#393 Beaver (Castor canadensis)

02 April 2021

The largest rodent in North America and competes with its Eurasian counterpart, the European beaver, for being the second-largest in the world, both following the South American capybara. The European species is slightly larger on average but the American has a larger known maximum size.

*EXTRA: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/25/toronto-fare-evading-beaver-subway-station

The beaver is semiaquatic. The beaver has many traits suited to this lifestyle. It has a large, flat, paddle-shaped tail and large, webbed hind feet. The unwebbed front paws are smaller, with claws. The forepaws are highly dextrous, and are used both for digging, and to fold individual leaves into their mouth and to rotate small, pencil-sized stems as they gnaw off bark. The eyes are covered by a nictitating membrane which allows the beaver to see under water. The nostrils and ears are sealed while submerged. Their lips can be closed behind their front teeth so that they can continue to gnaw underwater. A thick layer of fat under its skin insulates the beaver from its coldwater environment.

The beaver’s fur consists of long, coarse outer hairs and short, fine inner hairs (see Double coat). The fur has a range of colors, but usually is dark brown. Scent glands near the genitals secrete an oily substance known as castoreum, which the beaver uses to waterproof its fur. There is also another set of oil glands producing unique chemical identifiers in the form of waxy esters and fatty acids. The lush, workable fur was made into a number of products, most notably hats. Demand for furs for hats drove beavers nearly to the point of extinction, and the North American species was saved principally by a sudden change in style.

The beaver possesses continuously (or endlessly) growing incisors, and is a hindgut fermenter whose cecum, populated by symbiotic bacteria, helps to digest plant-based material. These traits are not unique to beavers, and are in fact present among all rodents. Nonetheless, the beaver is remarkably specialized for the efficient digestion of its lignocellulose-heavy diet.

#391 Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

31 March 2021

Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet primarily consisting of seeds, nuts and other fruits, and buds. They also commonly eat grass, shoots, and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They will also occasionally eat newly hatched baby birds. Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer, producing litters of four or five young twice each year.

Fulfill several important functions in forest ecosystems. Their activities harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment. They consume many different kinds of fungi, including those involved in symbiotic mycorrhizal associations with trees, and are an important vector for dispersal of the spores of subterranean sporocarps (truffles) which have co-evolved with these and other mycophagous mammals and thus lost the ability to disperse their spores through the air

#297 Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)

26 December

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all “Speciesists” … This is a rodent native to North America. It is most commonly called the deer mouse, although that name is common to most species of Peromyscus, and thus is often called the North American deermouse[2] and is fairly widespread across the continent, with the major exception being the southeast United States and the far north.

Like other Peromyscus species, it can be a vector and carrier of emerging infectious diseases such as hantaviruses and Lyme disease.[3][4]

It is closely related to Peromyscus leucopus, the white-footed mouse

#144 White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

22 July

White-tailed deer eat large amounts of food, commonly eating legumes and foraging on other plants, including shoots, leaves, cacti (in deserts), prairie forbs, and grasses. They also eat acorns, fruit, and corn. Their special stomachs allow them to eat some things humans cannot, such as mushrooms and poison ivy. Their diets vary by season according to availability of food sources. They also eat hay, grass, white clover, and other foods they can find in a farm yard. Though almost entirely herbivorous, white-tailed deer have been known to opportunistically feed on nesting songbirds, field mice, and birds trapped in mist nets, if the need arises. A grown deer can eat around 2,000 lb (910 kg) of vegetable matter annually. A foraging area around 20 deer per square mile can start to destroy the forest environment.

#93 Groundhog/Marmot

Groundhog/Marmot (Marmota monax)

1 June

To start a new month of identifying species around home base I offer you the Groundhog/Marmot. This fellow appeared out of the blue in the garden twards the end of May and after making a short foray onto the deck contented himself (herself?) bu checking out the bank between our garden and the one on the other side of the fence. Nice and shady and generally protected but used as a highway by cats and foxes and skunks. If he/she has been attracted by the newly planted vegetable garden then there willbe words bewteen us.

Taxonomically they are squirrels. Groundhogs have four incisor teeth which grow 1.5 mm per week. Constant usage wears them down again by about that much each week.Unlike the incisors of many other rodents, the incisors of groundhogs are white to ivory-white. Groundhogs are well-adapted for digging, with short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. Unlike other sciurids, the groundhog’s tail is comparably shorter—only about one-fourth of body length. prefers open country and the edges of woodland, and is rarely far from a burrow entrance. Marmota monax has a wide geographic range. It is typically found in low-elevation forests, small woodlots, fields, pastures and hedgerows. It constructs dens in well-drained soil, and most have summer and winter dens. Human activity has increased food access and abundance allowing M. monax to thrive.

#46 (reprise) Striped Skunk

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

31 May

*Apologies, it seems the Striped Skunk hs butted his way into the queue a second time due to a bookkeeping error. Enjoy this bonus edition….

This fellow was casually checking out our no-mow lawn one evening and vigourously excavating for larvae of beetles etc. Very handsome.

Striped skunks are polygamous omnivores with few natural predators, save for birds of prey. Like all skunks, they possess highly developed, musk-filled scent glands to ward off predators

The English word skunk has two root words of Algonquian and Iroquoian origin, specifically seganku (Abenaki) and scangaresse (Huron). The Cree and Ojibwe word shee-gawk is the root word for Chicago, which means ‘skunk-land’.Alternative English names for the striped skunk include common skunk, Hudsonian skunk, northern skunk, black-tailed skunk and prairie polecat. The latter name was originally used by English settlers, who noted the animal’s similarity to the European polecat.

#46 Striped Skunk

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

14 April

This particular fellow put in an appearance over the Easter weekend checking for snacks below a bird feeder before happily pottering away to follow where life leads.

Skunks are really pretty small mammals with the cutest youngsters you ever saw and really are of little threat to hmans of their pets unless cornered and threatened. True, the spray smells foul but they do not want to waste energy replenishing their armoury after using it so it’s pretty much a last resort weapon. They would much rather simply be given the opportunity to walk away form a fight.

A very useful creature to have in the neighbourhood as they control pests such as mice, grubs and larvae.

Striped Skunk wandering in the garden a couple of summers ago

#43 Red Fox

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

11 April

A fairly common mammal in this area. There are a good number in the arboretum and they are frequently seen or heard in the suburban streets where they make a good living hunting small prey creatures such as mice and squirrels but they also eat insects and sometimes plants – a rather omnivorous diet.

Foxes cache any excess food, burying it for later consumption, usually under leaves, snow, or soil. While hunting, foxes tend to use a particular pouncing technique, such that they crouch down to camouflage themselves in the terrain and then use their hind legs to leap up with great force and land on top of their prey which they then grip by the neck and shake it until it is dead or can be disemboweled.

Sometimes they suffer badly from sarcoptic mange making their fur fall off.

They do not eat cats (which anyway, should be indoors).

#40 Raccoon

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

8 April

Known to our French neighbours as Raton laveur or ”the little rodent that washes” with their busy, busy little hands. Originally an open forest species they are highly adapatable and now live almost everywhere – they especially like towns and cities with all those garbage bins to check out for snacks. Evening visitors to our garden in the simmer months accompanied by surprisingly large families.

Once thought to be generally solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in sex-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders. Home range sizes vary anywhere from 3 hectares (7.4 acres) for females in cities to 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) for males in prairies.

#8 American Red Squirrel

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

7 March

Not the really common Gray Squirrel (the one that has taken over in Europe) but a native of the northern boreal forest which has stayed on the continent in which it evolved. Here we are at the southernmost extent of its range but we usually have a family of them around the garden – this fellow appeared outside the window as we were eating lunch today so need to go out in the cold in search of a new species to list … some creatures are really obliging. Cute as anything they zip around at high speed – they have just two speeds motionless and flat out. Quite territorially aggressive too – in our early years in this house there was one that decided he “owned” a giant butternut tree we had in the garden and would spend more energy chasing grays out of “his” tree than actually eating the nuts. Mostly though they eat the seeds of conifers. For some years they got into the roof of the house via a small hole (now found and blocked) and raised their young safely inside. After they had been evicted we found stacks of pine cones (technically a midden) in the loft that they had dragged in as snacks.