Wildfile Q & A: What left that scat?

Q: What left that scat?

A: The six larger mammals plus the alligators that inhabit CREW lands may not always be seen, but evidence of their presence is common. Distinguishing the scat (excrement, droppings) of those animals is relatively easy based on shape and size.

Three of the mammals consume plant material and leave scat that usually contains seeds or berries: raccoons, black bears, and white-tailed deer.

The three other mammals are carnivores, so their scat will contain fur, bones, and/or bits of shell, but no seeds.

Alligators are primarily carnivores, too, but their digestive systems are so strong that there is rarely any recognizable material in their scat.

Below are identifying characteristics for each of the seven animals, first by shape and then by size.

1. PILEscat photos (3)

small– Raccoon

Scat can either be a small pile or small and tubular. If tubular, both ends are rounded; usually full of seeds; color will vary depending on what was recently eaten. For example, purple-tinted scat can come from a diet of elderberries, beautyberries, or cabbage palm fruit.

large– Black Bear

Scat is a humongous pile, usually full of seeds which the bears don’t digest. Color can vary depending on what the bear has recently eaten. Oval, almond-size seeds are from saw palmetto.



small– Bobcat

Frequently segmented; can be up to 3 inches in length and around 3/4 inch in diameter; one end rounded while the other usually tapers to a point; contains visible fur and possibly bones

large– Panther

Frequently segmented; can be up to 5 inches in length and over 1 inch in diameter; one end rounded while the other end tapers to a point; contains bits of fur and bone. Panthers, like many cats, often scratch dirt or leaves over their scat. The bare patch where they scratched is called a “scrape.”

gigantic– Alligator

Can be up to 5 or 6 inches in length and over 2 inches in diameter; rounded at both ends; light gray when fresh and drying to almost white. Scat really stinks, even after drying up.



River Otter

Found near water; scat may have no recognizable shape but contains fish bones and scales and pieces of shell; oily, tar-like appearance. Otters mark their territories by leaving scented scat on the highest ground they can find, which is usually a trail. Fresh scat really stinks.



White-tailed Deer

Small, round, individual scat shows deer has been browsing on things such as leaves twigs, and acorns. Lumpy scat is more indicative of a meal of easier to digest grasses, clover, and other forbs.


By Dick Brewer


Wildfile Q & A: Bird Call Vs. Bird Song

A Carolina Wren sings to define and defend its territory.

Q: What are the differences between a bird call and a bird song?

A young Red-bellied Woodpecker calls to its parent for food.
A young Red-bellied Woodpecker calls to its parent for food.

A: A bird call tends to serve a specific function and is primarily
innate rather than learned. A bird song is almost always learned and
is often customized by individual males.


Alarm calls alert every bird within hearing range that danger is
present, and all innately understand what the call means and act
accordingly. The alarm call of one species can be recognized by birds
of many other species.

Location calls let mates or birds in a flock know where the others
are. For example, when a Barred Owl calls during the day, a mate often
answers, sometimes from a good distance away. Each then knows where
the other is. Location calls can also identify good feeding and
nesting habitats.

A chick’s “feed me” call triggers a parental response to find and
bring food to its offspring. As the chicks get older, begging behavior
complements the call for food.

 A Carolina Wren sings to define and defend its territory.

A Carolina Wren sings to define and defend its territory.


Male birds tend to sing more than females, and unmated males sing more
than mated ones. Males use songs to attract mates and to identify and
defend territory. The song warns other males to stay out of its
territory, and it invites females to come in. Males can recognize the
songs of neighbors and usually don’t pay any attention to them, but
they sing furiously if they hear the song of a stranger who might
enter their territory.

In selecting a mate, females may use the size and complexity of the
song to determine a male’s potential fitness as a partner. More mature
males usually have more elaborate songs which may indicate to the
female that the male is a survivor with more breeding experience and
better health.

A majority of songbirds have at least two different songs. The extreme
singer is the male Brown Thrasher which is estimated to have over
3,000 song types.


By Dick Brewer


Wildfile Q & A: How old are the bigger slash pine trees?

pine_0604Q: How old are the bigger slash pine trees?

A: Slash Pine in South Florida lacks data, probably because there is not a local lumber industry.

However,  Roy DeLotelle, a researcher for Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat in Collier County, has collected data on the age of pine trees important for the woodpeckers. It comes from coring pines in the woodpecker’s habitat in Picayune Strand in Collier County.

Slash Pines grow a little larger in the drier pine/palmetto forests (mesic flatwoods) than in the wetter pine/grass forests (hydric flatwoods), and there is a good deal of difference between individual trees. Note the variations between the individual dots and the
“average” line in the graph, so a tree’s diameter in DeLotell’s graph below may not tell the precise age.

In the field, biologists use a different indicator of an “old” pine tree: a flat top shape to the pine canopy.

In DeLotells’ graph of his data, DBH is the Diameter at Breast Height. The R-squared values show how well the line fits the data points. R-squared ranges between 0 and 1 with the higher number showing the line is a good fit for the data.

Slash Pines can easily live past 200 years, and there are many that old in Collier County.

-By Dick Brewer
pine tree graph

Wildfile Q& A: Do all spiders bite, and are they poisonous?

shoreline spider
shoreline spider
Shoreline Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) By Dick Brewer


Q: Do all spiders bite, and are they poisonous?

A: There are two problems with this question: a technicality, and a set of false assumptions.

First, the technicality. “Poisonous” and “venomous” are two different things. No spider is poisonous — harmful to eat, breathe, or touch. Mushrooms are sometimes poisonous, but spiders are not. Spiders are venomous; their toxins are proteins which only work when injected.

Second, all spiders do bite, but most local spiders are harmless because they are not aggressive and will not bite indiscriminately, or their fangs are simply too small to nip through our comparatively thick skin. Just because they are venomous does not mean they are
dangerous to people.

Spider venom does not exist to harm creatures which are too large for spiders to eat, like humans. The purpose of spider venom is to subdue the spider’s prey, almost always insects. In brief, it’s an insecticide.

Nevertheless, all larger spiders with a body length of a half inch or more should be treated with caution. Avoid flicking them away from your body. People allergic to bee stings may react more strongly to the bite of a spider than an ordinary person.

Bees and wasps kill more people in the United States in one year than spiders and snakes combined kill in ten years, and dogs and cats kill or injure more people each year than bees and wasps. Yet most people like dogs and cats and fear spiders and snakes.

For More Information: http://www.iflscience.com/brain/why-are-we-afraid-spiders


By Dick Brewer


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