Nature Notes


National Park Service
Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National
History Association

Volume XVI

NATURE NOTES from Crater Lake National Park are issued from time to time by the Crater Lake Natural History Association to foster an appreciation and interest in the natural history of the park. It is distributed free to members of the association. Reprinting of articles appearing in NATURE NOTES is encouraged. It is requested that acknowledgment of the source be made by giving the name of the author and of this publication.

E. P. Leavitt

Dr. G. C. Ruhle

Mammal Puzzles
By Denis J. Illige, Ranger-Naturalist

ground squirrel

Where did it come from?

Not infrequently an animal is recorded from a locality where it has never before been known to occur. Such was reported by several members of the staff, Crater Lake Lodge employees, and some park visitors. Various descriptions were given of a strange creature living near the lakeside porch of the lodge. Descriptions were as varied as the number of reports, but all observers agreed that the new animal was squirrel-like in appearance, gray in color, very short-eared, and with a tail rather short for the body length. Some fantastic postulations were made, such as the possibility of a mutation of the golden-mantled ground squirrel, or of a hybrid between the ground-squirrel and the arboreal chickadee!

The mystery was deepened by the fact that the stranger appeared suddenly about the middle of August, and seemed to be quite tame. Visitors were happy over another animal which could be fed peanuts! On August 21, the little animal was brought to Park Headquarters for examination. In general appearance it was obviously a member of the ground-squirrel genus Citellus, but to what species did it belong? The body had no distinct pelage pattern; as had been described, the ears were very short, the feet quite large, and the tail short in relation to the body length.

From a careful check on descriptions of Citellus in Anthony's Field Book of North American Mammals (1928), and Bailey's Mammals and Life Zones of Oregon (1936), this specimen can apparently be only C. oregonus (Merriam), the Oregon ground-squirrel. This knowledge, however, doesn't explain how it came to occupy the vicinity of the lodge porch. This question of origin is particularly interesting in light of the fact that this is the first authentic record of this species in Crater Lake National Park.

Because the new visitor appeared suddenly, and was quite tame, it was probably brought in by a tourist. Whatever the cause of its arrival, it now is a permanent resident of the park zoological collection, available for reference and demonstration purposes.

Why did it die?

A Rocky Mountain mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) was found in a weakened condition in the northeastern part of the park on August 22. The trail crew came across the little buck when they stopped to eat lunch. It appeared to be hungry, perhaps even starving, so they offered it some of their lunch milk, which it gulped avidly.

The crew foreman put the fawn in his pick-up and brought it to headquarters, but it died on the way. Weighed and measured at the warehouse, it was very slight for the body dimensions. It weighed 28 pounds and was 42 inches in total length. It was at least three months old according to the degree of tooth eruption. A brief field autopsy showed no obvious parasitic condition to cause death, and no easily detectable disease symptoms. The ruminant stomach was about half full of vegetable food, but seemed to be deficient in moisture content.

The dental condition also did not indicate an inability to feed on browse, as the deciduous teeth were all functional, and the last molars had just penetrated the gum line. There was no mesenteric or subcutaneous fat on the fawn, and the general appearance of the animal was of gaunt hunger. Had his mother met an untimely end? Was he not yet weaned, and the food in his stomach only a desperation attempt to survive? Why did he die in infancy, and what factors brought on his death? Here are questions one asks of nature.

What is he doing here?

On the evening of August 19, while talking to some park guests on the lakeside porch of the lodge, a cony (Ochotona princeps) was seen several times hopping across the lighted area before the open lounge doors. Since lodge porches are definitely not the habitat favored by conies, and as they are not known to relish peanuts or other park visitor squirrel-bait, what was this rock-loving cousin of the rabbit doing here? Perhaps he was curious about the activity in the lounge, as he stopped and seemed to peer inside the open doors each time he traversed the lighted area.

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