24 January 2009

Rare Mammals

Lindsay and I have lived here in North Liberty since Spring 2007. From the time we moved in, we have kept a yard list for birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals, etc. To date, our bird yard list is 99 species; most of those have been seen on our property, but some have been seen or heard from our property but actually occurred across the street.

Most of the mammals we've seen on our property are the common ones... White-tailed Deer, Eastern Cottontail, Muskrat, Raccoon, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, Oppossum. However, on September 14, 2007, we were surprised to find a dead Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) in our driveway (with keys for scale). The smallest of the carnivores, these stunning little mammals probably aren't as cute if you're a Meadow Vole. When it catches up to its victim, the Least Weasel will pounce on it, wrap its legs around its prey, and kill it with a swift bite to the base of the skull. And they're fast... they can run up to 6 mph! Because Indiana is at the south edge of their range, Least Weasels are on the Indiana protected species list as Special Concern. Hopefully this wasn't the only one on our property.

Then, on July 13, 2008, I found a second State Special Concern mammal on our property. This time, it was a dead Star-nosed Mole (Condylura cristata), found in our corn crib. These unique-looking mammals most often prefer moist soils, but also will live in dry meadows. Those strange tentacles on the nose serve a couple of purposes. Along with keeping soil from entering their noses while burrowing, the tentacles also are constantly moving and touching their surroundings during normal foraging activities. Star-nosed Moles feed mostly on earthworms and aquatic insects. Indiana is along the western range of this species, causing it to be considered a species of concern in the state.


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