Generally speaking, the more microhabitats that are available, the greater diversity of life an environment can support! Complex ecosystems such as a tropical rainforest, which foster many microhabitats, allow for a larger diversity of living things to coexist in harmony. This is because different species of plant, animal and fungi often find ‘niches’ in microhabitats. This means they develop complex food chains, plus specialised adaptations, that allow them to thrive.
The tracks and traces that an animal leaves behind can help you to find out what kind of wildlife live in your area.
Animal tracks are best spotted in bare earth including on riverbanks, dry creek beds and dirt paths. In your own backyard you could try creating a footprint trap by placing a tray of sand or raking an area of smooth dirt where animals may be active. Checking the trap after a few days may reveal footprints that you can use to identify the visitor. Keep in mind that identifying animals using their prints or tracks can be tricky. It is rare that you will find a perfect track. More often you will find partial prints that will look different depending on whether they are in wet mud, sand, snow, or hard dirt.
Scats and Droppings
Scat is a word commonly used to describe any kind of dung, dropping or poo from an animal. Some animals use their scats to mark their territories, in which case you may find them on display on rocks or logs. You will also find scats in areas where animals spend a lot of time, such as near nests or burrows and along creek banks.
Scats can tell us much about the animal that made them, such as the species or size of the animal. We can also tell what foods make up an animal’s diet. The freshness of the scat gives a hint about how recently the animal visited the area. While you may need an identification key to find out the species, it is usually easy to tell whether the animal was a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore or insectivore.
As carnivores predominantly eat meat, their scats may have a strong smell. You may see traces of animal remains including bones, feathers or hair. In general, these scats are likely to be cylindrical and pointed.
Herbivorous animals eat plant materials so their scats tend to be produced in larger quantities and have a greenish colour to them. Using a stick, break apart the scat to get a better clue. Herbivore scats are more fibrous. You may be able to see partially digested leaves, grass, seeds, or berries.
Omnivorous animals eat a combination of both plant and animal material, so their scats will contain a combination of plant fibres and animal parts, including eggshells and bones.
Because insects are the primary source of an insectivore’s diet their scats contain shiny remains of insect bodies and wings. In general, insectivore scats can be more easily broken than other scats and may also contain large amounts of soil or wood fibres.
Homes and Habitats
Just like humans, animals need safe, warm and dry places to sleep. Some animals live in permanent homes throughout the whole year, while other animals have numerous shelters which they travel between. While some homes are built by the animals that use them, many rely on natural structures such as tree hollows or caves. Others have adapted to use human-made shelters to survive.
In some cases it is obvious what kind of animal is using a particular shelter. For example, bird nests are easy to identify, but most of the time you will have to use your animal detective skills to determine the occupant. Keep an eye out for feathers, fur, skin, scats, tracks and leftover food items. These will help you understand whether a shelter might be occupied by a bird, reptile, insect or mammal.
Below are some places where animals may set up home.