Animal Signs

One of the activities we do with our school groups is a Discovery Hike. We never know what we’ll see because nature is forever changing and each group of kids is different. One of the things I stress with my groups is that we may not actually see deer, foxes, rabbits, and all the other big furry animals they think they will see, but we can still know that they have been around. The fall season is a great time for this. There are even some animal signs that you can’t see until this time of year.

Everybody knows about tracks of course,

and some people will remember to look for scat (poop). Fur and/or feathers are good finds too.

Sometimes you can see where someone had dinner.

This caterpillar has been parasitized and now is dead, but I know that there were wasps here. Some wasps will lay their eggs inside a living caterpillar where the larva will eat the caterpillar’s insides. Then they come out of the caterpillar (see the holes) and pupate on the dying creature. (Ever seen a big green caterpillar on your tomato plants with white things stuck to it?) Finally, the adult wasps emerge and the cycle starts over again.

Fall is a great time to see where our feathered friends’ made their nests.

You can also see white-tailed deer rubs and scrapes this time of year. Male deer (bucks) are responsible for these tale-tell marks. Rubs are made when bucks rub their antlers against trees to help shed the velvet. Contrary to popular belief, it is not to “sharpen” their antlers. Scrapes are where the buck has used his front feet to scrape away the leaves and other debris from the forest floor. Scent is left from his feet, and he also may urinate near by. This is one way he communicates with other deer.

Other neat animal signs you can see in the fall are beaver scent mounds. Like the scrapes, beavers leave their scent to communicate with others of their kind. It’s a very strong scent and even us humans with our puny sense of smell can catch a whiff.

Even after all the cool ways to see signs of animals, sometimes its nice to see the real deal.

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