Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Beavers and Muskrats

110 lbs!!!!!

Muskrat love. 

Running along the path at Fullersburg Woods yesterday, we were treated to the sight of not one but two industrious muskrats taking care of business. One of them was so unfazed by my appearance on the path a mere ten feet from him that I had the good fortune to get to watch him for a full minute or more before he decided he'd socialised enough and disappeared below the water.

A watched muskrat never surfaces. 

I needn't have waited around for him - these little guys can stay underwater for 15-17 minutes (!) , according to Wikipedia, in part because they have an adaptation shared by many sirenians and pinnipeds -- an unusual tolerance for a buildup of CO2 in their bloodstream.

Muskrat or beaver? 

Muskrats are, of course, not true rats (they're actually in a genus unto themselves, but share a Rodentia subfamily with voles and lemmings), but for some reason the name seems to mean that they have a lesser hold on the public imagination than their other semi-aquatic cousin, the beaver.

So, invariably, Lou and I end up debating whether that thing that just disappeared underwater is a muskrat or beaver. Predictably, I scoffed at Lou's assertion that it was way too small for beaver-dom, since "some beavers I've seen on the side of the road have been the size of german shepherds." Oh yes, Lou. And I'm sure they were accompanied by mice the size of dachsunds. Dream on.

To just put the stamp of officialdom on this absurdity, of course I went nosing about on the web later. And all I can say is....
Fabulous were - beaver  image by jrosenbomb on Deviantart




According to The Wikipedia, beavers regularly reach weights of 78 pounds, with "typical" being 44 (compared to the muskrat at 2-4 lbs). Since they seem to grow to some extent over the course of their lives, particularly venerable males have weighed in at 110 lbs.

110 lbs!!

That is, dear readers, the size of your author. It is also the size of (large, male) cheetahs. And wolves. Are you freaking kidding me?

Do taxidermists chicken out and only work on the younguns? Because I swear I've never seen one that looked bigger than a large cat.  Have you? 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Objects in Roadway Are Aliver Than They Appear

Friday on the Centennial Trail near Lemont, we're pedaling along headed for our special secret DirtFoot Cave, when all out of nowhere, LD screeches to a halt. Mind you, this is a paved, really well kept trail without a lot of room for surprises -- which can be good when you're trying to make time. 

Blimey! Suddenly a bit of the roadway had moved and it turned out to be this wee teacup-size baby snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)! How LD spotted him I'll never know - he was doing an uncanny impression of blacktop.

He was definitely feeling under the weather, poor sod. Lou scooped him up and we got him off the road and to safety.

How, might you ask, could we tell he was feeling under the weather?

Well, he didn't even seem to be thinking about removing our fingers. That, my friends, is ALWAYS a bad sign for a snapper.

Here's the turtle re-locating process.

Note turtle is in sandwich bag.

Is LD just madly germophobic, you might ask?

Well, yes. But this one I have to give him - turtles actually do carry salmonella.  If you have to perform a rescue like this, it really is better to use gloves or a bag -- or at the very least wash up tout suite.

 Here's the Illinois Natural History Survey's excellent page on Snappies. : http://www.inhs.illinois.edu/animals_plants/herps/species/ch_serpent.html

LD and I love these guys for lots of reasons.

First, they are so damn prehistoric. They got really good at being turtles ages before we got good at being humans - and they haven't really needed to change much since. Same fetching face and everything!

(late Cretaceous extinct giant snapping turtle skull, from Paleodirect.com)

Second, they have a ton of attitude, no matter their size. As a small creature with a lot of that myself, I respect Snappies.

Please note if you are lucky enough to meet one of these living fossils on dry land (LD met one in Humboldt Park): this is where their attitude really comes out.   They are pretty gentle in the water (which doesn't diminish the sheer ballsyness of the Turtle Man) but they're not at their best on land, and they're carnivores, so when they're healthy they can move startlingly fast.  (For a cool demo, check out LD's "snappy jump" video on his loudhvx channel on You Tube.) 

When we came back by on our way home, he had toddled off. Hopefully all he needed was to rehydrate and scarf down some juicy grubs.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tough Little Masked Vixen

 After visiting some of our best mates at Brookfield Zoo, we rode the length of the Salt Creek Bike Trail as part of our ongoing research project:  "Relative Aerodynamicity, Contrast, and Olfactory Impact of Select Ungulate Dietary Components",  or "What the f*** can we put in our backpack to feed deer." 

Near the end of our ride, we spotted one of about 5 of these little tumbleweeds that we'd occasioned over the course of the afternoon.

Ok, yes, we have all seen about a hundred of these guys all over the city. 

But I never cease to be amazed by them.

First, watching them is unbelievably entertaining. Partly this is because of their boundless curiosity, and partly their relative intelligence - multiple studies have demonstrated that these little furballs can remember the solutions to tasks for up to three years, and instantly differentiate between identical and different symbols three years after the short initial learning phase (1).

While it's a myth that racoons have truly opposable thumbs, their first front digit is located slightly below the others, so they are able to use it in a somewhat opposable manner. Their other digits are really agile - imagine doing this with just your  four longest fingers!  : http://youtu.be/JgH7APb-1-4
Finally, racoons take no sh*t from anyone - dog, cat, or otherwise. We posted pix on our facebook pages of an urban racoon taking food from literally under our (very fighty) cat's nose.

We were a bit worried about this little girl's patches of missing fur (you can see one in a horseshoe shape on top of her back)- unclear if it was due to injury or illness. She had about a half inch of growback, so my guess is injury, but that could be wrong.

 Also, we don't always advocate feeding wild animals, but  she was clearly nursing  and this was organic wholegrain bread. (By the way, if you see a racoon foraging in the day, there is a good chance she is a nursing mum, so please be kind :)), and this was organic wholegrain bread.  It wasn't going to do her harm, and she, and her wee ones, could use it.

So yes, these little dustbunnies are all over - but that's really a sign of just how amazingly adaptable, and resourceful, they are!  How cool that we get to live side by side with such a neat creature.

1. Hohmann, Ulf (1998). Untersuchungen zur Raumnutzung des Waschbären (Procyon lotor) im Solling, Südniedersachsen, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Sozialverhaltens.  (Dissertation in German with a summary in English at the University of Göttingen; translation of the title: A Study of Raccoon (Procyon lotor) Space Utilization in Southern Lower Saxony, Germany, with Respect to Social Behaviour)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Amazing Wild Stuff In Your Backyard


After a combined several decades and exploring the greater Chicago outdoors, we're still constantly finding things that are surprising and cool. In some cases, we research them and find that others are learning the same amazing stuff. But in many others, the web presents us with a virtual desert of information.

We thought we'd share some of the fun things we find, so you can check it out too - or share if you're geeking out on the same stuff!

Who are we? Neither of us are naturalists by training. An electrical engineer and a social scientist, we're basically both just too ADD to not be interested in, well,  just about everything.

Why Dirtfoot? Well, believe it or not, we're both a little OCD about dirt. Bet some of you are too. But it turns out just a few steps into the dirt turns out a lot of seriously cool shit. And hey, the dirt usually comes off.

'Dirtfoot' has some other origins, too. Probably some of them will come out in the course of sharing things we think you'll like.

One of the coolest things we have yet found outside has got some of the dirtiest feet of all - no matter how much soap she uses.
Motley Güse Crüe at Notabaert Nature Museum

With the awesome weather we've been experiencing recently, we've been out looking for the snowy owls between Montrose Harbor and LP Zoo. Last weekend, though, we found something way more interesting: a gaggle that consisted of about 8 Canada geese, all with quite injured wings, and an incongruous pink-footed goose.
These were no minor injuries, mind you. We're talking every flight feather stripped down to the naked calumi, which protruded like shards of glass at painful angles from the birds' bodies. These birds seemed to have fought something, or someone, for their lives.

But this ragtag bunch was sticking together, and apparently looking out for each other.

Has anyone else witnessed this?

We went searching again in the arctic Friday afternoon, but to no avail.

(This time, however, we saw a PAIR of the sturdy, expansive pink-footed geese -is one the loner who was so out of his element last week?)