By Olivia A. Asher thesciencenotebookblog.blogspot.com
I’m an intern at the Gotham Coyote Project and I spend most of my time picking through coyote scat. If you don’t know that technical term, scat is another word for excrement. What I’m looking for in the scat is undigested prey items like hair, feathers, bone fragments, and plant material.
I examine the prey items under a microscope and compare them to hair and bone from mammals in the reference collection at the American Museum of Natural History to figure out exactly what animals New York City coyotes are eating. For example, if I find a hair in a scat sample I look for a mammal with similar hair in the reference collection and then compare the two hairs to see if they match up. Every time I figure out what a coyote ate - was it a squirrel, or a deer, or a muskrat? - I feel like a master detective. So far the team and I have found that NYC coyotes are mainly eating small mammals, birds, deer, and fruit.
Coyotes living in New York City are a hot topic right now which makes researching them all the more exciting. When I see news stories like today's article in Village Voice about coyotes in New York City, I feel like I know a celebrity. I want to shout “I know those coyotes! I examine their scat!”
I first got my hands on coyote scat about a year ago as an intern from the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), a program at the American Museum of Natural History which pairs high school students with scientists on novel research projects. During the SRMP I worked with a team of three other high school students. Now, I have graduated high school and I continue to work at the museum with the Gotham Coyote Project as a volunteer. Making contributions to research is thrilling
Check out the poster my team and I made on the preliminary results on the diet of New York City coyotes! And to learn more about students studying coyotes in New York City, watch the videos linked here:
Students at the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Research Mentoring Program:
Students at Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship: