CSI: Mather Field
We continued our walk by following the narrow trail toward the thicket. Along the way we noticed some bare dirt mounds that the students correctly identified as fresh pocket gopher diggings (one of the students had studied about the pocket gopher as part of the vernal pool curriculum in the classroom). And there, on top of one of the gopher mounds, was the final clue that promised to bring closure to this mysterious case. It was a print! No, not a fingerprint, it was a paw print. A track that looked like a medium-sized dog track but it was longer than it was wide. The students discussed what might have made that track and came to the conclusion that it was from a coyote!
Then all the pieces came together. The students were exuberant as they proposed the following scenario: A coyote killed and ate a cat and a pheasant and left the bones from both in the same area that we identified as the crime scene!
It all made perfect sense. We were near some houses in a nearby neighborhood, where people often let their cats out at night. Coyotes love to eat cats. There are pheasants that nest in the vernal pool grasslands where we were walking. Coyotes love to eat pheasants. We know there is a pair of coyotes that regularly den in that thicket of trees and brambles. Coyotes often follow the same narrow, well-worn, trail in a rather straight line as they patrol their territory. Coyote scat often contains hair and bone fragments from its prey items and it usually has a characteristic twist toward one end, a stylish flourish of sorts. While hunting, coyotes often pause on gopher mounds because they’ve learned that there may be a tasty treat digging through the soil right beneath their paws. And lastly, coyotes are known for having a favorite dining area where they go to eat prey that they’ve caught in other areas. This is so they don’t leave bones and other evidence right by their den site, which may attract other predators, especially if there are coyote pups in the den.
Case closed? Not so fast. A couple of questions remained unanswered.
Whose pet cat did the coyote eat? What was the cat’s name?
Do you think I’m nuts for even asking these questions? Or, do you think I’m nuts for a dozen other reasons? How could we possibly find out to whom the cat belonged, let alone the name of the cat?
Stay tuned for the rest of the story… next time on CSI Mather Field!