I cannot think of another group of animals that fascinates children and adults more than this one. There currently are 81 species of mammals in New York state including those living in a marine or salt-water habitat. While I will primarily concentrate on the more common ones familiar to most of us that are observed here in our county, due to the numbers of this group, I will make this article a two week feature.
Mammals are among the most popular members of the animal world that most of us seem to enjoy, especially children. I know, as a former science teacher who always made sure my science lab had a number of living organisms present, I could always expect a few visits from the elementary grade children before and after school as well as lunch time. Consequently, I will emphasize the ones we observe here in our county and describe their behavior and habitat.
Most of the photos included in this article come from the Willard F. Stanley, Allen Benton, and yours truly's collections unless otherwise specified. When we view a mammal, the period of time we have to study it is often quite brief, so that it becomes important to know exactly what field marks to immediately look for. Also, a good percentage of mammals are nocturnal or night active, so that many local residents may not be that familiar with some of them. Consequently, I have included the more familiar ones that most of our residents know.
According to statistics determined by various national, state and local agencies, it is estimated that there are 49 mammals species found in our county. I would like to discuss a few examples of some of these animals and describe their habits and behaviors.
Starting with some of the more familiar ones, the squirrels, there are three different species existing in our areas. They are the Red Squirrel, Fox Squirrel and Gray Squirrel. The Gray Squirrel has a few melanistic phases, the gray and black. Over the years I and a few other colleagues have studied the movement patterns of the black phase animal and have observed its progression from Point Gratiot in the Lake Erie area to a report of southernmost sightings as far as Bear Lake in our county. The Gray Squirrel is primarily an arboreal or tree dwelling animal and can be found in most of our county's woodlands. It feeds on a variety of nuts, seeds, and fruits, and sometimes eats the cambium layer beneath the bark of trees. They will tolerate a population size of anywhere from two to 20 squirrels per acre. The Fox Squirrel is one of our largest and can often be seen at Point Gratiot in Dunkirk foraging on the ground. It usually nests in tree cavities and some scientists have determined it has a life span of about 10 years.
Another familiar member of this group is the raccoon. This animal has developed a love-hate relationship with humans, especially if your trash barrels are near woodlands where the raccoons thrive. The raccoon is seen in most of the United States except the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains. In addition to the photo of the raccoon, I have also included several pictures of an adult female deer in this article and of a fawn that I found near my home a few years ago. The female called my attention to the fawn by her behavior as she did everything she could to distract me away from her offspring, while my behavior was more concerned over the whereabouts of the male. The fawn is usually odorless and quite motionless as a means of nature's way of protecting its young. I have included a photo of this little animal I managed to get while it lay in that position. Also included in this article are a few pictures of deer moving through our street area. These photos have been taken over the last few years from my kitchen window.
As I indicated earlier this will be a two-part article. In the meantime, continue to send your nature pictures and topic suggestions to my by either U.S. Mail to 38 Elm St. or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.