By NICK CAHILL, Contributing Writer
University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher with a mounted skeleton of the Buesching mastodon, based on casts of individual bones produced in fiberglass, on public display at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor. Photo by Eric Bronson/Michigan Photography
Tracking the Past
Scientists chart the migrations of an extinct animal for the first time
DEARBORN, MI (CN)—A new study out of the University of Michigan tracked the migration pattern of a mastodon, an elephant-like mammal. Despite being extinct for 13,000 years, researchers have found a way to tell this animal’s life story.
This mastodon’s remains were found in 1998 on a peat farm near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Named the Buesching mastodon, this 8-ton adult allowed researchers to document the annual migration of an extinct animal for the first time.
A mastodon’s tusks are similar to tree rings, recording their lives from birth — the plants and water consumed by a mas- todon left traceable chemicals in their tusks. As a result, the scientists could drill small increments of the Buesching mas- todon’s tusks and use strontium and oxygen isotope ratios to track his move- ments.
The results are specific, giving research- ers the age of the mastodon and what time of year particular travels were made.
“You’ve got a whole life spread out before you in that tusk,” said Daniel Fisher, a University of Michigan paleontologist and study co-author, in a press release. Fisher helped excavate the Buesching mastodon 24years ago.
Strontium isotope geochemistry analyzes samples for the ratio of the trace element strontium which provides a kind of geo-
logic fingerprint. These ratios are com- pared to map locations with strontium landscape data. The oxygen isotope values aid in identifying seasonal fluctua- tions, giving the scientists the year the tusk was formed.
Thousands-year-old cave wall etching (top) of a prehistoric mastodon housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and an artis- tic rendition of what a living mastodon may have looked like (below).
"The field of strontium isotope geochemistry is a real up-and-coming tool for paleontology, archaeology, historical ecology, and even forensic biology. It’s flourishing. But, really, we have just scratched the surface of what this information can tell us," Joshua Miller, a University of Cincinnati paleoecologist and co-author.
The Buesching mastodon’s home was central Indiana. Eventually, he would travel approximately twenty miles a month as an adult. Then, each summer, he would travel to northern Indiana to what researchers presume were mating grounds.
"Every time you get to the warm season, the Buesching mastodon was going to the same place—bam, bam, bam—repeatedly. The clarity of that signal was unexpected and really exciting,” said Miller.
Approximately 13,200 years ago, at thirty-four years old, the Buesching mastodon died when another mas- todon’s tusk impaled the right side of his skull, likely during a mating-season battle. He passed over one hundred miles from his homelands.
The next steps are to study and map the tusk and life of another mastodon for overlapping trends and new insights into their ancient lives.
Wildlife in Minnesota: Getting along
ven people who cherish wildlife will recognize the enormous amount of damage, not to men- tion frustration, animals can cause. Wildlife
damage costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year in crop losses, and damage to homes and property. Unfortunately, sometimes wildlife will continue to be a problem.
Find out which are the nuisance animals and how to best control them.
Urban Coyotes: Coyotes are wild members of the dog family, intermediate in size between red foxes and wolves. In Minnesota, coyotes average 30 lbs., and stand about 18 inches high at the shoulders. However, they may appear much larger due to their heavy fur coat, especially in winter. They are gray/brown in color, and somewhat resemble a small German Shepherd dog in appearance. Coyotes in Minnesota are loners, except when families are raising pups. Their primary foods are rabbits and mice, but they are very oppor- tunistic, and will feed on other small mammals, deer, birds, carrion, fruit, and human garbage.
Although coyotes can be found anywhere in Minnesota, distribution and population size is varies. Currently, populations are establishing and increasing in the Twin Cities metro area. Most coyotes avoid people and domestic animals, but occasionally they will kill sheep, turkeys, and calves. They may also raid garbage cans, and kill domestic cats and small dogs.
While healthy wild coyotes avoid people, incidents have been reported in Minnesota and many other states. Experts believe these incidents are more likely after a coyote has become accustomed to humans or after being fed by humans. If you are concerned about the presence of coyotes where you live, consider the following do's and don'ts:
secure all garbage containers, wildlife feeders, and other food sources to prevent coyote access
confine small dogs and cats in kennels or supervise them when outside
vaccinate all pets for rabies, distemper, parvo, and other diseases, as recommended by a veterinarian
consider installing coyote-proof fencing
harass (by chasing, shouting, etc.) any coyotes that do not immediately run from people
do not feed coyotes
do not leave pet food outside
do not allow cats and small dogs outside unattended
These simple suggestions should prevent most coyote problems. However, if depredation occurs or aggres- sive coyote behavior is observed, removal of the coyotes may be necessary. Coyotes are unprotected in Minnesota, and may be taken at any time by shooting or trapping.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources does not trap, shoot or relocate coyotes. Where neces- sary, removal of coyotes is the responsibility of the landowner or tenant. For information on pest control contractors or trapping techniques for coyote removal, contact your local DNR Wildlife office or Conservation Officer. In cities with ordinances prohibiting the use of certain traps and/or firearms, you may need a city permit, or assistance from the city animal control agency.
Raccoons: Raccoons are common inhabitants of urban and semi-urban areas Minnesota. Because local ordinances provide raccoons with near-total protection in many areas, dealing with damage or nuisance situations in those settings presents some unique problems.
Because raccoons sleep during the day and are active at night, property owners seldom see them causing damage. However their distinctive tracks or the type of damage caused may help identify whether raccoons are the problem.
Raccoons will raid garbage cans in search of food, and this may be mistaken for a problem caused by free-running dogs. Uncapped and unused chimneys are commonly used for denning in urban areas. Raccoons may occasionally gain access to attics or outbuildings. They will also roll up freshly laid sod in search of grubs or worms, especially in late summer.
Raccoons may cause considerable damage to gardens or truck crops, particularly sweet corn. They will pull back the husks and eat the corn, and may break off corn stalks as they climb up the stalks to get the ears.
Although the raccoon may cause numerous nuisance problems, there are a number of ways to deter or prevent additional damage.
Garbage cans. Homeowners having a problem with raccoons in garbage should store the garbage in a stout metal or plastic container and close the lid tightly. It should be wired, clamped or tied shut if necessary. If the problem persists it may be necessary to tie the can to a post or other solid object to prevent it from being tipped over or to put the garbage cans inside the garage or outdoor shed. Raccoons may be attracted by dog or cat food left out overnight, and it may be necessary to feed pets indoors or to provide food only during the day.
Feeding of raccoons is strongly discouraged and is prohibited in some areas. Raccoons that have been fed tend to become very bold and dependent on people and can become especially troublesome in the neigh- borhood where the feeding occurs.
Attics. If raccoons are denning in an attic, the best way to get rid of them is to wait until all raccoons leave the attic, then repair the hole where they are gaining access. Raccoons normally leave their dens nightly to forage. However, in the spring and early summer, young raccoons may be present that are unable to leave the den. In winter, raccoons may remain in their dens for weeks at a time during very cold or stormy weather, coming out only on "warm" nights.
Chimneys. If raccoons are lodging in an unused chimney, it may be possible to smoke them out by lighting a small fire in the fireplace. However, this technique may not work if young raccoons are present or the rac- coon may climb part way up the chimney and start causing smoke to back up into the house. You should be prepared to quickly extinguish the fire if this becomes a problem. Some professional chimney cleaners also specialize in removing animals or the homeowner can wait until the young are weaned (between two and four months of age). At that time, they will leave on their own. In any case, once the raccoons are gone, the chimney should be covered with a commercial cap to prevent future problems.
Lawn and Sod. Raccoons roll or pull up freshly laid sod, beginning in late June or early July, in search of worms and grubs. If the new sod does not cover much area, it may be possible to put wooden stakes or wire pins through the ends of the rolls until the roots get a good firm hold. Usually, the most practical alternative is to remove the raccoon(s).
Gardens. Raccoons raiding vegetable gardens may be excluded with a single or double wire electric fence, if the area is fairly isolated. Single wire fences should be 6 inches off the ground or a double wire fence at 5 and 12 inches may be more effective. The fence can be activated at dusk and turned off after daybreak. In residential areas where children may be present, electric fences may not be the most practical alternative. No effective repellents or frightening devices are known for raccoons in outdoor areas.
Removal. In urban and suburban areas, cage or box traps are generally the most practical removal devices. Foot traps may be used in some areas, especially if they can be set in water. Some cities have ordinances prohibiting the use of certain types of traps, so local authorities should be contacted before any removal efforts are begun.
State law allows property owners to control raccoons that are causing damage or injury on their property. They may control these animals without a trapping license or permit. If the animal is killed, it must be reported to the local DNR Conservation Officer within 24 hours.
A live trap should be at least 10" x 12" x 32". It can be baited with fish, chicken, fish flavored cat food or canned tuna. The mesh must be small enough so the raccoon cannot reach through the wire and get the bait. One-half inch or smaller will be adequate. Most of the bait should be placed inside the trap near the back, but a few morsels should be placed in front of and just inside the trap. Live traps are available for rent or loan from rental companies and some animal shelters and nature centers or can be purchased or made.
Although shooting is often an effective control technique in rural areas, it is prohibited in towns and cities.
If a foothold type trap is used, a number one and one-half coil spring or "stop-loss" trap should be used, preferably in a drowning set. These traps are best confined to water in semi-urban areas and may be illegal in some areas.
Diseases. Raccoons are wild animals and no attempt should be made to pick them up or pet them, even if they appear tame. Although rabies is quite rare in raccoons in Minnesota, no bite by a wild carnivore should be ignored. Raccoons are normally not aggressive, but will defend themselves if captured or cornered. If you are bitten by a raccoon, every attempt should be made to capture or kill it (without damage to the head) so that it can be tested for rabies by the Minnesota Department of Health. Medical treatment and advice should also be sought.
Recently, it has been found that a common roundworm parasite of raccoons can cause human health prob- lems under certain circumstances. These parasites live in the raccoon intestine and shed microscopic eggs which are passed in the raccoon feces. These eggs can become infective to people or other animals after about 30 days. The greatest potential for problems is for people who may come into close contact with areas contaminated with raccoon fecal material, particularly small children who may place dirty hands or objects in their mouths.
In wild populations, distemper is the most important disease causing raccoon mortality, but it does not affect humans or properly immunized pets.
Living with skunks: Minnesota is home to two skunk species, the striped skunk and its smaller and less common relative the eastern spotted skunk. Both species have a bushy tail, black and white fur and are capable of spraying a stinky pungent odor some 10 to 15 feet.
Striped skunks live and thrive in rural and urban environments throughout Minnesota. Eastern spotted skunks are generally found in open lands that have riparian woodlands, shelterbelts, thickets and brush. In agricultural areas they prefer cover made by humans, including outbuildings, corncribs, trash piles, rock piles and haystacks.
Regardless of the species you don’t want to mess with a skunk. In addition to the obvious reason, skunks can carry rabies. Even though the number of skunk rabies cases is very low in Minnesota it is best to avoid them, even cute baby skunks. Moreover, avoid any skunk that exhibits symptoms such as disorientation, impaired movements, paralysis, poor coordination, unprovoked aggression, strange vocalizations, excess saliva or an unusually friendly behavior. If you see any of these behaviors notify an animal control officer .
Skunks typically keep their distance from people. Skunk attacks are highly unlikely but skunks, like all wild animals, are unpredictable when startled, sick, habituated to people or feel threatened. Be cautious if you see one. If you have been attacked, bitten or scratched by a skunk immediately clean the area with soap and water for several minutes then see your doctor as soon as possible (ideally within 24 hours) for advice and treatment.
Living with foxes: Minnesota has two species of fox; the red fox and its less common relative the gray fox.
The red fox exists throughout Minnesota, including the Twin Cities and suburbs. Traditionally, the gray existed primarily in the woodlands and forests that stretch from the southeast to the northwest. Recently, the range has expanded into parts of the southwest and northeast.
Typically, foxes avoid people and are not dangerous to humans except when they are rabid, which is very rare. Mange is more common in Minnesota foxes than rabies. If you do see a fox exhibiting odd behavior— loss of body control, excessive salivation, unusual friendliness—contact your local animal control office . A fox’s natural tendency is to flee rather than fight.
Fox can be a problem for home owners and rural property owners. This is especially so when they associate people with food. Easy ways to scare fox include making loud noises, spraying a garden hose in their direc- tion or taking another threatening action, such as tossing a ball at it. In many instances the fox you see is simply moving from one hunting area to another and no action is necessary.
Red and gray foxes dig dens mostly for raising kits but also for shelter from severe winter weather. If you find an active fox den beneath your porch or on your property, simply let it be, thereby allowing the kits to grow to an age at which they will accompany their parents on foraging outings and ultimately move away. If you need a fox family to move on sooner you can initiate some mild harassment to encourage this. Humane harass- ment options once kits have emerged include:
Loosely packing leaves, soil or mulch in the den opening to disturb the residents.
Placing urine soaked kitty litter, a sweat-soaked T-shirt, smelly sweat socks or old sneakers in or near the den opening.
Mounting shiny party balloons on sticks or poles a few feet off the ground just outside the den entrance.
Spreading a commercially-available repellent around the den entry.
Placing a radio 5-6 feet away from the opening and leaving it on for a few days.
The goal of these tactics is to make the parents uncomfortable enough to move the litter to a more secure location. Once the den has been abandoned make sure all the kits are out of the den before any permanent exclusion is put in place.
Foxes are excellent diggers so a good way to keep them from denning under a porch or deck is to fence them out with hardware cloth around the perimeter, making sure to bury the cloth into the ground 12 inches deep and so that a 12-24-inch long L-shaped length of wire faces away from the porch or deck.
Living with badgers. Though not commonly seen, badgers exist throughout Minnesota except in the heavily forested northeast. Flat and furry, this nocturnal mammal spends much of its life beneath ground. That’s where it lives and frequently where it feeds. Badgers prefer open prairie but also inhabit farmland.
Badgers are amazing diggers and can make a mess of a garden or lawn in no time. They primarily feed on mice, ground squirrels and gophers. In fact, the badger is the only predator that can dig out the deep-burrowing pocket gopher. Badgers also eat snails, grasshoppers, bird eggs, honey, insect larvae and snakes. Badgers are omnivores and therefore feed on compost piles and gardens where they forage fruits, vegeta- bles and bulbs.
The best way to keep a badger from digging in your garden is to shut them out. Do this by installing a fence around the perimeter. Bury the fence at least 24 inches below ground and so that a 12-24-inch long L-shaped length of wire faces away from the porch or deck. It should be made of heavy gauge wire with no more than a 2x3 spacing. An electric fence wire installed at 2, 4 and 6 inches high is another option but remember the badger may just dig below the wires to get in.
Sometimes badgers dig in one particular area, a lawn for example where underground food is abundant. A potential solution to this problem is to unroll sturdy wire over the area and secure it in place with landscaping pegs. Badgers have powerful legs and sharp claws and can easily dig through lightweight wire.
If you feed birds or other animals, especially with nuts or fruit, you may want to suspend this activity to avoid attracting badgers. Badgers are a protected species in Minnesota and they cannot be lethally trapped or shot, except during regulated seasons or with a special removal permit from the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Woodchucks: The woodchuck inhabits both rural and urban areas. They can become a nuisance when their feeding and burrowing habits conflict with human interests. Woodchucks feed on a variety of vegetables, grasses and legumes, and have the ability to destroy an entire garden or flowerbed in a relatively short time. In addition to plant damage, burrowing along sidewalks, driveways and building foundations can lead to serious damage to structures.
Finding the burrow
In the spring, occupied woodchuck burrows are easily recognized. Fresh dirt pellets (marble size) to dirt clods as big as a fist) are generally found at the mouth of an active burrow. Clawed or girdled trees and shrubs also help identify woodchuck inhabited burrows and dens.
Minnesota state law (Statute 97B.651) states that mammals that are deemed "unprotected wild animals may be taken at any time and in any manner, except with artificial lights or by using a motor vehicle in violation of section 97B.091. Poison may not be used to take unprotected mammals or unprotected birds unless the safety of humans and domestic livestock is ensured.
Hunting and trapping
The most effective control of nuisance woodchucks is to remove them. In areas where hunting or shooting is not permissible due to local laws, the alternative is removal by live trapping. To obtain a live trap, contact the various large rental agencies throughout the metro area or check with your city dog pound or other animal control agency, or the Humane Society, for the possible loan or rental of such a trap.
Traps can be baited with apples or vegetables such as carrots and lettuce. Locate the trap at the burrow's main entrance. Guide logs placed at either side of a path between the burrow opening and the trap will aid in funneling the animal toward the trap. All traps should be checked twice daily, morning and evening, so that captured animals may be dealt with in a humane manner.
Once the woodchuck is captured in the live trap, you may dispose of it in any humane manner. If you choose to relocate, it is suggested that the animal be taken at least five miles away and out-of-town. It is unlawful to release wildlife on state-owned lands (State Parks, WMAs, etc.) without permission. Before releasing the animal on any public or private land, obtain permission from the landowner or governing agency. Consult local laws before applying controls.
Snakes: Many people realize the value of snakes, even if they might not appreciate having them in their home or yard. The majority of Minnesota snakes are harmless. Of the 17 snake species in the state, only two are venomous—the Timber Rattlesnake and the Eastern Massasauga. Both are found only in the southeastern counties and are rarely encountered. The snake that most often appears in homes and yards is the common, but harmless garter snake.
People should be careful when approaching any snake because they all can bite, but poisonous snakes such as the Timber rattlesnake or Eastern Massasauga, are especially dangerous. you should be careful when approaching any snake.
All snakes are considered protected wild animals in Minnesota. Other reptiles or amphibians that may occasionally find entry in your home or habitate your backyard include prairie skinks or tiger salamanders, turtles, various lizards, frogs and toads, often around June when they are looking for a nesting site. These animals will normally move on if left alone. They are not dangerous nor do they cause damage.
What else flutters, crawls and slithers about in Minnesota's Wilds?
Many animals like squirrels, raccoons and deer thrive on the habitat created by suburban sprawl and the fragmentation of woods and forests. The means we choose to prevent wildlife damage will, to some degree, determine its incidence in the future.
Quite frankly hundreds of thousands of creatures representing the lower creation. ...
Insects are key players in our ecosystem: They're pollinators, help break down and dispose of waste, keep pests at bay, act as scavengers, and are the sole food source for other animals. A rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals, many insects are considered delicacies in parts of the world.
An insect has six legs, a three-segmented body, segmented legs, compound eyes and two antennae. Exam- ples include beetles, butterflies, ants, bees and dragonflies. While we commonly refer to all insects as "bugs," bugs are members of a specific order of insects, known as Hemiptera, which includes leafhoppers and stink bugs. Some small creatures, such as spiders and centipedes, are arthropods, not insects. All of them are invertebrates.
If you've spent any time outdoors in Minnesota this summer, you're likely very familiar with mosquitoes. From eyeless millipedes and bioindicator larvae to Hackberry emperor butterflies and garden spiders, herewith are some other fascinating invertebrates found in Minnesota.
Dipluran millipede: This dipluran (two-tails) millipede is endemic to Mystery Cave and nowhere else in the world! It was found last summer during an invertebrate inventory in Mystery Cave and is cave-adapted, so it's confined to a cave and can’t survive outside of it. Cave-adapted millipedes are eyeless, which means they would be easy prey. With no pigment to protect them from UV rays, they wouldn’t last long in the sunlight.
St. Croix snaketail dragonfly: This large black and green dragonfly is named for its cobra-like clubtail. The St. Croix Snaketail is one of North America’s rarest dragonflies, discovered only in 1993, and considered threa- tened in Minnesota. The nymph requires clean, highly oxygenated, flowing waters with a sandy bottom. It has only been found in the St. Croix River watershed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in a few sites in southeastern U.S. The adult is short-lived, relative to other dragonflies, and is rarely encountered.
Learn how you can help protect this and other dragonflies.
Minnesota is teeming with wildlife. Numbered among this menagerie are (clockwise from top left) dipluran millipede, hellgrammites, garden spider, St. Croix snaketail dragonfly, hackberry emperor butterfly, and giant mayfly.
Hellgrammites: One of the largest aquatic invertebrates in Minnesota, hellgrammites have extra appendages giving them the appearance of having a lot more than six legs. After spending up to three years under water, hellgrammites (larvae of eastern dobsonflies) crawl out and metamorphose into adult. The huge, seven-inch dobsonflies live only a few days, just long enough to mate and lay eggs. They are usually found at the base of rocks in cold, fast moving water. The larvae are ferocious predators that eat any small, aquatic creature that goes by. They are in turn eaten by fish, especially smallmouth bass and trout. As they only live in heal- thy, unpolluted water they can be used by scientists as bioindicators.
Hackberry emperor butterfly: Every summer Hackberry emperor butterflies emerge by the hundreds at Whitewater State Park, fluttering everywhere while trying to get moisture from all kinds of sources. Hack- berry emperor caterpillars feed in groups on their only host, hackberry. In winter, late-stage caterpillars take refuge in rolled-up leaves, emerging in the spring to continue feeding. Adult butterflies emerge from the chrysalis in early summer and live for about two weeks. Adults get moisture from an odd assortment of sources, including hackberry flower nectar, feces, and rotting carcasses… they're not picky!
Giant mayfly: These insects are important in both aquatic and terrestrial food webs, as they're eaten by other invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals like bats. The giant mayfly thrives in freshwater ecosystems that have sufficient oxygen levels. Their larvae are found in the water or burrowed down into the sediment. Adults can be seen on land in very high numbers (like millions!) in early to mid-summer evenings. Look for “the hatch” left when the adults emerge from the water. Mayflies are sensitive to chemical pollutants, erosion and sediments in the water, and decreased dissolved oxygen levels.