Cumberland Times-News

September 8, 2012

Here’s a look at some of our local mammals

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Our Science Sunday presentations resume today at 4 p.m. in Compton 224. (Compton is our large natural science building close to the University Lane Center and the Performing Arts Center.

Next to Compton is a large fenced-in construction area where a new Technology building will be constructed.) These presentations are free to the public.

Last spring, the Sunday talks covered bears and deer so I thought the other local mammals needed some attention.

This month’s presentation is “Key Mammals in the Tri-State Area,” repeated at 4 p.m. in Compton 224 on Sept. 16, 23 and 30.

Following this half hour talk will be a tour of our Science Discovery Center, where there is a wonderful display of preserved animals from five continents.

These animal specimens were donated to Frostburg State by Dr. Joseph Cavallaro MD, a Westernport native who has hunted in many areas of the world.

Mammals are distinguished from other animals by their mammary glands, used to feed their young. While most mammals give birth to live young, a few mammals lay eggs.

Four carnivores (flesh eaters) are featured in the presentation. The biggest carnivores are coyotes, intermediate in size between wolves and foxes.

Coyotes have thrived across the United States as most of their natural predators (who eat them) have been eliminated. Coyotes are most active at twilight when they can run as fast as 40 mph pursuing squirrels, birds, small reptiles and domestic cats.

Large coyotes may be as long (from tail tip to nose) as 40 inches and weigh over 40 pounds. Male coyotes howl at night to let other coyotes that they are encroaching on their territory.

Somewhat smaller than most coyotes are bobcats with their short tails. The bobcat population in the southeast U.S. is estimated to be 1 million.

Bobcats are solitary creatures, active at night and twilight. Their usual food are rabbits, squirrels and birds. But during the winter, bobcats have been known to hunt deer. Only when mating do these normally quiet creatures howl or hiss.

The common raccoon belongs to the family Procyonid. Raccoons mainly dwell in areas where there are streams or lakes. Raccoons are active at night.

Besides being able to swim, raccoons are good tree climbers. They are not true hibernators, venturing out in winter to feed.

Male raccoons are solitary, mating in the spring. The young (born in summer) will stay with their mothers till the next spring.

Striped skunks have tiny openings in their anus where their musk spray erupts. Skunks spray only after they have tried all other tactics to fend off the attacker.

The skunk will twist its body into a U-shape so that the skunk’s head and tail are facing the intruder. The skunk odor can be smelled by humans one mile away.

Skunks are most active at night. They tend to spend the day in sheltered areas, hibernate during winter and mate in spring.

Our local rabbits are mostly Eastern cottontails. They shelter in thickets or in shallow depressions in tall grasses. They feed at night, grazing on grasses or nibbling on shrubs. They freeze when they spot a potential attacker, then bound away in zig zag patterns.

Our only local marsupial is the Virginia opossum. Marsupials give birth to very immature young, who are carried in a pouch where they can reach their mother’s teats.

Opossums tend to live in forested areas where there is plenty of rain. Many opossums survive in more open areas near streams, often living in barns or sheds.

Opossums are most active at night. They hide during the day in nests of leaves and grass. Opossums are very good climbers and can hang by their tails.

The last three local animals are rodents whose teeth grow continuously and are self sharpening.

Woodchucks are the largest rodents in our area. Also called groundhogs, woodchucks eat the green parts of plants rather than their seeds and buds. They also feast on bark and twigs.

Woodchucks live alone and hibernate in the winter. Female woodchucks have a single litter each year.

Grey squirrels feed on nuts and buds of woodland trees. They are most active at dawn and dusk. During winter, they seek out caches of food they deposited the previous summer.

There are two breeding seasons each year with typically two to four young in a litter.

Eastern chipmunks have pouched cheeks to hold food. Like the squirrels, chipmunks in the winter rely on caches of food.

Their name comes from the chip, chip sounds made by males. Females give birth to two litters per year with up to four young.

SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK The moon is now in the morning sky, appearing near the brilliant planet Venus in midweek. Vega is the very bright star nearly overhead as it gets dark.

The bright golden star Arcturus sparkles low in the west in the early evening. Low in the southeast is the solitary star Fomalhaut.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.