Posts Tagged ‘Small Mammals’

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More on Adirondack Bat Encounters

Bats are on my mind these days, thanks to the work I’m doing with the DEC survey. One of the other volunteers, who is also working on a bat project for college, just sent me an email about a baby bat that had fallen from its roost and the students who picked it up. To make a long story short, the bat was killed so it could be tested for rabies because the students had handled it without protection. So, I thought I’d dedicate this post to Proper Procedures When Encountering a Bat so that future tragedies of the same sort can be avoided.

Scenario #1: You are walking along and you see a bat on the ground – what do you do? Ideally you leave the bat alone and continue on your way. However, there are circumstances that might make this action unviable. So, first you should acertain if the bat is injured or sick. Injured bats should be taken to rehabbers. Sick bats should be sent to the state for rabies testing. Sometimes bats simply fall from their roosts (have you ever fallen out of your bed?); given the chance to do so, they will climb back up to safety. If it is a juvenile, it may not be able to climb back up, so assistance might be needed.

Never, never, never handle a bat without gloves. Better yet, don’t handle it at all. If you need to collect a bat, the best way to do so is to use a can (or jar) and a piece of cardstock. Gently place the can over the bat and gently slide the card underneath, effectively trapping the bat inside the can. If the bat is uninjured and healthy, take it outside and let it go. You can do this most easily by laying the can down on its side and walking away: the bat will crawl out, find a place to climb, and then fly away. Better yet you can empty the can gently on a branch so the bat will be able to fly off immediately.

Scenario #2: A bat flies into your house – what do you do? The best thing to do is determine what room the bat is in and then isolate it there. Close all doors and open one window. Turn out all the lights. Leave the room. The bat will find that open window and fly out. There is no need to panic. If there are no windows to open, or doors to close, follow the procedure above with the can. Eventually the bat will land somewhere (on a curtain, on a wall), and you can collect it there.

Scenario #3: Bats are roosting in your attic – what do you do? The odds are if you have a good number of bats in your attic, or barn, or garage, you probably have a maternity colony. This is a group of pregnant females who have sought your attic/barn/garage as the perfect place to give birth and raise their young. They are looking for locations that are warm (really toasty roosts help the babies mature faster) and have plenty of room to move around if it gets too warm, or too cool, in one spot. If you have a maternity colony, they will give birth by June. Baby bats are not flighted for several weeks. Once the young can fly and feed on their own, the colony moves on, usually at the end of the summer. Hiring an exterminator is really not a great idea, especially now that bat populations are declining. These days the thing to do is exclusion, wherein you locate all the entrances and exits the bats are using and seal them up…after the bats have left in the fall (or before they return in the spring). You don’t want to exclude the adults while the babies are still in the roost – they will starve to death and you will have a smelly mess. You can try erecting bat boxes nearby to provide an alternative roost site. These alternative roosts will have to be large enough to provide the bats with the conditions they need to raise their young (similar to those in your attic/barn/garage); the little boxes you can buy at garden or hardware stores are not going to cut it. For more information on bat houses, visit http://www.batcon.org/index.php/education/40-bats-and-the-public/61-bat-house-faqs.html.

Myth Busting: Forget everything your mother and friends told you about bats – chances are they are wrong.

1. Bats do not fly into your hair/head, or at least not on purpose. Have you ever accidentally walked into a wall or doorway? My theory is that in those cases in which a bat has hit someone in the head, it was simply a miscalculation on the bat’s part. It may even have been a juvenile that is still getting used to flying and using its echolocation.

2. Bats are not aggressive. As a matter of fact, they are actually rather shy animals, and many species are easily tamed. Bats only bite when cornered and given no opportunity to escape (like any other animal).

3. Bats drink your blood (after biting you on the neck). Well, first off, the only bats we have here in New York are insect eaters. You are not an insect, so you are safe. But yes, there are vampire bats – in Mexico and Central America. There are only three species of vampires; two of these species feed on birds. Only one is dependent on mammal blood, and it mostly drinks from cattle (now that cattle have moved into its habitat and are easy prey). These bats are all very small, and at most they drink (lap, actually, like a cat) a tablespoon of blood; more than that and they cannot fly.

4. Bats are dirty. Actually, bats are very clean animals. They groom themselves (and each other) almost as much as a cat does.

5. Bats are blind. Since people cannot see at night, they presume nothing else can see at night either. Therefore, bats must be blind because they fly at night without any difficulties (and we know that the blind can often navigate very well). In fact, bats have good eyesight, but they depend on echolocation (it’s like SONAR) to navigate at night and find their prey.

6. Bats are flying mice. Well, they may look like mice with wings, but bats are not even closely related to mice. As a matter of fact, bats are in a category all their own: Chiroptera (which means “hand wing”). There is nothing else on this planet like them. And, just because I love this fact, believe it or not almost one-quarter of all mammal species are species of bats! That’s right. Scientists have identified approximately 4000 species of mammals around the world, and about 1000 of these are species of bats. That should give us all an idea of just how important they are.

What about rabies? Any mammal can get rabies. Rabies is a virus that is tranmitted through saliva, usually from a bite. In general, the odds of a bat having rabies is set at less than one half of one percent. You are more likely to get food poisoning at a church picnic. That said, there are areas that do have higher incidents of rabies in bats. The last time I checked, New York listed it as 8%. Rabies testing requires the testing of brain tissue, which is only possible after the animal is deceased, so it’s not like a healthy animal will be released if its test is proven negative.

So how do you know if the bat is sick and should be sent for testing? Usually when bats get rabies, they exhibit a passive form of the disease. In other words, they do not become aggressive and charge at you, foaming at the mouth. If you encounter a bat that is lethargic and just not acting normally, it is probably sick. Such bats should be sent for testing.

With the cataclysmic decline of our most common bats these days, I think each of us should think twice when we encounter a bat. Don’t handle it. Don’t squash it with a broom. Help it leave your house safely. Bats have important roles to play in our ecosystems, even here in the Adirondacks. We should do everything we can to help those that remain survive.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adirondack Bat Survey

What is your favorite bird/animal/flower? This is a question I am often asked, and for me it is a difficult one to answer because there are too many fascinating things out there to select just one favorite. That said, I am especially fond of bats. They are highly misunderstood animals that are actually linchpins in many ecosystems. If more people understood their importance, they might be as popular as baby seals and elephants. Sadly, it often takes tragedy to bring around a change in feelings, and for our bats, that tragedy is White-nose Syndrome (WNS). » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adirondack Mammals; The Whirlwind Tour

There are 54 species of mammals in the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Ecological Center’s Charlotte Demers offers a “whirlwind tour.” Here are the highlights:

Marsupials – the possum. The Adirondacks is in the upper range of the possum, so you often find them with signs of frostbite, particularly their ears. Amazingly they give birth just 12 1/2 days after mating.

Shrews and Moles – There are six different species of what are called “red tooth shrews”. They have an average life span of just a year and eat almost continuously. Our shrews have a toxin in their saliva which paralyzes it’s prey. The pygmy shrew weighs less then a dime making it (arguably) the smallest mammal in the world. The water shrew dives (mostly in streams) for its prey, including frogs and fish. They are often caught in minnow traps. We have two moles – hairy tail (the most common) and the star nose (uglier and aquatic). » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Access to DEC Region 5 Forestry and Wildlife Info

This morning we heard from DEC forestry and wildlife representatives from Region 5 (which covers most of the Adirondacks). Tom Martin, DEC Forester, kicked it off with a discussion of the explanation of the role the agency plays in local forests, public and private. Martin was followed by a DEC Wildlife Biologist who pointed out a number of important resources for landowners, including a few cool internet tools.

Region 5 contains more potential commercial forest land (about 3 million acres) than forest preserve land. The region has three part-time people who handle private land services who are basically foresters who help people develop land management plans.

Martin reviewed recent large land transfers in Region 5. “Every single large forest products company has sold their land,” he said. Those include Champion, International Paper, Domtar, and Finch Pruyn. Lands not bought outright by the state (or a third party like the Nature Conservancy) have been purchased by timber management investment companies which Martin said have much shorter term financial goals (and shorter tenure) than the original owners.

By the way, DEC has paid full taxes on land the state owns in the park since the 1880s. The companies that have sold their land all enjoyed 480a tax breaks that reduced their assessments by 80% (that includes state, county and school taxes).

Following Martin, Region 5 Wildlife Biologist Paul Jensen reviewed DEC resources for forest owners including the agency’s beaver damage management program. The program includes nuisance beaver permits that allow trapping and killing of nuisance beaver and the removal of beaver dams; the DEC no longer traps beaver for relocation. Jensen also briefly touched on whitetail deer management, a significant factor in understory regeneration.

Here are a few resources Jensen pointed us to for getting a closer look at public and private forest lands:

Environmental Resource Mapper – enter your property location and find about wetlands, significant natural communities, and rare plants and animals.

Landowner Incentive Program
– provides information and access to funds and/or tax breaks for forest land owners whose land contains at risk species.

State Lands Interactive Mapper – provides a lot of information on state lands.

We’re off to Tupper Lake for a sawmill visit, then back here for tree identification. This evening – Adirondack mammals. I’ll report again after dinner.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bats Flying and Dying in Broad Daylight

The disturbing die-off of the Northeast’s bats has been mostly something we’ve heard about on the news.

Reporters have accompanied biologists into abandoned mines to witness bats dying or dead, piled on the floor of their winter hibernacula. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Extinction: A Short History of Adirondack Beaver

We got a great laugh around the house here a couple weeks ago when my neighbor Mike — a guy who’s full of Adirondack lore — began extolling the virtues of eating Adirondack beaver. A quick search turned up actual beaver recipes. It turns out, unlike deer which are hung in woodsheds, barns and garages all over the North Country during hunting season, beaver needs to be soaked overnight in salt water to remove the blood from the meat — trapped beaver don’t bleed out.

So much discussion of beaver got me thinking about the history of Castor canadensis — North America’s largest rodent and the second largest in the world — which was driven to near extinction in the Adirondacks around the turn of the last century, but whose reintroduction was astoundingly successful. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Books: Why The Adks Looks The Way It Does

If you want to consider yourself knowledgeable about the Adirondacks you must own and have read Mike Storey’s Why The Adirondacks Look The Way They Do. That’s not hyperbole – that’s a simple fact.

Storey self-published this guide to Adirondack natural history in 2006 and sold out the first printing in the first year. The reason, no doubt, is that it’s readable and relevant. Storey was the former Chief Naturalist at the Adirondack Park Agency (24 years at the APA!) and he wrote the book we all need to keep in our car, backpack, and back pocket. In fact, my only complaint is the book’s format doesn’t make it easy to pack – it could have been a lot smaller, even with all the info and images packed in there!

This book is more than a guide to our local flora and fauna, more than a wildlife guide, it covers geology, geography, forestry, history, cultural anthropology, environmental politics, from the life cycle of the black fly to the problems of upland development. The diagrams, illustrations, photographs, are illustrative beyond comparison. From “Grenville Continent Rifting and the Lake George Rift Valley” to the illustration of a 50-years of a hemlock and yellow birch growing on a rotting log resting on a glacial erratic rock, this book shows you the basics and backs it up with detailed explanations. The tracks of common animals, identifying common birds, leaves, trees, fish, soils, insects, eskers, kettle holes – its all there and more.

This book will do what it says it will – explain, in vivid and easy-going detail, why the Adirondacks look the way they do. I’ve been thinking about doing a “Ten Books Every Adirondacker Should Own,” and when I do, this book will be on that list.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1800s Adirondack Natural History Survey Online

The mid-1800s Natural History Survey of New York has been posted online at the New York State Library here. According to a recent note from the Library’s staff:

The Natural History Survey of New York, undertaken in the mid-1800s, covered zoology, flora, mineralogy, geology, agriculture and paleontology. The NYS Library has digitized the first three components of the survey so far. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Unique Fingerprints Of Adirondack Wildlife

An interesting press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society on fisher fingerprints and other unique patterns in Adirondack mammal tracks.

A new study in the May issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management reports that scientists from the New York State Museum, Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups have teamed up with the New York State Department of Criminal Justice to developed a new technique that uses fingerprints to track the fisher – an elusive member of the weasel family, and the only carnivore species known to have unique fingerprints.

Fingerprints left behind at special tracking-boxes allow field biologists to identify which individual fisher had come in for the bait and, therefore, count the exact number of animals using an area. Scientists teamed with fingerprint experts at the New York State Department of Criminal Justice (DCJS) to develop this method, which is far simpler and less expensive compared to alternatives such as DNA fingerprinting.

Fisher prints differ from human fingerprints because they are made up of patterns of dots rather than ridges, so standard criminology software did not work. “We tried submitting fisher prints to the state’s fingerprint database but it didn’t pair up the prints well,” says Richard Higgins, retired chief of the DCJS Bureau of Criminal Identification. “But looking at them side-by-side it was obvious when you had a match.”

The fisher, an eight-pound member of the weasel family, is the only carnivore known to have fingerprints, which are also known from primates and koalas. Other species may also have unique patterns in their tracks that would help in counting their numbers in the wild.

“The few porcupine and opossum tracks we got had incredible patterns and will probably turn out to be unique with more study.” says Dr. Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the State Museum, who co-authored the Journal article, along with Higgins and others.

“Identifying individuals allows us to actually count how many animals are in different areas, which is essential information for monitoring their conservation status,” says Justina Ray, director of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. “My hope is that we can apply this kind of inexpensive, sure-fire technology to help conserve a wide range of species, especially those that are threatened with extinction.”

Scientists surveyed fishers from 2000-2002 as part of a carnivore survey across 54 sites in the Adirondack region of Northern New York. Fishers were the second most commonly detected carnivore species, behind coyotes.

“Our study suggests fisher populations are healthy throughout most of Northern New York,” said Ray. “Fisher populations are rising in most of the Northeastern United States, showing that wildlife can reclaim their turf if forests are allowed to recover.”

Fishers were nearly driven to extinction in the state by deforestation and over-trapping before receiving protection in the 1930s. This led to a slow recovery, and limited trapping was permitted again in the 1970s. Their recent population boom appears to have begun in the 1990s.

Fishers spread south out of the Adirondacks and Vermont and into the Hudson Valley. They are also spreading westward, with today’s leading edge around Syracuse. Fishers were first recorded in the suburbs of Albany and Boston in the last six years.

The other co-authors of the Journal study are Mike Tymeson and Richard Higgins, DCJS; Carl J. Herzog, state Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany; Dr. Matthew E. Gompper, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO and Dr. William J. Zielinski United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Redwood Sciences Laboratory in Arcata, CA.


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