Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Gopher State

Hello, everyone!

As I mentioned last week, things have been busy here. Sis K and I had such a good visit; hanging out with her was one of the highlights of my year!


In house buying news, we close on our new place Oct. 21st! I am realizing that every item in our apartment will have to be moved. By us. It will be a good opportunity to get rid of crapola, right? Plus, all the yucky stuff can be hidden in our future basement, two-car garage or shed.


In World Critter News:

Hawaii lists 48 species as endangered!

Save the wolverines!

A giant dinosaur that breathed like a bird?

An ancient goose with teeth? I wonder if the geese I saw today wished they had teeth? Maybe their poop is weapon enough.

After seeing a gopher this summer, I knew I needed to write about them here. Not only am I running out of rodents to profile, but also, I've lived in the Gopher State for over eight years!

The problem is that Goldy Gopher is really modeled after a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, not a true gopher!

The thirteen-lined ground squirrel:

(Actually, Goldy's tail looks more like a chipmunk tail to me, but anyway....)

In general, the ground squirrels described below share many characteristics. They are diurnal, or active during the day. They range from four to twelve inches long. Ground squirrels form tunnel communities and call to each other with high pitched squeaks. While their main foods are roots, plants and grains, the squirrels will eat the occasional bug, egg or baby bird. Frequency and time of mating depends on the climate, but most ground squirrels have at least one litter per year, and are sexually mature after their first year.


A member of the squirrel family Sciuridae, thirteen-lined ground squirrels are related to chipmunks and tree squirrels. They dig tunnels ranging from 15 to 20 feet long, in a territory up to three acres in size. As summer progresses, these ground squirrels gain as much fat as possible and dig deeper hibernation chambers in their tunnels. As early as October, Squinneys (as they're known in Iowa!), start hibernating. Their respirations decrease from an average between 100 to 200 breaths per minute to only one breath per five minutes!

Other Minnesota ground squirrels include Franklin's ground squirrel, named after the British Arctic Explorer Sir John Franklin, and Richardson's ground squirrel, named after the Scottish naturalist Sir John Richardson.

Franklin's ground squirrel:
These animals resemble tree squirrels, but live more like prairie dogs in similar open habitats. They are much more omnivorous than other ground squirrels, consuming eggs, baby birds, insects and rodents along with plant matter.

Richardson's ground squirrel:
These guys are known as flickertails, as they wiggle said item constantly! Richardson's ground squirrel is the state animal of North Dakota, also known as the Flickertail State? Apparently Richardson's squirrels were too plentiful in Saskatchewan, so the province had a controversial open season for them in 2002 and 2003.

Now, let's turn to an actual gopher! Part of the family Geomyidae, or true gophers, pocket gophers are much bigger than ground squirrels.


Look at those digging paws! In one year a pocket gopher can dig 300 mounds and move four tons of soil. As you can maybe guess, they are mostly underground dudes, and therefore have poor eyesight. Dandelion and alfalfa roots are their favorite meal, and they prefer moist soil, which can bring them closer to crops and yards.

Side Note: Does anyone else think of junior high typing class when they see the word "alfalfa"? I'm just wondering.

These fatties can weigh up to two pounds, with the males being twice as large as the female. They are larder hoarders, meaning they store food in their cheek pockets and carry it to holding rooms within their tunnels. The cheek pockets, which give these rodents their name, are huge, reaching from the sides of their mouth all the way back to their shoulders!

While ground squirrels leave mostly small holes as signs of their tunnels, pocket gophers announce their presence with large, fan shaped piles of dirt reaching up to eight inches high!

Unlike ground squirrels, who share tunnels, pocket gophers are usually alone in their tunnels, with the exception of mating season and when babies are born. During mating season, male pocket gophers dig tunnels hoping to intersect with a female's chamber!


Pocket gophers are active year round, and keep tunneling beneath the snow! If you ever see something resembling this after the snow melts:
Pocket Gopher Evidence.jpg
You know a pocket gopher is in your 'hood!

I must say, I was really excited about this gopher post, until I realized the only one of these critters I've ever seen is Goldy, and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel he was designed to resemble! Have any of you seen any of the other ground squirrels or pocket gophers?

Do you have any autumn critter stories?

Tunnel of love,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fun Week

Hello all!

My lil' sister K is visiting from Wisconsin! We are having a great time.


More to come!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Hey y'all.

Spotted any critters lately?!

I'm hoping to bring our camera to my workplace soon, as I've been again spotting voles, baby bunnies, and, the long-awaited immature squirrel:

Two babies, actually.

This week has been busy though as we might be buying a house! The inspection is Friday; keep your fingers crossed! The potential property does have a verdant yard with mature trees...surely a critter habitat?

More to come.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Just like Jesse James

Howdy, y'all!

This weekend marked my inaugural Defeat of Jesse James Days in Northfield, MN. Even better, the Domestic Nemesis herself, GH, came up to visit!

Here we are at the B family homestead; notice Horndexter the cat roaming in the background!

Here are R and D, aka the Surly brothers, prior to their 60 mile Jesse James Days bike ride! Rock on!

After R, GH and I watched the reenactment of the bank robbery, we headed down to the fireman's bingo tent, where I immediately won!

The prize was $15! With which I purchased fried cheese curds and cotton candy.

As you might recall from my last post, I was excited to find a salamander last week. Thankfully sister LW is keeping me posted on the amphibian goings-on at her house. This weekend she reported seeing TWO salamanders together, and confirmed that they are the spotted variety:

This morning she rescued another salamander as it walked across her driveway!

As for my own pets, R gave me a PetSmart gift card for my birthday, with the intention of buying me a new aquarium. I've been thinking about this one. My research suggests that the aquarium stands sold along with the tanks are not the highest quality, so I might stick with my old wooden sewing machine table. The 18 gallon tank from the link would fit nicely on top of that, and would be an upgrade in size from my 11 year old ten gallon aquarium.


I will keep you posted on any aquatic acquisitions.

Today as I drove to the PetSmart on Stinson Blvd., I passed the marmot field...empty of rodents. Now I worry about them. Has anyone seen any groundhogs?

Hugs to you all and happy Monday!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Minnesota State Fair/Bratfest/Critters of the Motherland

Happy September!

I hope you all had a spectacular weekend. Shout-outs to everyone who has their first day of school tomorrow, especially PG, who starts her doctorate at the U!

R and I had a marathon of fun adventures, starting with our annual pilgrimage to the MN State Fair on Thursday night.

Every year there is a featured weird food at the State Fair, including such things as Hot-Dish on a Stick, Deep Fried Candy Bars, Pizza on a Stick, etc. This year it was Chocolate Covered Bacon. Heck yes we tried it:
As one could expect with a combination of two perfect foods, Chocolate Covered Bacon was delicious. The salty/chocolaty quality reminded me of dipping a french fry into a chocolate shake, except with a smokiness that was a little weird. These so-called "Pig Lickers" were pretty rich, though.

The animal barns were being cleaned last Thursday, and unfortunately we couldn't see any miniature goats as they were all being replaced. We did attend the "Miracle of Birth" barn, however.

Can you see an umbilical cord hanging down from one of the baby pigs? They were so tiny.

DSCN3914.JPG These two larger piglets appear to be snuggling, but in reality they were biting each other.


The baby calf.

These ducklings had their own swimming pools!

On Friday we traveled to my hometown in Central Wisconsin. As usual we were pampered and fed heartily. R and I spent every evening at my sister L's and her boyfriend CC's rural estate. L and I went on a wildlife search AND ONE OF MY CRITTER GOALS WAS FINALLY REALIZED.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The salamander.

Unlike the tiger salamanders we found in the sandy basement of my aunt's house, this one was all black. Here is a tiger salamander:

Here he is in his hole, under a board leaning up against CC's garage.

How we loved this gentle creature! But, I'm having trouble identifying this salamander. Could it be a blue-spotted salamander, a native of Wisconsin?
I think we would have noticed the spots, even though our salamander was covered with sand.

Or it could have been another WI salamander, the spotted variety.

We also saw one of these guys:
A gray tree frog.

And possibly a frog that is endangered in Wisconsin, a Blanchard's Cricket Frog:
We didn't have our camera last night when I spotted this guy on the outside of the garage window. He was green with distinctive copper eyes and a matching copper stripe along the side of his head. Adorbs!

Arachnids were present as well:
DSCN3918.JPG There were tons of daddy long legs everywhere!

I also spotted one of these guys:
Unfortunately she was just zooming through the treetops, not up close!

Close to my hometown is the largest one day festival in Wisconsin, the Harrisville Bratfest!
R had never attended this venerable event, so we hastened there, seeking brats and adventure!

The brat and R's commemorative bottle coozy! Notice as well his new camouflage hat.

L and CC in action!

For some reason I do not recall watching a tractor pull before.

Side Note: The tractor pull track is directly adjacent to the Lion's Club where R and I had our wedding reception!

Trucks pulled too:
The plume of smoke was very dramatic! And carcinogenic!

I highly recommend attending the Bratfest. Although tickets to the tractor pull were $10 (kids get in free) the menu is quite reasonable:

Hope you had a great weekend too!