What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

4 minute read.
As we are out enjoying some of the many trails the Yukon has to offer, we often have to watch our step to make sure we’re not putting our boots in something smelly! These unexpected trail obstacles can be great indicators of whose habitat we are walking into, what they are eating, and how they are digesting it. Just like us, many animals have dynamic diets, and will eat what is available. Scat can be interesting but can also spread diseases, even to humans, so it should be looked at and not touched, especially by our furry companions.

Bears

Black bears are opportunistic omnivores who will eat whatever food they can find, including fish, fruit, meat, insects, and herbs and grasses. Grizzlies have a similar diet, but tend to favour high-energy meat and insects more than the smaller black bears. Like their diets, bear scat appearance is quite varied, and often contains fragments of their last meal, like seeds, bits of berries, or small animal bones. Wildlife Interpreter Maureen recounts seeing a landscape covered in red wine-coloured piles that were actually scat from grizzlies that had eaten a lot of cranberries!

Light brown bear scat with seeds visible.

Bears are relatives of mammalian carnivores, they have a digestive system similar to carnivores, without a cecum or extended large intestine. This limits how efficiently they can process leafy plant material and they must eat a lot if they are relying on these foods, which is common in the spring. As a result, when a bear eats a lot of plant material their scat often has a green tinge from the undigested grasses or a fibrous appearance. Typically, their scat is brown or black and tapered, though sometimes it can appear as more globular if it is loose. Grizzly scat tends to be a bit wider and larger piles than black bear scat. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, but both should make a hiker cautious of the trail ahead. Remember bear spray and noisemakers and stay bear safe!

Left to right: Older bear scat; bear scat that is darker brown in colour with grasses visible.

If you’re interested in getting involved in bear research, the Operation Ursus Research using Scat (OURS) project is aimed at estimating the Yukon grizzly and black bear populations using DNA available in bear scat. Lucile leads the study and shares the project story Bear Poo and You with YWP.

Canines

Foxes, wolves, and coyotes are more exclusively carnivorous than bears, but may occasionally eat berries and seeds. Their digestive system is similar to that of a bear, as is their scat. Wolves’ stomachs are specially adapted to hold a lot of food so that after a hunt they can get their share of the reward. Additionally, their stomach is very acidic to kill off any pathogens in the meat. It is tubular and tapered and may contain bits of bones, fur, or berries. It may be lighter, as it varies from tan to dark brown in colour. It is, however, smaller than bear scat: fox scat is about 1.25 cm in diameter, coyote scat is about 2 cm, and wolf scat is usually at least 2.5 cm in diameter.

Wolf scat with fur visible.

There will likely be much less of it as well. Foxes often defecate in obvious areas to mark their territory. The Wildlife Preserve exists as an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem and foxes are one of the many wild animals that visit. They seem to like to use the boardwalks at the front cabin to do their business!

Foxes often defecate in obvious places to mark their territory.

Left photo credit: L.Caskenette.

Feline – Lynx

Unlike generalist bears and canines, lynxes are specialists. Snowshoe hares are their primary food source, and can make up 75% of their winter diet. Meat is highly digestible, meaning that most of what is consumed can be broken down and absorbed easily. Lynx digestive systems, therefore, have shorter small intestines relative to body size and less developed caecum than canines.

Lynx scat of varying ages among grass.

Their scat is black, tubular and tapered, and does not have so much undigested material as the bears or canines. It is also very smelly. Like a house cat, they will cover their scat with dirt or snow, probably to hide their presence from nearby animals. Also like house cats, they often defecate in the same latrine over and over, which can be seen in our lynx habitat.

Lynx, like house cats, often poop in the same places every time. This is one of the latrines in the lynx habitat at the Preserve.

Cervids

The Yukon has a great variety of cervids (antler bearing animals) or members of the deer family. Their diets, digestive systems, and scat have many similarities. In general, they produce uniform, dark brown or black oval-shaped pellets, which result from uniform movements of smooth muscles in the large intestine and its sphincters.

From left to right: Caribou, moose, mule deer and elk. Photo Credit: L.Caskenette & J.Paleczny.

Their diets are often high in fibrous, dry tree materials like leaves and twigs, which is why their feces forms pellets. If they are eating more grasses, in the summer, it may appear softer and more clumpy. Cervids are all ruminants which means that their stomachs have four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  This allows for fermentation by bacteria and other processes that break down vegetation. This is part of the reason that cervid scat does not have as much undigested material as the carnivores’, despite their plant diet having less digestible material. In addition, they will regurgitate their food and chew it again, also called chewing their cud!

Left to Right: Soft caribou scat clumps together versus caribou scat in pellet form.

Deer pellets are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and are left in piles of many pellets. They defecate an average of 13 times per day! Elk scat is similar but 1-1.5 cm in diameter, and moose scat is even larger at 1.5-2 cm in diameter. Deer and elk pellets are rounder than moose pellets.

Softer deer scat often clumps together as seen here.

Moose are more strictly browsers, that eat only tree materials, so mostly their pellets are harder. Caribou scat appears somewhat more rough than deer or moose scat. It is often in harder pellet form in the winter when they eat a lot of lichens and sedges. In the summer, when their diet switches to grasses and vegetation with a high moisture content, their scat often forms larger soft clumps.

Moose scat in pellet form, darker brown because it’s older.

Bovids

There are also a wide variety of bovids (horn bearing animals) in the Yukon. Our mountain sheep, mountain goats, muskox, and bison are all ruminants, just like the cervids. They are all herbivores who eat a variety of grasses, sedges, seedlings, and leaves.

Left to Right: Muskox, bison, mountain goat, thinhorn sheep. Photo Credit: L. Caskenette

Muskox, mountain goats, and thinhorn mountain sheep also form pellet scat, even when their diets consist largely of grass. That’s because their digestive tracts are highly evolved to reabsorb as much water as possible, likely an adaptation to their arid alpine (goats and sheep) and tundra (muskox) habitats.

Sheep scat forms pellets.

Goats have varied diets that includes browse, shrubs, lichens, grasses, and even trees. Their alpine foraging sites may be sparse, which doesn’t allow them to be picky eaters. Muskoxen eat grasses, forbs (herbaceous flowering plants), and willows, which they often have to dig out from the frozen arctic ground by smashing the permafrost with their heads and pawing the ice pieces out of the way. Mountain sheep eat mostly grasses and some other low growing sedges.

Muskox scat.

Bison scat is distinct from all the other ruminants mentioned above, because it forms an indistinct pile. Their diet is also primarily grasses and other low-lying herbaceous plants, but they may eat some willows and twigs. Grasses would make their scat more loose, but we’re taking suggestions for what makes their scat so different from the other grass-loving bovids!

Bison patty.

Hopefully after hearing all of these scat facts you can see scat as more than just something gross to be avoided on the side of the trail. It can tell you who’s habitat you are in, but also what they have been eating. It is interesting to watch it change throughout the season. Of course biologists may be able to find out way more about an animal through their scat, for instance genetic samples or presence of pathogens. There is so much to learn from the scat around us!
Although all the different scat we explored above is only a small number of animals, all species do it and we encourage you to:

1. Explore other species scat/defecation/poop – whatever you want to call it!

2. Pack out yours and your furry companions (yours domestic canines) poo in the backcountry and wilderness places you visit!

3. Sing the Scat Rap Song!  

It starts with an S and it ends with a T
It comes out of you
and it comes out of me
I know what you’re thinking
But don’t call it that
Let’s be scientific, and call it SCAT
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can find it on the ground
It’s usually colored brown
It is shaped in a mound
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can smell it with your nose
It’s gonna decompose
It’s where the fungus grows
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Birds flying through the air
Look out! Beware!
It landed in your hair
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was hiking through the fog
When I saw a big log
It came from a dog
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was tired of TV
I was checking out the trees
I could smell it on the breeze
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I know it’s kind of gory
But it’s a true story
It marks territory
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I picked up a chicken
And something was drippin’
It wasn’t finger-lickin’
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

A squirrel ate a nut
Digested in its gut
It came out of its butt
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

If you park your car
By the woods or a field
You might find something on your windshield
Full of berries
Both purple and white
You just got bombed by a bird in flight
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Photo Credit: Sophia Slater or as otherwise credited.
References:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) sign. ADFG. 

Blood, D.A. Mountain sheep. Hinterlands Who’s Who. 

Blood, D.A. (2000). Mountain Goat in British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment Land and Parks.

Bosch, G., Hagen-Plantinga, E., & Hendriks, W. (2015). Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: Insights for optimal dog nutrition? British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S40-S54. doi:10.1017/S0007114514002311

Keith, L.B. Canada lynx. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (2018, June 25). What scat can tell you about your wildlife neighbors. CSERC

Costello, C.M., Cain, S.L., Pils, S., Frattaroli, L., Haroldson, M.A., & van Manen, F.T. (2016). Diet and macronutrient optimization in wild Ursids: A comparison of grizzly bears with sympatric and allopatric black bears. PLoS ONE, 11(5).

Gray, D.R. Muskox. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Hatch, K., Roeder, B., Buckman, R., Gale, B., Bunnell, S., Eggett, D., Auger, J., Felicetti, L., & Hilderbrand, G. (2011). Isotopic and gross fecal analysis of American black bear scats. Ursus, 22(2), 133–140. 

Howard, W.T., Hutjens, M., Kilmer, L., Linn, A., Otterby, D., & Shaver, R. (2021). The ruminant digestive system. University of Minnesota Extension

Winand, C.J. (2008, September). Deer Pelletology. Buckmasters Magazine

Sophia Slater

Sophia Slater

Wildlife Interpreter & Animal Care Assistant

Sophia is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides and animal care assistants at the Preserve. She is new to the Yukon and moved here from Ontario, where she just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Nipissing University. Hiking mountains is her newfound passion while she’s here, and she’s hoping to summit as many as she can this summer. At the preserve, she loves getting to talk to and learn from guests who come from all over the Yukon and beyond about their experiences with wildlife.

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Vernal Species Migration

Vernal Species Migration

Vernal Species Migration

11 min read –

Part of Nature’s plan involves animals moving to new locations for two primary reasons:.  One is seasonal migration when animals move to a summer location principally to give birth and raise offspring, and the other is permanent migration or colonized range expansion when animals or plants colonize a new range where the critical resources for their continued survival exist in sufficient quantity. Here they will call home and make themselves a part of the local flora and fauna populations.

Migration is a tool used by Nature and benefits many species of animals and the areas where they live. From Monarch Butterflies to Blue Whales, animals migrate back and forth between two primary ranges that support the animal at important stages of every given year. Species temporary absence also provides the area where they live with a break from grazing or predation on a single source of food.  Also, physical disturbances and predation is reduced so that grasses and other vegetation can grow back and prey species can rebuild their populations while the predatory species are away on their seasonal migration. Think of it as shift work, there is a split between where creatures work for almost half the year and where they make their home for the other half.

Let’s begin with spring seasonal migration, more properly called the Vernal (Latin for spring) migration when animals move to alternate locations typically in the north with the changing of the seasons only to return later in the year to the area or range they occupied before they migrated. These are often called winter and summer ranges and in many cases involve moving to a place to birth and raise offspring and when these offspring have adequately grown and become a bit more self-sufficient, they return to the other range with mom and dad to spend the rest of their year.

Click here to watch the seasonal movement of birds in North America.
Source Credit: All About Birds

The selection of the spring or winter ranges goes back many hundreds or thousands of generations by species. Some seasonal ranges evolved over time as animals sought out locations that provided the essential basics for them to thrive. Some species migrations have evolved over a tremendous period of time as far back as the Ice Ages, as migration routes are a complex undertaking involving weather conditions and distance to travel while ensuring there is adequate food resources with the right temperatures, humidity and water supply for those species to live comfortably and have the required foods to sustain them on their migration journey. Time is also a very important factor of migration as many other requirements must occur at critical times to ensure the continued health of the animals through all stages of their migrations.

For example, ice in the north must be sufficiently melted to permit arriving waterfowl to eat and remain secure from some predators, similarly, the plants and other vegetation migratory animals depend on should either be grown or growing well enough to sustain the creatures that depend on it when they arrive. These requirements are not just at the destination ranges, but also along the route the animals travel as some migrations may take weeks to complete.

Some species must also learn to endure through varied and sometimes lethal obstacles either created by natural events like landslides, earthquakes and floods, but also by human-made challenges like dams, habitat reduction and new developments and their supportive infrastructure where vital resources needed by the migratory animals have been removed or altered in some way. Ducks and geese must seek out new safe places to stop and reenergize when wetlands they have depended on in previous migrations have been turned into shopping malls and parking lots.

Migratory birds like swans and geese are probably the most visible migratory species as they fly overhead in great flocks honking as they go. Beneath the water’s surface, fish of all kinds like salmon migrate back to their natal streams to lay and fertilize the eggs that will produce their next generation- often within a couple meters of where they were born. Yukon’s rivers connect lakes where our common species of pike, grayling, whitefish and lake trout choose to spend their summers and winters, which may be greatly influenced by the insect hatches and changing water depths resulting from spring melt and freshet flooding. These short seasonal relocations are also considered to be migrations, but are not of the same scope other species like salmon or geese perform.

Photo credit: From Left, Lindsay Caskenette &  Jake Paleczny

Barren ground caribou like the Porcupine herd travel vast distances each year enroute to their calving grounds near the north coast. Their migration helps to distribute the impacts of their grazing so that they do not over-consume the vegetation causing harm to the landscape in any given location. Many thousands of caribou can eat a lot and their migration not only ensures more widespread grazing, but also their waste products (poop) are deposited over a greater area, thereby helping to fertilize more of the tundra they depend on each year.

Woodland Caribou at the Preserve.
While all caribou herd migrate the Barren Ground is know for more expansive journeys, particularly the Porcupine Barren Ground Caribou herd.  
Photo credit: Jake Paleczny

Insects also migrate usually in search of warmer temperatures and liquid water to lay their eggs and ensure there is an adequate food supply for the young to eat and grow healthy on. A queen honey bee will trigger a brief hive migration when she leaves the hive in search of a new location with better food resources nearby.

Migration is closely tied to a number of annual behavior traits as well. Some bird species may molt (shed their feathers) soon after arriving at their spring destination. Energetically expensive as migration itself molting and replacing feathers after a long journey north is important for the return trip. Also, the cast-off feathers can be used to line their nests against the cool winds of the tundra. However, while molting their ability to fly may be diminished which will put them at greater risk from predators. Just like migration and breeding, molting is ones of the vital parts of a bird’s life. 

Video explores molt in the migratory species, the Rusty Blackbird in Southern Yukon.
Source Credit: International Rusty Blackbird Working Group.

Predator birds, raptors like falcons, owls, eagles and various hawks also migrate to these ranges to raise their families and they depend on the ducks, hares, lemmings and other ground-nesting birds as a resource for them and their offspring until it’s time to migrate south again.

Climate change is modifying many of the important conditions some species require to live in a region, the timing of the spring melt is one of the major ones. As warmer spring conditions arrive earlier in the year, some species may need to begin their migration northward sooner to ensure they arrive in time to get a good nesting location, or time their arrival to an important food resource like a caddisfly hatch where millions of little flying insects hatch from a river over a few hours. Both fish and birds gather for these short-lived but important high-protein energy feasts.

Visit Audonbon.org to learn more about shifting and actaully expanding range for the Barn Swallow in climate change warming scnarios.  Source credit: Audubon

Again time is a critical element that can determine success or failure especially when other elements are out of sync. Like a delayed arrival of the warmer spring weather will slow the growth of some vegetation or delay thawing of the ice from waterways which can also create problems if the spring melt happens too early or too dramatically where it may cause rapid snow melt and flood rivers and creeks along migratory routes and nesting locations that create new hazards for the animals. A long lasting winter will also influence how arriving animals settle into their summer homes and make their arrangements for the warmer days to come. Nesting locations and preferred hunting and fishing and grazing spots may be at a premium and first come-first gets is the rule if they are willing to defend their locations.

Migration can be a life or death test for some animals depending on the conditions of the travel route and their intended destinations. Some destinations may be unusable due to new predators making a home there, physical damages caused by floods, fires and the landslides which may cause the animals to seek a new location that meets their needs. They may have to fight to keep their new location as other groups or another species may compete for the same resources they need to survive.

Bird migration and cities

There are many ways human activity interferes with animal migrations in the Detours and Distractions: How Humans Impact Migration Patterns. Explore the educational PDF by National Geographic.

Some predators take advantage of the migratory creatures when they arrive in great numbers. Bears demonstrate this very well as they gather on the streams and rivers to capture migrating salmon returning to spawn.  Bears also follow the caribou herds in pursuit of newly born calves trying to keep up with the rest of the herd. Fledgling birds are common prey for Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Shrikes and other small raptors that also may have hungry hatchlings in their nests.  Foxes and weasels also prey heavily on eggs and young hatchlings of geese, ducks and other ground-nesting birds.

This photo slide from Yukon photographer, Peter Mather at Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park shows the close relationship of predator and prey. Bears will remain active in this region as winter approaches to benefit from the abundance of food in the form of migrating salmon. 
Source Credit: Peter Mather Photography

It works the opposite way as well as migratory animals depend on other species to sustain them and in some cases, their choice of destination may depend on resident species and the birthing of their offspring. An example can be found with Peregrine Falcons and other raptors who hunt the lemmings, hares and other rodents born in large numbers on the tundra each spring. Lemmings mature at 5 – 6 weeks of age. They are prolific breeders and may produce 8 litters of up to 6 young each throughout the summer. The gestation period of the female Lemming is 20 days making them one of the primary food resources for carnivorous species, like the Arctic Fox, spending their summer on the tundra.

Arctic Fox at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Some species like Canada Geese and Tundra Swans mate for life so when they arrive at their springtime destination they can get right to work raising a family, However other species and those just reaching reproductive maturity will need to find a mate, build a nest, breed and raise their new offspring. All of this takes time and each animal is racing the clock and calendar to complete these basic requirements before they have babies which will demand a larger portion of their available time keeping them fed and protected as they grow to adolescence to commence preparations for the migratory trip back to their winter ranges before the winter season arrives, and some years it can come early or later as the present weather trends indicate.

Swan parents and their offspring at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. In Spring, 2015 a pair built a nest in the moose habitat and had 5 cygnets.
Photo Credit: L.Caskenette

Waterfowl and other creatures that depend on water for their nutrition and safety pay close attention to falling temperatures and the return of ice on the surfaces of ponds and lakes. Other indicators warn of the returning winter conditions, insect populations fall dramatically; leaves change colour and other vegetation stops growing and goes to seed signalling it is time to move south once again.

Some years snow may fall early and in sufficient quantities to make searching for food a greater challenge. Often robins will be seen digging in the snow for insects and berries as they gather together in preparation for their journey south.

Left Photo: American dippers are a delightful winter sight, swimming and singing from icy or rocky perches in fast-flowing waters, such as the Yukon River below the Whitehorse dam.

Right Photo: Winter wannabes like this American robin find small bugs and animals to eat along the muddy shoreline of the Yukon River below the Rotary Centennial Bridge.

Photo Credit and Caption: Jenny Trapnell
Read more from Jenny – A Chance on Winter in What’s Up Yukon.

 

Migration is an effective tool to ensure the seasonal health of many animal species, but also migration provides habitats some time to regrow while the species are away in their other ranges. Nature’s clock is the movement of the planets and the tilting of the Earth which determine the seasons as winter gives way to spring and new generations are being born. Climate change is also influencing animal species that are well-tuned into these seasonal changes which can be very subtle but are important signs for creatures that need to pay attention to subtle weather changes and the potential impacts on their migration requirements.

Doug Caldwell

Doug Caldwell

Wildlife Interpreter

Doug is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides here at the Preserve. An avid angler and hunter he has a broad knowledge of Yukon’s wilderness and the creatures that live here. With a focus on the young visitors to the Preserve, Doug takes the extra time to help our guests to better appreciate the many wonders of the animal kingdom here in the Yukon.

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The Dangerous and the Benign: distinguishing between big scary bugs

The Dangerous and the Benign: distinguishing between big scary bugs

The Dangerous and the Benign: distinguishing between big scary bugs

This article was made possible thanks to support from the Environmental Awareness Fund. Engage and educate yourself in this 10-part blog series, about Yukon Biodiversity.

Banner Photo:  Yellow-tailed Horntail.  Photo credit: iNaturalist griffontrail in Dawson YT.

12 minute read – 

I think we can all agree that the past year has been pretty rough with the fires and the pandemic and the political unrest. When you add the appearance of large and intimidating Asian giant hornets on our fair continent, it makes it feel like we’re living through some biblical plagues. For those of you who have not been hysterically following the news, the Asian giant hornet (aka “the murder hornet”) is a massive hornet that earned its ominous nickname from its fun habit of decapitating hundreds of bees at a time and then carrying off the bee babies (the babees) to feed its own young. Also they sometimes kill people. Yikes. In the spring of 2020, they added to the general calamity that was all of last year by popping up in Washington, DC where the U.S. residents were understandably upset to have this horrible serial killer hornet added to their ecosystem.

iNaturalist observation of an Asian giant hornet.  No iNaturalist observations are to date recorded in Canada.  Photo Credit (c) Wonwoong Kim, all rights reserved

Obviously, the North American invasion by Asian giant hornets wasn’t kept secret and word traveled all the way to our remote territory. It’s probably because of this news that when a large insect with a prominent “stinger” and suspiciously hornet-like colouring was spotted during the Yukon Wildlife Preserve Bioblitz, some people got very nervous! But fear not, fellow Yukoners! The Yukon is a deeply unappealing habitat for the coast-loving murder hornets. The insect that garnered so much attention at the Bioblitz due to its large, scary appearance and prominent butt-spike is only a threat to felled trees. This benign bug is a horntail also known as a “wood wasp” (of the family Siricidae) and it could not be less like the invasive death machine it was mistaken for.

On the Left:  Yellow-tailed Horntail.  Found in Yukon.  iNaturalist Photo Credit M_Mossop

On the Right:  Asian giant Hornet.  Not found in Yukon.  iNaturalist Photo Credit (c) Alpsdake, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)

Before we examine these insects in detail, a quick addendum. While scientists and academic types should never let personal bias cloud their research, I am not a scientist nor particularly academic so prepare for some bias. I HATE insects of the wasp/hornet variety. I mean the kind of loathing that would start a centuries long blood feud between families in olden times. Yes, they get props for being pollinators in their spare time but oooooh my god. These stripey menaces ruin every summer outdoor dining experience by completely disregarding your personal space and then rendering your beverage undrinkable after they drown themselves in it. Also, if they sting me, I die and that dynamic would sour any relationship. With that out of the way, let’s meet these bugs!

The Asian giant hornet or Vespa mandarinia (which sounds like a particularly elegant moped) is aptly named as it is the world’s largest hornet! Worker hornets are 3.5 cm long while queens get up to 5 cm. Their wingspans range between 4-7 cm which is probably more bug than the average person wants to deal with. If their size isn’t a giveaway, their large orange heads and black eyes make them very recognizable.

iNaturalist observation Asian giant hornet.  Photo credit: (c) Kim, Hyun-tae, some rights reserved (CC BY)

Unlike a lot of other hornets and wasps, these big hornets only nest in the ground. They favour forested areas in coastal environments which is bad news for our west-coast brethren but good news for the Yukon which is notably low on hospitable coastal regions. During the one-year life cycle of a nest, worker hornets usually forage alone and mostly hunt for beetles. The dark and sinister nature of these hornets rears its head in the fall when the colony needs a lot of protein to raise the next generation of queens.

In order to bring in the protein required to beef up their queens, workers abandon solo-foraging missions and band together for group raids. These raids attack high-value targets like the hives of honeybees or even the hives of other hornets. When these raiding parties hit a hive, they decapitate all the adults like they’re doing a re-enactment of the French Revolution then cart off the brood for food. These murder hornets really live up to the moniker as they can kill off thousands of bees in a few hours. Bees are already on a dangerous decline and Asian giant hornets can absolutely devastate local bee populations. This makes their appearance in America and Canada especially concerning.

Although the sudden appearance of murder hornets would be very on-brand for 2020, Asian giant hornets have been in North America before. They were discovered in Nanaimo, BC in August 2019 when beekeepers found a destroyed nest with a whole heap of headless bees outside of it. Their appearance in Washington is just an extension of their coastal conquest. Fortunately, the number of murder hornets in North America is still pretty low. This is good news for humans as people deaths from Asian giant hornets are usually due to disturbing a nest and incurring many stings. Unless you have an allergy (like some people who wrote this article), you have high chances of surviving a murder hornet attack if you have less than fifty stings. Rest easy, I guess? That being said, the Washington State Department of Agriculture had to order special suits to study Asian giant hornets because their massive stingers can pierce through normal beekeeping gear so maybe rest less easily.

It’s time to ease yourself into the warm waters of relief because the horntails that hang out in the Yukon are nothing like this. They’re not invasive, they don’t sting, and unless you’re a dead tree, they pose absolutely zero risk to your health and wellbeing. Yes, wood wasps are also intimidatingly large and similar in size to Asian giant hornets. They range in size between 1-4 cm with females tending to be larger than their male counterparts. Horntails get their name from their cornus: a stinger-shaped plate on the back of their body. Horn. Tail. Geddit? Even though it looks like a stinger, rest assured that it isn’t. Horntails don’t sting or produce venom and don’t really have any defenses other than looking scary. Females in particular look like they have a MASSIVE stinger but it’s actually an ovipositor that helps them lay their eggs into the wood of conifer trees.

iNaturalist image Yellow-tailed Horntail.  Whitehorse YT  Photo credit:  Jake Paleczny

Here’s a fun fact: female horntails have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus! Similar to horntails, basidiomycete wood decay fungi enjoys a nice rotting log. Female horntails help this fungus spread to new locations by carrying bits of it in a specialized pouch on their abdomen. When the female lays her eggs, she also deposits the fungus inside the rotting wood. The horntail also benefits from this arrangement as the larvae get to snack on the fungus after they hatch.

Unlike the newly arrived murder hornet, we’ve probably had horntails in the Yukon as long as we’ve had conifer trees. The reason you might not run into them all the time is that they spend most of their lives inside a tree. After a female lays her hundreds and hundreds of eggs in the wood of a felled or rotting tree, the young hang out in that log for 1-3 years. After they emerge from their timber home as a fully grown adult, they only live for 3-4 weeks! Because they spend so much time in wood, young adults sometimes show up inside people’s homes because the lumber they’ve been tunneling around in has been used as construction material. So they’re not out there murdering bees and giving horrible stings but they can occasionally give you a nasty surprise by exploding out of your new rocking chair.

iNaturalist Yukon.  Yellow-tailed Horntail.  Photo Credit:  Bruce Bennett

I hope your fears are assuaged and you won’t dread painful stings and bee death when you encounter a big scary bug in the Yukon wilds. The horntail might be intimidating in appearance, but it’s a passive insect that just wants to spend most of its life noodling around in a tree. Asian giant hornets are definitely horrible nightmare insects that were probably manifested into existence as punishment for our sins but at least they’re horrible nightmare insects that don’t live up here.

iNaturalist Asian giant hornet resting on human hand.  Photo credit:  (c) elfsama, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

Joelle Ingram

Joelle Ingram

Human of Many Talents

Joelle is a former archaeologist, former wildlife interpreter, and a full-time random fact enthusiast. She received her master’s degree in anthropology from McMaster University. One of the four people who read her thesis gave it the glowing review “It’s a paper that would appeal to very specific group of people,” which is probably why only four people have read it. Her favourite land mammal is a muskox, her favourite aquatic mammal is a narwhal. She thinks it’s important that you know that.

867-456-7400
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

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Love for the Lynx

Love for the Lynx

Love for the Lynx

This story was originally published February 13, 2021 in the e-blast newsletter to Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s membership.

Are you a member but don’t receive these email Newsletters?  Contact us at info@yukonwildlife.ca to update your email preferences.

While the ungulates have already gone through their languages of love the carnivores are just getting started!

It’s a great time to hear the courtship calls from the lynx, arctic fox and red foxes. While the two species of foxes are the same gender (red foxes – males, arctic foxes – females), our lynx group consists of a male and two females and all three lynx will remain in the habitat together this season.

In past years we have separated the male to eliminate breeding potential – an important practice to manage our animal collection and animal numbers. This year however the lynx will be left together to let nature take its course!

Our 3-legged male has never bred before nor has our younger female, who turns 7 this spring, so we do not have any history to give indication of sexual success. Our other female, who is now 13 years old, has successfully reared offspring in her younger days – most recently in 2014. If breeding is successful we could expect kittens in mid – late May. YWP collection growth and stability is a consideration for breeding given the age of our male, also 13 years. Further to that, BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, a CAZA accredited facility, will also look to add to their population by accepting a litter of siblings. This potential breeding will be an important contribution to lynx genetics and the Species Survival Plan given how unique (completely unrepresented actually), his genetics are among captive populations.

It’s all up to the animals and only time will tell if these individuals are successful.

Lynx at Yukon Wildlife Preserve L to R:  3-legged male circa 2018 and kitten circa 2014.

All Photos credit:  Jake Paleczny

Lindsay Caskenette

Lindsay Caskenette

Manager of Visitor Services

Lindsay joined the Wildlife Preserve team March 2014. Originally from Ontario, she came to the Yukon in search of new adventures and new career challenges. Lindsay holds a degree in Environmental Studies with honours from Wilfrid Laurier University and brings with her a strong passion to share what nature, animals and the environment can teach us.

867-456-7400
lindsay@yukonwildlife.ca

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Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

9 minute read – “Winter Is Here” series continues with the elusive enigma – Lynx!

I, for one, love winter. What a unique time of year it is to be able to get outside in the short but cherished sunlight hours or total darkness for a hike, ski, or skate, then get inside and warm up by a fire. Of course Yukon’s wildlife call the outdoors their home but don’t worry they are just fine outside.

With those view-blocking leaves off the trees and the snow piled high, the Preserve’s most elusive resident – the lynx, becomes ever so slightly easier to spot in their habitat.

The lynx is one of Yukon’s only cat species other than the even more secretive cougar.1Government of Yukon. 2021. Cougar. https://yukon.ca/en/cougar  Lynx can be found in the boreal forest right across Yukon, Alaska, and still occupy roughly 95% of their historic range in Canada.2Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376.  Here in the subarctic boreal forest lynx have adapted to thrive in even the coldest, harshest winters Yukon could throw at them, while also keeping up with their favourite prey: the snowshoe hare.

Lynx almost exclusively prey on snowshoe hares during the winter months, as hares make up anywhere from 75-90% of a lynx’s diet on average.3Ivan, J.S., & Shenk, T.M. 2016. Winter diet and hunting success of Canada lynx in Colorado. The Journal of Wildlife Management 80(6): 1049-1058.In the summer and when hare populations are low, lynx will turn to other small animals like red squirrels, mice, and ptarmigan4Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376., but those hares are by far the preferred ones to catch. So much so that the number of lynx there are in an area depends on the number of hares.5Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. This is one of the most well recorded examples of a predator-prey interaction dating back to the mid-1800’s.6MacLulich, D.A. 1937. Fluctuations in the numbers of the varying hare (Lepus americanus). University of Toronto Studies Biological Series 43. University of Toronto Press, Toronto

Figure 1. Population cycles of lynx and snowshoe hare over a 90-year period from the fur-trapping records of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Figure based on data from MacLulich (1937) and Elton and Nicholson (1942)

Snowshoe hare populations are cyclic: they peak about every ten years then crash shortly thereafter. Lynx follow this pattern lagging about 1-2 years behind the hares.74. Boutin, S., et al. 1995. Population changes of the vertebrate community during a snowshoe hare cycle in Canada’s boreal forest. Oikox 74: 69-80. 8MacLulich, D.A. 1937. Fluctuations in the numbers of the varying hare (Lepus americanus). University of Toronto Studies Biological Series 43. University of Toronto Press, Toronto  Hares are rich in nutrients providing lynx with the necessary energy and fat reserves needed to survive the long, cold winters. When hare populations are booming, lynx have better survival rates and females can support more kittens to adulthood. An abundance of food and high reproduction rates increases the lynx’s population density to 30-45 lynx/100 km2 , but once the hare numbers decline, that lynx population density drops down to just 2 lynx/100 km2 in the same region.9Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376.

To keep up with the snowshoe hare – a specialist of the subarctic and arctic ecoregions, lynx have to survive and thrive alongside them in these colder lands.

Another great thing about winter is that the snow is a great record keeper of all the different critters that have wandered through an area. Keep an eye out for rounded paw prints indicative of the lynx. Compared to their body size, lynx have huge paws and can spread their fur-covered toes apart making the surface area even larger. Just like a pair of snowshoes on our feet, these giant paws help the lynx walk on top of packed snow. Along with their long legs these cats can wade through soft, deep snow with ease and use their larger back legs to help power big leaps either up trees or when bounding to catch up to a hare.10Murray, D.L., & Boutin, S. 1991. The influence of snow on lynx and coyote movements: does morphology affect behavior? Oecologia 88(4): 463-469.

Lynx can be found across Yukon in the boreal forest, but the slight difference of how open or dense that forest is will change how the lynx behaves while hunting. If lynx are in more open areas with less vegetation on the ground to hide in, their tactic is to chase hares. However, this method is not very successful since lynx cannot keep pace with hares over long distances.11Murray, D.L., Boutin, S., O’Donoghue, M., & Nams, V.O. 1995. Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetation cover. Animal Behavior 50: 1203-1210.  More often lynx are ambush hunters, lying in wait in bed-sites along well-used hare trails until the prey comes close.12Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. To be successful, lynx prefer old growth forests with an abundance of spruce and pine cover along with fallen trees and dense vegetation to hide in.13Murray, D.L., Boutin, S., O’Donoghue, M., & Nams, V.O. 1995. Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetation cover. Animal Behavior 50: 1203-1210. This tactic of staying still and ambushing unsuspecting prey not only provides more energy rich food for the lynx, it also allows them to conserve precious energy needed to keep their body temperatures warm during the winter.

When you’re staying still, having a warm coat on also helps you to retain heat against the cold winter air. Lynx have a very thick winter coat made up of a fluffy underfur that traps air against the skin creating an insulating barrier. The soft underfur is covered in coarse guard hairs that function as a waterproofing layer preventing snow and ice from reaching the skin underneath, just like how our waterproof, puffy winter coats function. Lynx’s winter coats are a light grey colour, mottled with those guard hairs that break up the cat’s outline allowing them to blend in to the grey and white forest background. In contrast, the summer coat is shorter with more reddish brown in colour; again allowing the cats to sneak around the forest undetected.14Vaughan, T.A., Ryan, J.M., & Czaplewski, N.J. (2015). Mammalogy. (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Lynx are considered to be almost entirely solitary animals especially in the heart of winter after that year’s kittens have dispersed from the den. Adult lynx usually only pair up for a brief time in late February or March for the breeding season then separate again.15Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. However, new radio-collar data out of Kluane National Park shows lynx pairing up and eating the same kill together; behaviours that indicate these cats may be more social than previously thought, at least in the Kluane region.16Morin, P. (2020, December 29). Not so solitary: Lynx links surprise scientists. Retrieved from: cbc.ca/news/canada/north/not-solitary-lynx-links-surprise-scientists-1.5854543. This is fascinating new data that right now really leaves us with more questions than answers. Have lynx always been more social than we thought and we just didn’t notice or is this new behaviour in response to change? Currently, we are in a period of low snowshoe hare populations and declining lynx numbers17Krebs., C.J., et al. (2020). The Community Ecological Monitoring Program annual data report 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~krebs/downloads/kluane_annual_report_2019.pdf. so perhaps this is evidence of cooperation either between relatives like parents and offspring or siblings, or between unrelated individuals in order to survive.18Morin, P. (2020, December 29). Not so solitary: Lynx links surprise scientists. Retrieved from: cbc.ca/news/canada/north/not-solitary-lynx-links-surprise-scientists-1.5854543.

 Lynx are a truly remarkable species and being so elusive, we continue to uncover new things about them and their behaviour.

Winter continues on here in the Yukon but it really is the best season to bundle up and get outside for your chance to spot a lynx sneaking through the bare trees or even just their round, furry prints travelling on top of the snow. If you are lucky enough to spot a lynx either out in the wild or right here at the Preserve (there are three of them) take note of their winter adaptations: large paws, long legs, thick fur coat covering their entire body, and stealthy behaviour; all traits that make them such successful felines of the north!

All Lynx photos credit to L. Caskenette

Rebecca Carter

Rebecca Carter

Visitor Services Coordinator

Rebecca joined the Wildlife Preserve in the summer of 2020 after moving from Manitoba to the beautiful and wild Yukon. Rebecca earned a degree in Biology with honours from the University of Winnipeg studying behaviour in mule deer (one of her top 20 favourite animals.. it’s hard to choose!). She loves connecting with others through nature and sharing stories and knowledge about the animals at the preserve with visitors.

867-456-7400
rebecca@yukonwildlife.ca

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