Jan 28 2009


Published by at 11:39 am under Mammals,Weather & Sky

Subnivian mouse trails at my bird feeder (photo by Kate St. John)Last night it snowed then sleeted then rained.  It's still raining, but so cold it's turning to ice.

This morning I looked out the back window to see how the bird feeders were doing and found a network in the snow. 

What's this?  I went out to investigate. 

All the lines originated from a hole under the sidewalk and grew outward like a tree toward the bird feeder.  Subnivean mouse trails! 

Subnivean means "under the snow."  The mouse came out last night and tunneled to the feeders.  Under the snow he stayed warm and relatively safe from predators while he munched down on fallen seed.  Until today I didn't even know he lived there because his trails in powdery snow aren't as visible, but this morning the ice and rain made his tunnel roof transparent.  Way cool!

Many animals live under the snow all winter.   If you click on the photo, you'll see a diagram of subnivean life in the arctic.  Here in Pittsburgh we don't have snow cover all winter so the activity is intermittent. 

Want to hear more?  Here's an audio story from New Hampshire Public Radio.

(photo by Kate St. John, using my cell phone which caused that pink tinge.)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Subnivean”

  1. lindaon 28 Jan 2009 at 1:28 pm

    How very interesting. I would like to see something like that in my yard. My dog has been showing a great interest in the seed that is lying on the ground under my feeders, so perhaps he is smelling the “other” animals in my yard.
    After fighting with the ice this morning like everyone in Pittsburgh, I am not looking forward to the commute home tonight. I see a lot of snow starting to come down here in Allison Park. Be careful out there.

  2. Marjorieon 28 Jan 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Very cool picture, Kate. Thanks for sharing…I picked up a small book at Barnes&Noble called “Scats and Tracks” of the Northeast by James C. Halfpenny, Ph.D. and Jim Bruchac (both have very interesting bios in the back of the book). For the size of the book it contains a “wealth” of information. Since we have had more snow for so long lately my son and I are finding so many different tracks in our large yard. We have a farmfield behind us, and the river in front, so we often see deer (usually 6-8) at night in our back yard, coyote and fox have been in the field, and besides all the geese and a few mallards and other ducks across the road by the river, of course we have a few little field or other mice, squirrels, hares, and groundhogs usually burrow/nest behind shed way in back, etc. This book covers everything from frogs, some waterbirds, shorebirds, yard birds, and critters (the flicker has interesting tracks).
    Marge in Armstrong Co.

  3. Kim Steiningeron 28 Jan 2009 at 3:59 pm

    That is too cool!!! Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  4. Sandra Fon 28 Jan 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Wow, Kate. What a timely story! Today I scratched my head while standing on the driveway, wondering what all those trails were around a tree on which I had recently hung a bird feeder. Now I know. Just like the picture! Thanks so much. (Yet another reason why I check your blog FIRST when I log onto my PC after work.)

  5. Libby Strizzion 29 Jan 2009 at 8:05 am

    I too spotted those trails in my yard and wondered what they were. Now I know. Thanks, Kate. Feels a little creepy to think of all those little critters crawling around beneath my boots. The fresh new snow has covered them up again.

  6. Tirzahon 29 Jan 2009 at 12:55 pm

    What a wonderful discovery- from above the trails look like a shadow of the tree; another way to hide from flying predators perhaps? Yesterday, walking my dog I noticed a pair of ground doves sitting in the cold sleet on a wire; wondering what their experience was of this weather? they flew off at our approach and perched together on the mulberry tree in our yard, yet three houses up from us (little did they know our destination would bring us together again. Later from the kitchen window I watched with them the view over the neighborhood- me in my warm kitchen, they in the warmth (I hope) of their companionship.
    Kia, my dog, snuffles through the snow looking for the subniveans (little did I know); now I will look with her. Thanks for the beautiful pictures!

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