Created on December 10, 2020
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Owl pellets contain a host of forensic evidence! The owl pellet in your Coast Kit is heat sterilized, and absolutely safe to take apart!
Tracks in Mud or Snow
The size, shape, and the number of toes can tell you a lot about the animal that made the track in the mud or snow. Deer leave prints that look like two tear drop shapes next to each other. Dogs, coyotes, and foxes have paws with four toes, and their claws are visible. Cats also have four toes, but they can retract their claws. On the other paw, otters have five slender toes, and usually also flatten out a tail track. So do beavers, but they have webbed hind feet perfect for swimming that make really large tracks along river banks. Raccoon and opossum tracks look almost like mini human hands and feet. However, opossum thumbs are opposite, which is great for climbing trees. Squirrels and rabbits are easily identified by their track pattern. They place their larger hind feet in front of the smaller front paws when running. Mouse tracks are tiny, and the tail track in between the feet gives them easily away. Birds have either three or four toes that are spread apart.
When we can't find an animals paw print in the mud or snow, we sometimes have to look for other signs such as lunch leftovers, chew marks, or scratch marks. Guess what animals were here! (Find out on the bottom of the page.)
A: beaver, B: squirrel, C: sapsucker (a kind of woodpecker)
Feathers, Skins, and Antlers
Every year birds replace all their feathers. We call this molting. If you find a feather, and you want to know which bird it belonged to, you can become a feather detective, and look it up in the online Feather Atlas. This is a fantastic tool from the US Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory!
Snakes regularly shed their whole scaly skin. This includes even the scales that cover the eyes. If you are lucky, you can find a thin, transluscent snake skin. Experts can tell by the size and shape of the scales which snake species the shed skin belonged to.
Deer shed their antlers during the winter. Soon after loosing the old antlers, new antlers grow. Until they are fully developed, antlers have a velvety covering. Unlike horns that are more like fingernails, antlers are actually bones. Fun Fact: Antlers are some of the world's fastest growing tissue.
Wildlife biologists call animal poop scat, and it can tell them a lot about the animal that left it. If you find scat, never pick it up! It could contain microbes that can make you sick!
Dogs, raccoons, opossums, and otters leave piles of tube shaped scat.
Rodents like squirrels or mice produce tiny oblong pellets.
Bird poop is soft and white from the uric acis that passes through their kidneys.
Animals that eat meat are called carnivores. Herbivores are plant eaters, and omnivores eat both plants and meat.