Thursday, October 11, 2012

Seedy Mystery

While you're pondering your answers to Janet's very entertaining tracking questions, here's another for you.  I was out in the rain yesterday in shrubby, early successional habitat (i.e., a field in the slow process of turning back into woodland), bordered by a marshy wetland.  In a narrow trampled-down depression - not worthy of being called a "path" - through very tall grass, I came across a scat, reddish in color, comprised almost completely of large seeds.  I then found some funky-looking, bumpy "fruits" with a white, pulpy interior that was clearly being feasted on.  Upon examination, I discovered that the seeds I'd noticed in the scat were the same type as those in the white pulp.  After a little research back home, I figured out what was being eaten, but can only guess as to what animal was doing the eating.  What's being consumed here?  Any thoughts on the consumer's identity?


  1. The bumpy fruits are skunk cabbage. Almost every reference on the web to skunk cabbage seeds in scat talks about bears! Mark Mayall found a similar scat in Sudbury, which he thought was coyote:

    Fox or coyote would be my guess.

  2. Correct. The "fruit-head" of the skunk cabbage starts out as a small knob (a/k/a the "spadix") covered with little yellow flowers inside the spathe, the purple hood-like bract that is one of our harbingers of spring. Who knew that anything would want to eat it? That Mother Nature - always full of surprises. The scat in the first photo appears smaller than it actually was; I believe it was too copious an amount for a fox. My initial - and still best - guess was coyote, which are known to frequent that area. But I'm not ruling out bear, just because we've had one roaming around these parts lately and he/she's got to be eating something! I'm putting a camera out there soon.

  3. Well I learned something here. Did not recognize it as skunk cabbage fruit. Susan, was this anywhere near where you recently saw the claw marks and overturned rock that looked like bear sign?

    I would guess that lots of animals eat the fruit, if bears do. I did read that wood ducks and bobwhites eat the seeds, and common yellowthroats sometimes nest within the cup of the leaves.

    Is it not late for the fruits to be around? I never noticed the fruits once the leaves get big. Do they develop all summer long beneath the leaves?

  4. No, this little tableau was not in the same area as the turned-over boulders, but about a mile away.

    The fruits looked fresh and unmarred, so this must be their harvest time by whatever critters have the taste for them. It seems there's more going on beneath those leaves than one might expect. I'm heading out into the woods now, and intend to take a close look at the plants along my stream.