As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!
Limpkins in Florida:
Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.
Deer in Pittsburgh:
Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.
When Matthias Wandel found a mouse in his toolshed he wondered how big a hole the mouse used to get in. Initially he experiments with a wooden maze. Then he used Legos.
Wandel’s five-minute video features a computerized Legos maze equipped with light sensors and a moving gate. Each time the mouse completes a visit, the gate closes a little more, just 1/3 mm. Eventually the mouse discovers he can’t get in. At 10.5 mm (0.413 inches) the gap is just too small.
The mouse takes on the Legos challenge but is limited by the size of his skull.
Every evening just after sunset a Central American (or Derby’s) woolly opossum (Caluromys derbianus) shuffled quickly past us as we sat chatting about the day’s events. If you didn’t watch carefully you missed it.
One evening I tried to follow the opossum to take his photo but failed. He seemed awkward but he was surprisingly fast.
This photo, taken at the Canopy Tower by Charles J. Sharp, reminded me of how easy it was to see this wide-eyed nocturnal animal. My husband was impressed that the opossum came so close, “That’s my kind of nature watch!”
See Derby’s woolly opossum in two videos below: At night in Panama’s San Francisco Reserve (look at those ears!) …
… and at Cornell Lab’s Panama fruitcam.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. videos from YouTube)
Today the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, predicted the weather for the next six weeks. He says we’ll have an early spring.
Groundhog Day is the mid-point of the celestial winter, a cross quarter day that marks the halfway point between solstice and equinox. According to Wikipedia, Celtic and Germanic tradition says that if the hedgehog sees his shadow today winter will last 6 more weeks. (It will anyway; today is 6 weeks before the equinox.) If he doesn’t see his shadow we’ll have an early spring. At dawn in Punxsutawney it was overcast with light snow — no shadow, early spring.
There aren’t any hedgehogs on this continent so immigrants substituted the groundhog (Marmota monax) for their annual tradition.
In the early days groundhogs didn’t hang out near people but they soon learned we have something they want. Food!
We also provide shelter, though unintentionally. Groundhogs use our buildings and concrete structures to make burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating.
Groundhogs will emerge from their burrows this spring in Pittsburgh, probably later this month. I know they live in Greenfield (near my backyard!) and Andrew Mumma has seen them near Pitt. They’re something to look forward to.
Amidst the raging bushfires in Australia there’s a bit of happy news. Wombats are unintentionally saving wildlife.
Wombats are nocturnal marsupials that live in burrows which they dig with their teeth and claws. Specially adapted for their underground life, the female’s pouch where she carries her young faces backward so the dirt doesn’t get into it.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) are the smallest of the three wombat species. At 30 inches long and weighing 42 to 71 pounds, their extensive tunnels have many entrances, long “hallways,” several large warrens, and smaller chambers. They are known to share their burrows with other wombats and are tolerant of visits by other species. Southern hairy-nosed wombats live in the fire zone.
Rescuers figured out the importance of wombat burrows when they found healthy, unscathed animals wandering in newly burned areas including small wallabies, echidnas, lizards, skinks and rabbits. As the fires approached, the fleeing animals dove into wombat burrows to shelter safely while the firestorm passed overhead.
Two species that may benefit from the wombat burrows are shown below.
The swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) is common in the bushfire area, measuring 27-30 inches excluding its tail. Rock wallabies are even smaller.
Short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are egg-laying mammals like the platypus that measure 12-18 inches long. They eat ants and termites.
Since we don’t have hedgehogs in the U.S. you might not realize what a loss this is.
Only half the size of house cats, European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have soft spines that are prickly but not dangerous. Unlike porcupine quills the spines have no hooks. Here’s a young one held in the hand.
Though they are nearsighted, nocturnal and solitary, hedgehogs are blessed with a keen sense of smell that helps them find beetles, slugs, insects and grubs. In summer they are lightweights (1.8 pounds) but in autumn they double their weight to get ready to hibernate.
There are perhaps just a million left, representing a 97% fall from the 30 million estimated to have roamed in the 1950s.
No one’s sure why hedgehogs have declined so precipitously but theories include a lack of habitat, a lower insect population, pesticides, road kills, and an increase in predators and competition, especially from badgers.
Though elk (wapiti) resemble white-tailed deer they are much larger and have huge antlers. A bull elk’s rack can reach 3.9 feet across and weigh 40 pounds! That’s twice as wide and five times the weight of the largest antlers on white-tailed deer.
Like all Cervids elk rub their antlers on trees to remove the velvet that coated the bone while it was growing. The velvet had nerves in it so the bull learned the dimensions of his antlers as they grew. When the rack is complete he remembers how big it is. This usually keeps him out of trouble when he rubs on trees or spars with another bull .
This month Paul Staniszewski captured photos of a bull elk rubbing his antlers and grooming in Benezette, PA. It’s amazing how the bull maneuvers in the tight space among the trees. What a massive rack!
This morning I went out the back door at 6am — in the dark — with a bag of garbage. I do this every Friday to outsmart the raccoons.
Raccoons are thriving in my neighborhood though we rarely see them. Last night, for the first time in many months, I saw a hunched shadow cross the street on a nocturnal ramble. They’re still here.
Mostly we see their evidence so we try to outsmart them.
The garbage truck arrives in our back alley as early as 6am but we’ve learned from experience that if we put the garbage out the night before the raccoons rip it open and scatter the contents. Nowadays I take out the garbage as close as possible to the garbage truck’s arrival. One morning I missed the truck. Dang!
Seven years ago PBS NATURE premiered a program called Raccoon Nation that showed how creative urban raccoons can be. One of the scientists remarked:
The more obstacles you throw in their way become more challenges, so it’s quite possible that by providing more and more obstacles we are in fact selecting for smarter raccoons.