Submitting iNat observations of animal scats/droppings – some suggestions

The ID process – playing detective

It goes something like this: Knowing the size will suggest a series of possible animals (almost never just a single species). The next clue, say that it occurs in a latrine/midden, will suggest a subset of the first list. If the scat contains, say, bones and hair, then a further subset is produced. And so on, until one has some degree of confidence in the final single species ID (if you’re lucky).

In other words, it involves detective work (hence the questions I often bombard observers with). You, the observer, need to look for clues in situ and you need to record as many as possible. Record the clues you observe in (i) your pics and (ii) associated written descriptions.

Consider taking these pics:

(1) The whole deposit or latrine

It should show the overall volume if there’s only one deposit (i.e., the place has only been used once) or the whole latrine/midden if the place has been used many times.

(2) Closeup of the individual pieces with a scale item

The closeup pic should show size, shape, and colour.

Important: Choose a scale item proportional in size to the smallest scat pieces, i.e., a coin or ruler for anything up to some tens of millimetres. A finger is not ideal although it’s better than nothing. You can use your shoe for big stuff like zebra to rhino or elephant. A shoe is useless if they are small scats.

Don’t underestimate the usefulness of an accurate measurement. It can help distinguish, for example, between the various cats, from Black-footed Cat through to Lion. However, each cat’s scat width range overlaps with that of the next smaller and next larger cat. So, unfortunately, this means that, even with an accurate measurement, you may not be able to distinguish between them (when it falls between the average sizes for two cats). Hence, again, the importance of other clues.

(3) Contents, revealed, if necessary, by breaking open the scat with a stick, can provide very useful clues.

(4) Habitat (if you don’t get this in your “whole deposit or latrine” pic)

(5) Other signs of the animal, e.g., spoor, nearby den entrance, diggings, prominence of deposit (on a rock, clump of grass, on rhino droppings, in fork of tree, or buried or partially so).

Observations you could record in your written description:

(1) Any obvious odour.

(2) Anything relevant that you observed but were not able to photograph.

(3) Any information you might have on what animals are known to occur in the area. This is often possible for protected areas which usually have species lists. (Yes, one does need to use such lists with caution.)

Suggest a possible ID (even if it’s just a comment)

Do your best to justify your suggestion. It can help a lot. If you’re uncertain, say so. I have found that sometimes people don’t realise they have useful information (that’s not in their pics or written record).

Join the iNat “Scats & Dung (s Afr)” project

Linking your scat observation to this project will make things more efficient. I monitor this project regularly so I will get your scat pics sooner.

Posted by kevinatbrakputs September 16, 2019 10:27

Tony Rebelo added the following:

Thanks: most useful.
Please join the project here:

Examples from the project here:

to see any particular group just add the taxon into the species box.e.g.
buck - 22 species to date
cats - 5 spp
dogs - 2 spp
rodents - 5 spp
afrotheria - 3 spp
primates - 2 spp
herps - 9 spp
you can even look at a species or subspecies.

Remember if there are Dung Beetles or flies visiting the dung, to please add an interaction to the dung, so that we ca see if some species only visit one type of dung, or many ...

Posted by tonyrebelo 2 days ago

Hail our leading Scatologist! Keep up the kak Kevin - great stuff :-)

Posted by bushboy about 5 hours ago

Publicado por kevinatbrakputs kevinatbrakputs, 18 de septiembre de 2019


I wonder which dung beetles are strongly attracted to human dung ! I do feel a bit shy to photograph my own, but it would be an interesting project.

Publicado por botswanabugs hace más de 2 años (Marca)

It would indeed be an interesting project. Practical implementation, as you suggest, will have its challenges.

Publicado por kevinatbrakputs hace más de 2 años (Marca)

@kevinatbrakputs Ive been looking at dung beetles abundant near gardens where dogs are kept with lots of dog poo inside and on a hill nearby where there are a lot of baboons and no other large mammals and I think specialist dung beetles that focus on baboon dung. I have never seen the same dung beetles on cow dung. Im seriously going to try human scat bait to see if the dog and baboon associated beetles are attracted to it. Just wonder if anyone else has done similar expts. Waiting for the rain to come and an explosion of dung beetles to start.

Publicado por botswanabugs hace más de 2 años (Marca)

Thanks @kevinatbrakputs. This is most helpful!

Publicado por muonmo hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)

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