Monday, September 5, 2011

Mystery Nuggets

I found an area of bare soil that showed signs of recent excavation by some type of animal, so I went over to take a closer look. I discovered a few holes typical of those made by squirrels, along with a pile of objects that looked like some type of nut. Nothing really unusual, but I wondered how the nuts ended up there. If they had been brought there by squirrels, they should have been buried upon arrival. There were no nut trees nearby, so how had such an accumulation occurred?

Looks like a typical collection of dirty acorns. None seem to have been buried and those excavations now appear larger than what a squirrel would normally do. This looks more like the work of a foraging skunk. But what does a foraging skunk have to do with a collection of acorns?

A closer examination makes me wonder what’s wrong with these acorns. I thought they were just dirty. I’ve never seen a coating of soil as smoothly applied as these things seem to have.

That’s because they’re not coated in soil. They are soil. The soil has been compressed and shaped into acorn sized nuggets. Now I know what’s going on.

Breaking open a nugget reveals a mixture of soil and vegetable matter. There’s also a faint odor reminiscent of horse manure. These are deer droppings. Although this is the first time I’ve ever seen them, I’ve read that many ungulates, particularly deer and goats, will produce this type of dropping after ingesting soil at a natural salt lick. I’m unaware of any natural salt licks in this area, but many deer hunters have taken to placing salt blocks near their hunting stands in hopes of increasing deer travel in that area. The blocks dissolve into the soil and the animals eat the soil to get the salt.

As for the excavations? I think this was the result of some animal digging for grubs or some other tasty morsel and are not at all related to the presence of the deer droppings. I love finding new things.

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