Friday, October 12, 2012

Science Weeks 9 & 10: Mice,Voles,Lemmings, Pikas and Cottontails

I admit I am not exactly fully behind my current studies here in our mammals trek.  I hate rates, mice, etc.  I am skimming along as quickly as I can, hitting the basics, and keeping a tightly crossed set of fingers that no one develops a sincere interest that we have to tarry in.
I know, I know. Mean momma. I am combining Weeks 9 and 10 together in this one post.

Nice images and information can be found at the Montana State government pages of field guides here.
Lemmings and voles have short tails and legs, small ears, and beady eyes. These little mice eat vegetation, especially grasses. You may never see them, but you might happen upon their trails. These tiny creatures spend the winter on the ground surface in the layer of vegetation compressed by the snow. With adequate snow for insulation, they live in 32 degree F temperature. Without the cushion of deep snow, they may perish.
In spring, after the snow melts, their trails resemble narrow tunnels along the surface where mice have eaten through grain or grass stubble. You may also see little round grass nests, evidence that voles were active just below the snow blanket.
The southern bog lemming of our evergreen forest region and the northern bog lemming, found in the northwest, live in damp, boggy places. The red-backed vole, of wet forested areas in much of our state, will climb trees, unlike any other vole. The heather vole (pictured), typically a Canadian species, has recently been recorded in northern St. Louis County.
The meadow vole is the most widespread and is common all over Minnesota. The rock vole, which has a yellow nose, is found only in the far northeast, and the woodland vole only in the far southeast, where it spends most of its time underneath leaf litter. The prairie vole is found in rather dry situations in the southern half of the state.
Lemmings and voles seldom weigh more than one to one and one-half ounces. All nest in the ground, or under rocks or logs. These tiny little creatures may seem insignificant in nature's scheme of things, but are the key to survival of many wild predators including weasel, foxes, and birds-of-prey.
Old world rats and mice are represented in Minnesota by the Norway rat and the house mouse, two of the least desirable of our mammals. Both species are capable of producing several litters a year and are notorious for damaging property. The rat is also dreaded because it so often carries disease.
Plains Pocket MouseUnlike most other mice, the meadow jumping mouse and the woodland jumping mouse are hibernators. Small (one-half to one ounce), with extremely long tails and hind legs, both species eat insects, seeds, and fruit. Both have internal cheek pouches to carry food in. They are rather brightly colored, yellowish above, white below, but the woodland species has a white-tipped tail. A rare mouse in Minnesota is the plains pocket mouse(pictured).
The tiny western harvest mouse looks like a house mouse. It lives in grassy and brushy areas of southern Minnesota. Here it usually makes a little round nest on the ground. Occasionally, it may attach its nest to vegetation several inches above the ground. The harvest mouse eats seeds and insects.
The deer mouse and white-footed mouse are very similar. Both have large eyes and ears and rather long tails. They nest almost anywhere, in ground burrows, tree holes, old bird nests, and buildings. Deer mice occur throughout Minnesota, while the white-foot is absent in the northeast. Their foods are seeds, nuts, and insects. They can be a nuisance to campers and cottage owners, though they are interesting to watch. Individuals of both species may weigh up to one and one-fourth ounces.
Like a husky deer mouse with a short tail, the northern grasshopper mouse is a lion among mice, eating insects, other mice, lizards, and even small birds. It thrives on western prairies, usually living in burrows of other animals.  via Minnesota DNR

The Harvard Press has a nice article full of information in their It's Only Natural section, found here. I have found several posts in this section well worth keeping handy for reference as needed.

Week 10 Studies: Pikas and Cottontails

Proverbs 30:26
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
Are you as smart as a coney? Wise Agur used four small creatures to teach his students great wisdom (Pr 30:1,24). The ants prudently save for the future (Pr 30:25). The locusts know the power of numbers (Pr 30:27). The spider by diligence goes where most cannot (Pr 30:28). The conies wisely avoid risk and loss by choosing the safest and strongest protection. 
Barnes' Notes on the BibleThe coney - The Old English name for a rabbit. The animal meant is the Hyrax Syriacus. It bears some resemblance to the guinea-pig or the marmot, and in its general appearance and habits Proverbs 30:26Psalm 104:18, it might easily be taken for a rodent. But Cuvier discovered that it is, in its anatomy, a true pachyderm, allied to the rhinoceros and the tapir, inferior to them as it is in size.
He cheweth the cud - The Hyrax has the same habit as the hare, the rabbit, the guinea-pig, and some other rodents, of moving its jaws when it is at rest as if it were masticating. The rodents were familiarly spoken of as ruminating animals, just as the bat was reckoned among birds because it flies (see Leviticus 11:19), and as whales and their congeners are spoken of as fish, when there is no occasion for scientific accuracy.
American Pika

The cony of Israel, Lebanon, and Sinai has a small round hoof, but in size and shape it is much like the American cony, also known as a pika. Pikas live near other pikas, at the rate of about 6 per acre. They are cheerful little fellows, whistling, calling, and bleating all day. Each animal has look-outs near where his food pile is located. They have their first litter of 3 or 4 in May or June, and continues until September. Pikas do not hibernate, yet they live where winters can be harsh. During these times of no fresh food, the pika continues to eat. During the summer, the pikas have cut grasses, clover, and other favorites, spreading them out to dry. If rain comes, the entire group will rush out, bundle the hay, and carry it below to their burrows. Day after day the plants are cut and dried, then packed away.
Three species of pika live in North America, from the high mountains of Alaska and the Yukon, to the upper altitudes of California and Arizona.
Cottontails are of the same mammal order of the pika:

There are several species of cottontail rabbit, but the eastern cottontail is the most common. This ubiquitous animal can be found from Canada to South America and, in the United States, from the East Coast to the Great Plains. Cottontails range from reddish brown to gray, but all feature the distinctive "cotton ball" tail for which they are named.
These rabbits seek out habitat on the fringes of open spaces, such as fields, meadows, and farms, but can adapt to other habitats—including those of humans.
They browse at night on grasses and herbs and are fond of garden fare such as peas and, of course, lettuce. In winter, their diet becomes a bit coarse and consists of bark, twigs, and buds. During the day, cottontails often remain hidden in vegetation. If spotted, they flee from prey with a zigzag pattern, sometimes reaching speeds of up to 18 miles (29 kilometers) an hour.
Females give birth in shallow ground nests, to young so helpless that perhaps only 15 percent survive their first year. Fortunately, rabbits breed three or four times every year and produce three to eight young each time. Young rabbits mature quickly and are self-sufficient after only four or five weeks. They are sexually mature after only two or three months, so populations are able to grow with staggering speed.
Cottontails are plentiful and can be problematic for farmers; they are also a popular game animal.
 via National Geographic
More information to be found here at Connecticut Dept of Energy & Environmental Protection
Some great pages and sharings from HomeschoolShare on rabbits
Barb always shares great studies at The Handbook of Nature Study and Outdoor Hour Challenge

The Burgess Animal Book for Children (Dover Science Books for Children)

The Burgess Animal Book for Children, and a companion guide full of links, found here at the Teach Beside Me blog.

Tracks: Hare and rabbit tracks are generally oval in shape, with 5 toes on each foot, although only 4 toes show in the tracks of each foot. Both have very furry feet and no exposed pads on their toes, often leaving blurred details in the tracks. The fine, sharp claws on the feet may or may not register. Under some conditions, only the pattern left by the claws will be visible. You can often tell the difference between hare and cottontail tracks by looking at the size relationship between front and hind tracks. In hares, the rear tracks are typically larger than the front tracks (see the photo on the right). In cottontails and other rabbits the size of the fronts and hinds is quite similar (see the photo below).

The front and rear tracks of rabbits can appear very similar, though under certain conditions and in certain substrates, the rear feet can splay outward much further. The tracks appear very asymmetrical in shape, with one toe leading ahead of the others. They have been described as “iron shaped,” though
The front tracks of the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) measure 1-1 & 7/8” long by ¾ - 1 & 3/8” wide. Meanwhile, the rear tracks are 1 & ¼- 3 & ¼” long by 7/8 – 1 & 13/17” wide.  
The front tracks of the snowshoe hare(Lepus americanus) measure 1 & 7/8" - 3" long by 1 & 1/8" - 2 & 1/4" wide. While, the rear tracks are 3 & 1/4" - 6" long by 1 & 5/8" - 5" wide.  Similar Tracks: The tracks of squirrels can be confused with rabbits as squirrels also travel with a bounding gait. Squirrels, however, tend to show five toes on the rear feet and four toes on the front feet.
References: Elbroch 2003, Halfpenny 1999, Murie 1954, Rezendes 1999 
Tkaczyk, Filip A. 2009. Rabbit Tracks and Sign. Alderleaf Wilderness College. 

No comments: