Tag Archives: mammals

Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco

Take 5: You Musk Be Joking!

While they do belong to the order Rodentia), muskrats are not, in fact, rats at all (i.e. members of the genus Rattus). Plus, they’re actually more closely related to lemmings than they are to their look-a-like cousins, beavers. The latter is a case of what is known as “convergent evolution”—two distinct species that evolve with a similar set of characteristics that just happen to work really well for the environment in which they live, kind of like two people coming up with the same idea at the same time in different locations.

From a distance, it can be difficult to tell muskrats and beavers apart. They are both semi-aquatic rodents with similar body shapes and colors; have bare, fleshy tails; and build lodges for their families. Side-by-side, though, it would be difficult to mistake them. Muskrats average 3–4 pounds each, one-tenth the size of beavers who clock in at a whopping 30–40 pounds, and their tails are long and narrow, not broad and paddle-shaped like a beaver’s. Additionally, beavers are strictly vegetarian while muskrats have a wider, more versatile, omnivorous diet of mostly aquatic plants (such as cattails and yellow water lilies) supplemented with small animals like frogs, crayfish, and fish.

Muskrats are prolific breeders, producing 2–3 litters per year of 6–8 kits each, but each individual only lives about 3–4 years in the wild. This rapid rate of regeneration is a key part of their survival strategy, since muskrats are a popular menu item for many predators, including coyotes and foxes, snapping turtles, weasels and otters, bobcats, owls, and especially minks and raccoons. Young muskrats may even fall prey to larger species of fish such as largemouth bass. As a result of their survival-by-numbers strategy, they occupy a very important role in the native food web.

Your best bet to spot a muskrat in the wild is along water edges and in wetlands at dawn or dusk, as they are crepuscular. Here are five photos of native muskrats from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The deadline to enter the 2020 contest is September 30, so be sure to submit your own amazing nature photography soon!

Muskrat © Janice Koskey
Muskrat © Janice Koskey
Muskrat © Bernard Kingsley
Muskrat © Bernard Kingsley
Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco
Muskrats © Sylvia Zarco
Muskrat © Matthew Watson
Muskrat © Matthew Watson
Muskrat © Yuh Yun Li
Muskrat © Yuh Yun Li
Black Bear © Jason Goldstein

Take 5: Burly Black Bears

There is only one bear species that makes its home in Massachusetts: the handsome Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Although they are the largest meat-eating mammal in the state, reaching up to 500 pounds, Black Bears also enjoy berries, nuts, seeds, flowers, fruits, and succulent grasses (including corn), as well as garbage.

After hibernating through the winter, Black Bears are beginning to emerge from their winter sleep around the beginning of March, and they are hungry. You would be too if you’d been living off your stored body fat for months! Birdseed is a delectable and calorie-dense treat for hungry bears and they have excellent memories, so if you live in an area with bears, you might want to take down your bird feeders before the bears find them.

Unfortunately, conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace as land is developed in or near bears’ preferred habitats. As black bears lose their preferred feeding and denning sites to development, they must move greater distances to find food (and often in residential areas). Learn more about bears on our website, including how to keep them away and what to do should you encounter one.

Here are five fantastic photos of bears and their “bare necessities” from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Black Bear © Karen Karlberg
Black Bear © Karen Karlberg
Black Bear © David Zulch
Black Bear © David Zulch
Black Bear © Alvin Laasanen
Black Bear © Alvin Laasanen
Black Bear © Jason Goldstein
Black Bear © Jason Goldstein
Black Bear © Evelyn Garvey
Black Bear © Evelyn Garvey
Black Bear © Dorrie Holmes
Black Bear © Dorrie Holmes
Coyote © Nancy Graupner

Take 5: Coy Coyotes

February marks the beginning of the breeding season for coyotes in Massachusetts. Coyotes are resourceful, often misunderstood creatures who have successfully adapted to areas altered by people, meaning they are able to survive in the forests and fields of rural Massachusetts as well as the suburbs of Boston. As omnivores and opportunists, they’ll eat just about anything from mammals to insects to nuts to fruit, depending on the season and food availability. They are an important part of the food web, helping to control rodents and other pests as well as mitigating deer overpopulation that can ravage local ecosystems.

Sightings of eastern coyotes in suburbia can create concerns about peoples’ safety in their backyards, but coyotes are wary animals who will avoid people at all costs (except in very rare cases involving rabies infection, which can affect behavior). It’s important to keep things in perspective: Coyote attacks on humans are so rare in Massachusetts that during the last 60 years, there have been fewer than 15 confirmed attacks. A little common sense and a few simple precautions are all it takes to ensure you and your loved ones (including pets) stay safe:

  • Never, ever approach or attempt to feed a coyote.
  • Secure your garbage and pet food inside to prevent easy access.
  • Keep your pets indoors and on a leash when outside.
  • Should you encounter a coyote, retreat slowly and make lots of noise to scare it away.
  • Although coyotes are susceptible to the rabies virus, it is still quite rare. If you notice a wild animal behaving strangely, contact your local police department. If you suspect you have been exposed to rabies, seek medical attention immediately.

Except in extremely rare instances, people have nothing to fear from coyotes. In fact, they should be celebrated for the role they play as a top predator in our local web of life. Here are five photos of coyotes from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to honor these handsome native canines.

Coyote © Nancy Graupner
Coyote © Nancy Graupner
Coyote © Brian Rusnica
Coyote © Brian Rusnica
Coyote © Nanci St. George
Coyote © Nanci St. George
Coyote © Karen Walker
Coyote © Karen Walker
Coyote © Kim Nagy
Coyote © Kim Nagy
American Mink © Mark Lotterhand

Take 5: Mink Outside the Box

American Minks are members of the weasel family, averaging between 2 and 3.5 pounds, smaller than some of their cousins, Fishers and River Otters, but larger than others, such as ermine or long-tailed weasels.

They share many traits with otters, including webbed feet and a coating of oil to keep their fur waterproof. They are also semi-aquatic and carnivorous, eating mostly muskrats, fish, frogs, snakes, and small mammals. But unlike the more social otters, minks are loners and typically only meet up to breed and then part ways. They seem to share a bit of the otters’ playfulness, however, and can be spotted pushing through the snow or sliding down snow-covered slopes on their bellies. If you’re lucky enough to spot a mink in wintertime, it will likely be at dawn or dusk, as they are “crepuscular.”

Enjoy these five photos of minks from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and check out the recently announced winners of the 2019 photo contest on our website!

American Mink © Lauren Sullivan
American Mink © Lauren Sullivan
American Mink © Jason Barcus
American Mink © Jason Barcus
American Mink © Mark Lotterhand
American Mink © Mark Lotterhand
American Mink with Crayfish © John Harrison
American Mink with Crayfish © John Harrison
American Mink © Charlene Gaboriault
American Mink © Charlene Gaboriault
Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Take 5: Where Did All the Woodchucks Go?

Woodchucks (also known as groundhogs) are among the few “true hibernators” found in Massachusetts. In late summer they begin to put on weight in preparation for the move to their winter dens, often located in wooded areas. From October through March, woodchucks settle in for a long snooze and turn their metabolisms waaaaay down to burn as little energy as possible. While hibernating, a woodchuck’s body temperature drops from 99°F to 40°F, and its heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute! Visit our Nature & Wildlife pages to learn more about woodchucks.

They may not be conscious to appreciate it, but here are five photos of woodchucks from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy.

Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Woodchuck © Alyssa Mattei

Woodchuck © David Zulch

Woodchuck © David Zulch

Woodchuck © Diane Lomba

Woodchuck © Diane Lomba

Woodchuck © Ronald Vaughan

Woodchuck © Ronald Vaughan

Woodchuck © M Leach

Woodchuck © M Leach

 

© James Duffy

Take 5: Seal of Approval

Brace yourself. Serious cuteness incoming.

Seals are a “fan favorite” for wildlife lovers and coastal tourists due in large part to their often playful, expressive nature and adorable fuzziness. Year-round, visitors to the coastal parts of Massachusetts can spot our “resident” Harbor and Gray seals fairly easily. If you’re really lucky you may spy a rarer species such as Harp or Hooded seals although they tend to stay farther north near the pack ice they depend on for pupping. Interestingly, you will not find any sea lions here. Sea lions belong to a different taxonomic family than “true” seals and are not found on the east coast of the United States.

If you’re eager to spot one, many of our coastal wildlife sanctuaries host programs where you can look for and observe seals but here are five cute photos of seals for you to enjoy in the meantime, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 photo contest is only open until September 30, so submit your great wildlife and nature photography today!

© Paulina Zuckerman

© Paulina Zuckerman

© Kim Barillot

© Kim Barillot

© Terri Nickerson

© Terri Nickerson

© James Duffy

© James Duffy

© Samantha Ferguson

© Samantha Ferguson