Monday, February 6, 2017

Creek Field Animal Homes

Yesterday I asked if anyone could help me identify the residents of the animal homes shown in the video, all located in the wooded areas between the Creek Field and McDowell Creek.  Also, I wanted to know about the little white circles scattered just outside a hollow tree.  Animal?  Vegetable? Mineral?

Today I was thrilled to receive an answer from one of the most knowledgeable mammalogists in Kansas.   KSU's Andrew Ricketts wrote as follows:

The first animal home (the hollow tree) in your video has a lot going on, and, likely, a long history.  The secret is the little white circles, which are the pits from hackberry fruits.  Many animals eat hackberry fruits, but most only digest the outer part of the fruit, and then pass the little white pits in their feces.  Raccoons often consume the fruits in very large quantities in the winter.  They also defecate repeatedly at latrine sites to mark their territories.  This results in a buildup of many hackberry pits in a small location (often at the base of a den tree that has a hollow area large enough for a raccoon to enter).  Mice, usually white-footed mice around here, are able to bite through the hard shell that forms the pit of the hackberry fruit, which allows them to eat the seed that is contained within the pit.  They will eat fruits and seeds that are scattered on the ground, but will also mine seeds from raccoon latrines because they are large deposits of easily accessible food.  The little white circles are hackberry pits that mice have opened in order to eat the seed.  From what I can see in the video, I think that white-footed mice have lived in the hollow portion of the tree and have been depositing seed remains in there for a very long time.  Recently, the wood near the ground in the hollow part of the tree has become rotten enough that a larger animal (probably a raccoon or a skunk) was able to dig into the hollow area, in order to get inside and use it for a den.  The red substrate is rotten wood that the larger animal scattered as they were opening the hollow, and the seed remains came along with it.

As for the hollow log on the ground, it looks like either a mouse or an eastern woodrat (aka packrat), or both are living in there.  If it is a mouse home, they would likely be white-footed mice, given that it is located in a wooded area.

It is hard to be sure about the holes in the ground near the pocket gopher mounds that are featured near the end of the video.  As I hinted at, the mounds of dirt are from pocket gophers cleaning out their burrow system that is below ground.  They almost never leave holes in the ground that would allow a predator, such as a snake, easy access to the burrow system, though.  In my work with small mammals at Konza, I regularly observed deer mice, prairie voles, and cotton rats escaping into similar holes that they had made, which gave them access to the pocket gopher tunnels.  So, my best guess is that similar species of rodents have made the holes near the pocket gopher burrow system, to make their home.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I think it is really neat that you are sharing so much natural history from your property with others.

Thank you so much for this information, Drew.  You're the best!
I am so grateful for your expertise and your kind & generous willingness to share it.
All best,