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When I was a kid, Nature on PBS had a documentary about Simien jackals in the Ethiopian Highland. I remember being so fascinated by these jackals, particularly how they lived in extended family groups centered around a breeding pair. Even then, I marveled at how these animals had such a similar social structure to wolves, and my childish speculations made me wonder if these jackals could have told us how pack behavior in wolves first evolved.

But I grew up in an era before the internet, and I didn’t spend time looking at Simien jackals until I was in undergrad. I was at an old Borders bookstore, which don’t exist anymore, and I picked up a guide to African mammals. I perused my way to the canid section, hoping to find the section on bat-eared foxes. I had just read a book that documented the touching paternal behavior of this species, and I wanted to see if the guide mentioned this behavior. As I flipped through the pages, I came across the photo of the Simien jackal, but the caption under it said “Ethiopian wolf.”

I was somewhat confused by this new designation, so I read through entry on this new “wolf.”  The entry elucidated that some new DNA studies had found that the Simien jackal was found to be much more closely related to wolves than to other jackals in Africa, and the new name reflected this genetic discovery.

At the time, I was much more science illiterate than I am now, and I began to wonder if wolves had truly lived throughout Africa during the Pleistocene. Maybe these wolves were the source of the domestic dog, because we humans were a truly African species.

Later on, more studies came out.  Lots of papers suggested that some North African golden jackals were some kind of relict form of wolf in Africa, but most strongly suggested that there still were golden jackals in Africa. It was only 2015, that more in depth analysis of golden jackal, wolf, and coyote DNA revealed that all golden jackals in Africa were actually derived from a gray wolf-like ancestor. The current move it to call these animals African wolves or golden wolves, but a huge debate exists on what the exact scientific name should be: Canis lupus lupaster? Canis lupaster? Canis anthus?

I remain agnostic on what the exact scientific name for the golden wolf should be. I need more evidence, more data, before I’m going to latch  onto something. All of these problems are greatly complicated by the discovery that coyotes and gray wolves are much more closely related to each other than we thought, and the proposed million-year split between the two species was often used to gauge when the rest of the genus diverged.  These animals might all be much more closely related to each other than we imagined. 

But an even more surprising discovery just came out.  A recent genome comparison study revealed that hybridization was a major part of the evolution of wolf-like canids, but it also revealed that the golden wolf was itself a hybrid between Ethiopian wolf and the gray wolf. The authors did not estimate when this hybridization happened, but it clearly did.

This discovery points to this possible story about the Ethiopian wolf. Ethiopian wolves and gray wolves are not in any way sympatric. When the Ethiopian wolf was thought to be the only wolf in Africa, it was marveled at how a wolf managed to hold on in Africa, holding onto the last remaining cold parts of East Africa in the Ethiopian Highlands.

But if the golden wolf is really a hybrid between the gray wolf and the Ethiopian wolf, the Ethiopian wolf must have had a wider range. I bet it was even more generalist in its predation habits to have had such a wide range than the current rodent-filled diet of its surviving population. 

And then at some point, gray wolves began to wander down into Africa. These were probably primitive forms of the species, perhaps explaining why Himalayan wolves, a supposed basal form of gray wolf, share an x-chromosome with the golden wolf.

These gray wolves swamped the Ethiopian wolf range in North and East Africa, mating with the Ethiopian wolf.  This African gray wolf evolved to become smaller and more generalist, much like a jackal, but in the main, it retained a hybrid genome that is 72 percent gray wolf and 28 percent Ethiopian wolf.

For whatever reason, the gray wolf and the hybrid golden wolf never spread into the Ethiopian Highlands, where the Ethiopian wolf remained as relatively pure species.  These Ethiopian Highlands wolves had adapted to a rodent-rich diet in some of the harshest terrain in Africa, and there, they live on a relics from a time that has since passed.

They are like the last woolly mammoths of Wrangel and St. Paul Islands. The woolly mammoth of North America and Eurasia went extinct 10,000, but the ones on these two islands held on for much longer. The one on St. Paul went extinct 5,600 years ago, while the Wrangel Island population went extinct around 4,000 years ago. The St. Paul population went extinct as the lake on the island failed to provide them enough water, while the Wrangel population suffered a damaging blow when a deleterious mutation, which caused the mammoths to develop coats much like “satin” rabbits in which the coat grew shiny but less dense and useful for protection against the element, spread throughout the very inbred population.

By the time those mammoths went extinct, human civilizations were already well-advanced. We were already moving well into the agrarian epoch of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and we ceasing to be creatures of nature and becoming what we think we now are.

If the mammoths of Wrangel had never developed that deleterious mutation, we might be able to see them today, just as we can with the Ethiopian wolf.

Ethiopia today promotes the Ethiopian wolf as a major attraction in ecotourism. The country is doing all it can to preserve the species, and it very well be saved, so long as diseases from domestic dogs are held at bay and inbreeding issues don’t result the gene pool becoming swamped with a deleterious mutation or just general inbreeding depression.

No Ethiopian wolf will ever be on display at a Western zoo. You have to go to Ethiopia to see one. They hold onto this precious relic and treasure it as a vital natural resource and national treasure.

And that is how an endangered species should be treated. 

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White-tailed deer are ubiquitous in the Eastern and Midwestern states. They are like pigeons or raccoons or brown rats, suddenly making appearances in the most human-dominated environments, and if you’re from this part of the country, you won’t bat an eyelash. The deer are here, just as the sun shines or the rain falls. 

But the odd thing about white-tailed is the species is unusually old.  Kurten and Anderson claim that oldest remains of the species have been dated to 3.5 million years old.  The deer has done well in all those years, and it is often said that the white-tailed deer is the ancestor of both the black-tailed deer and the mule deer.  The black-tail evolved when an offshoot of the white-tail became isolated along the Pacific Coast some 2 million years ago when the glaciers advanced through to mid-continent.

As those glaciers retreated, the white-tail expanded west once again, and the black-tails that had colonized the arid and montane parts of the interior West apparently crossed with them. Valerius Geist made much hay about the white-tail mitochondrial DNA that is now found in mule deer, as did I. Using Geist’s ideas, I even posited that the mule deer was a species younger than the domestic dog, because it is a true hybrid species that only evolved within the past 10,000 years. 

Since Geist wrote his book on deer biology and taxonomy, most researchers have generally not followed his lead. Most experts consider the black-tail and the mule deer to be the same species, and the best analogy to think of these two forms is they mirror our classification of brown bears on this continent.  If it is a large brown bear from Pacific Coast, it’s called a brown bear. If it is a small brown or “grizzled” bear from the interior West or interior Alaska, it is called a grizzly. The only exception to this rule is all brown bears in California were called grizzlies, even though California did have large coastal brown bears.

This is pretty much the geographic distinction that is applied to black-tailed deer versus mule deer. Black-tails live along the coast, while mule deer live in the interior. 

Most authorities generally don’t pay much attention to the odd similarity between mule deer and white-tail mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother, and it is possible that there really was a female white-tail that bred with a male ancestral mule deer some 10,000 years ago. For whatever reason, virtually all mule deer descend from this female white tail, even though the bulk of their ancestry is that arid-land black-tail stock.

This suggestion has been pooh-poohed because modern white-tail/mule hybrids have a low survival rate in the wild. They inherit a mixture of the mule deer’s  evasive stotting behavior and the white-tail’s evasive bounding behavior, and deer with such mixed behavior more easily fall to predators.

But it is possible that a hopeful monster sort of appeared from this ancient hybridization, a hybrid that had a good enough evasive behavior to avoid predation and pass on her genes.

White-tailed deer are among the most studied of all wildlife, but the literature on their DNA is rather sparse. We know from their recent history that white-tailed deer were very close to extinction by the turn of the twentieth century. Industrial-level slaughter for their much coveted hides, which were in great demand for work clothes, had reduced their numbers throughout their range in the United States. Packs of free-roaming dogs killed fawns and ran down the adults, and market hunters sold the venison to restaurants as exotic fare.

State after state passed conservation laws on white-tailed deer. States began to transport deer into deer sparse regions, and by the middle part of the twentieth century, deer numbers had recovered to allow some hunting. By the time I was born in the 1980s, there were more white-tailed deer in North America than there were in 1492. 

Such a boom and bust history surely has left a legacy in white-tail DNA. As the older species, I would expect white-tails to have greater genetic diversity than the mule and black-tail species.

But maybe not. The white-tail likely underwent a severe genetic bottleneck as a result of all that unregulated hunting and dogging. Maybe they really are really quite inbred after all.

Of course, that diversity could have been somewhat captured if deer from Mexico and Central and South America would be included in the studies. Yes, white-tailed deer, unlike Mule deer and black-tails do range south of Mexico. 

One of my most prized possessions is a shed antler from a Columbian black-tail that was given to me by a friend who came to visit us from Oregon this summer. (Check out her blog here). 

It wasn’t the biggest shed I’d ever seen, but it looked like a sort of hybrid between the mule deer and the white-tail. It was of a creature from a different forest, where the evergreens dominate and the rain falls all through winter. Our white-tails are creatures of the oak woods and the cornfields, where the snow falls in the winter and air gets so cold it cuts you like a knife. 

But they are kin, connected by that common ancestor in that primal white-tail of 3.5 million years ago. Their kind were here long before humans ever stepped foot on this continent, and the thrived through the long days of the fellest predation from bone-crushing dogs, running hyenas, and saber-toothed cats. 

Our humanity can cause their destruction, but at the same time, we’ve created a true deer utopia of sorts, as we’ve killed off all the wolves and cougars and most of us don’t even bother to carry a gun in the woods anymore.

 But just as glaciers advance and retreat and the fortunes of predators wax and wane, so too will this utopia. Climate change and development are already taking a toll on mule deer numbers, as are the growing populations of traditional predators.

Evolution has set these deer on a course with our own kind’s meteoric rise. We have conjured and conjoined and manufactured and manipulated until we now exist as near deities on our own planet. Near deities, maybe, but we are also surely aliens.

So from our deer parks of suburbia we will watch them with benign curiosity, and maybe we’ll take time to know them, to ask about them, to consider them more closely.

And do not for a second consider them or us fixed in our places in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

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The notion that the black cats of parts of northeast Scotland are hybrids between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats is not controversial. The idea that they represent a hybrid species is, however, not something that has been considered. 

These black cats were anomalous, and during the tabloid-soaked years of the 1980s and 1990s, they became sort of legendary throughout Britain.  Eventually, some analysis was performed on some specimens, and it was decided that these animals represented hybrids between domestic cats  and Scottish wildcats. At the time,  these two animals were considered different subspecies but belonged to the same species.

Since that time, a new revision of felid taxonomy has been proposed in which the European and Caucasian wildcats are placed in one species (Felis silvestris) and the species that gave rise to the domestic cat is now called Felis lybica.  I generally agree with this new taxonomy, because of the deep division molecular division between these two cats, but I think that the domestic cat belongs as as part of Felis lybica in the same way dogs are part Canis lupus

If one adheres to this revision and accepts my little critique, then the so-called Kellas cats represent a hybrid species.  It would be great if more molecular studies were performed on these cats, but cats don’t seem to get as much fanfare or funding as dogs do when it comes to these sorts of studies.

I should also note that the Scottish population of European wildcats has significant introgression from domestic cats, so much so that in past 30 years, no Scottish wildcat DNA samples have shown to be free of domestic cat genetic markers.

If one defines a species as having no other crossed in, then we could say that Scottish wildcat is extinct in the wild, but we know that countless species exchange genes with close relatives,

This ecotype of the Lybica wildcat is much more adapted to the Holocene world than the European wildcat ever was. It is more than at home in agrarian landscapes, and it does well in urban environments too.

This story sort of parallels our own species, which came out of Africa into the land of the Neanderthals. We exchanged genes, but our species eventually swamped the land.

Maybe we will have better DNA studies of cats. Maybe we’ll find that European and European-derived domestic cats have traces of European wildcat ancestry.

One should have little hope for the pure European wildcat existing in Scotland or anywhere else where it currently roams, but maybe if we’re okay with the simple fact that hybridization exists, we can preserve what looks and behaves like a wildcat– and not worry too much about its DNA.

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red fox at night

Our motor vehicles speed away on ribbons of asphalt. We run along them as they cut along the cities and suburbs but also as they wind their way through the pastures and cornfields and the stands of forest that somewhat resemble wilderness.

Our roads intersect their trails. The wild beasts scurry across them when they cannot hear the whirring of tires and the humming of the internal combustion engines. They race across hoping almost as an act of instinctual faith that that vehicles won’t slam into them and take the great toll of impersonal and unintentional predation that we call roadkill.

And so one night this week, I found myself winding along desolate roads in Western Pennsylvania. The darkness of night enveloped all around me. Only the lights on my vehicle pierced this veil.

And as a rounded a bend in the road, my headlights scanned down upon what I instantly recognized as a deer. But as I motored in closer, the lights revealed a massive buck with a great crown of white rapiers. The rut is nigh, and this is the time of thick necks and grunting and long solitary perambulations through the darkness. Soon, the sensual scents of the does will cast into the wind, and the ancient rites of courtship and copulation will commence.

And the bucks that once wandered around as comrades in the oak woods with velvet headdresses as the deerflies tore at their ears in the July swselter are now turning into the worst rivals.

But by mid-December, the does will stop their sweet waftings, and the testosterone levels will drop in the bodies of the bucks. By January, the antlers will fall, and the rivals will bunch up as comrades again, ready for the long freezing time where the mast of autumn better be bountiful enough to see the deer until first green grass of March.

I shouted with elation from my driver’s seat:

“Look at that buck!”

The buck looked alarmed at my stopping then moseyed into the woods along the road. I motored on.

Jenna asked,  “Would you have shot that one?”

And all I could say is, “Yes.”

That same night, on another desolate road in Western Pennsylvania, I made a turn onto a crooked course that skirted along the edge of a uncut cornfield.

As I approached the edge of the cornfield, a red fox charged out of a hidden covert, and then darted into the tall corn.

He was a beautiful specimen, probably looking at a nice night of mousing where no one could lay eyes upon him, especially not someone with a nice little predator rifle.

We are not long before the days of the foothold traps set in for the red fox and all the other little fur-bearers of the forest and field. Those traps won’t fool many of the old veterans, the ones that have run that gauntlet for a winter or two or five or six,  but the young rangers of the year will surely fall.

But in the next spring, the vixens will whelp in their dens, and the fields will fill with young rangers again.

We watched the fox slink into the corn.

“That was the first red fox I ever saw!” Jenna shouted at me. I guess Florida is pretty depauperate of wild canids, for she told me that there are no red foxes in the lower parts of the peninsula. They are so common here outside of the subtropics. They appear as eternal as the hills and the rocks and the streams, but the truth is they were absent in this part of the continent until the Europeans came. Then, they wandered down out Canada and New England into the newly cleared lands. The legend goes that they were stocked here from England or Germany, a legend that goes in nicely with the repeopling of this land with people mostly of that ancestry after having driven off and subjugated the descendants of that first colonization from Siberia.

As we motored along back into Ohio, the deer stood along the road, almost daring themselves to jump in front of our vehicle. One stupid little button buck staggered out in front of us. He stared up at the headlights in the cliched expression and then turned his head to stagger around to the opposite side of the road.

And we motored on in the darkness. My mind was on the road, but I thought of the paradox of the blacktop. The road and the motor car have given us what appears to be unlimited freedom.  We can cross the continent in a matter of days, if we just get in our vehicle and go on the road.

But in that freedom, we are limited. We must follow that road, as does everyone else who travels.

But the deer and the foxes and all the wild beasts of the fields roam their trails. These paths might be ancient, but they are made through the inertia of instinct, always seeking the path of least resistance to get from the bedding areas to the grazing or hunting grounds.

The beast that thrive here now thrive mostly because of us. We have killed off the wolves and the cougars, and then modern agriculture has made Appalachian hill farming mostly unprofitable.  Farm families are rarer and rarer upon the land, and the thickets and coverts grow to hide the wild creatures more completely.

And so we’ve let these parallel worlds grow up in our wastegrounds.  Most of us never pay much attention to these worlds, but when we go upon our ribbons of blacktop at night, our paths meet. Sometimes, we slam into deer and crush foxes and raccoons. But more often, we just meet. Our headlights illuminate the denizens of that other world.

Perhaps we allow ourselves the chance to marvel at them, and maybe we can consider their plight as beings more deeply tied to the ecosystem. We can maybe consider them a bit, and then realize that we are also tied to it. We’ve built walls around us to insulate ourselves from the realities of the cold, heat, parasites, and hunger.

But these walls are but edifices of delusion. Nature’s laws still abide with us, and that our dominance is only temporary and maybe only illusory.

And when we consider their plight, their existence, we must ultimately fully consider our own.

At least, that is what I’d hope we’d do as the night draws in darker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bluegill vs Nightcrawler

We have a native tank with a few bluegills and one very stroppy green sunfish. Today was nightcrawler day, and this fellow got his worm.

bluegill nightcrawler

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Every hare, every day, evades predators. Hares have evolved in different directions than humans– one of the most pernicious fallacies of animal rights is that animals feel and in some ways think that they are just deformed humans….Hares are splendid at being hares, and likely don’t dwell for a moment on the horrors of the chase. If a human were chased every day, he would become neurotic, fearful, crazy. Hares, if chased every day, still enjoy life. How could they not, and still be around, be hares?

–Stephen Bodio, The Hounds of Heaven: Living and Hunting with an Ancient Breed.

Night fell upon the newly mowed hay field.  It was the last cutting of the year and final tall stalks of grass were now lying out flat upon the ground. The dry September sun would dry out the stalks for a few days. Then the baling machines would arrive, and the grass would be bound as stored forage for the hoofed stock on the coming days little sunlight and hard freezes and driving snow squalls.

On hot summer evenings, cottontail rabbits like to see along the tram roads that lead in and out of the hay field. The roads make for easy running and the clover grows thick in the tracks, and clover is the best thing for the lactating rabbit does to munch down. The tall grass obscures their body forms from the piercing eyes of hawks and owls, and so the tram roads become their little restaurants, where the clover nourishes their bodies but the killers from the sky cannot spy them.

But the mowing has changed this dynamic. The tall grass is down, and the refuge it provided was gone.  The hawks and the owls would surely see the rabbits on the road now, but the rabbits are creatures of habit and territory. So they came to the tram road to graze uneasily among the clover.

The predator that came did not come from the sky that evening. The mowing machine cuts up quite a few mice and voles and bog lemmings as tears through the grass, and their blood and offal and decaying forms cast scents into the air. The local turkey vultures spent much of the late afternoon sifting through the downed grass stalks for a bit of sweet, juicy carnage. A pair of ravens joined them in their sifting, for ravens don’t have the keen sense of smell of the turkey vulture. But they have keener brains and can easily figure out that where the turkey vultures are congregating, there will be carrion to scavenge.

But now that night was falling, the birds of the day had taken to the roost. The sifting for rodent bodies would have to wait until the sun rose again, so the hay field was empty of all beings but rabbits and stridulating katydids and crickets.

The scent of dead rodents brought in the meat-eaters of the night, and the first to arrive was a big male gray fox. He lived out his entire life in the brier thickets in the hollow below the hay field. No one knew of his existence or really seemed to care, for he lived a life of a sort of cat dog in the brush, stalking songbirds in the forest and occasionally raiding a cottontail’s nest the early spring grass. He also plucked fresh raspberries from their bushes, but he was skilled at his hiding from humans of his very presence. He was a poacher in the night who slipped in and slipped out, and no one was the wiser.

But now he sensed a chance to get a little easy food among the fallen grass stalks, and he began a slinking approach into the hay field. The wind was in his face so that he could smell if any hunters or nasty dogs were about, and the wind kept telling him that carrion was around for him to pick through and devour at his foxy leisure.

It was as eased upon the tram road that another scent caught his nose. It was a big cottontail doe, in fine fettle and all spry for a good run. His years working this tram road after mowing days told him that he probably shouldn’t waste any energy running such a big healthy doe, but the cool September night air had given him a bit of a sporty itch.

And so the big gray fox crouched into stalking position and eased his way closer to the big doe. She grazed the clover, and he stalked in a little closer. She would hear the faint sound of fox steps upon the grass, and she would rise up and hold still. The fox would hold his stalk, and no sound would cross her ears. And she would eat at the clover again.

And so the stalk went on for about five minutes, and by that time, the fox was 15 feet from the rabbit. At that point, though, the fox’s impetuous side got to him. The scent of rabbit was that close to him. His black nostrils just quivered each inhaling breath. Rabbit scent, so sweet, and so close.

And when the rabbit sat still with her ears up again, the fox charged, and the chase began. Cottontail rabbits run in great, wide circles, and in those circles,there are several brush piles, groundhog holes, hidden culverts, and misplaced pipe. The rabbits know that when they run they can run out long and hard in those circles, and if they are healthy, they can hit one of those hiding places before the predator is upon them. And if the predator still comes, they will have more than few minutes to catch their breaths and let their heart rates return to normal in case they would have to run again.

So the big cottontail doe fled the charging fox. Early in the chase the fox’s flying gallop, a mixture of a sighthound’s run and the feline’s bound, gave him some edge. For thirty yards, the fox’s jaws were within near striking distance of the fleeing rabbit.

But her leporid running anatomy is built for a good flight, and very soon, she was well ahead of the gray fox when she saw her chance to dive into a bit of cast-off gas-line pipe that had been stored at the edge of the hayfield for so long that the multiflora rose grew thick and thorny all around it.

The fox saw her dive into the pipe, and he sailed upon the pipe’s entrance. It was too small to afford him even the hope of entry, and for five minutes he pawed at the pipe and stuck his nose down the entrance, trying in vain to see the rabbit had foolishly languished near enough to the opening for him to grab her.

But then, his fox-like caution set in. He cast his nose into the wind and twitched his ears around to catch the sign of any fox killer, and when he found that none was about, he slipped along the edge of the hayfield, casting his way around to where he could approach the tram road again with the wind in his face.

He would have a good night’s repast of vole, mouse, and bog lemming meat and offal, but in the cooling September night, he’d had a bit of fun, a bit of sport, and now he could get back to the real business of survival.

The big doe rabbit emerged from the pipe about an hour after the fox left. She stayed in the multifora rose thicket a for a little while. The rose had some nice little hips for her to browse upon, and then, as the morning sun began to cast red into the sky, she eased her way out of the thicket and wandered into a grove of newly apple trees that had just been planted the March before. She gnawed on the apple trees a bit, until a car passed the apple grove and made her take flight into a distant brush pile.

And so the rabbit was not traumatized in the least from having a good course by a fox. She would have to run every day of her fleeting of life, just as all her ancestors have had to since the beginning of the rabbit and hare clade some 40 million years ago.

We can think of the rabbit as the terrorized victim of vicious foxes, or we can consider them as they actually are. They are prey. They evolved as prey. Their brains and their bodies are all evolved perfectly as prey species. Their essence to be vary and make good run and a hard dive from predator’s jaws.

They live lives in terrific bliss. Many things want to eat them, but they simply live as long as they can without obliging this desire.

Their psyches do not become traumatized as they live with such terror every day. Their psyches, such that they are, are perfectly wired for this existence. This is their existence and not ours.

And if we truly love animals, we must respect their different existence and avoid simplistic appeals to anthropomorphism that only makes sense in a society devoid any real contact with nature.

But these simplistic appeals are harder and harder to avoid, and so the fox might not be deemed the enemy in this story, but the beagler or rabbit courser certainly would be.

And this is the reality that true animal lovers, who see animals in all their naturalistic animalness, must work hard to combat.

And hope to all powers that be that we will not lose. But the odds just aren’t in our favor.

Ignorant anthropomorphism is the scourge of carefully considered human-animal relations, and the danger is that it is an ignorance that revels in its own self-righteousness.

So the fox chases the rabbit on a September night, and the rabbit lives on in that terrific bliss of having evolved as quarry.

And we can only hope that we humans respect that bliss. For only then can we understand what a rabbit truly is and appreciate its essential majesty.

 

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The War on that “Southern” vermin

audubon opossum

The traps have slammed upon their hand-like paws. Shotguns have blasted them from trees. Farm dogs have torn them asunder, and crueler men have drowned them when they catch them in cage traps.

But their kind has not died out. In 1600, their range extended along the hotter lands of the South, but the time of the Civil War, they’d spread up into the lands of the North. They colonized the West Coast when the favored few that had been kept as pets were turned out in the wild. And then they made it into Ontario and British Columbia.

The Virginia opossum is the most boreal of the contemporary metatheria.  Didelphimorphia is not even the most derived of the marsupials, and in contrast the various pouched mammals of Australia, which are often forced to hold their own against the waves of placental invaders, the lowly opossum stands it own ground in the land of foxes and bobcats.

And baying hounds and properly polished shotguns.

It does so not by being particularly specialized to anything and producing wave after wave of young during the breeding season.

In ditches of the highways and on the burning summer blacktop, their carcasses are laid out every mile or so. Dead from the motor car’s rapid advance, and their own lack of caution and general sagacity.

The war on these “Southern” vermin, whose kind derived that other American continent, the one that seems so foreign, so tropical and exotic when compared to our attempts to make this land a new Europe, is utterly pointless.

We kill them and still they come. They have their young, and they spread to new territories, so when one is killed, their numbers are so replenish each year with newly independent pouch young.

This is a war that we’ve lost, but we don’t seem to know it. And it must sorely irk us that a creature so unlike us, so primitive and not particularly brilliant, can thrive while we try to kill it off.

Our murderous concept of civilization carries a heavy toll upon the wild things, but some wild things find such situations utterly roseate.

And in this age in which the big predators are pushed away, the meek really do inherit the earth.

And they might raid our chicken coops and dig in our garbage. But we cannot stop their advance.

Only the harshest of northern freezes can do such a thing, and seeing as we’ve waged a war on those frosts with our fossil fuel addiction, the world gets better and better for them.

And so we fail to control that which we have created in our folly.

And this is but one time that we have failed. The red fox came south out Canada to colonize our Eastern states. The raccoon came north to take much of Canada. And the barred owl came west to give the spotted owl hell, and the coyote came out of the prairies and into the land of the maple forest and the suburb.

Nature teems weirdly when we weird up the world. This is a simple lesson, but one that we cannot fully understand.

That is the story of the Anthropocene.  This is the era where we create chaos, and species rise and fall based upon how the chips fall.

And the chips fell so nicely for the grinning opossum of the Southland.

 

 

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