Archive for the 'Mammals' Category

Jul 02 2016

The Element Of Surprise

Published by under Mammals,Travel

Grizzly bear (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Grizzly bear (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While visiting Glacier National Park on a Road Scholar birding trip this week, we heard that a mountain biker was killed by a bear just south of the Park. The incident made international news.

When a bear kills someone, wildlife officials investigate by collecting information on what happened, DNA samples of the bear and, ideally, the bear itself.  If it’s clear the bear was predatory (if it ate or wanted to eat the person) then the bear is euthanized.  If it was defending itself or cubs, officials weigh the evidence and it often goes free.

As of this writing the investigation is still underway, the bear hasn’t been found, and it’s not confirmed that it was a grizzly.  The only thing we know for sure is that everyone was surprised — the bear, the victim, his fellow cyclist, and the local community.  Montanans are especially surprised and saddened because the victim was a very knowledgeable local resident, an officer in the U.S. Forest Service who knew all about bear safety.

How could such a thing happen?   Imagine this: A mountain biker is traveling downhill fast on a silent bike on a narrow trail through a thicket. There’s a bear in the thicket but there is no sound to warn the bear and no time for it to move away.  Bears have a chase instinct and will pursue things that are moving fast.  UPDATE JULY 3: The cyclist collided with the bear before the fatal attack.

Here’s more about what happened near West Glacier, Montana:

Hopes Dimming But Search Continues for Bear that Killed Cyclist Near Glacier Park

 

Were we worried about bears while visiting the park?  No.  We followed the guidelines on what to do in bear country. These are from the Glacier National Park website:

  • Never travel alone. Don’t trail run. (There were 11 of us walking and birding.)
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.  (Our guide carried this form of pepper spray that has a special nozzle.)
  • Make human noise especially talking, singing, clapping or calling out at regular intervals.  NPS says, most bear bells are not enough.  (We talked a lot!)
  • Never leave food, garbage and scented items unattended. Always secure them. (We were always with our food, packing in and packing out.)
  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you are near bear foods, running water or thickets. Notice bears signs. (Our guide showed us bear claw marks and dig-outs.)

Bear attacks are extremely rare events.  There would be even fewer if we could eliminate the element of surprise.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

p.s. We never saw any bears at all, not a grizzly, not even a black bear.  It would have been nice to see a grizzly on a distant hillside from the car — but only under those circumstances!

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Jun 18 2016

Groundhog Family

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

Groundhog family in the wall on the Lower Trail, Schenley Park, 13 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Groundhog family in the wall on the Lower Trail, Schenley Park, 13 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Monday at Schenley Park’s Lower Trail I heard some rustling and turned to see a mother and baby groundhog peering at me from their underground home.

They’re probably descended from the family that lived in this wall in 2012.  The habitat has changed (DPW sprayed the wall with defoliant last August, oh no!) but the groundhogs remain.  Here’s the family I saw in May 2012.

Perhaps we’ll see them tomorrow during my Schenley Park outing.  Hope to see you there. Click here for more information.

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

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Jun 12 2016

Coon Outside My Window

Published by under Mammals

View from my kitchen table (photo by Kate St. John)

View from my kitchen table (photo by Kate St. John)

Last weekend while sitting at the kitchen table with my friend Kathy I looked out the window and saw an animal climb the green fence. I thought it was a cat.

The fence is close to the window.  The animal was very close to the window.  I didn’t take a picture but it resembled this composite photo …

Kind of what it looked like when an animal was climbing the fence ...

Kind of what it looked like when an animal was climbing the fence …

It wasn’t a cat. When she turned her face I saw her raccoon mask. Her belly showed she was nursing young.

The raccoon ran up the backyard and put her paws in the bird bath.

Coon at the bird bath (photo by Kathy Fox)

Coon at the bird bath (photo by Kathy Fox)

And then she ambled up the yard, climbed over the back fence, and was gone.

 

(photos by Kate St. John and Kathy Fox)

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Jun 04 2016

Evidence of Bears

Published by under Hiking,Mammals

Bear scat, Sugar Run Trail, Ohiopyle State Park, 19 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bear scat, Sugar Run Trail, Ohiopyle State Park, 19 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last month I hiked the well traveled Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.  At the top of the trail I saw footprints of people and dogs … and I encountered this.  I put my boot next to it for scale.

I didn’t see paw prints near it but the size of this scat pile indicates it was deposited by a large mammal. There’s not a lot of fur in it and it’s blue (why?) so this animal eats more than just meat.

The scat had been deposited so recently that I could smell it as I took the photograph.  I found another, older pile further down the trail.  This large omnivorous mammal left his mark over and over again.  A black bear.

The bear lives there. I was just visiting.  Though he wasn’t in sight he was probably in earshot so I made human noise (speaking, whistling) so he’d know I was traveling through.

I’m sure he didn’t want to be surprised any more than I did!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 23 2016

To Catch A Venomous Mammal…

Published by under Mammals

ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)

ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)

There are only 16 (maybe 17) venomous mammals on earth and more than half of them are endangered.  One of the rarest is the Hispaniola solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), native to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Solenodons are nocturnal mammals that look like large, big-footed shrews.  They eat beetles, crickets, worms, snails and even birds and reptiles which they paralyze with a bite containing their venomous saliva.  Interestingly, solenodons aren’t immune to each others’ venom so if they fight they succumb when scratched by the teeth of a combatant.  (The Hispaniola solenodon is so poorly studied that we’re not even sure if it fights very often.)

Solenodon paradoxus (photo linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)

Solenodon paradoxus (photo by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)

These mammals evolved in the absence of predators so they are slow, clumsy runners and tend to trip and fall when pursued.  They are now so rare and so endangered that they’re expected to go extinct in the next 10-20 years because of habitat loss and predation by dogs, cats and humans.

With time running out for this animal, scientists wanted to sequence its DNA before it disappeared, and they had to catch it in a manner that was safe for the animal and for them.  But how?

The researchers shown above caught the venomous mammal by allowing it to walk across their bodies at night in the forests of the Dominican Republic.

Yikes!

Read more here in Science Daily.

 

p.s. Did you know there’s a venomous mammal in Pennsylvania?  The northern short-tailed shrew has venomous saliva that paralyzes its small prey.  From Joseph Merritt’s Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania, “When humans are bitten, they may experience considerable irritation and swelling that could last up to three days.”  Predators, including house cats, don’t eat this shrew because it smells so bad.

(photo credits:
top photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador of ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez with solenodon.
photo of Hispaniola solenodon by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog
)

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May 12 2016

May Is The Month for Wayward Bears

Published by under Mammals

Black Bear (photo by Chuck Tague)

Black Bear (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

May is the month when one-year-old bears are on the road, searching for a first home since mama pushed them out this spring.

If you live in the country you’ve already noticed the bears are active and had to pull in your bird feeders so the bears don’t wreck them. If you live in the city or suburbs you might not realize that bears are possible in your area … until one shows up.

When you see a bear don’t make the mistake of feeding him. He’ll think People=Food and continue to hang around, ransacking the neighborhood.

Last year locals fed marshmallows to a bear in Monroeville!  And he became a problem. And they had to call the Game Commission to trap and transport him.  The Game Commission number in southwestern Pennsylvania is 724-238-9523.

Read more about bears in this 2010 blog post called:  Bears???

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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May 09 2016

Nature’s Perfect Partners: PBS NATURE May 11

Barbell fish clean hippo's skin and teeth (photo courtesy PBS Nature © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

Barbell fish clean hippo’s skin and teeth (photo courtesy PBS Nature © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

Oh my!  Is the hippo eating these fish?!?

No. He could eat them if he wanted to but these barbell fish are his helpers.  They eat ticks from his skin and food from his teeth.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.

The hippo and the barbell fish are just one example of the unlikely partnerships animals make with other species.  Watch the premiere of Nature’s Perfect Partners on Wednesday May 11 to learn about many more — lizards with lions, a fish with a blind shrimp, toads with tarantulas.

Here’s a preview:

Don’t miss Nature’s Perfect Partners this Wednesday May 11 at 8pm EDT/ 9pm CDT on PBS.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.

 

(photo courtesy PBS NATURE © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

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Feb 01 2016

Get Ready For Groundhog Day!

Published by under Books & Events,Mammals

Get ready for Groundhog Day!

Tomorrow is the mid-point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  February 2 is also the day when a very special rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from his den to predict the weather for the next six weeks.

Phil never makes his prediction in isolation.  His day in the sun (or shade) spawns a huge celebration in Punxsutawney, PA.  Preview the excitement in his eight minute promo video above.

If you don’t like winter, then hope for an overcast sky so that Phil has a day in the shade.  Here’s why.

 

 

(video from Punxsutawney Phil on YouTube)

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Jan 25 2016

Unicorns At Sea

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Mammals

Narwhals

Narwhals “tusking” (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know there’s a whale with a horn like a unicorn?

The narhwal (Monodon monoceros) is an arctic whale, closely related to the beluga whom it resembles.

Close relatives: Beluga whale and narwhal (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Close relatives: Beluga whale and narwhal (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Like the beluga, it has teeth though it doesn’t use them for chewing.  All but two of the teeth are vestigial but one of those, the left canine, grows though the male’s upper lip spiraling counter-clockwise, straight out, in a single tusk as much as nine feet long.

The tusk is not a sword.  Instead, like our teeth it’s made up of layers but it’s hollow inside and much more sensitive.  The outer layer is permeable, allowing seawater to pass through the dentin into the hollow core filled with millions of nerves. Scientists know the tusks can sense salinity but they probably can sense a lot more. When narwhals surface to breathe and rub tusk to tusk they’re not fighting, they’re communicating.

Narwhals are so specialized it may lead to their extinction.  They live only in the Arctic Ocean where they depend on its icy habitat for food and shelter.  They roam in pods of 5-10 individuals and may migrate in groups of 1,000 but they seem more loyal to their favorite sites than to following their food.  As climate change heats the water and melts the arctic ice, narwhals will have less food and fewer places to live. Like the polar bear, narwhals are threatened by climate change.

If or when this whale goes extinct it may pass into mythology, like the unicorn.

Unicorn in the Book of the properties of Bartholomew the Englishman, early fifteenth century (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Unicorn in the Book of the properties of Bartholomew the Englishman, early fifteenth century (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jan 22 2016

Why The Apple Tree Came Down

Published by under Mammals

One autumn evening in Sweden, a man came home from his nighttime job and heard a strange bellowing in the dark coming from his neighbor’s apple tree.

A drunken moose was calling for help!

To rescue the moose they had to chop down the tree.

And that’s why the apple tree came down.

 

(video from YouTube)

p.s. The moose had been eating fermented apples.

 

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