Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Toilet Talk (1)

Well, it’s a cold, wet & dreary afternoon even on the Isle of Wight. I’ve wimped out of going for a walk in favour of doing some work in the comfort of the front room. The Badger’s hoovered up the peanuts in the back garden the last few evenings, but arrives well after our bedtime so I’ve not got any video footage yet. The sows should be giving birth to the cubs about now, so I’m already hoping for a family visit later in the year!
Recently, I was wondering why I hadn’t come across any Badger latrines in the area. Badgers defecate into holes that they have dug in immediate area of the sett and, also, generally within the territory of the social group (‘hinterland latrines’). But they also set out ‘boundary latrines’ along the edge of their territory. Last week I came across some latrines at the top of the footpath in the corner of our estate just on the left-hand side of the other side of the arch in the photo.
I think that it’s probably a boundary latrine. Badgers tend to use half of their boundary latrines over a period of days before swapping to the other half. It’s mainly the males that use the boundary latrines and their main purpose is for clearly marking out the territory of the group, though they seem to communicate so much more.
In the New Naturalist Book, Badger, Timothy Roper makes the following observations: ‘The classical view is that the boundary marks, not just in badgers but more generally, constitute ‘keep out’ signals, posted to deter intruders from entering the territory. However, this idea is almost certainly an oversimplification, for a number of reasons. First, it fails to do justice to the wealth of olfactory information that is being deposited or to explain why, if the message is so simple, badgers spend so much time sniffing at the contents of latrines. Second, it fails to explain why badgers do, in fact, invade one another’s territories on a regular basis for foraging, mating and scent-marking purposes, often without meeting any resistance on the part of residents. Third, it is hard to see why, in principle, a ‘keep out’ notice, in and of itself, should act as a deterrent. And finally, the ‘keep out’ hypothesis fails to acknowledge what is perhaps the most striking feature of boundary latrines: namely, that when neighbouring groups share a common territory boundary, they also share the latrines along that boundary. This suggests that boundary latrines exist for the mutual sharing of information between neighbours, rather than for delivering a one-way threat from a resident group to would-be intruders.’

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