HAVE OUR SHARE OF UNUSUAL ANIMALS IN THE UNITED STATES
December 5, 2010
you find a fisher, a pika or an aplodontia? TV nature shows bombard us
with the lifestyles of fascinating animals from exotic lands--kangaroos
and koalas from Australia; gorillas and giraffes from Africa. But we need
not go so far afield to find engaging creatures. The trio mentioned above
is found in the United States. I have been asked the following questions
Q: Does any
animal eat porcupines?
A: Yes. The
fisher, a tree-climbing mammal in the same family as skunks and weasels,
is a primary predator of porcupines. Most other carnivores, including
wolves, coyotes, foxes and nearly all the large cats, spend little time
trying to make a meal of a porcupine. For most predators the cost of a
face full of quills outweighs the benefit of a meal. But the fisher, with
the agility of its close relatives the minks and otters, can circle rapidly
around the porcupine and attack the face area, which has no quills. This
dining plan still has risks. But it apparently works often enough for
the porcupine to have become a common prey of fishers, although they also
eat smaller rodents and snowshoe hares.
which reach the size of a house cat, weigh up to 10 pounds or more. They
have thick, glossy fur, and unregulated fur trapping drove them to the
brink of extinction in the 19th and early 20th century. With the aid of
cooperative programs initiated by U.S. and Canadian biologists, fishers
have been successfully reintroduced into some areas from which they were
extirpated decades ago. Though still rare in most places, fishers are
once again found in most northern states from New England to Washington
and far north into Canada.
Q: What are
pikas? Are they rodents?
are lagomorphs, the same as rabbits. Neither of them are rodents. Pikas,
little balls of brown or gray fur, are restricted to high mountain regions
where they live among rocks. They have big rounded ears and no tail, and
they make squeaking sounds like a squeeze toy. Pikas eat mountain vegetation
and store grasses beneath boulders for a food supply during cold periods.
The most likely place to see a pika in the wild is in the mountains at
one of the western national parks.
Q: Some strange
beaverlike mammal that lives in the Northwest carries a weird type of
parasite. What is the mammal, and is the parasite something to be concerned
A: The mammal
you are referring to is known as the mountain beaver, or aplodontia. Mountain
beavers are rodents that live around water, but they do not fell trees
or build dams. They belong to a completely different family from true
beavers. In fact, the family consists of only the single species, which
some scientists consider to be the most primitive rodent in the world,
having changed little over millions of years compared to other rodent
beavers are restricted to coniferous forest portions of the three West
Coast states and British Columbia. These cute little vegetarians, little
more than a foot in length, look somewhat like dark brown guinea pigs.
They have tiny ears and eyes and no obvious tail.. Little is known of
their biology except that they live along the edges of waterways where
they make underground burrows and trails.
beavers carry an unusual parasite, a type of flea that is found on no
other mammal. It would not bite a dog or human. Just as mountain beavers
are distinctive among rodents, their special flea is also atypical. Mountain
beaver fleas are the largest fleas in the world, reaching a length of
almost a third of an inch. Pretty big for a flea. The flea is noted among
parasitologists as being one of the most primitive fleas in the world.
question, animals from other continents can be fascinating. But we have
intriguing biological specimens here at home. Fishers, pikas and aplodontias
are three such creatures.
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