Mystery Poop

The other evening, Michelle arrived home with digital photos of animal sign she found on the trail. She discovered it on her morning hike out to work; her evening hike, in the gathering dark, had been a fairly hair-raising experience, because this stuff was pretty big.


The Mystery Poop. Size 9 boot in photo puts this specimen at about 4″ (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Our life in Alaska has made us very aware of animal poop. The euphemism “sign” is a good one, as animal feces can provide far more information than animal tracks, but not always. We’ve seen a lot of shit over the years. I’ve even learned to recognize seal poop—not an easy one, let me tell you.

But, we’re not as good at identification as we’d like to be. For that reason, we often turn to our tracking books. The two books we use include feces identification in addition to tracks. Still, it’s not an exact science, apparently. This makes sense, considering that excreta varies depending on the particular food the animal ate prior to making a depositing. Bears are perhaps the toughest, being as omnivorous as humans. Other animals can be misleading as well. Humans classify animals as herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous, but most animals seem to eat what they find, depending on circumstance. I understand that deer even scavenge salmon carcasses during the runs!

Here’s what we know or notice about the sign Michelle found:

  • This animal ate some furry animal recently. We’re assuming snowshoe hare.
  • This animal’s feces looks most like a muscalid poop, i.e. left by a member of the weasel family.
  • It may also be segmented, which would indicate canine (coyote, wolf) or feline (lynx, maybe even mountain lion).
  • The size of this elimination is larger than the common size of any animal listed in our sourcebooks.
  • Position may be key: the fact that the animal dropped this load dead center in the trail is significant. We should assume it’s a territory marking.

All of this narrows our guess down to a few possibilities. It’s probably coyote, but there’s a slight chance it might be wolverine. It could even be bear, but that seems unlikely at this time of year.

We couldn’t find any tracks in the area. Our weather has been very dry. The snow has frozen hard, and decayed through evaporation. Thawing periods produce falling ice and snow “plops” from overhead trees. In these conditions, nothing looks like an animal track, and everything looks like an animal track!

If you’re an animal tracker, we invite you to weigh in using the comments section below. What do you think it is, and why? Defend your answer, please.

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2 Responses to Mystery Poop

  1. Jim says:

    Looks like good sized dog poop to me.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Size, yes, Jim, but the animal fur makes us think not. The dogs of Haines are very well cared for. I’ve never heard of them killing and eating their own game.

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