Upon examining the many photographs I have in my possession, I noticed the excellent variety of mammal pictures that have been provided to me or taken by me. I thought it would be appropriate to discuss this familiar group of animals at this time.
In addition to the many birds we have in our neighborhoods, we are also surrounded by a good number of small mammals that may appear at our feeders, yards, trees and locations we would prefer they not get into.
Just how many of these creatures inhabit our planet? Data calculated by mammologists identify 4,629 kinds of mammals in the world, with 426 in North America, 102 in New York state and 49 in Chautauqua County. With that many obvious members of this group of animals, we have an endless joy in observing their behaviors.
The American bison, from the Willard Stanley collection.
Photo by Dick Miga
Two cottontail rabbits near the base of a bird feeder.
Photo by Ray Budniewski
A porcupine photographed in Alaska.
Photo by Ray Budniewski
Unfortunately, not all of those behaviors are positive all the time, especially when these animals explore some of our more protected areas. Obviously there are many other creatures that surround our homes in addition to the ones mentioned above. Other animals, such as insects, reptiles and amphibians, are also very common, but these latter few are not always as well known as the birds and mammals. Some of you probably are saying that the insects can be noticed more so during the warmer periods, but we will save that discussion for a future article.
Since the title today centers around the mammals of North America, I should begin by stating, as I did earlier, that there are 49 species of mammals in our county. As we expand our territory of discussion today, we will include a good number of mammals not observed in our county, but in other parts of our continent.
While I have been to many outdoor locations in Canada and Mexico, as well as 45 of our states and the Hawaiian islands, I have not had the opportunity to explore some of the vast regions as some of my contributors to today's article did. The mammals I plan to discuss today are the American bison, porcupine, cottontail rabbit and marmot.
I will start with the cottontail rabbit, as it is the most familiar to us and found around just about everyone's backyard. This little guy is about one and a half to two feet in length and, of all the members of this group of animals, is probably identifiable by most adults and children who live in our county. It is a medium-sized member of the hare and rabbit family, and is one of eight members of this group found in North America. Most all members of this group have "forms," which are better known as resting places in which they spend much time.
Adult rabbits are usually silent, but will utter a mild scream if injured. They will sometimes gather in small numbers, especially during courtship. Unfortunately, these popular animals have a short life span of less than a year. A few have been reported to live as long as five years in captivity.
The marmot is a member of this group of animals that usually favors a rocky habitat bordered by vegetation. The photo included here is of a hoary marmot taken by Ray Budniewski on a recent trip to Alaska, where many of these animals are found. The three members of the marmot family include our familiar woodchuck, along with the yellowbelly and hoary marmots, both found in the western sections of our country and Canada. The yellowbelly is more predominant in the Midwest and western Canada, while the hoary is more likely to be found in the westernmost section of the states of Washington and Alaska, as well as western Canada.
The photograph of the porcupine was also taken by Ray while on his trip to Alaska. Many are well aware of the caution applied if we ever encounter this animal in the habitat we are exploring. Experts tell us that this animal cannot throw the quills, as has often been assumed by many, and will very seldom attack. There are stories of dogs suffering from injuries when attempting to encounter this animal. Primarily nocturnal, it has a body that is usually between two and three feet in length, and is an active swimmer and tree climber. In the fall and winter, it chips off the outer layer of tree bark and eats the succulent layers underneath.
The ratio of one porcupine to five acres is considered a high ratio, so you can see they are not an abundant animal. Contrary to old belief, the porcupine cannot throw its quills, but will turn its rump toward the source of danger and shake the tail back and forth. It is an efficient swimmer and feeds primarily on herbs and aquatic plants in the summer.
The final animal is the American bison. Many are well acquainted with this animal from zoos and game farms, as opposed to natural habitats. The photograph submitted is from the late Willard Stanley collection, taken in North Dakota. A large member of the cattle family, it has a height of about five feet and is, on average, seven to eight feet in length.
Its normal habitat is the western prairies and open woodlands. The bison is an animal with a keen sense of smell and hearing, but it does not have exceptionally strong eyesight. Old bulls are often solitary or may occupy a territory where they get some companionship from others nearby. The voice is a bellow that varies widely with the age and emotional state of the animal.
I want to encourage you to send plant and animal articles, suggestions and photos to me at 38 Elm St., Fredonia, NY 14063, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do send by U.S. mail, please place your name on the back of the photo so I can apply proper credit. Thank you.