Mammals

Opossums Eat Ticks and Help Humans

Baby opossums (Photo: Flicker Sharinng,by Cryptozoo)

Why Opossums Get Ticked-off

Let's face it, ticks are one of those creatures that everyone hates. Even I, the biggest nature nugget of them all, hate ticks. They're flat and creepy and they invade the private moist areas of the human body that only my doctor and I should have access to. As if that's not enough, they bury their mouth parts in our skin, latch on, and suck our life-blood all while possibly transferring diseases. This creates a real ick factor that keeps many people out of the woods altogether.  However, there is some hope, namely because there is a cadre of creatures that eat ticks. There are the usual suspects of beetles, ants, centipedes, and other generalist eaters that wipe out ticks, but this list also includes chickens and ground fowl such as guinea birds and bobwhites. There's even an African bird called an oxpecker, which lives in sub-Saharan Africa that eats ticks off water buffalo and other hoofed animals (and who doesn't love that name!?). Well, since we're short on oxpeckers here in the Eastern US we have to rely on another creature to help us out, namely the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

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What's the Difference Between Moles, Voles, and Shrews?

Eastern mole (Photo: Flicker Sharing, Dave GovoniL)

A Quick Chart and Guide

I hate it when the first online search results for any creature involves their death and killing, and moles, voles, and shrews are no exception. This post will walk you through the differences between these three distinct types of animals that show up in yards but that are often confused and misunderstood. I won't give you management information here, that's up to you, but at least this will help you understand the animals you may be living around and with.

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Cut Purring As a Means For Healing Bones

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Buster Wigglebottom the First doing his best impression of a pretzel, while purring. (Photo: Karen McDonald).

Acoustic Healing and Purr Therapy

Whether your a cat person, a dog person, or a friend to other types of animals, you may soon come to appreciate the common household cat for something other than sitting in your lap and shedding. Researchers are conducting studies on cat purring as a method for healing bones, encouraging blood flow, the repair of muscles and encouraging tissue regeneration. Your trip to the doctor may some day include purr therapy.

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Fluid Support of the Hydrostatic Skeleton

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Sea anemone's have hydrostatic skeletons (a tube within a tube). (Photo: Wiki Commons).

Spineless Doesn't Mean No Support

Have you ever heard the words:  "You're spineless?"  While meant as an insult, it's actually a compliment in biological terms. You probably already know that some animals, like humans, have internal skeletons (endoskeletons), and some have external skeletons (exoskeletons), like insects. But the story doesn't end there, nature is much more complex and diverse. There is an entire class of organisms that has a type of skeleton, called a hydrostatic skeleton. It is just like the name implies, a static skeleton made of fluid (hydro).

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Coywolf:  A New Species of Canid Emerging

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Coywolves bred in captivity (Photo: Wiki commons). These hybrids are examples of interbreeding, but differ from the ones found in the eastern third of North America. 

Coywolf (Wolf x Coyote) 

Coyotes (Canis latrans) have always been the one species of canine that receives the short end of the stick of public opinion. The Looney Tunes character isn't portrayed as the brightest creature on Earth and many native myths have the coyote featured as a trickster and schemer. Coyotes are the only species of wild canine in the US that do not have an specific hunting season, and so they are hunted year round as a pest and trouble maker. Despite all this, they are clever animals, capable of surviving in extreme conditions, adapting to the presence of humans, modifying their litter rates, and eating just about anything they can get a hold of. They are so good at surviving that they don't need protection or help. Coyotes are masters at adaptation and now they are adapting again.

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Distinguishing the Differences Between Rabbits and Rodents: Why Rabbits are Not Rodents

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Photo: Wiki Commons

It's All In The Teeth...Well, Actually There's More.....

The iconic image of spring is that of rabbits and bunnies, and for those with a chocolate penchant the Cadbury bunny and his chocolate eggs.  In honor of Spring I decided it's time for a post on the confusion I commonly find, when leading programs, about why rabbits are not rodents. First, there's a wide range of rodents living in the world, in fact it's the largest class of mammals. They're everywhere and on nearly every continent. Rodents can range in size from .25 oz (the African pygmy mouse) to the capybara which can weigh from 150-200 lbs!

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Notice in this drawing how the rodent's incisors don't have a root and grow continually. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

The order Rodentia, from which rodents get their name, derives from the Latin meaning "to gnaw or chew." This is what makes them unique, their teeth. Dentition is a commonly used feature for biologists to sort animals into families and orders. Rodents are specialized gnawers. They all have one set of upper and lower incisors (front teeth) and varying numbers of molars and per-molars (flat teeth in the back of the mouth) with a gap in-between called the diastema. Rodents lack canine teeth. The outer surface of rodent incisors is covered with enamel which ranges from orange to orangish-yellow in coloring (If you find a skull with these colors on the incisors it's always a rodent). It's thought that this coloring is due to strengthening by the addition of iron and minerals. The front of the tooth is very hard compared to the back of the tooth which is covered in dentin, a soft pulpy material. Unlike humans, whose teeth stop growing when they reach a certain stage, a rodent's incisors erupt/grow continually. This is called indeterminate growth. The tooth can continually grow because the base of a rodent's incisors is rootless and open so the tooth keeps growing. Human teeth have roots and are mostly closed off because the teeth do not need to grow anymore.

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An Introduction to Bats and Echolocation (and Tools to Use in the Classroom)

Bats Can Be Identified Through Their Unique Echolocation Patterns, They Even Have Dialects

Chirp, Chirp, Chrip Yall'

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Desert long eared bat (Wiki commons)

As an undergraduate my introduction to field research was through bats. I studied under Dr. John Leffler, a student of EO Wilson, and spent countless hours recording bat sounds and trying to match their sounds to visual patterns that were species specific. If my life had gone differently I might still be studying bats and hanging from ropes welding bat gates. Even though I moved on from bats, to birds, and then outdoor education, I still have a mad passion for them and bat programs are one of my favorites. Thus, I'll do a series of posts on bats in the coming months in tribute to these amazing flying mammals. Today let's start with echolocation.

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Distinguishing the Features of Antlers V. Horns

The differences between antlers and horns is greater than you think.

Often when guiding hikes outdoors in the fall we'll see a deer with a nice rack of antlers on their head. One of the common misconceptions is that deer have horns. This post will help you learn the difference between antlers v. horns.

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Caribou with Antlers (Wiki Commons)

Antlers

Antlers are found only on members of the deer or Cervidae family. Members of this family include white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, moose, elk, reindeer, and antelope. Mostly it's the male deer that have antlers. Female caribou are the only female cervids that have antlers.

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Look, I Found This Skull In The Woods! What is it?

North American Animal Skull Identification Resources to Help You Identify Found Skulls

Deer Skulls. Photo: Chris Moody Flicker Common Use.

Deer and Animal Skulls. Photo: Chris Moody Flicker Common Use.

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