Wolf scat and butterflies

Wolves have cast-iron di­gest­ive sys­tems cap­able of hand­ling frag­ments of bone and shell, an­im­al fur and even the in­tact nails from a seal.

These in­tact seal nails were found in the dried up scat of a BC coastal wolf. Photo by Paula Wild

When it comes to food, wolves are op­por­tun­ist­ic. They’ll eat ber­ries and have been known to nibble on hu­man food and garbage. String and rem­nants of clothes have also been found in the scat of camp robbers.

Wolf scat looks sim­il­ar to a piece of cord and usu­ally tapers to a point on the end. An adult wolf’s scat is usu­ally between 25 to 38 mil­li­metres (one to 1.5 inches) in dia­met­er. If it’s runny, the wolf may have re­cently eaten some bloody meat.

Una Ledrew and Dave Ratcliffe were startled when they ob­served chunks of rope in wolf scat near their home. “They were chew­ing on and swal­low­ing ropes of all kinds, plastic rope, big thick rope we use to tie up the skiff,” Ledrew said.

Like the seal nails above, big chunks of rope seemed to pass through a wolf’s di­gest­ive tract nearly in­tact. Photo by Una Ledrew

My guess is the wolves were after the salt left be­hind by hu­man hands but some of the rope had been out in the open for ages. Wolf ex­perts I spoke to were baffled as to why wolves would con­sume rope.

Wolf scat is more than just part of a wolf’s elim­in­a­tion pro­cess; it’s also an im­port­ant part of lupine com­mu­nic­a­tion. Scat is one way wolves’ mark their ter­rit­ory and is of­ten found in con­spicu­ous loc­a­tions such as trail intersections.

These visu­al and ol­fact­ory mark­ers serve as a sig­nal to warn oth­er wolf packs out of their ter­rit­ory or to let fam­ily mem­bers know they’ve passed that way. Wolf scat is also part of nature’s re­cyc­ling pro­gram, en­rich­ing the soil wherever it’s deposited.

But the biggest sur­prise about wolf scat is but­ter­flies. They aren’t in it, they’re on it. Apparently, but­ter­flies love wolf scat due to the high con­cen­tra­tion of nu­tri­ents.  In fact, nu­mer­ous re­search­ers told me, “If you’re look­ing for wolves, look for butterflies.”

Gerard Gorman (www​.probirder​.com) is an au­thor and bird­ing and wild­life con­sult­ant and guide spe­cial­ising in cent­ral and Eastern Europe. He took this photo in Aggtelek National Park in Hungary.

Of wolves and moose

A few weeks ago, a friend urged me to check Return of the Wolf on amazon​.ca “Right now!”

Oops,” I thought. “Some info in the product de­tails must be wrong. And then a sick fore­bod­ing – maybe someone had pos­ted a dread­ful review?

I quickly googled the page and was baffled to see or­ange text pro­claim­ing #1 in Bestseller in Wildlife un­der the title. It took few minutes for the sig­ni­fic­ance to sink in.

I let out a little shriek and im­me­di­ately emailed the link to friends and fam­ily.  At the time I wasn’t sure if rat­ings were based on hits or ac­tu­al pur­chases. I now know it’s the lat­ter. And that rat­ings are re­con­figured hourly.

A little later in the day I googled amazon​.ca and saw that Wolf had slipped to #2. Okay, so I’d had my fif­teen minutes of fame. And to keep things in per­spect­ive, a moose cal­en­dar was #4.

Wolves and moose have a long re­la­tion­ship as pred­at­or and prey. Researchers have wit­nessed single wolves take down an adult moose so it can be done.

But most wolves tackle the 360 to 450 kg (8001,000 pound) un­gu­lates as part of a pack. Even then, it’s es­tim­ated that they’re only suc­cess­ful one to nine per­cent of the time.

It’s dan­ger­ous too as the moose may kick or stomp a wolf with its sharp hooves, bat­ter it with its heavy antlers or use them to flip the can­id end over end.

So, when it comes to a phys­ic­al con­front­a­tion, a healthy adult moose is more than a cap­able match for a lone wolf or even a pack.

But how do wolves and moose fare when it comes to hu­man emo­tions? I’d nev­er thought about it un­til I saw the an­im­als so closely linked on the amazon​.ca best­seller list.

For a couple of weeks I ran­domly checked Return of the Wolf’s status on amazon. The book slipped down to #8 and then ping-ponged to #157 and back up to #22 with nu­mer­ous stops in between. And through it all, the moose cal­en­dar held steady at #4.

How keen is a wolf’s sense of smell?

Imagine simply in­hal­ing and be­ing able to tell who has passed by and how long ago, what sex they are and what their gen­er­al health is, where they’ve been, what they’ve eaten and what mood they’re in.

To a large de­gree, a wolf nav­ig­ates the world through its sense of smell. The tip of its nose is a com­plex land­scape of minute ridges and creases, which, when com­bined with the out­er edges of nos­trils, cre­ates a pat­tern as dis­tinct as a hu­man fingerprint.

Each nos­tril can be moved in­de­pend­ently, al­low­ing wolves to de­term­ine which dir­ec­tion a par­tic­u­lar scent is com­ing from. Inside the broad snout are ap­prox­im­ately 280 mil­lion scent re­cept­ors, a princely amount when com­pared to a German shepherd’s 225 mil­lion, a dachshund’s 125 mil­lion and hu­mans’ scant five to six million.

A wolf’s nose alerts them to danger, the pres­ence of pack mem­bers or en­emies, fe­male wolves in heat and prey. Each wolf has dis­tinct­ive scent glands on dif­fer­ent parts of their body so smells unique, at least to oth­er canids.

Scientists know that wolves can smell prey 2.5 kilo­metres (1.5 miles) away. Gordon Haber, who spent most of his life re­search­ing wolves in Alaska, was con­vinced that wolves could smell a dead moose or cari­bou bur­ied un­der three metres (ten feet) of snow, even if the wind was blow­ing the wrong direction.

In Wolves on the Hunt, a ra­dio-collared fe­male wolf with pups makes a beeline for a cari­bou herd more than 100 kilo­metres (62 miles) distant.

What sur­prised the re­search­ers was the tim­ing of the wolf’s jour­ney and the re­l­at­ively straight line she made for the cari­bou. The week be­fore her trek, the av­er­age daily dis­tance between her den and the cari­bou was 242 kilo­metres (150 miles). The day she left, it had nar­rowed by more than half.

If the wolf had veered to the north­w­est, she might have missed the herd en­tirely or not found them un­til later. There’s no way to know if she smelled the un­gu­lates from her den, picked up their scent part­way through her jour­ney or simply headed in the dir­ec­tion she’d found cari­bou before.

But cari­bou are highly mo­bile so the wolf couldn’t have de­pended on memory alone. The re­search­ers spec­u­late that if a hu­man can smell smoke from a forest fire more than 100 kilo­metres (62 miles) away, why couldn’t a wolf smell a cari­bou herd from the same distance?

Photo cour­tesy Wolf Conservation Centre.

WCC is an en­vir­on­ment­al edu­ca­tion or­gan­iz­a­tion that teaches people about wolves, their re­la­tion­ship to the en­vir­on­ment and hu­mans’ role in pro­tect­ing their future.