All posts by Blake

Pika or Rock Rabbit — My Favorite

The North American Pika is a member of the rabbit order Lagomorpha and a member of the family Ochotonidae.  Pikas are generally smaller and have shorter hind legs and ears than their rabbit cousins. One of my own personal favorites, the pika, is small, about eight inches (203 mm) long and 4 ounces (113 g) with no tail. Pikas have short dense fur to conserve heat, even with fur clad foot soles, surviving in habitats where most other mammals would freeze to death. I first encountered and was fascinated by pikas as a youngster hearing their “chirps” then seeing them while fishing in a volcanic lake in southern Idaho. Later, I scientifically studied and trapped pikas in western and in eastern Wyoming. They are fascinating inhabitants normally of higher altitude timberline rocky or talus slopes. However, they may also inhabit rock piles at lower elevations. Perceptive visits to timberline areas in wilderness areas and in national parks will often result in sightings of these fun and shy little rabbits.

Pikas are the only members of the rabbit family who cache food. They have a unique habit of cutting summer vegetation, including sedges, grasses, herbs and tender flowering plants, in meadows surrounding their rocky slope dens. They cut, carry and deposit these plants to a location above or near their dens. By fall, these deposits of vegetation are cured and dry, appearing a miniature hay stacks. Since pikas do not hibernate, these “hay piles” on occupied rocky slopes serve as a continuous supply of food during the frigid and austere winters of drifting and heavy snowfalls in the high mountains. Similar to cousin hares and rabbits, pikas reingest fecal pellets.

The North American pika, family Ochotonidae, has two species, Ochotona princeps and Ochotona collaris. O. collaris principally inhabits Alaska and is present in nearby Canadian provinces of Yukon, Mackenzie, British Columbia, and Northwest Territories. Whereas Ochotona princeps is scattered south from the state of Washington to Arizona in mountain habitats ncluding Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, and Cascade ranges of western U.S. and has 36 named subspecies (Hall, 1981). Sixteen of the surviving 18 species of Ochotona primarily are found in Asia.

Ochotona collaris has one annual molt whereas O. princeps has two molts. Pikas have excellent hearing and vision and move from rock to rock with the greatest of ease. In warmer weather, they can be seen sunning themselves on rocks near their dens. They communicate vocally with a nasal bleep or a sharp bark and can be heard vocalizing during daily plant gathering activities, even when present inside their rocky dens.

Pika habitat areas are small in size. Since optimal talus habitat is limited, populations are concentrated. A male’s territory is often adjacent to a female’s territory. During mating season, a male’s territory may overlap that of an adjacent female. Females may repel other females at this time but are less aggressive towards males. Pikas are not normally aggressively territorially except at harvest time when trespassers are chased away. Territories cover several hundred square meters. After young are born, males are vigorously excluded with no paternal care. Two to five young are born per litter, two litters per year, helpless with eyes shut following a 30 day gestation period. Pikas may live six to seven years and remain in the same habitat area for a lifetime.

Predators include eagles, hawks, fox, marten, ermine, fisher wolverine, lynx, bear. These all attempt to prey upon pikas either during foraging activities of when sunning themselves on home den rocks. Ermines follow and seek to prey upon them through their maze of rock tunnels.

Conservation status: There have been concerns that the American pika is reacting negatively to alleged warming changes in climate. However, it was found that occupancy of most of potential central pika habitat is high, that pika populations are thriving with no discernible negative climatic effects. In fact, models with variables other than climate often appear to be better indicators of site longevity. Pikas appear to tolerate more diverse habitat and climatic conditions than previously known such as thriving in hot sites by nocturnal activity and more time spent in cooler dens. Some habitats appear to have been compromised by human activity such as cattle grazing and other factors. However, in marginal habitats in the Great Basin, unoccupied available habitat does exist, perhaps due to poor pika dispersal capability.

Forsyth, A. 1999. Mammals of North America, Temperate and Arctic Regions. Firefly Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 350 p.

Grosvenor, G.M., Ed. 1979. Wild Animals of North America. The National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C. 406 p.

Hall, E.R. 1981. The Mammals of North America. Vol. 1. John Wiley & Sons, New York. 600 p.

MacDonald, S.O. and C. Jones. 1987. Octhotona collaris. Mammalian Species, No. 281, pp. 1-4.

Smith, A.T. 2020. Conservation status of American pikas, (Ochotona princeps). J. Mammal., Vol 101, Issue 6, December 2020, pp. 1466-1488.

Photo by Andrew T. Smith, J. Mammal., Vol. 101, Issue 6, December 2020.

Prickly Porcupine

North American Porcupine
 

The prickly, untoward small mammal, the porcupine, is one of the anomalies found within the animal kingdom, mostly due to hairs modified into barbed quills. “Porcupine” means “quill pig” in Latin, though it is not a pig but rather a large rodent.  Two groups of porcupines are known: Old and New World porcupines. New World porcupines climb trees or are arboreal, Old World’s do not.  In North America, there is only a single species, dorsatum, in the genus Erithizon. Native to Canada, United States, and northern Mexico, sightings of live porcupines are relatively rare. South American porcupines have been divided into four genera: Echinoprocta, Sphiggurus, Coendou, Chaetomys with about 13 species.  There still remains some uncertainty within these latter groups by taxonomists.  The genus Coendou is unique as it is known as the prehensile tailed porcupine, meaning it can use its tail similar to monkeys.  

Porcupines are slow, lumbering, somewhat clumsey large rodents. In North America, evidence of their presence is often more likely seen in roadkills than observed alive in nature.

Porcupines prefer northern forests, range lands, and even deserts.  They are arboreal and adapted to graze in upper northern forests.  They are generalist, mostly nocturnal, herbivores, feeding on almost every kind of tree they encounter.  Porcupines are adapted to gnawing.  They have large protruding incisors and strong jaw muscles.  During wintertimes, porcupines feed on tree bark, sapwood and buds.  They will often feed on a single tree for days rather than moving from tree to tree often resulting in complete girdling and death of the tree.  So, control has often been exerted to preserve trees as their most efficient enemy, the fisher, has been depleted by trapping.  The agile fisher attacks the clumsy porcupine’s head and face, biting it until helpless, then feeding on the soft belly tissues.  Other enemies include cougars, martens, bear, wolf, coyotes, wolverines, great horned owls, and other carnivores.  Some learn fast and only attack once.  In the summers, porcupines feed mostly on ground growing shrubs and herbs.  Their intestines are extensive allowing herbaceous materials to more fully decompose and ferment by bacteria before absorption.  Porcupines are attracted to salt containing materials such as boat seats, outhouses, plywood.  My dad, who many years ago worked summers by plowing virgin Idaho sagebrush ground with a team of horses, often had problems with porcupines gnawing and damaging salt impregnated leather harnesses between uses. 

Porcupines defend themselves primarily with their spiney tails.  Their best defensive posture is climbing a tree and swinging their quill-filled tail.  There are reports that quills are not lethal to major predators, though some reports have reported that quills have been lethal to some attackers.  When porcupine barbed quills are lost, new ones grow back.  Porcupines have mediocre vision, but have excellent senses of hearing and smell and are reported to be intelligent and capable of learning rapidly.  They are not territorial and will often coexist with other porcupines in caves, hollow trees or other places of shelter.  Home ranges are normally between 30 to 40 acres.  Porcupines are solitary most of the year.  They may occupy the same territory for years and rarely move much during the winter, but may be more mobile and move more extensively in the summers, up to 300 acres.  Their lifespan is 6 to 11 years.

During mating season, there may be fierce competition among males for receptive females.  Males have been known to fight intense battles during which they bite and drive numerous quills into each other.  Sex ratios in porcupine populations have a higher proportions of females perhaps due to high male mortality rates.  During fall mating season, males mark their presence by urinating and searching for female urination sites, indicating that chemical communication plays a large role.
When receptive females are encountered, male urine distribution, vocal grunts, wrestling, chase resulting in eventual fertilization. 

Porcupines mate during the autumn or early winter, and usually birth only a single young after 205 to 217 days in April – June.  The mother furnishes milk to the precocious young during the summers and invest much energy in rearing offspring.
At birth, eyes are open, with functional quills and mobility, even eating vegetation on their own within a week of birth. Parasites of porcupines include fleas, lice, ticks, mites, roundworms, flatworms and tongue worms, though none apparently adversely affect the host.

Porcupine economic status includes damage to orchards, forest trees, crop damage, gnawed holes in auto tires, plastic tubing used collect maple sap, injury to domestic animals and possible transmission of diseases such as tularemia and tick fever. However, most reports suggest that porcupine damage is not sufficiently significant to warrant poisoning campaigns.

Forsyth, A.  1999.  Firefly Books, Ltd.  Buffalo, NY.  350 p.
Crump, D. J., Ed.  1981.  National Geographic Book of Mammals.  National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C.  Volume I. 304 p. 
Radford, K. H. and J. F. Eisenberg  1992. Mammals of the Neotropics.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL  3 vols.  
Woods, C. A.  1973.  Erethizon dorsatum.  Mammalian Species, No. 29, 6 p.

“LEAPING” LEMURS

Lemurs, cousins of monkeys, are unique and fascinating mammals found only on the islands of Madagascar and nearby Comoro. There are eight lemur families with 15 genera and 103 + existing species and subspecies as of 2012. They belong to the order Primates, to which man is also a member. Primates are mostly unspecialized tree dwelling mammals with five digits (fingers) with nails instead of claws. Primate eyes are set near the front of the head providing judgment of distances and stereoscopic vision. Aside from man, most primates inhabit tropical or subtropical regions.

To better understand the present variable lemur mammal complex in Madagascar, one needs to understand the natural conditions that were in play over millions of years. This large island is between the size of Texas and California and is about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from east Africa, the closest continent. Along the west side of Madagascar runs a steep escarpment which contains most of the island’s remaining tropical lowland forest. To the west of this ridge lies a plateau. In the center of the island are mountain ranges in altitudes from 750 to 1,500 m (2,460 to 4,920 ft) above sea level. To the west of the highlands, the increasingly arid terrain gradually slopes down to the Mozambique Channel and mangrove swamps along the coast. The east coast receives heavy rainfall November through April while a cooler dry season occurs the rest of the year. The central highlands are even drier and cooler while the west and southwest approach even a semi-arid climate. The island thus offers rich geographical and ecological habitat diversity in which fauna and flora have thrived in relative isolation during the past 88 million years when scientists say the island separated from the India continent during the late Cretaceous period. As a result of this long isolation from neighboring continents, numerous plants and animals underwent natural selective processes and are found nowhere else on earth. In fact, up to 90% of all flora and fauna on Madagascar are endemic or unique to the island. The prolonged effect of isolation and natural selection on lemurs thus has resulted in a confounding array of multi-colored and morphologically and behaviorally diverse and yet sometimes somewhat similar qualities that continue to challenge scientists. Zoological taxonomists thrive in study of obvious and the subtle anatomical and behavioral qualities of fauna as they seek to differentiate and show relationships among closely similar characteristics in applying nomenclatoral criteria. Indeed, the fauna (and flora) of Madagascar offer a mecca, even a paradise, for scientific study on many different levels.

Lemurs are the most numerous of Madagascar primates and belong to the families of Lemuridae, Daubentonidae, and Indriidae. They communicate more with scents and vocalizations than with visual signals. Lemurs have a low basal metabolic rate and may exhibit dormancy such as torpor and hibernation. They have seasonal breeding and social dominance by females. Most are herbivores and eat different kinds of fruits and leaves, some are specialists. Due to dietary differences, several species of lemurs may coexist in the same forest without directly outcompeting each other. Lemurs vary in size from mouse-like to over four feet in length, much like a big dog. All (except the Indri) have long bushy tail with pointed faces, nostrils near the tip of the snout. Lower front teeth point forward and form a comb. The outer pair are cheek teeth and the lower tusks really cheek tooth with two roots.

Lemurs may be divided into four groups:* However, much additional taxonomic research work has been performed during and since the 1990’s resulting in controversial classifications depending on which species concept is utilized.

Aye-Aye

The Aye-Aye is one of the most peculiar and unique of the lemurs. About the size of cats, they have huge bushy tails. Ears are very large and naked. Teeth are so peculiar they were once thought to be rodents, as they have no canine teeth and ever growing four upper and three lowers. Fingers and toes are unusual. They inhabit dense forests and eat insects, eggs, small animals and the pulp and juices of some fruits and plants. Only one young is born at a time.

Small Woolly Lemurs

These lemurs have elongated ankle joints giving the hind legs a four-jointed appearance, finger and toe pads and large eyes. They are all nocturnal and are of very small size. The Lesser Mouse-Lemur is less than four inches long and has a tail of similar length. These live in tall damp forests, open scrub land and even in open reed beds. Curiously, some spend part of the year in an inactive/comatose condition during the hot dry season after storing masses of fat at their tail base and hind legs, while some are active throughout the year. Diets are mostly insects, but they also eat honey and plant saps. Some jump (leap) rather than run. Two young are born at a time.

Large Woolly Lemurs

These lemurs are bulky, agile mammals that move about in large family units or tribes, night and day.

Some eat only leaves and have no upper front teeth. Within this group is great diversity and variety. Some are adapted to marshes, some are arboreal and feed off the tops of forest trees, some sun themselves in the morning, some make nests, some are ground-living and sit on their haunches to eat, holding food in their hands and biting with their back teeth. The Brown Lemur is bewildering as no two are exactly alike. The Mongoose Lemurs vary in a hopeless style. The Red-bellied Lemur is the smallest species and is wholly diurnal and looks like some of the other species. Species differences cause monumental quandries to researchers and others who study them.

Silky Lemurs

These lemurs have short broad muzzles and widely separated eyes, with naked faces. Their movements are more deliberate and slower and precise. Their legs are unusually long and they walk or hop like kangaroos. The big toe is enormous and diverges at more than a right angle from the other toes which are held together with webbing. Silky Lemurs are large animals most with silky coats. Some are diurnal, some nocturnal. They are purely vegetarians and bear only a single young at a time. The Indri is the oddest of all lemurs, having no tail. These have slender hind limbs and enormous hands and feet. They are large, some measuring over two feet in length and often vary from one another in coloration, but the face is usually dark with a lighter topknot and throat collar.

At least 17 lemur species have already gone extinct due to human activity and habitat loss. A number of Lemur species are presently considered endangered. Because of threats from illegal logging, economic privation, and political instability, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers lemurs to be the world’s most endangered mammals, noting that as of 2013 up to 90% of all lemur species confront possible extinction in the next 20 to 25 years.

Quinn, A. and D. E. Wilson. 2002. Indri indri. Mammalian Species, No. 294, 5 p.

*Sanderson, I. T. 1961. Living Mammals of the World. Doubleday, Garden City, NY., 303 p.

Wikipedia, “Madagascar”

Photo of Lepilemur sp. By Desire Randrianarisata, J. Mammal., vol. 85, no. 3, June 2004.

The Two and Three-Toed Sloths

 

Ranging from Honduras across South America to Argentina, sloths are another of nature’s strange mammals.  There are two families containing a single genus each:  three-toed sloths, Bradypus, and two-toed sloths, Choloepus.

Unique characteristics of sloths include toe attachment and three recurved claws on each forelimb which allow them the habit of hanging upside down from all limbs, awake or sleeping.  Their hair is different from other mammals in two ways: first, hairs have very tiny grooves which allow for attachment and growth of blue-green algae.  Algae give sloths a greenish hue to their fur, which provides a camouflage while hanging upside down high in the trees.  Secondly, hair patterns flow from the central stomach area to the back, allowing rain to shed off the belly while hanging upside down.  They have a low center of gravity, contributing to very slow and deliberate movements.  Adults weigh from five to 15 pounds and are mostly brown in coloration and are 12 to 20 inches in length.

Sloths are arboreal, meaning that they live in trees and are active during the day and night.  They have a low metabolic rate and low body core temperatures.  This is probably due to their diet of leaves which digest slowly and have rather low content of nutrients.  Stomachs of sloths are divided into compartments.  Leaves ferment in these compartments and in the small intestine where bacteria decompose leaves and perforate cellulose cell walls.  Although sloths spend the majority of their lives in trees, they descend to the earth several times a week to eliminate body wastes.  Sloths tolerate humans and are often found as residents of parks and other places near human populations.  I remember seeing a sloth in a tree near a bus stop in Brazil.  The most notable thing about it was its upside down demeanor and very slow movements.

Sloths may harbor arthropod-borne viruses, such as yellow fever, St. Louis encephalitis, ilheus virus and Venzuelan encephalitis.  These may circulate in their bloodstream for long periods of time, allowing transmission of disease to mosquitoes to humans or other animals.  In Panama, two-toed sloths host causative organisms of leishmaniasis in humans.

A single young sloth is born after a gestation period of about six months.  It remains dependent upon its mother for food for approximately four weeks and is carried around on the mother’s back.  The young remains with her about six months.  Since sloths depend on leaves as food, they are found where most trees keep their leaves throughout the year.  Their home range is about three to four acres.  Sloths maintain desired body temperatures by moving in and out of the sun. They are prey to Harpy Eagles, the largest birds of prey in the Amazon rain forest, but otherwise have a very low mortality rate as evidenced by their low reproductivity.

 

Lord, R.D.  2007.  Mammals of South America.  The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.  198 p.

Redford, K.H. and J. F. Eisenberg.  1992.  Mammals of the Neotropics:  The Southern Cone.  Vol. 2.  The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

A  Prophecy  for our  Time——Now!

Ether 8:22.  And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for the vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.

  1. Wherefore, O ye Gentiles (us), it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
  2. Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
  3. For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.

The Kinkajou—Another Unique Member of the Raccoon Family

 

w2dkinkajou2

Have you ever visited a zoo and seen monkeys swinging back and forth hanging from their tails?  Not many mammals have this ability of “prehensile” tails—the ability to wrap tails around a branch for support of their bodies.  In fact, besides the kinkajou, only one other carnivore has this ability—the binturong of southeast Asia.

The kinkajou or “honey bear’ as some folks call them, is a member of the raccoon family, Procyonidae, as also are raccoons, ringtails and coatis. Overall, they are most similar in structure to ringtails, although they are genetically distinct.  Similarities with ringtails are thought to have come about by slow parallel changes of natural selection in similar habitat and environment. They belong to the genus Potos; Potos flavus is their scientific name.  They are the only species within the genus and there are eight subspecies.

The fur of the kinkajou is thick and woolly and the tail long and prehensile.  The rear half of feet soles are furred, digits are united by webbing for 1/3 of their length and their tongue is long and narrow.  Pelage (fur) varies mostly in shades of brown and gold over gray and there is often marked color variation even within close geographic family groups.  Weight is from 2.5 to 3.7 kg.

Kinkajous range from in Mexico, through Central America to Bolivia, east  of the Andes and in forests of southeastern Brazil.  They are normally found at altitudes from sea level to 2500 m.  Their  preferred altitude is from sea level to 2500 m. Preferred habitat vegetation are closed canopy tropical forests closed, including lowland rainforestmontane forestdry forestgallery forest and secondary forestlands.

Kinkajous are tropical non-hibernating omnivores eating both vegetation and animals.  They may be described as primarily frugivores (fruit-eating).  They particularly like figs and extract the inner pulp of fruits with their long tongues.  They are important seed dispersal agents in dispersing several fruit varieties as seeds are ingested with the fruit pulp and pass through their digestive tracts unharmed.

Kinkajous are strictly nocturnal and arboreal, rarely coming to the ground.  Kinkajous are not tolerant of heat and normally remain out of direct sunlight.  They most often sleep in obscure retreats in shaded tangles of leaves and in tree hollows during the daytime, so sightings are rare.  Kinkajous are considered solitary (loners) though sometimes may be seen in pairs.  However, they are may be found in feeding and sleeping groups of three or more.

Kinkajous employ a wide variety of vocalizations (sounds) from barks to shrill screams, whistles, grunts, hisses, chirps and clicking sounds.

Male kinkajous become sexually mature in 1.5 years, females in 2.25 years.  They breed throughout the year, giving birth to one or occasionally two small young after a gestation period of 98 to 120 days. They live from 20 to 40 years in captivity, less in nature.

A nocturnal animal, the kinkajou’s peak activity is usually between about 7:00 PM and midnight, and again an hour before dawn. During daylight hours, kinkajous sleep in tree hollows or in shaded tangles of leaves, avoiding direct sunlight.  They do not hibernate.

In El SalvadorGuatemala and Honduras pet kinkajous are commonly called micoleón, meaning “lion monkey”. Kinkajous are sometimes kept as exotic pets. They are playful, generally quiet, docile, and have little odor. However, they can occasionally be aggressive. Kinkajous dislike sudden movements, noise, and being awake during the day. An agitated kinkajou may emit a scream and attack, usually clawing its victim and sometimes biting deeply. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that pet kinkajous in the United States can be carriers of the roundworm Baylisascaris procyonis, which is capable of causing severe morbidity and even death in the owner, if infected (Wikipedia).

 

Eisenberg, J. F.  1989.  Mammals of the Neotropics.  Vol. 1, The Northern Neotropics.  The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.                                                                                                                                   Ford, L. S. and R. S. Hoffmann.  1988.  Potos flavus.  Mammalian Species, No. 321.  American Society of Mammalogists.                       Wikipedia

The Coatimundi (Coati)—Have You Sighted One Lately?

 

w2dcoatiYou or a family member are familiar with and have probably seen raccoons.  Raccoons are common and are often seen as road kills along streets and highways in North America.  The raccoon family is a carnivore and is called “Procyonidae” and consists of four genera of raccoon-like small mammals:  the raccoon, the ringtail, the kinkajou, and coatimundi (or “coati” for short).¹  You are much less likely to have seen these near cousins of the raccoon all of which (except the kinkajou) are found in parts of the U. S.

Raccoons (genus Procyon) are found north from Panama throughout Mexico and the U. S. into much of southern Canada.  Ringtails (genus Basssariscus) are found north from the Mexican state of Oaxaca into the U. S. states of Arkansas, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah Nevada, California, into Oregon.  The kinkajou (genus Potos) ranges north through southern Brazil into southern Mexico–the only genus in the family Procyonidae with a prehensile tail.  The coati belongs to the genus Nasua.  There are two species within this genus; Nasua nasua and N. nelsoniN. nasua is the common coati found in the southwestern U.S.¹

Another genus, Nasuella (Mountain Coati) is about half the size of the common coati and is found mostly in forested habitats from northern Colombia and Venezuela to Peru at elevations of over 2,000 m.  Little is known of Nasuella.²  Hall (1981) does not recognize this genus, also a member of Procyonidae.

Coatis are distributed from Argentina through Central American and Mexican woodlands northward and only somewhat recently extended their ranges into Southwestern U. S.—Texas– in about 1900.  Presently, they are most likely to be found in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas in the U. S.

Coatis may grow to the size of a small dog. They are found in habitats ranging from dry deciduous forests to layered tropical evergreen forests and sleep in trees during the nighttime.  Home range may be as much as 2kms².

The coati is diurnal in activity–active during the daytime–although the raccoon and ringtail are both nocturnal.  The coati has a tough though sensitive snout which facilitates food gathering.  This latter characteristic had led some to call it the “hog-nosed coon.”

Some folks mistake the coati for a monkey, as it is rust-colored (pale brown to reddish) and has a dusty face mask with small brown eyes bordered by a mask varying from reddish to brown. Ears are short.  The tail is banded with alternate yellow and brown markings.  Tail length is about equal to length of the body (up to 27 inches) and is used primarily for balance though it cannot grasp limbs with it as do mammals with prehensile tails.

Coati female and young are social and gregarious; that is, they normally live in semi-permanent social groups of up to 30 individuals, mostly females and younger animals.  Outside of the breeding season, males are solitary and forage alone.  In about April of each year, males enter the groups, and two or more young are born in a tree nest after a 77 day gestation period in early summer.  Young are confined to their nests for 2 or 3 weeks following birth; they then follow their mother and other females with their young to hunt for food in trees or on the ground.

Coati’s are omnivorous; that is, they feed upon either animal or plant materials depending on availability.  On the ground, coatis, hunt for arthropods (insects, beetles, etc.), worms, small invertebrates in the forest floor litter with their sensitive snouts.  Berries, mice, lizards, and almost anything are also food items.³

Some folks deem coatis as satisfactory household pets.

¹Hall, E. R. 1981.  The mammals of North America.  Vol. II.  John Wiley and Sons, New York.

²Eisenberg, J. F.  1989.  Mammals of the Neotropics.  Vol. I.  The University of Chicago Press.  Chicago and London.

³Grosvenor, G.M, ed.  1979.  Wild animals of North America.  National Geographic Society,  Washington, D. C.

Note:  The Olsen family sighted a coati near Tucson, AZ, and brought it to the author’s attention.

The Armadillo,  One the World’s Strangest Creatures

One of the strangest animals on this earth is the armadillo.  It is the only living mammal with thin bony shells covering its upper body.  Sparse hairs protrude from between the bony plates on the upper (or dorsal side) and on the underneath or ventral side.  Armadillos are native to South America where there are presently 20 separate species.  In the U. S., only the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is present in some southernmost states where its distribution varies depending on climate issues.  Armadillos are semi-fossorial, that is, they dig burrows in the soil–where they sleep.  People who have sampled the armadillos’ flesh say it is similar to chicken or pork in flavor.  South American gauchos treat armadillos as” traveling lunch boxes”—to be thrown into campfires and roasted. *

In the nine-banded armadillo, four young are born in March or April. They soon begin walking and accompanying their mother searching for food nocturnally.  They have a keen sense of smell.  Food items include mostly insects, some invertebrates, even amphibians and/or reptiles, other vertebrates.  Some vegetation including seeds are also eaten.  Man appears to be the only serious predator.  Home ranges are usually less than 50 acres, some significantly less and overlap with other armadillos, with no territoriality.   An armadillo may have 4 to 8 burrow systems some of which may be shared with other vertebrates.  Known parasites include fleas, T. cruzi and helminths,  Armadillos have the ability to swim or even walk under water and are responsible for some crop damage. **

In a recent article in the Journal of Mammalogy, a study was conducted in the plains (pampas) of Argentina.  The study looked at how the nature of agricultural plots of rangeland and soybean cultivation affected the activities of 2 species of armadillos, Chaetophractus villosus and Dasypus hybridus.

The study found that the type of plot, except summer-spring, determined variation in D. hybridus activity.  C. villosus utilized agricultural lands with a longer history of non-cultivation.  On the other hand, D. hybridus was more active in agricultural lands with less human usage, especially in the fall.

Overall, C. villosus and D. hybridus were found to be more sensitive to structural characteristics of the land (stubble characteristics-vegetation structure and soil features) rather than whether the land was being used as crop fields or rangeland.

The attached armadillo photo by Dario Podesta is Chaetophractus villosus also commonly known as the large hairy armadillo.

*Wetzel, R. M. 1979.  Wild animal of North America.  National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

**McBee, K. and R. J. Baker.  1982.  Dasypus novemcinctus.  Mammalian Species 162.

***Abba, A.M., E. Zufiaurre, M. Codesido, and D. N. Bilenca.  2016.  Habitat use by armadillos in agroecosystems.  Journal of Mammalogy 97(5): 1265-1271.

Will We Be Wise And Take A “Preparation Lesson” From Wildlife?

 

Pica_Eyewire_479x238.ashxAll forms of wildlife have strategies to survive adverse cold winter weather. Bears, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and groundhogs, to name a few, store up fat in their bodies before winter sets in, then sleep through the winter while the stored fat sustains them. Other wildlife stores seeds and plants as food source use during cold and wintry weather, such as chipmunks and pikas (foto above).   Do we as humans learn from our animal associates? How many of us are prepared for the uncertain future?   True, wildlife prepares for a known winter time conditions that happens every year at about the same time, whereas we generally have little knowledge of when it will be necessary to live strictly on our own. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic actions, deadly diseases, enemy actions, accidental release of toxins in the air or other catastrophes occur most of the time with little or no warning to prepare. When the emergency arrives, the day of preparation is past.

We are living in a day of abundance and leisure on a scale the world has never before seen. By and large, most of us have the means to dine out several times a week or month; or, to prepare our own food in our own home with our electric appliances. Few of us have ever been in a water shortage when we did not have plenty to drink and take luxurious hot showers for many minutes.   If we are short on a food item, we merely run to the nearby convenience or grocery store—which most of us do several times a week. Much of grocery food is delivered generally on a “just-in-time” basis, meaning that there is a direct and rapid route of delivery from time and place of growth/production to the store—little time is spent in the warehouse awaiting orders. Therefore, a disruption in the transportation or production supply chain can interrupt the supply resulting in empty grocery stores within just a few hours. I personally saw such a case in Oklahoma where we lived several years ago. A severe ice storm shut down transportation. Within a few short hours, shelf after shelf in the grocery stores was emptied.

Now, if some kind of catastrophic event occurs “out of the blue,” have we been wise and prudent enough to prepare for ourselves and our families? There are many forms and ways to prepare for the unforeseen. However, perhaps the most important immediate goal is to 1) have a safe supply of water (without which a human can survive less than five day); 2) food, which takes second place (humans can survive weeks before finally starving to death–a most painful way to die, especially having to watch other loved ones suffer and pass away from lack of water and food).

Folks, open your eyes and wake up! None of us want to see our children starve to death in front of us. Our family is our Number # 1 responsibility. Are we not wise enough to see what is happening around us? Our unstable national and international political/economic/financial conditions beg us to pay closer attention to what is going on around us. How much warning do you think we’ll get when conditions go “south?”

My suggestion is to sequester at least one month’s supply of food and water to prepare for the inevitable and unknown future crises which shall surely come!

Vulvpes vulpesBe Prepared!

The Ringtail, An Unfamiliar North American Mammal

W2DRingtail1There it was—a raccoon-like animal with a long black and whitetail banded tail. It moved effortlessly, making its way through the rocks and crevices of its habitat, occasionally stopping and sensing the air for potential enemies or prey. Its face was masked-like, somewhat like its raccoon near relative. The ringtail, as it is known, was very noticeable to the observer when it moved with its tail carried out straight, barely clearing the ground surface; motionless, it blended almost unseen into the natural setting of its rugged habitat, camaflaged against the dark and light rocks and vegetation. The long tail, as long again as nose to hind limbs, almost seemed like excess baggage pulling along from behind. To me, the mystery of the ringtail is—how its long gaudy black and white tail—so obvious when moving—can fit into natural surroundings almost invisibly when stationery.

Scientists know them as Bassariscus astutus; most others call them Ringtails.  Somewhat similar to the American marten, ringtails have 7 -8 distinctively annulated black and white alternating rings forming their tails. The tail is about the same length as entire head to body length. The ringed tail is key to immediate identification.* There are two living species, although B. astutus is the predominant form in North America with 6 subspecies. It belongs to the family Procyonidae and is a sister genus to the raccoon, genus Procyon. The ringtail ranges from southern Mexico as far north mainly to California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Kansas. The head has patches of white or light pelage, the eyes are large and ringed with black or dark brown fur altogether forming a rather striking “mask.”

Unique features of ringtail physiology is the ability of modified kidneys to concentrate urine, among the highest known in the order Carnivora. This allows the animal to maintain water balance for days even in the absence of open water, upon which it ultimately depends. They have no caecum, the first portion of the small intestine. Ringtails have paired glands near the anus which secrete a pungent, cream-colored secretion reminiscent of sister Procyonid odiferous secretions.

A seasonal molt begins in late summer and is completed by late fall. Breeding season is from February through May. The gestation period is from 51 to 54 days after which 1 to 4 young are born. Newborn young are blind until 21 to 34 days and weaned at 10 weeks and transition to solid food at 30 to 40 days. Excrement of young is consumed by the female until they transition to take solid food. During this transition time, young are known to lick saliva from inside mother’s mouth, perhaps serving to provide additional fluids. Play may occur at 45 days which consists of batting one another with forepaws, then pouncing on each other. They walk well and are fully furred at 6 weeks and climb at 8 weeks. Young begin to forage with their mothers at 60 to 100 days. Sexual maturity occurs at the end of the second year. In captivity, longevity may average 12 to 14 years. Vocalization is a spitting, explosive bark at about 10 weeks, evolving from earlier infant metallic squeaks.

Ringtails occur in a variety of habitats, from broken semiarid country to mountain pine forests to desert and dry tropical areas. Dens are most often in boulder piles, rock crevices, hollow trees, brush piles, under roots, within burrows dug by other animals and even in rural buildings. They often move from den to den after 1 to 3 days. Females with new litters moved their young from den to den after just 10 days after giving birth.

Ringtails are omnivorous, though prefer animal matter. Preferred foods include arthropods/insects, mammals and fruits. Diverse food kinds have been documented including rabbits, squirrels, carrion, various kinds of plants, birds, lizards, snakes, frogs and fish. They often seek food in rural and urban areas and are harvested as a fur bearer. In the 1980s in Texas alone, harvest was estimated at 75,000 to 100,000 ringtails annually. Many states legally protect the ringtail, though many animals fall victim to traps set for other furbearers.

Ringtails are nocturnal, that is, they are active mostly during the night and at dusk. Major predators or enemies include the great horned owl, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats. Some carcasses of predator-killed ringtails were found that were not fed upon, probably due to strong flavor of the flesh. Diseases such as feline and canine panleucopenia, rabies and parasites may be prominent in controlling their population numbers. Fleas and lice are known ectoparasites while cestodes and nematodes are known internal parasites.

*Poglayen-Neuwall, Ivo and Dale E. Toweill. 1988.  Bassariscus astutus. Mammalian Species, No. 327.