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.