coyote
US National Park Service scientists want to know where Los Angeles coyotes are dining.Reuters/Lucy Nicolson

This could make some people howl, but federal officials are completely serious about their new request to residents of Los Angeles to pick up and examine coyote poop — or scat - as it's scientifically known. The poop pick-up is happening because biologists, based at the US National Park Service, are trying to learn all that they can about Coyotes in urban areas. One line of study is to determine what the animals eat by examining what they leave behind.

So they're seeking volunteers to find — and analyse — coyote excrement. Volunteers are being asked to commit to the task for at least six months, and give about a day each month to one of two teams: scat-finders or scat-sifters.

So what do coyotes eat? Is is fruit that falls from the trees, skunks, raccoons — or cats?

"We hear plenty of anecdotal evidence about what coyotes eat, but it's actually never been studied in LA before," biologist Justin Brown tells the Los Angeles Times.

"This study should yield basic ecology information which we hope will assist residents and policymakers in making informed decisions on coyote management."

Finders will help scour some 30 sites, ranging from Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills in the city, while sifters will learn how to work with scientists to identify digested food bits in dried scat (which has been sterilized).

The study will focus exclusively on coyotes that have made their home in urban areas, not animals travelling back and forth from suburban or rural areas.

In the first study of urban coyotes by the Park Service in 2015 two city coyotes were outfitted with tracking devices. It turned out the two stuck to an exclusively urban territory, managing to thrive within communities with "high human densities" and "little natural habitat," said the National Park Service findings.

One thing LA coyotes probably are not enjoying, like some of their northern California brethren, are magic mushrooms. Coyotes in the San Francisco Bay Area are known to munch on fly agaric mushrooms (amanita muscaria), which can cause hallucinations, and are believed to sometimes cause odd-behaviour among the animals.