Cottage Q&A: What poop is this?

Published: August 1, 2019

poop Photo by Joren Cull

When we opened the cottage, I found these pellets—a little smaller than orange seeds—under a couch cushion and in some bedding. Which creature would leave poop like this? —Emily Cretzman, Pigeon Lake, Ont.

No creature. Because that’s not poop. “They are definitely seeds,” says James Eckenwalder, a botanist and the author of Conifers of the World. But we can’t blame you for not being able to ID them. No one we asked—at the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Arboretum at the University of Guelph, or the UBC botanical garden—was able to either. Not conclusively. There are almost 400,000 species of plants in the world, and a whole bunch of them have seeds. Even if we narrow this down to cottage country, “there are a number of totally unrelated possible IDs,” says Eckenwalder. 

Of course, a creature may still be responsible for the mess, says Gary Ure of Second Nature Wildlife Management in Kingston, Ont. The seeds could be part of an animal’s winter hoard; Ure thinks a deer mouse would be the most likely culprit. Ants—they’re very strong—are also known for moving seeds around, says Tim Dickinson, the senior curator emeritus of botany at the Royal Ontario Museum. “Some species of violet and trillium have lipid-containing structures associated with their seeds to make them attractive to ants, to get them dispersed.”

But if we rule out pest activity? That leaves pets or humans as the seed spreaders. Maybe a dog or a person brought them into the cottage, attached to fur or clothing. (Ever uncuffed your pants? There is weird stuff in there.) 

You may have found the seeds when you opened the cottage but that doesn’t tell us how long they’ve actually been there. “I think I’m like a lot of people in that I’m not often vacuuming my couch,” says Gary Ure. “So whenever I pull the cushions apart I’m like, ‘Yoikes!’ ”

Well, at least you know it’s not poop.

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