What is a mammal?
Any of various warm-blooded vertebrate (back boned) animals of the class Mammalia, whose young feed on milk that is produced by the mother's mammary glands. Unlike other vertebrates, mammals have a diaphragm that separates the heart and lungs from the other internal organs, red blood cells that lack a nucleus, and usually hair or fur. All mammals but the monotremes (duck-billed platypus and the echidna) bear live young. Mammals include rodents, cats, dogs, ungulates, cetaceans, and apes.
Badger (Taxidea taxus)
Description - The body of a Badger is flattened, and the legs are short and stocky. The fur on the back and flanks (between the last rib and the rear legs) of the Badger ranges from grayish to reddish. The underside is a tan color. The face of the badger is distinct. The throat and chin are whitish, and the face has black patches. A white dorsal (back) stripe extends back over the head from the nose. Male badgers are significantly larger than the females with females weighing about 15 ½ pounds while the males can weigh up to 25 pounds. Badgers measure about 23 to 30 inches from head to tail. Badgers are the largest members of the weasel family.
Habitat - Badgers are usually found in dry open grasslands, fields, and pastures. Badgers are found from high alpine meadows to sea level (or below in Death Valley, California). Badgers dig burrows which are used in the pursuit of prey, but they are also used for sleeping. A typical badger den may be as far as 10 feet below the surface, contain about 32 feet of tunnels, and have an enlarged chamber for sleeping. Badgers use multiple burrows within their home range, and they may not use the same burrow more than once a month. In the summer months they may dig a new burrow each day.
Prey or food - Badgers are omnivorous (eating both plants and animals) and they feed mainly on ground squirrels, voles, and pocket gophers, which they dig up from their underground nests. Badgers also prey on ground nesting birds, lizards, amphibians, carrion (dead and rotting meat), fish, insects, and some plant foods.
Reproduction - Mating occurs in late summer or early autumn, but the embryos (earliest stage of life) remain dormant until they are actually implanted into the uterine wall from December to February at which time they resume development. So, although a female is technically pregnant for 7 months, gestation is a mere 6 weeks. Litters of 1 to 5 offspring, with an average of 3, are born in early spring. Females are able to mate when they are 4 months old, but males do not mate until the autumn of their second year. Most females mate after their first year. Female badgers prepare a grass-lined den in which to give birth. Badgers are born blind and helpless with a thin coat of fur. The eyes of the youngsters open at 4 to 6 weeks old, and the young are nursed by their mother until they are 2 to 3 months old. Females give their young solid food before they are weaned and for a few weeks after they are weaned. Young may emerge from the den as early as 5 to 6 weeks old. Juveniles disperse at 5 to 6 months.
Lifespan - The average lifespan of a Badger in the wild is 4 to 5 years but they have been known to live up to 26 years in captivity.
Interesting facts - Badgers are solitary animals. Badgers are mainly active at night, and tend to be inactive during the winter months. They are not true hibernators, but spend much of the winter in cycles of torpor (a state of physical and mental inactivity) that usually lasts about 29 hours. During torpor body temperatures fall to about 48 degrees and the heart beats at about half the normal rate. They emerge from their dens on warm days in the winter.
Photo Credit - Bethany Weeks
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
Description - The Big Brown Bats are about 4 to 5 inches long, not counting the tail, and they have a wingspan of about 13 inches. The fur is moderately long and shiny brown. The wing membranes, ears, feet, and face are dark brown to blackish in color with no fur. They only weigh about half of an ounce.
Habitat - The Big Brown Bat is found in almost all habitats from deserts, meadows, cities, to forests, mountains and chaparral. Big brown bats are nocturnal (active at night and sleep during the day), roosting during the day in hollow trees, beneath loose tree bark, in the crevices of rocks or in man-made structures such as attics, barns, old buildings, eaves and window shutters. Big brown bats hibernate (become inactive) during the winter months, often in different locations than their summer roosts. Winter roosts tend to be natural subterranean (underground) locations such as caves and mines where temperatures remain stable. They range from the extreme northern parts of Canada through the United States, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean Islands.
Prey or food - Big brown bats are insectivorous (eating mainly insects), eating many kinds of night-flying insects including beetles, mosquitoes, moths, and wasps which they capture in flight. They do not see their prey. To hunt, they use echolocation. This means they send out high-frequency sounds (humans can't hear them) which bounce off objects, big and small. Then they can listen to the echoes and tell where things are, what size they are, and how they're moving. Big Brown Bats catch insects in their wings.
Reproduction - Big Brown Bats mate sporadically from November through March. After breeding season, they form maternity colonies (mothers and babies) of up to 600 bats. Female bats give birth to one or two young (pups). Young bats can fly in three to four weeks. Males do not participate in raising young.
Lifespan - Big brown bats can live up to 18-20 years in the wild. Unfortunately most Big Brown Bats die during their first winter because they did not store enough fat to survive through their entire hibernation period.
Interesting facts - Big Brown Bats can fly 40 miles per hour. In the water they swim well, but they cannot take off from the surface as some of the smaller bats can.
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
Description - The Black-tailed Jackrabbit is 18 to 25 inches long and is tan colored, peppered with black above, and white below. The tail has a black stripe above. The ears are long and brown with black tips. The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is a member of the lagomorphs, that peculiar order consisting of the rabbits and hares. The Jackrabbit is a hare, ie., a lagomorph of the running type (hares) rather than the burrowing type (rabbits). His huge ears provide good early warning protection from some predators and a very important heat-radiating mechanism in our hot summers
Habitat - Black-tailed Jackrabbits are found throughout the southwestern United States into Mexico, as far east as Missouri, north into Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Nebraska, and west to California and Baja California. Black-tailed jackrabbits inhabit desert scrubland, prairies, farmlands, and dunes. They favor arid (dry) regions and areas of short grass rangeland from sea level to about 12,000 feet.
Prey or food - The Black-tailed Jackrabbit prefers grasses and herbaceous (a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level) matter, but twigs and young bark of woody plants are the staple food when other plants are not available. Sagebrush and cacti are also taken. Jackrabbits eat almost constantly and consume large quantities relative to their size. Jackrabbits do not require much water and obtain nearly all the water they need from the plant material they consume.
Reproduction - Usually several litters are born each year with the average litter size from 2 to 4. The mother hides her young when she goes out to feed, and, upon returning, mother and young call to locate each other. The mother does not make a nest, she simply chooses a place to her liking and the young are born fully furred, with their eyes wide open. The mothers only nurse their offspring for about 2-3 days and are not seen with their young after that time. The young grow rather rapidly and reach adult size in about 7 or 8 months. Sexual maturity is attained at about the same time, but young females do not breed until early in the year following their birth.
Lifespan - The average lifespan for the Black-tailed Jackrabbit is 2-3 years but they can live 5-6 years in captivity.
Interesting facts - The fur of the Jackrabbit is not durable or valuable, but it has been extensively used in the manufacture of felt and as trimming and lining for garments and gloves. Jackrabbits obtained their name from early settlers of the Southwest who, noting the animal's extraordinarily long ears, dubbed it "jackass rabbit." This name was later shortened to jackrabbit.
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Description - Color of the fur ranges from grayish brown to tawny to dark reddish brown and lighter on the undersides. They have dark spots on their coat and dark bars on their forelegs. Bobcats have a 'bobbed' tail that has a light underside and bold bands on top. They have forward-facing yellow eyes with black elongated pupils. Bobcats are one and a half to two times larger than a typical house cat with an average body length, including the tail, of 36". Their average height from ground to shoulder is 14-15". Males range from 16-30 pounds while females average 20 pounds.
Habitat - The bobcat - solitary, restless and wide ranging - may claim a territory that spans several square miles. Areas are defined (or chosen) by availability of prey, quality of habitat and locations of natural boundaries. A bobcat will not share its territory with another of the same sex, but it will permit some overlap with a cat of the opposite sex.
Prey or food - Bobcats are strict carnivores and prey upon a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, and birds.
Reproduction - A female must be especially selective in choosing her territory because she has to find an area suitable for her young. The female raises the young alone. One to six, but usually two to four kittens are born in April or May, after roughly 60 to 70 days of gestation. There may sometimes be a second litter, with births as late as September.
Lifespan - Bobcats typically live to six or eight years of age, with a few reaching beyond ten.
Interesting facts - The bobcat marks its territory with tree scratches, ground scrapes, urine and fecal matter. Instead of digging a burrow, the bobcat makes its den in hollowed logs, thickets, dense brush piles, rocky shelters or caves - sites that offer concealment from predators (such as cougars, coyotes or other bobcats), protection from weather extremes, and favorable nearby sites for hunting.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Botta's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae)
Description - The pocket gopher coloration ranges from dark blackish brown through various shades of reddish and yellowish browns to pale gray. The underside is usually the same color as the back. It is not uncommon to find patches of white on the throat, chest, or abdomen. The body color is closely tied to the soil color. Pocket gophers are a small rodent about 5 to 7 inches long not including the tail. The tail is short and is usually between 2 to 3 ½ inches. They have tiny ears and eyes, and huge, yellowish front teeth (incisors) which are always exposed. They also have large, curved front claws used for digging and highly sensitive facial whiskers.
Habitat - Pocket gophers live in a burrow system that can cover an area of 200 to 2,000 square feet. The burrows are about 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches in diameter; feeding burrows are usually 6 to 12 inches below ground, whereas the nest and food storage chamber may be as deep as 6 feet. The burrows can be found in meadows and fields, deserts, grasslands and prairies, and shrub and brush lands.
Prey or food - Pocket gophers are herbivorous, feeding on a wide variety of vegetation, but generally preferring herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees. Gophers use their sense of smell to locate food. Most commonly they feed on roots and fleshy portions of plants they encounter while digging. Gophers will also pull entire plants into their tunnel from below.
Reproduction - Gophers reach sexual maturity at about 1 year of age. Females produce one to three litters per year. In non-irrigated areas, breeding usually occurs in late winter and early spring, resulting in one litter per year, whereas in irrigated sites, up to three litters per year may be produced. Litters usually average five to six pups.
Lifespan - Female pocket gophers have a life span of 3 to 4 years while the male life span is about 1 year.
Interesting facts - Pocket gophers are burrowing rodents that get their name from the fur-lined external cheek pouches, or pockets, that they use for carrying food and nesting materials. An unusual adaptation is the gopher's lips, which can be closed behind the four large incisor teeth to keep dirt out of its mouth when it is using its teeth for digging. Pocket gophers have very poor eyesight as is true with most burrowing animals. This species is also known as the Valley Pocket Gopher.
Photo Credit - Ken-ichi Ueda
Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)
Description - Brush Rabbits are smaller than most cottontails. The fur is evenly dark, consisting of steel gray, black, and orange. The ears are fairly small (about 2 to 2 ½ inches) with a slight point. The tail is not prominent, on the top it is the same dark brown and it is gray underneath. The underside of the Brush Rabbit is usually white or pale gray. Adult rabbits measure anywhere from 10-14 inches long and rarely weigh over two pounds with females generally larger than males.
Habitat - Brush Rabbits inhabit dense, brushy cover, most commonly in chaparral vegetation. It also occurs in oak and conifer habitats and it will live in brush or grassland, and form networks of runways through the vegetation. They are found in western coastal regions of North America, from the Columbia River in Oregon to the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Its range extends as far east as the eastern sides of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
Prey or food - They are herbivores whose diet varies with the season. Grasses make up a large portion of their diet; however, brush rabbits feed on other species of plants, including leaves, forbs and scrubs such as wild rose and blackberries. Whenever available, green clover is preferred.
Reproduction - Brush Rabbit mating may occur year round but peak breeding seasons are between February and August. The gestation period of the Brush Rabbit female is about 22 days. A female Brush Rabbit can have as many as five litters per year but two to three is more common. One to seven young are born per litter with the average number being three. The young are born helpless and do not leave the nest until they are two weeks old.
Lifespan - The average lifespan for the Brush Rabbit is about 3 ½ years.
Interesting facts - The Brush Rabbit is also known as the Western Brush Rabbit. Although a gregarious species while foraging, brush rabbits are mostly solitary. It is estimated the home ranges of the Brush Rabbit average just less than one acre for males and just less than a 1/2 acre for females. The Brush Rabbit does not dig its own burrow or den, but uses the burrow of other species, brush piles, or forms. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it was found that the Brush Rabbit concentrates its activities at the edge of brush and exhibits much less use of grassy areas. To protect themselves from predators, Brush Rabbits can sit perfectly still for long periods of time. When threatened they run in a zig-zag manner at about 20 to 25 miles an hour.
Photo Credit - Alice_knitter
Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)
Description - Deer mice are the prototype for "field mice" with large, bulging eyes, big naked ears, a bicolored pattern and a long tail. The body color varies from a yellowish or reddish brown to grayish above, with pure white undersides and feet. The deer mouse is small in size, only 3 to 4 inches long, not counting the length of the tail.
Habitat - Deer mice inhabit a wide variety of plant communities including grasslands, brushy areas, woodlands, and forests. Throughout their range, they are found in nearly all ecological communities and life zones from the desert floor to the high mountains.
Prey or food - Deer mice are omnivorous with the main dietary items including seeds, fruits, arthropods, leaves, and fungi. Throughout the year, the deer mouse will change its eating habits to reflect what is available to eat during that season. During fall and winter months, deer mice eat spiders, caterpillars, and other bugs. In fall they also eat and store seeds in caches for use during the winter. During the spring months leaves, seeds, larvae from moths and butterflies, and other insects are consumed. During summer months they eat seeds and fruits.
Reproduction - The female deer mouse can reproduce at all times of the year, though in most parts of their range deer mice breed from March to October. Deer mouse breeding tends to be determined more by food availability than by season per se. Females can have up to four litters per year with an average of three to six young per litter. The gestation period is from 22 to 25 days long. Deer mice reproduce profusely and are highest in numbers among their species compared to other local mammals. Males usually live with the family and help care for the young.
Lifespan - The average lifespan for the Deer Mouse is about 5 years but they have been known to live up to 7 years.
Interesting facts - They are accomplished jumpers and runners by comparison to house mice, and their common name of "deer mouse" (coined in 1833) is in reference to this agility. Like other Peromyscus species, it is a carrier of emerging diseases such as Hantaviruses and Lyme disease. In reference to the coloring, the word Peromyscus comes from Greek words meaning "booted mouse". The deer mouse is generally a nocturnal creature.
Photo Credit - Phil Myers
Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
Description - Like all the cottontail rabbits, the Desert Cottontail has a rounded tail with white fur on the underside which is visible as it runs away. The body is a light grayish-brown in color, with almost white fur on the belly. Adults are 13 to 17 inches long and weigh up to 3.3 pounds. The ears are 3.1 to 3.9 inches long, and the hind feet are large, about 3.0 inches in length. Females tend to be larger than the males, but have much smaller home ranges, about 1 acre compared with about 16 acres for a male.
Habitat - Desert Cottontails are particularly associated with the dry near-desert grasslands of the American southwest, though they are also found in less arid habitats such as pinyon and juniper forest.
Prey or food - They mainly eat grass, but will eat many other plants, even cacti. They rarely need to drink, getting their water mostly from the plants they eat or from dew.
Reproduction - Cottontails can breed at eighty days old, then mate again soon after giving birth. Mating occurs year round. Gestation is one month long. The young are born in a shallow burrow or above ground, but they are helpless when born and do not leave the nest until they are three weeks old. Where climate and food supply permit, females can produce several litters a year.
Lifespan - The average lifespan for the cottontail is 2-3 years.
Interesting facts - They do not form social burrow systems though they are relatively tolerant of other individuals in their vicinity. The cottontail's normal defense against predators is to run away in zig zags. They can reach speeds of over 19 mph. Against small predators they will defend themselves by kicking. To avoid overheating, desert cottontails have higher activity periods at night; light-colored fur to minimize absorption of solar heat; and large ears, with blood vessels just below the skin level, that can radiate body heat to the air. When temperatures climb above eighty degrees Fahrenheit, the cottontails' activity level decreases significantly.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)
Description - The squirrel's upper parts are mottled, the fur containing a mixture of gray, light brown and dusky hairs; the underside is lighter, buff or grayish yellow. The fur around the eyes is whitish, while that around the ears is black. Head and body are about 12 inches long and the tail an additional 5.9 inches. The tail is relatively bushy for a ground squirrel.
Habitat - Ground squirrels live in a wide variety of natural habitats but usually avoid thick chaparral, dense woods, and wet areas. Populations may be particularly high in grazed rangelands and in areas disturbed by humans such as road or ditch banks, fence rows, around buildings, and in or bordering many crops.
Prey or food - Ground squirrels are primarily herbivores or plant eaters. Their diet changes with the seasons. After emergence from hibernation, they feed almost exclusively on green grasses and herbaceous plants (plants that have leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level). When annual plants begin to dry in the summer and produce seed, the squirrels switch to seeds, grains, and nuts, and begin to store food.
Reproduction - Ground squirrels usually breed soon after emerging from hibernation. They make their nests in the ground or in rock piles. The California Ground Squirrel has a gestation of a month, usually one litter per year with an average of seven young per litter. The young remain in the burrow about 6 weeks before they emerge, but grow rapidly and by 6 months of age resemble adults.
Lifespan - California Ground Squirrels can live up to 6 years in the wild.
Interesting facts - Ground squirrels live in a burrow system where they sleep, rest, rear young, store food, and avoid danger. The burrow openings are about 4 inches in diameter, but can vary considerably. The burrows may be 5 to 30 feet or more in length and may go 2 to 4 feet below the soil surface. Often there is more than one opening in a burrow system. Ground squirrels live in colonies that may include several dozen animals in a complex of burrows. More than one squirrel may live in a burrow. Ground squirrels usually forage close to their burrows. Their home range typically is within a 75-yard radius of their burrow.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
Description - The Columbian Black-tailed Deer coat is reddish brown in summer and gray brown in winter. Black-tailed deer can be distinguished from Mule Deer by their larger tail, the back of which is completely covered with black or dark brown hairs. Black-tailed deer are smaller than both Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer. Mature Columbian Black-tailed bucks (males) weigh from 105 to 200 pounds and does (females) weigh between 90 to 140 pounds.
Habitat - This species thrives on the edge of the forest, as the dark forest lacks the underbrush and grasslands that the deer prefers as food, and completely open areas lack the hiding spots and the cover it prefers for harsh weather. The Black-tailed deer is currently common in northern California, western Oregon, Washington, in coastal and interior British Columbia, and north into the Alaskan panhandle.
Prey or food - During the winter and early spring they feed on acorns, Douglas fir, western red cedar, red huckleberry, salal, deer fern, and lichens that grow on trees. Late spring to fall they munch on grasses, blackberries, fireweed, pearly everlasting, forbs, salmonberry, salal, maple, and poison oak.
Reproduction - The "rut" or mating season usually begins in the fall as does go into estrus (become sexually active) for a period of a few days and males become more aggressive, competing for mates. Does may mate with more than one buck and go back into estrus within a month if they do not settle (become pregnant). The gestation period for does is six to seven months with fawns being born late May and into June. Twins are common after the first or second fawning and triplets are rare.
Lifespan - The natural life span is 9 to 10 years (17 to 20 years in captivity,) although many live far less since they are either hunted or killed by predators. It is believed that where heavily hunted, bucks live for only about 3 to 5 years.
Interesting facts - Though it has been argued that the Black-tailed deer is a species, virtually all recent authorities maintain it as a subspecies of the Mule Deer. A buck's antlers fall off during the winter, to grow again in preparation for the next season's rut. Does do not have antlers. Black-tailed deer are California's most popular game mammal. Deer are ruminants, which means they have a four-chambered stomach, chew a cud, and regurgitate food more than once before finally swallowing it. The Columbian black-tailed deer is also known as black-tail, coast black-tail, Columbian deer, and Pacific buck. Black-tailed deer often spend their entire life in the same general area.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Coyote (Canis latrans)
Description - The coloration of coyotes varies from grayish brown to a yellowish gray on the upper parts. The throat and belly are white. The long tail, which is half the body length, is bottle shaped with a black tip. Coyotes are distinguished from domesticated dogs by their pointed, erect ears and drooping tail, which they hold below their back when running.
Habitat - Coyotes inhabit all life zones from low valley floors to the crest of the highest mountains, but they live especially on open plains, grasslands, and high mesas. The coyotes' natural habitat is open grassland, but it will move to wherever food is available. The coyote can be found throughout North and Central America from Panama in the south to all but the northernmost portions of Canada. Some studies indicate that in the desert, valleys and low foothills, Coyotes occupy a range of no more than 10 or 12 square miles. In mountainous areas they probably have both a summer and winter range, as heavy snows drive them to lower elevations.
Prey or food - Coyotes are omnivorous (feeding on both plants and animals). They eat primarily small mammals, such as cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, and mice. They occasionally eat birds, snakes, large insects and other large invertebrates. Fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the coyote's diet in the autumn and winter months. Coyotes can live in a variety of areas since they will eat almost anything, including human trash and household pets. Part of the coyote's success as a species is its dietary adaptability.
Reproduction - Coyotes mate between late January and March. Once the female chooses a partner, the animals may remain paired for a number of years. Gestation lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups (the average litter size is 6 pups). They usually breed once each year.
Lifespan - Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.
Interesting facts - Coyotes are night time predators, but can occasionally be seen during daylight hours. Coyotes are capable of running at speeds up to 40mph, and they can jump horizontal distances of up to 13 feet. Coyotes are less likely to form packs than are wolves, so they usually hunt individually, in pairs, or small family groups. Coyote scat (poop) is about the diameter of a cigar and is tapered at one end. Since coyotes eat small animals, birds, and insects, their excrement contains bits of bone, feathers, fur, and insect casings.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Dusky-footed Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)
Description - The Dusky-footed Woodrat is a medium-sized woodrat, grayish brown with a white or pale underside. It is approximately 15 ½ to 17 ½ inches long including the tail, which is about half of this length. The ears are thin, large, rounded, and broad as well as hairy. It has sooty colored hairs on the top of the hind feet. The claws are short, sharp, curved sharply downward and almost equal in length. The claws are also colorless. Every Dusky-footed Woodrat has whiskers that are disposed in six parallel, evenly spaced rows. Males usually weigh more than females.
Habitat - The range of the Dusky-footed Woodrat is restricted to the Pacific coastal area of the United States and Lower California. Toward the east, the Dusky-footed Woodrat's range reaches the Cascade-Sierra Nevada mountain system and the Mojave and Colorado deserts. It constructs fairly elaborate stick nests on the ground, in the vegetation, and on rocky slopes. It is found mostly in scrub and woodland communities.
Prey or food - They eat a variety of foods depending on their habitat and they forage on the ground, in bushes, and in trees. The Dusky-footed Woodrat eats primarily woody plants, including leaves, flowers, nuts and berries. It especially likes live oak, valley oak, soap plant, maple, coffeeberry, and elderberry. It drinks water, but can survive without it, relying instead on leaves and fungi.
Reproduction - The reproductive period of this species usually begins in late September and continues until mid-June or mid-July. This coincides with the onset of the rainy season and the growth of plants. The inactive reproductive period arrives in the dry season when much of the vegetation is not growing. The suckling young, about 2 to 3 per litter, are dependent to the mother until the time of weaning. They usually have one litter a year but can have as many as five.
Lifespan - Dusky-foot Woodrats have a lifespan of about 3 years in the wild and up to 7 years in captivity.
Interesting facts - The Dusky-footed Woodrat is generally nocturnal although some have been observed during the daytime. They frequently carry small items in their mouths, including typical campsite trash, and much of this is added to their houses. Woodrats are noted for their ability to metabolize oxalic acid, a substance that is highly toxic to other mammals. Within their habitats, rats live in colonies of three to fifteen or more nests (homes). The Dusky-footed Woodrat and its relatives in the genus Neotoma are sometimes called pack rats, trade rats, bush rats, and cave rats.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Description - The Eastern Fox Squirrel has three distinct color patterns. In the northeastern part of its range, it is gray above with yellowish undersides. In the western part of its range, it is gray above and rust colored on its undersides. In the southern part of its range, it is black with a white stripe on its face and a white tip on its tail. The tail color is rust mixed with black and the feet are rust colored. They have very sharp claws for climbing. There is no sexual dimorphism in size or appearance. Individuals tend to be smaller in the west. The body length is about 10 to 14 inches with the tail adding another 7 to 13 inches. Fox Squirrels have excellent vision and a well developed sense of hearing and smell.
Habitat - The Fox Squirrel is most often found in forest patches with little understory or in open grasslands with scattered trees. They are never found in tree stands with dense undergrowth. They thrive best among trees such as oak, hickory, walnut, and pine that produce winter storable foods like nuts. Their natural range extends throughout the eastern United States, excluding New England, north into the southern prairie provinces of Canada, and west to the Dakotas, Colorado, and Texas. They have been introduced to both northern and southern California. Eastern Fox Squirrels have two types of homes called dreys: leaf nests and tree dens. They may have two tree cavity homes or a tree cavity and a leaf nest. Tree dens are preferred over leaf nests during the winter and for raising young. Leaf nests are built during the summer months in forks of deciduous trees about 30 feet above the ground.
Prey or food - The Eastern Fox Squirrel eats acorns, walnuts, tree buds, insects, bulbs, roots, bird eggs, pine seeds, tree fruit, berries, and fungi. Nuts are stored for use in the winter. The Eastern Fox Squirrel locates its stashes using its keen sense of smell.
Reproduction - Eastern Fox Squirrels normally produce two litters a year with an average litter size of 3 pups. The gestation period of Eastern Fox Squirrels is 44 to 45 days. Earliest litters appear in late January with most births occurring in mid-March and July. Tree squirrels develop slowly compared to other rodents. The young are born blind, without fur and helpless at birth. Juveniles usually disperse in September or October, but they may den together or with their mother the first winter.
Lifespan - In captivity, Eastern Fox Squirrels have been known to live 18 years, but in the wild most Fox Squirrels die at 7 months, before they even become adults.
Interesting facts - Fox Squirrels got their name from their gray and rust fur coat that resembles that of a gray fox. The Eastern Fox Squirrel is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. They are impressive jumpers, easily spanning fifteen feet in horizontal leaps and free-falling twenty feet or more to a soft landing on a limb or trunk. They are also known as Fox Squirrel, Cat Squirrel, or Stump-eared Squirrel.
Photo Credit - TexasEagle
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus))
Description - The Gray Fox looks a lot like a small dog with a bushy tail. The fox's back is whitish-grey in color. The sides of its neck, the base of its tail, back and legs, and the underside of its tail are bright rusty-red. A black stripe runs along the top of its bushy tail, which ends in a black tip. Its nose is black and a black stripe goes from its eyes towards its neck. The Gray Fox is 21 to 30 inches long, and its tail is another 11 to 16 inches long. It stands about 15 inches at the shoulder. The adult Gray Fox weighs 7 to 11 pounds. The Gray Fox's ability to climb trees is shared only with the Asian raccoon dog among canids. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up trees to escape predators such as the domestic dog or the coyote, or to reach tree-bound or arboreal food sources. It descends primarily by jumping from branch to branch, or by descending slowly backwards as a house cat does. The Gray Fox is nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk) and dens in hollow trees, stumps or appropriated burrows during the day.
Habitat - The Gray Fox ranges throughout most of the southern half of North America from southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia. The Gray Fox lives in the chaparral of California. It prefers wooded and brushy areas where most of the rainfall is in the winter, while the summers are hot and dry.
Prey or food - The Gray Fox is a solitary hunter and is largely omnivorous (eats both plants and animals). It frequently preys upon the cottontails though it will readily catch voles, shrews, and birds. The Gray Fox supplements its diet with whatever fruits are readily available.
Reproduction - The Gray Fox is monogamous (having one mate) and they are thought to mate for life. The gestation period lasts about 53 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 7. The family group remains together until autumn when the young reach sexual maturity and disperse.
Lifespan - The average life span is 4 years. They can live up to 15 years, but almost half of all Gray Foxes die in their first half-year of life.
Interesting facts - Kits begin to hunt with their parents at the age of 3 months. By the time they are 4 months old, the kits have developed their permanent teeth and can forage on their own.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)
Description - Mountain Lions are very large cats with a coat color that is typically tawny (light brown to reddish orange), but ranges to silvery-grey or reddish, with lighter patches on the under body including the jaws, chin, and throat. Mountain Lion coloring is plain (hence the Latin concolor) but can vary greatly between individuals and even between siblings. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their tails; juveniles are pale, and dark spots remain on their flanks (between the last rib and rear legs). Adult Mountain Lions stand about 2 to 2 ½ feet tall at the shoulders. The length of an adult male is around 8 feet long nose to tail and they typically weigh 115 to 220 pounds. Females typically weigh between 64 and 141 pounds. The head of the Mountain Lion is round and the ears are erect. They have five retractable claws on their forepaws and four on their hind paws.
Habitat - The Mountain Lion has the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its range spans from northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes in South America. They inhabit all types of forest as well as lowland and mountainous deserts. The Mountain Lion prefers regions with dense underbrush, but can live with little vegetation in open areas. Its preferred habitats include steep canyons and cliffs, rim rocks, and dense brush.
Prey or food - The Mountain Lion will eat any food it can catch including deer, rabbits, squirrels, rodents, birds, and even insects. Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat, but it may consume other materials (vegetable or mineral) for non-nutritional purposes.
Reproduction - Females reach sexual maturity between 1 ½ to 3 years of age. They typically average one litter every two to three years, though the period can be as short as one year. Only females are involved in parenting. Female Mountain Lions are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as grizzly bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs; typically two or three. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. Young adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner.
Lifespan - Life expectancy of the Mountain Lion in the wild is reported at between 8 to 13 years. Cougars may live as long as 20 years in captivity
Interesting facts - Mountain Lions have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This physique allows it great leaping and short-sprint ability. The Mountain Lion can run as fast as 35 to 45 mph but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, and although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
Photo Credit - BlueRidgeKitties
Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus)
Description - The Pallid Bat has beige fur on its back and white fur on its belly. It has very big pale ears that are almost half as long as the total length of its head and body. The ears are naked and are crossed by transverse lines. Pallid Bats have larger eyes than most other species of bats in North America. They have on average a total body length of 3.6 to 5.3 inches and a wingspan between 15 and 16 inches. The face has small wart-like glands that produce a skunk-like odor, which is thought to be used as defense mechanism.
Habitat - The Pallid Bat can be found in arid regions with rocky outcroppings or in sparsely vegetated grasslands. Pallid Bats are also called desert bats because they are mostly found in desert habitats. They roost in a variety of places but favor rocky outcrops. They also occur in oak and pine forested areas and open farmland. Pallid Bats typically use three different types of roosts. During daytime hours they look for warm places like horizontal crevices, at night they roost in the open but with foliage nearby, and when they hibernate they use buildings, caves, or cracks in rocks. Water must be available in the vicinity of all the roosting sites.
Prey or food - Pallid Bats are insectivores that feed on arthropods such as crickets, scorpions, centipedes, ground beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas, praying mantis and long-horned beetles. Although they normally catch their prey on the ground, they usually transport their prey to their night roost to eat it. Unlike most other North American bats, this species captures little, if any, prey while in flight. With its huge ears, it can detect insects simply by listening for footsteps, and it can respond accurately to a split-second sound from up to 16 feet away.
Reproduction - Maternity colonies are rather small in size, ranging from 20-100 animals. Mating takes place in the fall resulting in usually two babies being born in the late spring. Birth weight is near 3 grams. The mothers will carry the young during her foraging flights for the first few days after birth. The pups begin to fly within five to six weeks. Mothers will stay with their young for 12 months after the young are flying on their own.
Lifespan - Pallid Bats can live up to 10 years in the wild.
Interesting facts - Pallid Bats are skilled at climbing and crawling and while on the ground they exhibit a variety of gaits and strides. The Pallid Bat is actually immune to a scorpion's sting. A Pallid Bat can eat half of its body weight in one night. Pallid Bats are highly social and a single colony can range from 12 to 100 bats. About 95% of groups consist of at least 20 individuals. The Pallid Bat is the sole species of its genus.
Photo Credit - Keaton Wilson
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Description - The most characteristic physical feature of the raccoon is the area of black fur around the eyes which contrasts sharply with the surrounding white face coloring. This is reminiscent of a 'bandit's mask' and has thus enhanced the animal's reputation for mischief. The slightly rounded ears are also bordered by white fur. The Raccoon's tail also contains alternating black and grey rings all the way along its length. On other parts of the body, the long and stiff hairs are usually colored in shades of gray and, to a lesser extent, brown. The body length of the Raccoon is 16 to 28 inches and the weight is 8 to 20 pounds.
Habitat - The Raccoon is very adaptable and can be found in forests, mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and urban areas. Although they have thrived in sparsely wooded areas in the last decades, raccoons depend on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. Raccoons make their dens in hollow trees and rock crevices. If such dens are unavailable or accessing them is inconvenient, raccoons utilize burrows dug by other mammals, dense undergrowth, roadside culverts in urban areas, or tree crotches.
Prey or food - Raccoons are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything edible, including many invertebrates (an animal with no backbone), fruits, nuts, berries, crayfish, frogs, small rodents, birds, and eggs. Being extremely curious and clever, they also enjoy knocking over garbage cans in their nightly search for food. Though usually nocturnal, the raccoon is sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources.
Reproduction - Raccoons typically have litters of two to five young. The kits (also called 'cubs') are blind and deaf at birth, but their mask is already visible against their light fur. Once the kits weigh about two pounds, they begin to explore outside the den, consuming solid food for the first time after six to nine weeks. The kits are usually weaned around 16 weeks. In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many females will stay close to the home range of their mother, males can sometimes move more than 12 miles away. Male Raccoons take no part in raising young.
Lifespan - Raccoon typically live 2 to 3 years in the wild but have been known to live more than 20 years in captivity. It is not unusual for only half of the young born in one year to survive a full year.
Interesting facts - A group of Raccoons is called a nursery. Raccoons are very agile. They climb trees well, moving forward or backward on their way up or down the tree. They are one of few animals which can descend a tree headfirst. They can also drop, unharmed, 35 to 40 feet. They are fast runners (15 mph) and excellent swimmers. Raccoons are also known for their excellent night vision and keen sense of hearing.
Photo Credit - Jeremy Hiebert
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Description - The Striped Skunk has a black body with a white stripe along each side of its body; the two stripes join into a broader white area at the back of the neck. Its forehead has a narrow white stripe. The Striped Skunk is about the size of a house cat, it weighs 2.5 to 14 pounds with a body length (excluding the tail) of 13 to 18 inches. Males may be 10% larger than females. The bushy tail is 7 to 10 inches long, and sometimes has a white tip. The presence of a Striped Skunk is often first made apparent by its odor. It has well-developed scent glands that can emit a highly unpleasant odor when the skunk feels threatened by another animal.
Habitat - The Striped Skunk is only found in North America. Its range runs from central Canada to northern Mexico. The Striped Skunk tends to live in open areas with a mix of habitats like woods and grasslands or meadows. It is usually never further than two miles from water. They build a den in a protected place. A skunk den is usually a burrow with up to five entrances. Inside, the den usually has between one and three chambers. Skunks may use an old animal burrow, or dig their own. Sometimes they den in a hollow log or under a building. One of the chambers is used as a nest, with the skunk adding dried leaves and grass.
Prey or food - The Striped Skunk is omnivorous (eats both plants and animals) and has a varied diet. Much of its diet is made up of insects like beetles, grasshoppers and crickets. It also eats earthworms, snails, crayfish, wasps and ants. Striped Skunks also prey on vertebrates (animals with backbones) like frogs and small mammals including voles, mice, moles, rats and squirrels. The Striped Skunk also eats bird eggs, berries, grains, and nuts. Striped Skunks eat mostly insects and mammals during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter, more plant matter is consumed. Skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings. The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate. Mother skunks are known to teach this to their young.
Reproduction - Striped skunks mate from mid-February to mid-March. The babies are born about two months later. An average skunk litter has five to six babies. Skunk babies are blind and deaf when they are born. They will nurse in the den for about a month and a half. After they leave the den they may stay with their mother for up to a year.
Lifespan - The lifespan of a Striped Skunk in the wild is 2-4 years, but they have been known to survive 15 years in captivity. Up to 90% of young skunks die in their first winter.
Interesting facts - Striped Skunks are not built to run fast. Their legs are made for digging, so they run with a slow 'waddle'. Skunks can spray up to fifteen feet and the smell of the spray can travel a mile. Skunks do not hibernate but they do fatten up before winter comes. Skunks are the number one carrier of the Rabies Virus.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Tule Elk (Cervus canadensis)
Description - Tule Elk bulls and cows have reddish summer coats with darker head and legs. Rump patches have a tawny (light tan) appearance. The long winter coat appears brown, varying from gray on the sides to very dark head and legs. The Tule Elk's coat is paler both winter and summer than other varieties of elk. The Tule Elk (sometimes called the dwarf elk) is considered the smallest of all the elk species in North America and is endemic (native) to California. A fully matured bull (or stag) will weigh 700 pounds with the cows (or hinds) about 400 pounds. Only males have antlers which are rounded and widely spread, averaging four to six points on each. Antlers are shed in March with new ones fully grown by September. Each year new antlers grow a little larger with more tines.
Habitat - Tule Elk thrive on the grasslands and in the marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills on the coast. Prey or food - This subspecies of elk derives its name from the Tule (marsh grass) that it feeds on in the marshlands. Tule Elk also forage on annual grasses, leaves and twigs, and plants like globe mallow and wild licorice.
Reproduction - In September, as soon as the antlers are fully developed, the mating season (rut) occurs. The bulls make their presence known by 'bugling' a clear musical whistle that calls the cows to them. New bands are formed which consist of 5 to 20 females and a single bull. Each bull, by his dominance, holds the cows together in a harem band (group of females). Cows carry their young about eight and a half months; a single calf is born in May or June of the following year. The calf is spotted when born and is eating green vegetation by the time it is a month old, but the mother may continue to nurse it until winter. The calf can take care of itself by fall but may stay with its mother through the winter. At the age of four it is fully grown.
Lifespan - Tule Elk may live 15 to 22 years in the wild.
Interesting facts - Native Americans used the Tule elk antlers and bones for tools and some jewelry, and the hides were used for clothes, while the meat of the animal was used for food. The American elk is more correctly known by its Shawnee Indian name 'Wapiti', or white rump.
Photo Credit - David Dugan
Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Description - The Opossum's head is usually white, and its coarse body fur is mostly grayish white but tends to be darker on its legs. It has an elongated snout, a pink nose, feet and tail, black eyes and prominent, naked black ears. An adult opossum is 2 to 3 feet long and weighs between 4 and 12 pounds. Its naked, scaly tail is able to wrap around and grasp limbs and can support the animal's full weight for short periods. The opossum's skull has 50 teeth, the highest number found in any mammal. Opossums are the only marsupials (female mammal with a pouch for carrying and feeding her young) native to North America.
Habitat - Good opossum habitat includes a combination of large trees and shrub thickets (dense growth of bushes), abundant water and crop fields. An opossum will den nearly anywhere that is dry, sheltered and safe, such as the abandoned dens of other animals, hollow trees and logs and brush piles. A nest of leaves and grass is usually made at the den site. An opossum will use a number of dens within its home range. Opossums are very adaptable and can live wherever water, food, and shelter exist. Opossums are at home in trees and they use their prehensile tails to help stabilize them when climbing.
Prey or food - An Opossum does not have a method for storing food or energy and needs food sources that are stable from season to season and year to year. Its diet includes a wide variety of foods, including insects, earthworms, small mammals, fruits, grains, plants, and the flesh of dead animals it happens to find. It forages intensively in a small area on whatever is available. When food resources become depleted in one place, the animal simply moves to a new area. Although the foods an Opossum eats are varied, they must be abundant and closely spaced. Extreme weather conditions, such as a severe drought or extended cold, can reduce food availability and have devastating effects on Opossum populations.
Reproduction - A female opossum usually has two litters per year. Mating occurs in mid-January through February and continues into August. Young partially-developed opossums are born 13 days after mating. They migrate to the female's pouch where they continue to develop for several weeks. The young emerge from the pouch when they are 1 ½ to 2 months old and ride on their mother's back. They are weaned at three months. The adult female mates again soon after the first litter is weaned, and the first litter disperses within one month of weaning. Young from the second litter are weaned and on their own by September or October. There are 8 to 10 young in an average litter, but litters of 17 have been reported. The young are capable of reproducing at six months of age, but usually don't until the year after they are born.
Lifespan - The Opossum lifespan is unusually short for a mammal of its size, usually only two to four years.
Interesting facts - They were introduced near San Jose, California about 1910 from the eastern United Stated as furbearers, and have since spread throughout the warm, cultivated lowlands of Central California. They are nocturnal. The word opossum comes from the Algonquian aposoum, meaning "white beast" When threatened or harmed, they will 'play possum', mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. When 'playing possum', the lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted.
Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus)
Description - The Western Gray Squirrel is a silver gunmetal gray with a pure white underside. The ears are large, without tufts, and they turn reddish-brown at the back in the winter. The tail is long and typically very bushy with black and white hairs mixed in with the gray. The eyes are outlined in creamy white. It is the largest native tree squirrel in the western coastal United States. Their bodies measure 17 to 23 inches in total length with a 9 to 12 inch tail length, and they range in weight from 1 to 2 pounds.
Habitat - Western Gray Squirrels are forest dwellers, and can be found at elevations up to at 6500 feet or more. Squirrel nests are called dreys and can be seen in trees, built from sticks and leaves wrapped with long strands of grass. There are two stick nest types made by the Western Gray Squirrel: the first is a large, round, covered shelter nest for winter use, birthing, and rearing young. The second is more properly termed a "sleeping platform," a base for seasonal or temporary use. Both types are built with sticks and twigs and are lined with leaves, moss, lichens and shredded bark. Western Grey Squirrels are found in the Pacific States from Washington to California.
Prey or food - Time on the ground is spent foraging, but they prefer to travel distances from tree to tree. They are active only during daytime hours, and feed mainly on seeds and nuts, particularly pine seeds and acorns, though they will also take berries, fungus and insects.
Reproduction - Unlike other squirrel species the Western Gray Squirrel has only one litter a year, with between three and five young per litter. Slower reproduction is one of the reasons they are at risk. Kits are born without hair and their eyes don't open for 24 to 42 days. The kits are relatively slow in development, and will not leave the nest for six months or more.
Lifespan - The life span of the Western Gray Squirrel is about 7 to 8 years in the wild.
Interesting facts - Western Gray Squirrels are also known as California Gray Squirrels. They have very good eyesight even in dim light, and a wide field of vision. They also have a well developed sense of smell and hearing. The Western Gray Squirrel is recognized as a "species of concern" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a "sensitive species" and "management indicator species" by the U.S. Forest Service but they are not listed as threatened or endangered.
Photo Credit - Larry McCombs
Wild Pig (Sus scrofa)
Description - The color usually varies from dark grey to black or brown, but there are great regional differences in color. Wild boar piglets are colored differently from adults, being a soft brown with longitudinal darker stripes. The stripes fade by the time the piglet is about half-grown, when the animal takes on the adult's grizzled grey or brown color. The fur consists of stiff bristles and usually finer fur. During winter the fur is much denser. The body of the invasive wild boar is compact; the head is large, the legs relatively short. Adult boars average 4-6 feet in length and have a shoulder height of 3 feet. As a whole, their average weight is 110–200 pounds, though boars show a great deal of weight variation within their geographical ranges. The continuously growing tusks (the canine teeth) serve as weapons and tools. The lower tusks of an adult male measure about 7.9 inches.
Habitat - The wild pig prefers oak woodland and chaparral regions with water and tree cover nearby.
Prey or food - Wild Boar are omnivorous scavengers, eating almost anything they come across, including grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, and small reptiles.
Reproduction - Adult males are usually solitary outside of the breeding season, but females and their offspring (both sub-adult males and females) live in groups called sounders. Sounders typically number around 20 animals, although groups of over 50 have been seen, and will consist of 2 to 3 sows; one of which will be the dominant female. Group structure changes with the coming and going of females giving birth, the migration of maturing males (usually when they reach around 20 months) and the arrival of unrelated sexually active males. Pregnancy lasts approximately 115 days and a sow will leave the group to construct a mound-like nest, 1–3 days before giving birth (farrowing). Litter size is typically 4-6 piglets but may be smaller for first litter, usually 2-3.
Lifespan - The lifespan for a wild boar is about 15 to 20 years.
Interesting facts - The term boar is used to denote an adult male of certain species — including, confusingly, domestic pigs. However, for wild boar, it applies to the whole species, including, for example, "wild boar sow" or "wild boar piglet". Wild boar are also known by various names, including wild hogs or simply boars. In North America they are more commonly referred to as razorbacks or European boars. You can spot areas where wild boar have been rooting by the presence of earth that looks like it has been rototilled.
Photo Credit - Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved