe the animals, so they were reliant on indirect evidence such as the location and content of their droppings. I was especially fascinated by the defecation mapping.
I found similar types of references recently in the journals of Vernon Bailey, who worked for the US Biological Survey. Bailey spent a significant amount of time in the American west (e.g. Montana, Oregon, California, Grand Canyon) studying coyote populations. Part of the research included the collection and dissection of coyote skat. Collecting it didn’t surprise me, but then I found a curious quote from November 27, 1930, when Vernon Bailey was in Oregon.
“Thanksgiving Day, Finished my writing. Repacked baggage for trip. Went to Jewetts for Thanksgiving dinner. Packed two cans of coyote droppings to go by mail.”
Bailey was probably sending the feces samples to Bureau of Biological Survey (BBS) Food Habits Division in Washington, DC. Field books from several different disciplines commonly use stomach contents to determine diet of collected specimens. Somewhere around the beginning of the twentieth century, it appears skat became part of the study as well. The determination and monitoring food and habitat became so important that the Biological Survey established Denver Laboratory of Food Habits Research (the Food Habits Laboratory) under Charles C. Sperry in 1932. Its focus was “food habits and economic impact of predators, other mammals, and birds in the Western United States.”
fermenting tea and making paper; this commercial application is pretty main stream...and involves the history our nation’s battle for freedom.
But that part of the story will have to wait for next time.