AMERICA IS HOME TO UNUSUAL ANIMALS
pretty sure one or more of the presidential candidates who are bombarding
us with not-so-statesmanlike rhetoric about a long list of topics has
mentioned the environment. Surely the word has been uttered by someone
taking a stand about climate change, the Keystone Pipeline or offshore
drilling. But have you heard any current candidate say that we should
be appreciative and protective of our natural environments for their
own sake and not just for economic reasons? Where is Teddy Roosevelt
when we need him?
some of our native animals may owe their continued existence to having
minimal economic significance and, therefore, not drawing attention
to themselves as something good to be acquired or something bad to be
gotten rid of. Countless animal species that most people have never
seen or heard of reside in North America. Even more intriguing for some
is that even biologists do not know a lot about them; hence, whether
they might be engaging or unusual seldom comes up for discussion. For
at least two mammals, keeping a low profile may be in their best interest.
is familiar with the dam-building beaver, our largest rodent. But what
do we know about the mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) of the
western states and British Columbia? Mountain beavers are rodents but
belong to a different family from true beavers, and the North American
species is the only living member of that family. Some scientists consider
them to be the most primitive rodents in the world.
beavers get a little more than a foot in length and have no obvious
tail. They have tiny ears and eyes and look somewhat like dark-brown
guinea pigs. Little is known of their ecology except that they live
along the edges of waterways, where they make burrows and trails.
of flea is found only on mountain beavers and would have no interest
in biting a dog or human, for which we should be thankful. The giant
mountain beaver flea is the largest flea in the world, reaching more
than a quarter of an inch in length.
beavers live in parts of all three Pacific Coast states, but according
to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, "Most people
don't know mountain beavers exist and some still continue to question
[their existence] even after they've heard about the animals."
Anonymity may work to the mountain beaver's advantage.
our most bizarre mammals is a mole. (All moles are a bit on the weird
side considering they spend their lives tunneling through the earth's
surface.) We have seven kinds of moles in North America, the most familiar
one being the eastern mole that burrows across lawns, golf courses and
the more unusual ones is the star-nosed mole. Its most intriguing feature
is a set of 22 long, fleshy tentacles that flare out from the end of
the nose. The star-shaped nose approaches a half inch in diameter. The
exact function of the tentacles remains in dispute among biologists.
The tentacles may be used to find prey by sensing vibrations. Other
studies suggest that they pick up electrical stimuli from prey such
moles also differ from those that burrow through soft soil by being
expert swimmers. Generally found near streams or lakes, they are seldom
apparent. Their general biology is poorly understood, and many ecological
mysteries surround these creatures. In fact, even their geographic range
may be much greater than shown in mammal field guides because they do
not enter standard mammal traps and may, therefore, go undetected by
Roosevelt once said, "While my interest in natural history has
added very little to my sum of achievement, it has added immeasurably
to my sum of enjoyment in life." I would dearly love to hear one
of the current presidential candidates say they think it is important
to protect and preserve our natural heritage, from the bizarre to the
you have an environmental question or comment, email