Monthly Archives: November 2014

Weekly Puzzler #37

045_2Since we’ve been talking about animals and how they survive winter, let’s continue this trend and talk about another common animal–the chipmunk. How do chipmunks survive winter? Do they stay active like their cousins, the eastern gray squirrels?

Click HERE to learn the answer.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #36


Last week’s puzzler was about BATS. Here is the answer:

Bats are in serious trouble because of a disease called white nose syndrome (WNS.)

Since its discovery in a cave in upstate New York during the winter of 2006/2007, it has killed more than 5.7 MILLION bats!

The disease is caused by a non-native, cold-loving fungus that is found in caves of hibernating bats. Where present, this disease sometimes kills more than 90% of bat species. Affected bats die from starvation, waking up more frequently than is normal and using up their valuable fat reserves. They then uncharacteristically venture outside of the cave during the winter, looking for insects, which of course are not present. Tragically, they are being found in huge numbers, their small, lifeless bodies, dead on the snow.

The fungus, called Geomyces destructans is spread by spores. Bats affected with WNS can spread the spores to other bats when they scratch infected body parts and release the spores. WNS grows on the noses, tails and sometimes the wings of infected bats. It can survive in the caves used by bats for a long time, even affecting populations that arrive at the caves in subsequent years.

Many people may not have heard about this or if they have, may wonder why it matters. Perhaps they are unaware of the amazing service bats provide to us–FREE, every night during the spring, summer and fall. Bats eat insects. Lot and lots of insects, including some of our most common crop pests and mosquitoes. We need bats to keep insect populations in check.

A little brown bat, smaller than the palm of an average sized hand, can eat up to 1000 mosquito sized insects in one hour. This adds up to a lot of insects in a night.

If you want to learn about what you can to do to help, CLICK HERE.   If you want to learn more about WNS and other amazing facts about bats, check out the Bat Conservation International Website.

What’s the FASTEST Growing Tissue of Any Mammal?

deer-0369I suspect that no matter where you live, you’ve probably seen deer. They are a common mammal throughout the United States (though are not commonly seen in California, Utah and Nevada) and are native to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Like many common animals though, how much do you really know about them?

Here are some interesting facts about our common Whitetail Deer:

1. If you’ve ever seen a deer run away from you, you may have noticed that they hold their white tails up, like a flag.  This is how they got their common name. They do this to let other deer know that they’ve sensed danger nearby. Their tail raising is often accompanied by snorting and sometimes, stomping of one of their legs. All of these things are signals to other deer.deer-8146

2. Deer, like moose and elk grow antlers. These are different from horns in that antlers are shed each year, in December or January. Horns are permanent. The reason you don’t find many antlers among the leaves is because animals like mice and other rodents come and gnaw on the antlers for their calcium, eventually “recycling” the antlers. (To read more about antlers vs. horns, CLICK HERE) 

deer-33. Deer antlers are the fastest growing tissue on earth! Whitetail deer antlers might grow up to 1/2 inch per day! The antlers start growing in the spring and continue through summer. Growth is regulated by hormones and controlled by the number of daylight hours. At first the antlers are covered with what is called velvet–this is made up of a network of blood vessels and nerves and is sensitive.  As fall approaches, the velvet will be shed, showing smooth bone beneath.

4. Male deer are called bucks or stags. Only male whitetail deer grow antlers. They have them to impress the females. In the fall males will rub their antlers on trees to mark their territory. These are referred to as “buck rubs,” and can be a way to determine if bucks live in an area. (Do you know which is the only member of the deer family that BOTH the male and female grow antlers? Click HERE to learn the answer.)

5. October through early December is considered “the rut.” This is their breeding season. It is during this time that males often have confrontations to establish dominance. They have dueling contests, using their antlers to fight against another male deer. During this time their necks may swell up to twice their normal diameter. (On a recent day, I was able to witness the meeting of two bucks fighting with their antlers! If you’d like, you can read about it and see pictures from it HERE. )  During the rut, deer may wander into areas where they don’t normally travel, including roads and residential areas. They can be aggressive during this time so it is best to keep a safe distance.bucks-4965

6. Many people believe you can tell the age of a male deer by the size of its rack, but this is not necessarily true as other factors come into play, including the condition of their mothers. Age, nutrition and genetics play a role in the size of a buck’s antlers. A fascinating fact about their antlers is that an injury to a leg –such as a collision with a vehicle–is likely to affect their antlers. If a deer injures a front leg, the antler on the same side as the injury could be affected by a deformity. If however, the deer has a hind leg injury, the antler on the opposite side as the injury could be affected. The deformity may last for consecutive years depending on the injury. Other things that may cause deformities happen while the antlers are still in the velvet, such as breaking them, getting them caught on a branch or other obstacle, and fighting. If a buck is getting proper nutrition and is healthy, his rack may get larger each year until he reaches the age of 6 1/2.

deer-27. Young deer are called fawns. When they are born, fawns have no scent and their dotted coats provide excellent camouflage. Their main means of defense at this time is lying still. Many well-intentioned people discover fawns in the spring and, thinking they have been abandoned, pick them up and seek help from a wildlife rehabilitater. This is a terrible idea! PLEASE don’t do this, as the mother deer is usually close by and watching. She will return to feed the fawn during the day and keeps an eye from a distance. Fawns that remain motionless avoid notice from potential predators; those that get up cannot outrun their predators and are sure to be caught. If a person touches a fawn, or causes it to get up and run, the fawn is put at great risk then. (To read about an encounter I had with a fawn, CLICK HERE.)deer-0116

8. Deer can run up to 40mph. They can jump 10 feet and can swim up to 13mph.

9. The average deer lives less than 5 years, with the maximum being about 15. This would have to be from a deer in an area where hunting is not allowed. Deer become sexually mature at one and a half years old but do not reach full size until they are 4-5 years old. The average weight of an adult is 100-350 pounds, with males being larger than females.

A deer skull

A deer skull

10 Deer are herbivores, meaning they eat only plant material.  They eat young leaves, stems, shoots, mushrooms, acorns, other fruit and, as most any gardener will tell you, lots of flowers and vegetation we love to plant in our gardens and yards! Unlike carnivores, with sharp front incisors, deer do not have teeth in the front of their mouths, except little ones that they use to break off branches. As ruminants (cud chewers) they have a four–chambered stomach!

11. Deer have fabulous hearing, as you can likely tell by looking at their large ears. There are many muscles attached to them, allowing the deer to move each independently. They also have a great sense of smell and eyes on the sides of their heads to give them a 310 degree view, looking for potential predators like wolves, bobcats and coyotes. deer-0582


University of Missouri 

University of Georgia

Weekly Puzzler Answer #35

bucks-3132If you feed the birds in the winter, you will know the answer to last week’s puzzler: Gray squirrels STAY ACTIVE during the winter!

If the weather is harsh and snowy for a long time, they might hole up–often with other squirrels– in their leaf nest high in the treetops, or in their cozy hollow in a dead tree, but they do not sleep through the winter like some other animals.

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Instead, leading up to the fall and winter, they grow a thicker fur coat and collect nuts like hickory, oak, beech, walnuts, that they hide in their territory, burying them in the ground, stashing them in hollows in trees.

A squirrel nest high in the tree

A squirrel nest high in the tree

Of course they can’t remember all the nuts that they buried so many forgotten ones become new trees, which of course, is a good thing for the continuation of the forest.

Click HERE for next week’s Weekly Puzzler.

Weekly Puzzler #36

bucks-While I’m on the topic of how animals survive winter (Weekly Puzzler #35) let’s talk about another animal and how it makes it through the winter: The insect-eating bat.

As you may or may not know, many species of bats that live in the United States spend their winters hibernating, sometimes with large numbers of other bats.

Here is this week’s puzzler: Why are so many bats dying before the winter ends?

What is causing entire bat colonies to die during hibernation? And then, why should we care?

To learn the answer to this week’s puzzler, click HERE.

Wow! National Geographic Outside of my Window!

Okay, so I know today is the day when I usually give the answer to the weekly puzzler and then post a new question but for a minute, I have to put that on hold to tell you this story. Because it is way too exciting to keep in my head until an appropriate time next week. Way too exciting!

I live in the middle of the woods, at the bottom of a mountain. If you walk out of my back door, not minding a steep walk up the slope without a trail as a guide,  you can eventually get to the Pisgah National Forest. I know this of course because I have done it numerous times. Plus, I have looked at a map and seen it to be true. There are not a lot of houses scrunched closely together here so that the animals go about their ways with little care to our house in the middle of “their land.” From the house we have seen turkeys, bears, fox, raccoons, owls, opossums, hawks, and of course, many deer.

bucks-4955Today, as I was sitting leisurely in the sun room which is at the back of the house and its true crown jewel, I looked up from my book and noticed two male deer in the “side yard,” maybe 500 feet from where I sat. But they weren’t just any two bucks and they weren’t just nibbling on leaves or looking for acorns in the heaps of piled leaves. Instead, they were dueling, with their antlers hinged and in full-fight mode. Wow! I sprang from my seat with a new energy, raced to grab my camera and get back to the window where I could watch. And photograph.

I have seen deer dueling, but only on TV or nature movies, never in real life. I have seen males with giant antlers. I have seen buck rubs on trees. I have seen elk dueling. But never deer. And never from the comfort of my own house! I stood at the window, rapt, wanting to see every second.

bucks-4965It was amazing to watch, and even more amazing to actually get a few pictures. There were many obstacles between the deer and me–everything from trees to rhododendron bushes. The deer of course were not paying any attention to these things, moving around the forest like they owned it. With their antlers locked in battle, they pushed each other through the slippery leaves, both down on their knees at times, one getting pushed by the other and then the other way around. I could not tell a winner as both seemed to have racks of similar size and were getting pushed as much as they were pushing.

Back and forth they went through the leaves, with their antlers locked, their tongues out, their eyes wild. It was fierce. And exciting. And amazing. I imagined their ragged breath, the crunching of the leaves as they slid back and forth, the unmistakable sound of bone on bone as their antlers braced against each other. Back and forth, sliding through the leaves, their stomachs on the ground, their legs stretched out behind them. Forward and back, turning, then over again, one way and then the other.

And all this time, the world went on. Leaves fell from the treetops, silently landing on the already-covered ground. Breezes made the branches sway. A lone vulture floated in the blue sea above.

Down at the end of the long driveway through the rhododendron thicket, cars moved on, intent on arriving at their near and far destinations. Everywhere, everyone went about their day as it if it were the most ordinary day, just another Saturday in a long list of days.

bucks-4960But WOW! Here in this spot in the woods, I was witnessing a drama straight out of National Geographic!

After 5 minutes and lots of mutual struggling, one deer broke free and raced off through the woods, disappearing over the rise. The other followed. Then silence…. Then after two minutes, two does appeared from the opposite direction and ran off the way the bucks had gone. Would they meet up? Would the bucks continue fighting? Was one a clear winner?

Of course I don’t know the answers to those questions. Nor will I ever know. Dramas like this one play out in the Natural World everyday but most of the time we are unaware of them. There is a lesson in all of this. And it’s this: when the moment–A MOMENT– presents itself, there is nothing to do but SEIZE it! Grab it with both hands and every ounce of energy that runs through you. The moment might not be two deer locking antlers, but you will know it when it comes.

Seize the moment! It may never come around again.

If you want to read more about deer antlers, Click HERE. If you want to see what their scat looks like, Click HERE. Or if you want to learn more about whitetail deer, including why they battle like this, what it means when people talk about “the rut,” or what happens to a deer’s antlers after the winter, Click HERE.   Hope you witness some equally exciting moment!

(They happen ALL THE TIME, we just need to LOOK and notice them… and sometimes, just be in the right place at the right time.)


Weekly Puzzler Answer #34

duck-0023The answer to last week’s puzzler is DEER scat. If you want to read a funny post about another animal’s scat (you know this is just a scientific way of saying poop, right?) CLICK HERE.   If you want to see another puzzler about deer–specifically those things on the tops of their heads–CLICK HERE. goat-0369