Rocky Mts. Scat

Wayne's WordIndexNoteworthy PlantsTriviaLemnaceaeBiology 101BotanySearch

Collectors and Collections

Dried Scat From The Rocky Mountains

Can You Determine Which Animal Produced The Above Eighteen Types Of Scat?
Although it is difficult to tell from the image, none of these are raisins, figs or chocolate candies.
The above scat collection might change your perception about the appearance
of things we eat. For example, can you identify the bird from which the morsels at
left came from: Ptarmigan, spruce grouse, prairie chicken or pheasant? Actually,
the answer is none of the above. They are tasty soy sticks from Bates Nut Farm.
A. Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
B. Coyote (Canis latrans)
C. Moose (Alces alces)
D. Elk (Cervus canadensis)
E. Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
F. Marmot (Marmota flaviventris)
G. Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
H. Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)
I.  Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)
J. Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)
K. Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus)
L. Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus)
M. Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii)
N. Chickaree (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
O. Woodrat (Neotoma cinerea)
P. Chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus)
Q. Pika (Ochotona princeps)
R. Little Brown Bat (Myotis volans)

Note:  Some of the above animals were identified by graduate students and staff at the
Colorado State University NSF Summer Institute: Ecology of the Rocky Mountains (1970).

More Assortments Of Things:

Adult Beetles
Acacias Leaves
Seeds For Jewelry
Eucalyptus Leaves
Drift Seeds & Fruits
Drift Seeds & Fruits


A Brief Note About People
Who Make Collections

A systematist may be defined as one who classifies (categorizes) living organisms. The study of the classification of organisms is called systematics, also known as taxonomy. Modern systematists use sophisticated studies of ribosomal and chloroplast DNA to categorize organisms. Using cladistical analysis, powerful computers can create phylogenetic trees (cladograms) based on thousands of DNA base patterns. In some cases these cladograms come out very close to the original studies based on purely morphological characteristics.

 See A Cladogram of the Duckweed Family (Lemnaceae) 

An early developmental sign of a budding young systematist is an obsession with collecting various "kinds" of things. These collections may include organic (living) and nonliving things, such as matchbooks, sea shells, bullets, nails, bolts, nuts, butterflies, beetles, rocks, fossils, bones, leaves, pine cones and seed pods. An extensive collection can even be made from animal droppings (see above image), although there is a potential health hazard from inhaling spores and viruses, particularly if your collection includes rodents. In addition, the scat collections are usually not impressive to friends or a potential marriage partner, especially when they are proudly displayed in your residence.

Maintaining and organizing all these collections can be a monumental task. Moving extensive collections to a new and different location can be especially stressful. In fact, this control-dilemma is one of Mr. Wolffia's major problems. Most large and valuable collections are housed in museums with a staff of curators and assistants. What makes a collection valuable is to have complete and accurate data for each specimen, such as date, collector, location and pertinent notes that would be useful to someone looking at your collection many years later. Locations should ideally include the latitude and longitude using a GPS. Even a well-documented scat collection is valuable to a scatologist. Boxes full of animal poop without data are virtually useless.

Dried, pressed plant specimens are mounted on sheets of 11.5" X 16.5" herbarium paper and stored on shelves within large herbarium cabinets. To save space, some museum herbaria have large rows of cabinets on tracks that can be compressed. Usually the specimen sheets are arranged alphabetically within manila genus folders. Because of the hazards of prolonged inhalation of insecticides (particularly damaging to vulnerable bone marrow tissue), all plants are stored in a deep freeze before placing them in the herbarium. A freezing temperature of several weeks kills most insects, larvae and eggs. Each herbarium specimen has an attached label in the lower right corner. The following is an example of a useful herbarium label:

Collection Number:  1298       Family:  LEMNACEAE
Sci. Name:  Wolffia globosa (Roxb.) Hartog & Plas
Common Name:  Watermeal       Herb    Shrub    Vine    Tree   
County & State:  San Diego County, California, USA
General Location:  San Dieguito River, pond at base of Lake Hodges Dam Spillway
GPS Location:  33 Deg. 2 Min. North, 117 Deg. 8 Min. West
Plant Community:  Freshwater Marsh       Elevation:  76 m
Date:  29 Jan. 1989       Collector:  W.P. Armstrong
Notes:  Abundant. Mixed with Azolla filiculoides & Lemna minuta; during the previous
summer (1988), pond contained mostly Wolffia columbiana mixed with a few individuals
of W. borealis; plants of W. globosa are smaller (0.5 - 0.8 mm) and more cylindrical than
W. columbiana. [Based differences in size and shape, W. globosa can be distinguished
from W. columbiana using hydrated herbarium specimens.]

Wolffia herbarium sheet: A. Mass of plant bodies pressed and dried on drying paper and slipped into 6 1/2 x 9 inch plastic sheath. The wolffia adhere to blotter paper without glue and can easily be removed for study, preferably hydrated in water. B. Standard 11 1/2 x 16 1/2 inch herbarium sheet with 7 x 10 inch manila envelope glued to lower right corner. Plastic sheath goes inside this envelope. ID label (see previous image) is glued to the envelope.


Animals That Make Distinctive Scat In Above Image:

Elk: Female (left) and male (right).


Well-camouflaged ptarmigan (left) and grouse in the Rocky Mts.


Scat From An Extinct Dinosaur In The Utah Region

    Back To Ancient Plants Lecture Page  

Fossilized scat can be very useful to paleontologists because it may contain evidence of the diet of herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. It also provides a record of where these creatures lived, even when no other fossil evidence is available. A good place for the preservation of dung is a floodplain associated with rivers, particularly where feces deposited on a dry part of the floodplain became dehydrated just before rapid burial by a river flood. Other environments for the formation of coprolites include watering holes (ponds), swamps, streams, and muddy areas associated with lakes and estuaries. [See Wright, K. 1996. "What Dinosaurs Left Us." Discover Magazine June 1996: 58-65.]

Petrified dung (coprolite) from a large dinosaur that roamed the vast plains of eastern Utah during the Jurassic Period, about 160 million years ago. Although it appears like one large "cow pie" 22 cm across, it may represent the amalgamation of several pellets that merged together in a fluid matrix. The animal that made this was probably larger than any present-day herbivore. It might have been excreted from one of the large sauropods that inhabited this region.

Fossil scat (coprolite) from an unknown animal.

 See Fossils Of Ancient Plants 


Dinosaurs Dined On Grasses In India

Phytoliths are microscopic silica bodies found inside the cells of stems and leaves of grasses and other plants. Depending on the species of plant, they range from 5 to 100 micrometers in length. Because they are made of a crystalline form of silica called opal, they are very durable and retain their characteristic shapes over millions of years. Different genera of grasses have phytoliths with unique shapes, including square, rectangular, oblong, bilobed, wavy with undulate margins, butterfly and dumb-bell shaped. Grasses belonging to the subfamily Panicoideae typically have phytoliths that are dumb-bell shaped. This includes the genera Digitaria, Panicum, Paspalum, Pennisetum and Setaria. Like microscopic pollen grains and diatoms, the phytoliths remain perfectly preserved in spaces between soil particles. Phytoliths have recently been discovered in dinosaur coprolites, evidence that these enormous prehistoric herbivores fed on grasses.

Although flowering plants date back about 130 million years ago, the earliest unequivocal grass pollen and macrofossils date to the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, about 56 million years ago, well after the demise of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Dioramas in museums have long depicted large sauropod dinosaurs grazing on conifers, cycads and ferns in landscapes without grasses. In the November 18 issue of Science, Caroline Strömberg of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and her Indian colleagues Vandana Prasad, Habib Alimohammadian and Ashok Sahni report phytoliths in the fossilized dung of sauropods that lived in central India about 65 to 71 million years ago.

Phytoliths have been an important factor in the evolution of grazing herbivores that feed exclusively on grasses. During the lifetime of an animal that consumes large quantities of grasses, its molars gradually wear down. These animals have evolved high-crowned teeth that in some cases continue to grow from the base as the crowns are worn away.

To verify the shape of a phyolith in the grass subfamily Panicoideae, I examined the leaf of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) under a compound microscope.

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), a common naturalized weed in southern California. A small square piece from a leaf blade (red square) was viewed with compound microscope using substage lighting. Phytoliths were barely visible within the parallel leaf veins (costae) under 100x magnification.

Magnified view of the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) showing parallel nerves (costae). The costa cells contain phytoliths. The numerous spherical green bodies are chloroplasts. Image taken of a fresh leaf (blade) at 75x magnification.

Magnified view of the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) showing parallel nerves (costae). The costa within red box contains a row of dumb-bell shaped phytoliths. Image taken at 100x magnification.

Microscopic view of the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) showing a row of costa cells bearing dumb-bell shaped phytoliths. Below the costa are two paired guard cells, each with a slit-like stoma. Photo taken of a fresh leaf at 400x magnification. One phytolith is only 32 micrometers in length. Compare this with an average cuboidal grain of table salt in which each side is 300 micrometers long.

Microscopic view of the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) showing a row of costa cells bearing dumb-bell shaped phytoliths. Above the costa is a slit-like stoma flanked by two guard cells. Photo taken of a fresh leaf at 400x magnification. One phytolith is only 32 micrometers in length. Compare this with an average cuboidal grain of table salt in which each side is 300 micrometers long.

Microscopic view of the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) showing a row of dumb-bell shaped phytoliths just below the scabrous (minutely toothed) margin. The toothed margin is why grass leaves can cut your skin. Photo taken of a fresh leaf at 400x magnification. One phytolith is only 32 micrometers in length.

Magnified view of a row of phytoliths within the leaf epidermis of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis). The dumb-bell shaped phytoliths are 32 micrometers in length. Compare this with an average cuboidal grain of table salt in which each side is 300 micrometers long. More than 800 of these crabgrass phytoliths could fit into a box the size of a grain of table salt! Photo taken at 400x and 1000x magnifications with a light microscope.

Magnified phytolith from the leaf costa of crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis).
Photo taken at 1000x magnification under oil immersion. The dumb-bell shape
is characteristic of the subfamily Panicoideae.

A Comparison Of Cell Sizes
 Grains of Salt & Metric System 


Magnified view of phytoliths within the costa (vein) of an unknown lawn grass. The phytoliths are rectangular with undulated margins, each about 28-32 micrometers long. They are approximately the shape of phytoliths in the subfamily Pooideae. In fact, the grass may be a species of Poa (bluegrass). Photo taken at 400x magnification with a light microscope.

Illustration of a phytolith within the costa (vein) of an unknown lawn grass. The phytolith has the shape of a slender rectangular block with undulations along the top and bottom sides. It is approximately 30 micrometers in length along the bottom side. It was drawn from a photo image taken at 1000x magnification with a light microscope.

Intracellular crystals of calcium oxalate are also used in plant taxonomy studies. This is pointed out in the December 2005 issue of the American Journal of Botany. Nels R. Lersten and Harry T. Horner disussed the development and shape of crystals in pomegranate (Punica granatum). See American Journal of Botany 92 (12): 1935-1941, 2005. Numerous images of phytoliths from the Argentine pampas are shown in an article by M.F. Honaine, A.F. Zucol and M.L. Osterrieth (Annals of Botany 98: 1155-1165, 2006).

 A Calcium Oxalate Crystal in the Stem of American Basswood 


Return To Economic Plant Families Page
Return To WAYNE'S WORD Home Page
Return To NOTEWORTHY PLANTS Page
Go To Biology GEE WHIZ TRIVIA Page
Go To The LEMNACEAE ON-LINE Page