American Toads

By Alexis Newman

Toad Pic1This Fall, I took a course in Conservation Biology, which provided me with the opportunity to ask my professor, David Green, what species of toad I happened to stumble upon in my yard last summer. According to him, an expert in the field of amphibian research, this is a female American Toad, scientifically known as the Bufo americanus. They can be found across the southern region of Canada from Manitoba to the Maritimes, as well as throughout all of the eastern United States, except Florida. Within this range, the species prefers habitat that contains ‘accumulated leaf litter, sandy or loamy soil for burrowing, moist hiding places, and an abundance of food’ (6). Shallow bodies of water without any fish are used for breeding activity, such as bogs, ponds, and roadside ditches. My yard consists of sandy, forested land, which is thus perfect American toad territory. However, the time at which I had found the toad – mid-June – is rather unusual, as they tend to be active at night to avoid the dryness of the summer heat (6).

In terms of general characteristics about the American toad, their colouring can be brown, grey, tan, olive, or reddish. What makes them distinguishable is their black, spotted pattern and a lighter line marking down their middorsal. They range from 50 to 90 centimetres in length, with females being larger than males (6). As a result, females take longer to mature, which creates uneven sex ratios amongst the population. It doesn’t help that the breeding season is also a short one (5). Unlike most toads, which respond to the scent of algal bloom formation to decipher their breeding time, American toads respond to changes in ground-level air temperature (4). The males then gather at a usual breeding spot, typically within 80 yards, and begin calling the females in a series of chorus vocalizations, each lasting six to 30 seconds (5 & 6). The females will lay 2000 to 20,000 ‘eggs in double, gelatinous stands’, which hatch three to 12 days later (6). The young then spend two months as tadpoles developing into toadlets, when they then transfer from an aquatic environment to a terrestrial environment. They then spend a lifespan of two to three years maturing into juveniles, and then into adults (3 & 6). The American toad diet differs depending on the stage of growth. Tadpoles tend to eat detritus, algae, dead fish, and even other weaker tadpoles; whereas, insects such as ants, grubs, beetles, and moths serve as prey for adult toads (6).

Although the American toad is of least concern from a conservation standpoint, there are several serious threats to the entire Amphibia class cToad Pic3ompared to all other vertebrates. This graph was shown in one of my lectures, demonstrating the much lower mean population trend of amphibians as opposed to other animal classes (2). Industrial waste and farm runoff can infect water sources with contaminants, which can ‘affect feeding, locomotion, development, and survival of amphibians’ (1). For example, nitrate and malathion can strongly influence the growth development, survivorship, and disease exposure of toad tadpoles (1). Climate change is another factor affecting toad populations, such as causing temperature fluctuations that can confuse toads as to when to breed and increases in UV-B radiation that can kill embryos (3). Perhaps the biggest threat is habitat destruction by human urbanization. I happened to find this American toad while my mother was mowing the lawn. I took the toad and deposited her into the forest where she would be safe. However, humans are not the only danger, as adult American toads are the prey of snakes, birds, and mammals. They face predators as tadpoles as well, such as ‘diving beetles, giant water bugs, dragonfly naiads, crayfish, and birds’ (6). Perhaps it would have been safer for the toad to have remained in my mother’s garden, but it goes to show that we, as humans, must be much more vigilant if we are to help amphibian populations from declining in any way at all.

Toad Pic2

Reference List

1.     Krishnamurthy, Sannanegunda V, and Geoffrey R. Smith. “Growth, abnormalities, and mortality of tadpoles of American toad exposed to combinations of malathion and nitrate.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, vol. 29, no. 12, (2010), pp. 2777-2782.

2.     Leung, B, Greenberg, D. A, and D. M. Green. “Trends in mean growth and stability in temperate vertebrate populations.” Diversity and Distributions, vol. 23, no. 12, (2017), pp. 1372-1380.

3.     McGill University Lecture: Declining Amphibian Populations. By Professor David Green. BIOL-465-001 Fall 2017.

4.     Oldham, R.S. “Initiation of breeding behavior in the American toad, Bufo americanus.” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 47, no. 5, (1969), pp. 1083-1086.

5.     Oldham, R.S. “Spring movements in the American toad, Bufo americanus.” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 44, no. 1, (1966), pp. 63-100.

6.     Partymiller, Lindsay. “American Toad (Bufo [Anaxyrus] americanus).” Savannah River Ecology Laboratory UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA. URL: https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/bufame.htm

Chipmunks

By Alexis Newman

Pic 1 Edited

This is our friendly backyard chipmunk Jimmy (we don’t actually know if it’s a male though). Chipmunks can range from 4 to 7 inches in size with 3 to 5-inch tails, weighing 1 to 5 oz. in total (2). Jimmy comes to see us daily, usually during the afternoon, for peanuts. It runs right up to our feet, completely fearless and extremely adorable. Once having stuffed at least three peanuts in its massive cheeks, it then scurries off to its burrow at the base of a Beech tree in the forest. Chipmunks are not particularly selective with their habitat choice, nesting in burrows, bushes, logs, fence lines, and more throughout Canada to Mexico (2). There are three chipmunk genera, two of which can be found in North America: Tamias, which is the eastern chipmunk with 2 species, and the western chipmunk, Neotamias, with 23 existing species. Of these populations, only one chipmunk species in Nevada called the Palmer’s chipmunk is endangered (1). The last grouping is called Eutamias, comprising Siberian chipmunks found throughout Russia and Northern Asia. Thus, chipmunk territory can consist of deciduous or boreal forests, prairies, deserts, and even mountains. However, the range that they cover is no more than one third of a mile from where their burrow is situated (3).

Chipmunks are omnivores, frequently foraging for nuts, seeds, plant roots, berries, mushrooms, and insects, especially during dusk and dawn. They begin to stockpile their food during the late summer for their winter hibernation, and their large cheek pouches facilitate quick gathering by allowing them to bring more food through less trips (3). This also helps them avoid predation encounters by hawks, snakes, foxes, coyotes, and weasels (2). Instead of storing fat, chipmunks hibernate by periodically waking to eat from their food stash. In their hibernating state, a chipmunk’s heartbeat can drop from 350 beats per minute to only 4 beats per minute, as their body temperature falls to as cold as 4.44 °C (1). In terms of socialization, chipmunks are relatively solitary creatures, only paying attention to one another during mating season in the spring. Females have high pitched mating calls; whereas males are mostly silent, only chirping when attacked or under stress (3). After a 30-day gestation period, females will give birth to a litter of two to eight jelly-bean sized pups, which will stay with her for two months. Female chipmunks are very protective over their young and have a variety of different vocal calls to communicate with them (1). Female chipmunks can also breed again in the summer.Pic 2 Edited

Here is another picture that I took of Jimmy that I happen to love very much. These little critters are actually very difficult to photograph, since they do not sit still for very long, resulting in blurry shots from their rapid darting around. Sadly, chipmunks only live for 2 to 3 years, so hopefully Jimmy has at least another year with us. Chipmunks are a well-known species in Hollywood productions, often animated for their adorable features. Jimmy is definitely a star in our backyard.

 


References in MLA Style

1.     Bradford, Alina. “Chipmunk Facts.” Live Science. Purch, 9 June. 2015. Web. Accessed: 1 August 2017. URL: https://www.easybib.com/guides/citation-guides/mla-format/how-to-cite-a-website-mla/

2.     Sartore, Joel. “Chipmunks.” Animals. National Geographic Society Photo Ark. Web. Accessed: 1 August 2017. URL: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/chipmunks/

3.     Unknown, Author. “Chipmunks.” HAVAHART. Woodstream Corporation. Web. Accessed: 2 August 2017. URL: http://www.havahart.com/chipmunk-facts

Mourning Doves

By Alexis Newman

Despite the cliché rhyme, the dove does exhibit and yearn for true love. For several years now, I have been observing the strength of the beautiful bond between a pair of mourning doves living in my backyard, and it has not faded one bit. They rarely leave each other’s side, and can often be seen sitting on the telephone wire nestled together or feeding on seeds. Although mourning doves are granivorous, they are still selective with their one food source, carefully choosing only the most nutritious and delicious of the seeds at their disposal (Hayslette and Mirarchi 816). They actively seek seeds with primarily high-carbohydrate and starch levels for energy, only searching for those rich with protein, lipids, and calcium when breeding for egg production (Hayslette and Mirarchi 825). Mourning doves are true food critics though, always willing to try new seeds for the taste, often disregarding colour, texture, or size. They remember the locations of their favorite feeding places and frequently do rounds throughout the territory (Davison and Sullivan 380). Therefore, no matter what the season, our dove couple can always be found nibbling away at the pile of seeds we put out for them every day, containing white proso millet, red milo, soft wheat, dried cut corn, hard red wheat, and black oil sunflower seeds.

Dove 1

Speaking of love, mourning doves find mates in the spring and breed throughout the entire summer. They make from three to six nests year-round, so they can produce an average of three broods each year. Immature mourning doves can then begin breeding as soon as the following season (Blankenship and Irby 598-599). Wild mourning doves coo less frequently when tending to their broods, saving their energy for flying to feeding and foraging destinations (Mackey 828). Under all other circumstances, male mourning doves are renowned for their cooing, especially unmated males, which coo up to ten times more often overall. Mourning doves have several coo variations, but the perch-coo is the most popular and well-known six-note call, with three notes in rapid succession (one low, one high, and one low) followed by a lower note repeated three times and held for longer durations. Unmated males perch-cooed an average of 8.40 times per three-minute interval; whereas, mated males perch-cooed 0.63 times per three-minute interval. When performing this coo, ‘the male arches the neck, puffs out the throat, stiffens the body, and bobs the tail at each note’. Females rarely perch-coo, and when they do it is a poor imitation (Baskett and Jackson 293-295).

The nest call is also quite common among mourning doves, which the male primarily uses to inform the female of possible nesting sites or to call the female to him at the selected nest site. Although this coo is shorter and fainter than the perch coo, the song will ring aloud enough for the female to observe him. He will have his ‘head held forward’, ‘neck slightly arched’, and ‘feathers on the back of the neck’ elevated. Once the female joins the male, he will coo quietly once more. Again, females rarely nest-coo, and males will also use this coo to court or to defend territory (Baskett and Jackson 296-297). However, the bow-coo usually serves as a more effective warning to other birds that a mourning dove is willing to attack. It is usually performed by mated males, as unmated males possess poorly defined territories and do not have any family to protect (Baskett and Jackson 306). First, the mated male will bow its head and body to touch the ground up to ten times in rapid succession. It will then rise and coo loudly at its enemy, which is sometimes followed by a charge display encompassing a raised body, pointed tail, and a series of fluttering leaps. When a mourning dove’s wings beat, it releases whistling sounds that can sound like chirping (Baskett and Jackson 298).

Dove 2

Perhaps the mourning dove’s most endearing trait, other than its adorable waddle and innocent eyes, is its ability to decipher when it is going to rain, according to folklore. They have been observed cooing frequently before rainfall and cooing more so during the spring than the fall, coinciding with the saying of ‘April showers bring May flowers’. Some speculate that the spike of calling activity could simply be due to springtime mating, but others insist that mourning doves do possess an inherent ability to tell the weather. Many animals can react much more instinctively to the environment than humans, so this mystic power is possible. Mourning doves do coo quite fervently after a storm has passed, so if anything, they can at least signal to humans that a storm has ended (Haugen and LaPerriere 1198). Hence, the mourning dove is often nicknamed the rain dove. This bird is also one of the most popular in North America, so it should not be too hard to spot one or hear one the next time it rains.


References in MLA Format

Baskett, Thomas S, and Gary L. Jackson. “Perch-cooing and other aspects of breeding behavior of mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 28, no. 2, (1964), pp. 293-307.

Blankenship, Lytle H, and Harold D. Irby. “Breeding Behavior of Immature Mourning Doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 30, no. 3, (1966), pp. 598-604.

Davison, Verne E, and Edward G. Sullivan. “Mourning Doves’ Selection of Foods”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 27, no. 3, (1963), pp. 373-383.

Haugen, Arnold O, and Arthur J. LaPerriere. “Some factors influencing calling activity of wild mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 36, no. 4, (1972), pp. 1193-1199.

Hayslette, Steven E, and Ralph E. Mirarchi. “Patterns of Food Preferences in Mourning Doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 65, no. 4, (2001), pp. 816-827.

Mackey, James P. “Cooing frequency and permanence of pairing of mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 29, no. 4, (1965), pp. 824-829.

Red Foxes

By Alexis Newman

With reference to Dora the Explorer (a beloved childhood television show), Swiper began swiping quite a long time ago. Dating back to the Illinoian glaciation during 300 000 to 130 000 BP, the fossil record shows red foxes having crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Eurasia into North America. The red foxes migrated southward into what is now the United States throughout the Sangamon interglacial from 130 000 to 100 000 BP, only to be separated into two groups during the Wisconsin glaciation from 100 000 to 10 000 BP. One population resided within the region of Alaska and the Yukon, while the other remained in the southeastern United States. Glaciations and interglaciations are caused by Milankovitch cycles (changes in the way the Earth orbits the sun) in combination with glacial-climate feedback loops. The intensity of summer heat insolation at high northern latitudes depends on the Earth’s position facing the sun, causing continental ice sheets to either grow or recede. This influences the planetary albedo (the land’s sunlight reflectivity) and in turn affects the global mean temperature, further freezing the glaciers to cause a glaciation or further melting the glaciers to cause an interglaciation period. When the next interglaciation began, what was left of the two red fox populations began to merge throughout what is now our great Canadian landscape (Aubry et al 2669).

The home ranges of red foxes commonly rest along the edges of forests, using tall grass and shrubbery for hunting and foraging coverage. The open land of neighbourhood lawns and paved parking lots, as well as high human-density (urbanistic) areas, are generally avoided, since such conditions often put red foxes in vulnerable positions for attack (Adkins and Stott 344). Red foxes are mostly nocturnal-crepuscular mammals, actively traversing their territory boundaries over the course of each night, hunting, and scavenging for food sources (Arroyo et al 129). Once a red fox finds food remains or finishes their own meal, they will urine mark directly on it or within 15 cm of it to signify that the vicinity holds no more food (Henry 87). While scavenging, a red fox can urine mark up to 70 times per hour, each time lasting an average of 2.25 seconds (Henry 85). Urine marking is the elimination of bodily wastes with added glandular secretions to elicit information to and from other red foxes. While signalling food shortage is the primary reason for urine marking, other reasons for doing so include displaying dominance, locating mates, following trails, reinforcing pack bonds, and indicating pregnancy in female foxes (Henry 83).

This bodily function would make little sense if red foxes were solidary hunters with their own territories, as there would be no one around to receive their messages. Thus, red foxes can mostly be found as monogamous pairs (occasionally polygynous) along with their offspring, forming a small group with a dominant versus subordinate relationship (Baker et al 1482). Once the cubs are old enough, they disperse to breed and form their own families or they inherit the territory upon their parents’ decease. Red foxes aggressively defend their territory from neighbouring groups, which often results in fighting (Baker et al 1488). The red fox opponents will stand on their hind feet and attempt to knock each other over, shoving their chests with their forepaws and biting each other’s muzzles (Baker et al 1296). This combat is riddled with screaming and crying sounds. The victor will stand its ground while baring teeth, snarling, and arching its back, as the loser flees with its head hanging. There are several degrees of fighting, such as a vicious brawl, a brief skirmish, or a passive quarrel; however, it is very rare that any serious injuries ensue any kind of fight (Vincent 755). Red foxes will also fight over the right to a mate and to maintain a certain position of social hierarchy (Vincent 757).

Fox 1

Considering all that has been previously discussed, the family of red foxes living in my backyard is rather unusual. Here is a picture of one of the smaller red foxes sunbathing on the front path to my house. Contrary to normal red fox behavior, this family is seemingly very accustomed to human presence, as none of them make any effort to flee when we are outdoors. They act like a pack of cats lazing about, watching us, occasionally scratching themselves, and napping. The strangest thing is their nearly constant daytime presence as opposed to their supposed nocturnal nature. They appear to be quite happy, which is probably due to the abundant food sources on our property such as our squirrel population (having severely depleted consequently). Red foxes are omnivores, which we tested by throwing a strawberry to one of the cubs. It enjoyed the juice from it, but the whole family was completely obsessed with the den of newborn groundhogs in our front yard. They stalked the hole at all hours of the day, taking turns waiting while concealing themselves in the garden plants. They could not be shooed away for long, and it goes to show how devoted they are as hunters. Here is another picture of one of them right outside my front door in plain sight, staking out its prey. We make sure to keep our distance and be as active outdoors as possible to show them that this is our territory, yet they seem perfectly fine with sharing it and have shown no intention of leaving any time soon.

Fox 2


References in MLA Format

Adkins, C. A, and P. Stott. “Home ranges, movements and habitat associations of red foxes Vulpes vulpes in suburban Toronto, Ontario, Canada.” Journal of Zoology, vol. 244, no. 3, (1998), pp. 335-346.

Arroyo, B, Caro, J, Delibes-Mateos, M, Díaz-Ruiz, F, and P. Ferreras. “Drivers of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) daily activity: prey availability, human disturbance or habitat structure?.” Journal of Zoology, vol. 298, no. 2, (2016), pp. 128-138.

Aubry, Keith B, Perrine, John D, Sacks, Benjamin N, Statham, Mark J, and Samantha M. Wisely. “Phylogeography of the North American red fox: vicariance in Pleistocene forest refugia.” Molecular Ecology, vol. 18, no. 12, (2009), pp. 2668-2686.

Baker, Philip J, Harris, Stephen, Iossa, Graziella, and Carl D. Soulsbury. “Body mass, territory size, and life-history tactics in a socially monogamous canid, the red fox Vulpes vulpes.” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 89, no. 6, (2008), pp. 1481-1490.

Baker, Philip J, Harris, Stephen, Iossa, Graziella, and Carl D. Soulsbury. “Fitness costs of dispersal in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes).” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol. 62, no. 8, (2008), pp. 1289-1298.

Henry, J. D. “The use of urine marking in the scavenging behavior of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes).” Behaviour, vol. 61, no. 1-2, (1977), pp. 82-106.

Vincent, Robert E. “Observations of Red Fox Behavior.” Ecology, vol. 39, no. 4, (1958), pp. 755-757.

McGill University Lecture: Long-term Climate Change Patterns (climate change “rhythms” over the last 2 million years). ENVR-200-051 Fall 2016.

Groundhogs

By Alexis Newman

Groundhogs are most commonly known for their ability to announce the arrival of springtime on February 2nd in Canada and the United States (and for driving off a cliff with Bill Murray). However, there is much more to know about these adorable creatures aside from their cultural stereotypes. Belonging to the rodent family Sciuridae, groundhogs are a type of ground squirrel grouped under the marmot category. A groundhog has many names, such as woodchuck, ground-pig, and whistle-pig (after their scuffling squeak toy noises). Their daily activity includes sitting up in an alert position to survey surroundings, foraging for food resources, soaking up sun in a down-alert position, and resting with their head on the ground or on their forelegs (Bronson 471). The typical diet of these diurnal herbivores includes a love for dandelions, wildflowers, clovers, long grass, lettuce, nuts, and seeds (Lehrer and Schooley 1342).

In terms of territorial behaviour, groundhogs mark their habitat ranges by scenting within six metres of their burrows. They do this by first approaching and sniffing different substrates, such as fences, stumps, shrubs, and rocks. They will then gnaw on the object to coat it in their saliva, displaying a visual cue of their whereabouts through teeth marks and exercising their jaw muscles while sharpening their incisors. Lastly, groundhogs will rub their muzzles around the substance to leave their scent, all the while making rapid tail movements (Ferron and Ouellet 365-367). Male groundhog territory boundaries usually stretch further than that of females, and are largest during the breeding season (Lehrer and Schooley 1347). Groundhogs are solitary mammals, keeping to themselves and living separately. However, their actions are mostly that of a complex dominance versus subordination relationship when they do interact, which will vary in intensity with the time of the year (being more aggressive during breeding season). Depending on personality rather than sex, those which are dominant freely roam over others’ territory regardless of scenting, have more wounds due to brief yet vicious fights, and show more of an agonistic air. A groundhog threatening to attack will direct its stance towards its enemy, which includes an arched back, an erect and twitching tail, prickled fur, an open mouth showing teeth, and growling. Avoidance, fleeing, submission, and an alert or nonchalant demeanor characterize subordinates (Bronson 471-477).

When most groundhogs awake from hibernation towards the end of February, they smell the love in the air more so than the blossoms of springtime. During the months of March and April, male groundhogs will overlap their territory range with nearby females and travel quite a bit to breed with them, mating with up to five females per year. Females will give birth approximately 30 days after having mated, and will only produce one litter per year of about 2 to 9 pups. Depending on the groundhog couple’s social relation, they can be polygynous, monogamous, or polyandrous (Maher and Duron 628-629). Groundhogs will tend not to breed together if they are closely related, but will do so if they are the only mates they can find within their territory boundaries (Maher and Duron 632). Of the marmot group, groundhogs ‘occupy the largest geographic range’ over a variety of ecological conditions (Maher 314).

Alphy Photo 1

This is Alphy, a rather red groundhog with a beautiful soul. Her den rests within a mound of sand tucked away under the lip of a hill in our backyard. With a nice cup of coffee in the morning, I would sit and watch her routine. Her first order of business would be to make sure that the sand packed around her den was clean with no growth on it and that it was sturdy enough to perch on when in surveillance mode. Then she would climb down onto our lawn and proceed to consume every dandelion, patch of wild grass, clover, and weed beginning to grow. She was quite the handy mini mower and never attempted to destroy my mother’s garden or anything personally planted on our property. She also showed no fear of us when we were in the backyard and never made any move towards us either. Then one April morning, I looked out to see two groundhogs standing off: Alphy and another named Marty. Marty swiftly chased Alphy into the woods and for a few days she was nowhere to be seen.

Upon arriving home later that week, I stumbled right into Alphy on the walkway to our house. Sitting only two feet in front of me, she was staring up at me with a mouthful of bright leaves. I greeted her with a quick ‘Hey Alphy’ and continued walking up the steps to our house, while she disappeared under our front stairs. For over a month after that sighting, things had returned to normal, as Alphy had shortly reclaimed her den in our backyard and resumed her routine as if nothing had happened. However, this tranquility did not last long. There is a bend in the road close to my house that many drivers tend to erratically race through, and one early June evening we found Alphy dead near a ditch. Even though groundhogs are considered great ‘urban-adapters’, urban expansion in the form of roads, infrastructures, parking lots, and fencing has severely impeded their territory ranges, as well as their ability to find mates and food resources (Lehrer and Schooley 1342). The survival rate is higher on average for groundhogs in urban areas than rural areas due to less predation, more anthropogenic food source availability, and smaller distances to traverse to reach burrows. Unfortunately, urban groundhogs frequently face mortality by vehicle collisions, diseases from pesticides and toxic runoff, and human interference (Lehrer et al 12-13). Alphy was truly the best groundhog ever, and she will be greatly missed.

Little GroundhogsThankfully, a magnificent part of Alphy remained with us (and no, I am not referring to her wonderful spirit). A healthy litter of six pups emerged during the first week of June from where I had seen Alphy constructing a den under our front porch stairs. Groundhogs will seek out impervious surface coverage (like our cement stairs) in urban areas to create natal dens, because they create an insulating heat island effect that is beneficial for survival during hibernation (Lehrer et al 19). The plumpest youngling was deemed Chubster, moseying around in exploration with a light brown sibling that was always quick to lead called Ace. The reddest one, identical to Alphy and having a fascination for my father’s truck, was declared Chip. Chip was frequently followed by Oats, who would often curl up next to a bunny statue in our garden (perhaps it believed it to be its mother) with Smokey (the darkest of the bunch and resembling Marty the most). Finally, Apple-critter, similar in colouring to Ace, would rarely leave the natal den. Despite being orphaned, we witnessed these amazing little groundhogs cautiously approach different substances, instinctively learn the different feeding positions of standing on all fours, sitting, and sitting with their food in one paw, as well as discover various fur-grooming techniques such as licking, chewing, scratching with a hind-leg, and combing their heads with their paws. They also quickly began to burry and cover up their waste, which is a behaviour that other members of the rodent family do not possess (Ferron and Ouellet 1043).

Baby Groundhogs 1

For about week, the adorable bunch practiced grooming, play fighting, and nose to nose smelling, getting used to each others’ scents. With Chubster and Ace being slightly larger and dispersing faster to discover more territory, they were believed to be the males of the litter (Ferron and Ouellet 1044). During their second week in the wilderness, these two adventurous groundhogs ended up discovering their mother’s den in the backyard and claimed it as their own. The others tended not to venture that far from the natal den, which is typical of females (Maher 313). However, they did spend a significant amount of their time foraging and fixing up their natal den with more leaves. Watching these little groundhogs instinctively learn social patterns and survival behavior without a mother having taught it to them was an extraordinary experience. Their bravery despite their small size and having no protective parental figure to guide them was astonishing to see as well. This is why it was truly devastating to soon find our yard filled with foxes and a coyote.

Bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and hawks are the prime predators of the groundhog. For a few days, we tried our hardest to chase them away from the dens, but they were fast, stealthy, and strangely already accustomed to human activity at a very close distance to them. The foxes viewed our efforts as more of a game than a scare tactic, remaining happy and only slightly more vigilant of our presence. We called every wildlife centre in our vicinity for help with removing the groundhogs to a safer area, yet the results were all the same. Groundhogs are a protected species in Canada, so humans cannot cause them any harm and they will not be removed, as they have every right to the land. Unfortunately, foxes have the same rights and we were told that we had to let nature be nature. This horrible tragedy was, as David Suzuki would say, the nature of things. After four days straight of relentless pursuit, the predators retreated and we were left to accept what had happened. Alphy’s old den has since been vacant, with no sign of Chubster or Ace whatsoever. Our neighbours that live across our street reported that they had seen a few foxes get away with some of the young groundhogs in the front as well. It is so sickening and so unbearably sad that these poor pups hardly got to live life. Alphy’s young had so much promise, but not all was lost. Upon examining the natal den one day and deciding whether to cover it up, a small groundhog snout popped out. It was Apple-critter, the seemingly weakest of the bunch. This little buddy remains hardly visible, but upon placing a piece of lettuce outside its hole, it later disappears.


Academic Articles (MLA Format)

Bronson, F.H. “Agnostic Behaviour in Woodchucks.” Animal Behaviour, vol. 12, no. 4, (1964), pp. 470-478.

Ferron, Jean, and Jean-Pierre Ouellet. “Physical and behavioral postnatal development of woodchucks (Marmota monax).” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 69, no. 4, (1991), pp. 1040-1047.

Ferron, Jean, and Jean-Pierre Ouellet. “SCENT-MARKING BEHAVIOR BY WOODCHUCKS (MARMOTA MONAX).” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 69, no. 2, (1988), pp. 365-368.

Lehrer, Elizabeth W, and Robert L. Schooley. “Space use of woodchucks across an urbanization gradient within an agricultural landscape.” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 91, no. 6, (2010), pp. 1342-1349.

Lehrer, E.W, Schooley, R.L, and J.K. Whittington. “Survival and antipredator behavior of woodchucks (Marmota monax) along an urban–agricultural gradient.” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 90, no. 1, (2012), pp. 12-21.

Maher, Christine R. “Social Organization in Woodchucks (Marmota monax) and its Relationship to Growing Season.” Ethology, vol. 112, no. 4, (2006), pp. 313-324.

Maher, Christine R, and Melissa Duron. “Mating System and Paternity in Woodchucks (Marmota monax).” Journal Mammalogy, vol. 91, no. 3, (2010), pp. 628-635.