Saturday, September 20, 2014

Catching a Thief

I love tomatoes more than any other food.  Which is why I was disturbed to see that "something" had been eating the tomatoes in my garden.  The suspects were many.  After all, we live in the middle of the woods full of squirrel, raccoon, opossum and others that would love such a free meal.  But it was not until one morning last week that I caught at least one of the culprits red-handed.

I had heard other gardeners lament the loss of tomatoes---one bite at a time--to turtles, but now I had proof.  In reading my field guides to reptiles and amphibians, box turtles are supposed to eat berries, fungi and a variety of invertebrates.  Someone should tell the turtle!

Of course these turtles are omnivores and like most animals will capitalize on any opportunity for a free meal.  In trying to determine what to do, I decided that next year I will plant more tomatoes---some for me and some for this thief and any others that may come my way.

What Scat is That?

How good are your "scat skills"--the ability to identify an animal's presence by scat alone.  I thought I was pretty good at it.  I even have a scat collection.  Eww! But last month I was stumped by the presence of some pretty distinctive scat on the deck.

The top photo was over two inches long and the bottom photo was about half that size.  Seeing the whitish area in the scat made me think of birds, but if a bird flew over and dropped the scat, it would be circular shaped. Plop! Plus the most logical choice, a hummingbird, would not have this large of a dropping.

So this quickly became a mystery to solve.  Over several days, I kept sweeping away this type of scat of varying sizes.  That became a clue.  Whatever it was, the adult and juvenile at this time of year (late summer) must be of vastly different sizes.  Again, that would eliminate birds.

I then focused on the whitish area, similar to bird droppings.  The white is the uric acid excreted from the body with feces.  This occurs in birds, but having eliminated birds for the reasons stated above, I thought of a closely related group--reptiles.

So was this a snake or lizard?  I don't often see snakes on our deck but have seen lizards, so this seemed more likely....but which one.  Here is where observation comes into the story.  After observing the scat, our family was watching the deck for other signs or the animal itself.  Finally, we saw the culprits---Five-lined skinks.  We saw the adults and the smaller, blue-tailed juveniles.
From Wikipedia

In an effort to verify our scat identification, I consulted two comprehensive reptile field guides.  Neither contained information about scat.  So I went to the internet, and of course found scat photos similar to mine.  The photographer guessed it was a reptile but did not cite any evidence or identify the species..

Being "into" scat, I think more should be reported for all types of species.  This is one thing the animal leaves behind that can indicate its presence.  I do have field guides to scat. Most focus on larger mammals, and I have never seen lizards listed.  Since this is a gap in our knowledge, maybe I'll start my own field guide someday!

Scat is so interesting, and it is fun to name all the synonyms...which I shall not list here...another project for another day!