Wild Boar

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While visiting Mount Hamilton in California, I noticed a few large, dark mammals in a hillside. I decided to investigate and encountered one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world.

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The Wild Boar, is also known as Wild Swine, Common Wild Pig, Eurasian Wild Pig, or simply Wild Pig. Feral swine are not native to the Americas, they were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food.

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Today these mammals are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian Wild Pigs and hybrids of the two. Their population is estimated at as many as 9 million and is rapidly expanding. Each female is capable of birthing at least two litters a year of six or more piglets.

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Wild Boar are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States. They are wreaking havoc in at least 39 states and four Canadian provinces, where they do damage to the tune of $1.5 to $2.5 billion annually. They tear up recreational areas, occasionally even terrorizing tourists in state and national parks, and squeeze out other wildlife.

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Their head is very large, taking up to one-third of the body’s entire length. The structure of the head is well suited for digging and acting as a plough, while its powerful neck muscles allow the animal to upturn considerable amounts of soil. They are “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning they’ll eat almost anything. They can do remarkable damage to the ecosystem, by hunting animals like birds and amphibians to near extinction.

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Wild Boar are very smart and can get to be very big – a Georgia example named “Hogzilla” is believed to have weighed at least 800 pounds.

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White-tailed Antelope Squirrel

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This is a fun mammal to observe on my visits to the Las Vegas Area. The White-tailed Antelope Squirrel is commonly seen in arid habitats throughout the southwestern United States.

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This is a species of ground squirrel. It has a brown-to-gray fur with two white stripes running from the shoulder to the hind end. Its belly and underside of the tail is white and there is a black stripe on the tail.

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White-tailed Antelope Squirrels tend to be active during the cooler parts of the daylight hours, avoiding midday as much as possible. They forage for food on the ground, in trees or shrubs. During foraging, they may stop for a break in the shade to avoid heat from the sun.

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These animals will use burrows of other rodents, such as kangaroo rats, for shelter and will make numerous burrows of their own. Common habitats include desert succulent shrub, riparian and wash areas. They also occur in chaparral and grassland.

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Different food sources are consumed at different parts of the year. During the Spring, greens are widely available, so they constitute the bulk of their diet (about 60%). In the Autumn, when greens are scarce, seeds and fruits comprise most of their diet. Insects are consumed when they are encountered.

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White-tailed Antelope Squirrels have been known to sound shrill alarm calls when predators are nearby to warn their relatives of incoming danger.

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Sea Otter

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This is a cool a creature that I have observed both from shore and from the water, while kayaking in California. It is native to the California coast. Adult Sea Otters typically weigh between 30 and 99 pounds, making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals.

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Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter’s primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur – the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter is capable of living exclusively in the ocean.

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The Sea Otter is most often seen near the shore, where it forages for marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various mollusks and crustaceans and some species of fish. It is one of the few mammal species to use tools, utilizing rocks to dislodge prey and to open shells.

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In most of its range, it is a keystone species, controlling sea urchin populations which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystem.

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Their numbers were once estimated at 150,000–300,000 before Sea Otters were hunted extensively for their fur between 1741 and 1911. The world population fell to 1,000–2,000 individuals living in a fraction of their historic range.

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A ban on hunting, Sea Otter conservation efforts, and reintroduction programs into previously populated areas have contributed to their numbers rebounding, and the mammal now occupies about two-thirds of its former range. The recovery of the sea otter is considered an important success in marine conservation.

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Brush Rabbit

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While hiking in a park in California last weekend, I saw a few examples of this mammal foraging for food in the morning hours. Also known as the Western Brush Rabbit or Californian Brush Rabbit – it is a species of cottontail rabbit found in western coastal regions of North America.

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The Brush Rabbit is a small rabbit that weighs 1-2 pounds and has short legs and a short tail. It is dark gray on the sides and back, and pale gray on the belly. Its range is confined to the Pacific coast, from the Columbia river in the north to the tip of Baja, Mexico in the south.

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These mammals require dense bramble clumps or other thick brushy habitat. These bramble clumps often have extensive networks of trails and runways. The species will occasionally use burrows made by other species, but does not dig its own.

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Brush Rabbits forage alone or in small groups. They can be seen sunning in the mid-morning, but are otherwise secretive and wary. They thump the ground with their back feet when startled. They feed mainly on grasses and are not hunted by humans, due to their small size.

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They are smaller than a number of the other cottontails, and unlike most of them, they have a grey underside to their tail instead of white (which possibly is why they do not have “cottontail” in their common name). It was neat to encounter this cool creature while visiting the Golden State.

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North American River Otter

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As I was hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath this week, I noticed some movement in the water in the Cuyahoga River. Once I got a good look at them and made a positive identification, I was pleasantly surprised to be observing my first wild North American River Otters.

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North American River Otters are native to Ohio, but in the early 1900s they were extirpated from the state due to poor water quality. Throughout the twentieth century, Ohio waterways started to bounce back and in 1986 the Division of Wildlife decided to reintroduce otters to the state.

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These mammals are built for swimming. They have an excellent cardiovascular and respiratory system that allows them to stay under water for up to 4 minutes at a time. They can also close their ears and nostrils to keep water out and have a clear third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane that protects their eyes while under water.

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A North American River Otter’s diet consists of mainly fish, but they will also eat various reptile and amphibian species as well as small mammals and birds. I got to see these animals eating their prey, which in this case was a European Carp.

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These animals are often seen in family groups in the Summer and early Fall. They are generally nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk), although daytime activity is not uncommon in undisturbed areas. They are known for being playful and I saw one rolling around in the sand, seeming to enjoy himself.

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A member of the Weasel Family, this is a stocky animal weighing 11 to 33 pounds, with short legs, a muscular neck and an elongated body. It has long whiskers that are used to detect prey in dark water. Its body length ranges from 26 to 42 inches.

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It was awesome to observe these animals in the wild and to witness their natural behavior.

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Nine-banded Armadillo

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Driving back from Snake Road in southern Illinois one evening last month, I saw this cool and unusual creature rooting around in an empty field.

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Though their body shape resembles that of an opossum, the Nine-banded Armadillo is more closely related to sloths and anteaters. Around 20 species of armadillo exist, but the Nine-banded is the only one found in the United States.

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The term “armadillo” means “little armored one” in Spanish, and refers to the presence of the bony, armor-like plates covering their body. Contrary to their common name, Nine-banded Armadillos can have 7 to 11 bands of armor.

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Nine-banded Armadillos are solitary, largely nocturnal animals that come out to forage around dusk. They are extensive burrowers, with a single animal sometimes maintaining up to 12 burrows on its range. I most often see them at night, like this one from a couple of years ago.

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They are mainly insectivores that forage for meals by thrusting their snouts into loose soil and leaf litter and digging up grubs, beetles, ants, termites, and worms, which their sensitive noses can detect through 8 inches of soil.

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During the Great Depression, the species was hunted for its meat in East Texas, where it was known as poor man’s pork, or the “Hoover Hog” by those who considered President Herbert Hoover to be responsible for the Depression.

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Nine-banded Armadillos nearly always have litters of four babies – identical quadruplets. Armadillo babies look very much like adults, but are smaller and softer than their armored parents. This is a fascinating animal that I always enjoy encountering.

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Wild Burro

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There have been several times in my visits to the Las Vegas Area when I’ve encountered these hoofed mammals. The Wild Burro was first introduced into the southwestern United States by Spaniards in the 1500s. Originally from Africa, these pack animals were prized for their hardiness in arid country. They are sure-footed, can locate food in barren terrain and can carry heavy burdens for days through hot, dry environments.

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A “Wild Burro” is simply a wild donkey. Used by miners during the Gold Rush of the 1800s, many of these tough animals were later abandoned, but found ways to survive some of the most extreme, unforgiving terrain in the American West. Wild burros have long ears, a short mane and reach a height of up to 5 feet at the shoulders. They vary in color from black to brown to gray.

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An average weight of an adult is 400 pounds for males (jacks) which are slightly larger than the females (jennies). These animals have been known to live past 30 years when well fed and cared for by man. In the wild, their average lifespan is about 10 years.

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A Wild Burro can tolerate a water loss of about 30% of its body weight. Is feeds on a wide variety of plants but prefers grasses. It survives the apparent lack of water by seeking out the natural springs and hidden waterholes.

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The Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (passed in 1971), states that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages Wild Burros with other plants and animals in the environment. The BLM currently manages Wild Burros so that they and other animals and plants can share the area with minimal competition.

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Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat

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One of the unexpected highlights of my recent visit to southern Illinois was getting to encounter a number of these fine creatures. As their name implies, this species has long, rabbit-like ears that can be over an inch long. They are a medium-sized bat with a wingspan of 10–12 inches.

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Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bats, like all bats in the southeastern United States, are insectivorous, nocturnal, and locate food primarily by echolocation. They consume a wide range of insects – including mosquitoes, beetles and flies – although moths make up 90% of their diet.

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While other species of bats are crepuscular (become active during twilight hours), this species is nocturnal, becoming active when it is completely dark. This mammal occurs in forested regions largely devoid of natural caves. Its natural roosting places are in hollow trees and crevices behind bark. It is most frequently observed in buildings – both occupied and abandoned.

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Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bats are one of the least-known bats in the southeastern United States. They help make our lives more comfortable by eating millions of bugs, especially mosquitoes, every night as well as consuming crop-destroying insects. This was a fun find in the Land of Lincoln.

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Indiana Bat

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This is a creature that I’ve only seen while visiting Cater Caves, Kentucky. The Indiana Bat was listed as endangered in 1967. They are vulnerable to disturbance because they hibernate in large numbers in only a few caves.

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Other threats to their existence include commercialization of caves, loss of Summer habitat, pesticides and other contaminants, and most recently, a disease known as White-nose Syndrome.

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Although in flight they have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches, Indiana Bats only weigh about one-quarter of an ounce (about the weight of three pennies).

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Indiana bats are social and tend to be found clustered in groups. Their average lifespan is 15 years, which is surprisingly long for such a small mammal.

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Like other bats in the United States, they are insectivores and feed on beetles, flies, moths and other flying invertebrates. To locate their prey, they utilize echolocation, which is similar to sonar used in ships.

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It was neat to see this uncommon and very cool mammal while visiting the Bluegrass State.

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Tri-colored Bat

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When exploring Carter Caves, Kentucky, we came across a few examples of one of the smallest bats in the land; it can easily be mistaken for a large moth in flight.

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The Tri-colored Bat’s forearms are pinkish and its wing membrane is black. Its ears are longer than they are wide. With a weight of about one fifth of an ounce, it is roughly the same heaviness as a quarter.

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They prefer to live in open forest areas that are near a source of water in the Summer. Tri-colored Bats are among the first bats to emerge in the evening and can been seen flying about foraging for insects. Because of their small size, they are limited to small prey less than half an inch in length. One study recorded a Tri-colored Bat catching an insect every two seconds.

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This mammal is classified as a cave-dwelling bat. In the Winter, it can be found in caves, mines, and rock crevices. While they are known for keeping down mosquito populations, Tri-colored Bats also have important agricultural value, since they also eat grain moths and beetles emerging from corn cribs.

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I don’t get to see bats “up close and personal” all that often, so encountering one of them is a great part of the spelunking experience.

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