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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

One antler left

Rutting has been tough on the bucks. Cold winter temperatures are pretty tough too.

The antlers are coming off. This fellow has already shed one.

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He’s survived the long deer season well. He’s got a nice big body, and next year, he will be quite nice.

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Reeves’s muntjac is native to China and Taiwan. It is not native any place in Europe, but one of the places where it has been introduced is England. The epicenter of their population in that country is Bedfordshire, where this hunt takes place.  The Dukes of Bedford were into promoting deer on their estate, Woburn Abbey, and they were instrumental in saving the Pere David’s deer from extinction. One suggestion is that the muntjac in England derived from Reeves’s muntjac that escaped Woburn Abbey, but they also could have derived from escapees from the Whipsnade Zoo.

Whatever their origin, Reeves’s muntjac have established themselves a long way from their native territory, and they do quite a bit of damage to trees.

And what usually happens is that people are encouraged to hunt the invasives, but as you can see from the selective shooting that goes on this video, the species is now being managed as a sort of game species on many estates. This development should be of no surprise, and it should be noted that island of Great Britain has only two native deer species, the red and the roe. The very common fallow deer was introduced by the Romans and then again the Normans from the European continent.

But the fallow deer is essentially managed as a native game species. The exact same thing is done with Sika deer that have been introduced to Maryland. White-tailed deer are treated the same way in the Czech Republic, as are all the deer that have been introduced to New Zealand.

Whatever their treatment as a game or invasive species, this video does provide a nice closeup of the male Reeves’s muntjac as a specimen. Of particular note are the tusks, which they use for fighting and display.  It is mentioned in this clip that they are “musk deer, ” but this is in error.

This error comes from the tusks that both muntjac and musk deer possess, but musk deer are placed in their own family (Moschidae).  True deer are Cervidae, and all the muntjac species are true deer that fall into the Cervinae subfamily (which includes red deer, fallow deer, and North American elk).  However, they are primitive Cervinae.

Musk deer differ in some morphological characters from true deer in that they don’t have facial glands, possess only a single pair of teats, and have a gallbladder.  They also never have antlers, and all species possess a scent gland on their tail.

The common ancestor of musk and true deer, though, had prominent tusks. The modern muntjac species is unique in that it still has those fangs of the earliest Cervinae.

The other true deer that is known for its tusks is the Asian water deer, which was definitely introduced to Britain thanks to escapees from Woburn Abbey. But it is not closely related to the muntjac at all.

It is also not a musk deer, even though it has much more prominent tusks than the muntjac and never has antlers. Instead, it fits within Capreolinae, the subfamily of deer that includes roe deer, moose, reindeer/caribou, and all the New World deer but the wapiti. Its prominent tusks and lack of antlers are a also primitive trait in this lineage of deer.

That muntjac and water deer are both fanged shows that more primitive animals will resemble each other more the derived forms of their respective lineages.

These cnine teeth are celebrated in North America elk lore. Their “ivory” is taken as almost as much a trophy as the antlers, and indigenous people in Canada and the US used them as jewelry. They aren’t sharp daggers like those found on muntjac and water deer, though. They are just vestigial teeth that show that the ancestor of the great bugling bull were once little fanged creatures.

These upper canines also appear in white-tailed deer on occasion as an atavism.

Beyond these little fangs, North American deer lack these primitive traits, so I find fangs on these Asian species totally fascinating.

They are windows into the past, when deer were just little beasts of the undergrowth.

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When I was a little boy, my grandmother once told me that one of her childhood dogs killed a civet cat.  I was old enough to know that civets lived in Africa and Asia, so when I got the chance, I asked my dad if grandma had ever been to Africa.  He said “No.” And the whole discussion ended.

I always wondered what grandma was talking about.

When I first started this blog, I was a little confused about the existence of spotted skunks in West Virginia. I asked if anyone had seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia, and of course, I got no response.

But it turns out there are some. It turns out that they are found only in the High Alleghenies, where the snow falls hard every winter.

This perplexed me.  I had always thought of Eastern spotted skunks as being a more or less “Southern” species, and although I often saw range maps of the species that included almost the entire state, I had never knew anyone who had seen one.

But maybe I did.

It turns out that one of the vernacular names for the spotted skunk is “civet cat.”

And that’s when the little anecdote my grandmother told me made a bit more sense. Her childhood dog had killed a “civet cat,” but it had most likely killed a spotted skunk.

As for that broad range map I linked to earlier, I think the reason the range appears to be so truncated now is that the spotted skunk was reviled in much of its range as a vector of rabies. Another common vernacular name for spotted skunk is “phoby cat”– “phoby” is short for “hyrdophobia” (often “hydrophoby” in some dialects)– it is very likely that there was massive persecution of spotted skunks in the lower elevations of the state.

It was just too hard to settle and farm in the higher mountains, and those mountains provided some sort of refuge for what is really a more subtropical species than one would typically find in such snowy country.

My grandmother’s childhood dog likely killed one of the few spotted skunks left in the lower elevations of West Virginia.

But I liked to pretend that she had gone to Africa.

Boyhood flights of fancy are tough to beat.

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Outer Banks gray fox hunt, 1930s

Outer Banks Gray fox hunt

In the 1930s, the only fox on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was the gray fox, and this is a photo of the Goosewing Club on a mounted hunt in an attempt to be subtropical English.

Red foxes did not become fully established in most of the South until well into the twentieth century, so when you read accounts of fox chasing south of Virginia and Kentucky and outside the Appalachian Mountains from an earlier time period, they are almost certainly running hounds on gray fox.

The gray fox is less suited for this type of pursuit because it doesn’t go to ground when pressed to hard. Its usual defense is to shoot up the nearest tree, and this behavior makes for a rather poor mounted hunt.

The Eastern Canadian red fox is much better suited to this sort of thing.  The red fox of the Eastern and Midwestern US is derived from that animal. It is not an import from England as was once commonly believed. The red fox came south after the clearing of the forests created better habitat for this more open land species.  They were the first canids to expand their range dramatically after European contact and colonization. The coyote was the second.

Gray foxes are the most divergent species of canid still in existence. Their exact lineage split off from the rest of the dogs some 8-12 million years ago, and they are the only species of dog still in existence that has a fully North American evolutionary history. Everything else, including the coyote, has derived from Eurasian ancestors that came back into the continent.

They are truly America’s most special dog, one that really doesn’t get much attention, but the history of foxhunting in what became this country was largely based upon this animal in the early years.

If I were to choose my own animal totem, it would be a gray fox.  It lurks in the deep thickets on far distant ridges. It lives in defiance of our world, unsullied and unfettered by our desires.  A wild dog that is truly out on its own journey, one that began millions of years ago in the ages before their were truly things called wolves or modern humans.

Remote and distant goes the gray fox.

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Final monarch of the year

Summer’s final grasp on the land is slowly but surely being released.

We had a bit of frost at the end of September. Then we had a few weeks of balmy weather.

But the weather is about to change again.

And this monarch butterfly will soon be on its way to Mexico. The leaves will be off the trees, and the deer will be in full rut.

Snow will  soon be on everyone’s mind.

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Licky licky

This doe just walked up to have me take her photo.

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She almost looks like some kind of antelope in the tall grass of Africa.

You can also see her long whiskers, which aren’t very obvious unless you’re very close up.

 

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Dead venomous mammal

Back in West Virginia, a dead northern short-tailed shrew:

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This one was very dark in color, but they often come in silvery gray as well.

Their venom isn’t that powerful, but we have a family story of a dachshund that had a bad reaction to a shrew bite.

In my part of North America, this is the only venomous mammal, but there are four species of shrew in this genus (Blarina), and they are distributed over most of North America east of the Rockies.

I initially thought this was a young hairy-tailed mole, but the smaller feet gave it away instantly.

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