Nature Notes

Volume VIII No. 3 - September, 1935

The Squirrel And His Relatives
By Ray Coopey, Ranger-Naturalist

The rodents, or gnawing animals, constitute a group which, in populated or agricultural areas, are considered as pests to mankind. In a mountainous district, such as Crater Lake, quite the reverse holds true and the absence of this most interesting and varied assemblage of animals would be almost immediately noticed by even the most unobserving of the park visitors.

For instance, the animal entertainment furnished by the golden mantled ground squirrels (Callospermophilus c. chrysodeirus) who carry away such large quantities of peanuts in their pouched checks while visitors are at the same time appreciating the beauties of Crater Lake would be sorely missed by young and old alike. Especially the older people left behind by the youthful members in search of exercise, find here an amusing pastime and no small degree of solace. Although a very small proportion of the peanuts gathered from the willing hands are eaten immediately, it may interest the donors to know that at least a portion of this remaining lion's share is carried to the burrows and placed in storage for a "snowy day". The hibernating period during which these animals are totally inactive and in a torpid state, probably does not exceed four months; during the coldest part of winter, however, a period of two to three months in late fall and early spring, occurs when they are intermittently active and when little outside food is available. It is during this time that the reserve storage is tapped and no doubt many kindly thoughts are given to the generous tourists of the preceding summer.

Much less bold in their habits but none-the-less interesting are the Klamath Chipmunks (Eutamias amoenus amoenus) which are also found along the rim parapet but are outnumbered about ten to one by the squirrels. The untrained eye can readily distinguish them from the squirrels by their smaller size, more pointed head, and the presence of strips on the side of the head, together with their reticent nature. They, too, live in burrows dug under the shelter of a rock or beneath a tree or stump. Toward the end of the summer season both animals may be seen busily engaged in stuffing their mouths with dried grasses, paper, moss, and other debris to be carried to their burrows where a soft bed is made for the winter.

In the lower regions of the Park, one's attention is constantly attracted while wandering through the pine forests by the loud scolding of the large Cascade Pine Squirrel (Sciurus douglassi cascadensis) This grayish brown animal with the distinguishing yellowish-red underparts live the greater part of its life among the branches of the coniferous trees, descending to the ground only to scamper to another tree or to pick the seeds from cones which have previously been severed from their aerial attachment. These squirrels, in contrast to their previously mentioned relatives, construct their nests in the hollow cavities of trees, lining them with moss and lichens and storing quantities of seed for consumption before and after the true period of hibernation which occurs during the dead of winter.

Associated with the Pine Squirrel in its tree-dwelling nature is the Flying Squirrel. The two types in the park, the Klamath Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus klamanthensis) and the Cascade Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuligninosus), true to the habits of their clan, are strictly night roamers, gathering their food and performing their gliding flights under the cover of darkness. Sun-up finds them back in their nests among the branches or in the hollow trunk of a tree, ready to sleep through the day. Like the other squirrels, they are inactive during a part of the winter.

One of the most sluggish and yet the most hardy of the larger rodents is the porcupine (Erethizon epixanthum epixanthum). Living on the tender inner bark of the conifers, it spends most of its time in the tops of trees, remaining active throughout the winter season. Few of the meat eating predators are clever enough to penetrate the fortress of quills surrounding its body, so it moves with slow deliberate actions as it pursues its hum-drum existence. The porcupine is usually seen abroad at night, and when surprised in the midst of its wandering, may be driven with a stick much as a hog might be driven to market.

One walking through the green grass-matted meadows near the streams flowing to the south and west in the park will find burrows and an abundance of other evidences of a thriving population of the small woodland mice, pocket gophers and moles. In these densely settled areas are found a variety of mice including the white footed, wood or deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus gambeli); vole or meadow mouse (genus Microtus); and the kangaroo or jumping mouse (genus Zapus) -- the latter being unique in the possession of a jumping habit after the fashion of the well known kangaroo and having a long tail extending out behind to act as a counter-balance for the front part of the body. They have well developed hind legs as does the kangaroo, while the fore legs are shorter and comparatively weaker. All these mice mentioned live largely on green vegetation and grass seeds.

The second group of animals found in these locations is made up of Moles and Gophers. These two are true miners of the rodents, coming to the surface only on rare occasions. The Mazama Pocket Gopher (Thomomys monticola mazama) is, like the Ground Squirrel, equipped with check pockets which he fills hurriedly with the roots of plants and then retires to the depth of his burrow to munch them at his leisure. The Crater Lake Mole (Scapanus latimanus alpinus) eats small ground insects and worms, harbors an enormous appetite, and devours his victims "on location".

Living in the rocky slopes and cliffs, particularly in the higher elevations of the park, are found associated together, three animals of widely different habits. The Cony or Pika (Ochotona princeps brunnescens), commonly called the rock rabbit, though not a true rodent, lives deep in the crevices of the crater wall and on the surrounding peaks. They are harvesters by nature, gathering and seasoning green vegetation during the summer to be stored in their homes and consumed during the winter, remaining active throughout the season, even though the snow may be piled many feet deep overhead.

The second animal, the Marmot (Marmoto flaviventris flaviventris), commonly called the rock chuck or wood chuck, belongs to the yellow footed marmot group which includes the hoary marmot of the north, noted for his whistling habit. The whistling proclivities seem not as well developed in the chuck found in this southern portion of the Cascades. A related species of this animal, the ground hog of the east and south, according to common belief, has supposedly, some phenomenal power of control over the spring weather. The origin of this belief, perhaps, may be attributed to the habit the animal has of emerging from its winter sleep early in February, and if the weather is agreeable, remaining out; in case inclement weather is in vogue, however, it immediately returns for an additional period of sleep. It is easily seen, from the above, that the disappearance of the animal is an effect and not a cause of the weather.

The third rodent found in this habitat and the one completing this discussion, is the Wood Rat (Neotoma cinera occidentalis), also answering to the name of pack rat and trade rat. Their bid for attention comes from their habit of building large, loosely constructed nests of sticks in crevices of rocks or, in fact, in any protected place, and their kleptomaniac inclinations which lead them to pilfer all types of shiny or bright colored objects -- often proving very annoying if nesting near an inhabited residence; thimbles, silver ware, bright pieces of cloth and even shoes disappearing miraculously.

ground squirrel

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