How many grasshoppers will a wolf eat?

According to a scat ana­lys­is, one wolf ate at least 181 grasshop­pers and prob­ably at one go.

That sounds like a lot of hop­pers but, giv­en that each one weighs ap­prox­im­ately half a gram, that means the wolf in­ges­ted less than a cup of in­sects. Definitely a light­weight snack for a large carnivore.

It all star­ted a couple of years ago when Brandon Barton and some bud­dies were hik­ing through Hells Canyon Wilderness, which spans the Idaho/​Oregon bor­der. They were study­ing elk eco­logy but then Barton spot­ted some­thing odd – wolf scat that ap­peared to be filled with grasshoppers.

The trail was covered with live hop­pers and the group knew wolves ate a vari­ety of prey. But poop plugged with in­sect body parts seemed be­yond the norm.

Despite the pu­trid smell, Barton, a com­munity eco­lo­gist at Mississipi State University, triple bagged the scat for fur­ther ex­am­in­a­tion in a lab. In the mean­time, the group set up a couple of mo­tion-sensor cameras.

Sure enough, the black and white film caught a lone wolf vis­it­ing the trail every night to chow down on hop­pers. Because the in­sects are slug­gish when tem­per­at­ures are cool, it was as easy as a hu­man reach­ing into a bag of popcorn.

The big take away from the hop­per-filled turd on the trail ? It’s an­oth­er ex­ample of how all creatures, plants and wa­ter­ways are not isol­ated ele­ments in an eco­sys­tem; at some level they all in­ter­act to cre­ate a whole.

Photo by Eileen Kumpf

 

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