Intelligent Tree Squirrels

Intelligent Squirrels: Squirrel Courtesy Pixabay
Squirrel
Courtesy Pixabay
Primates of the northlands. I consider tree squirrels to be on par with many primates for intelligence and agility. Those who have bird feeders may agree with me as they vainly attempt to thwart squirrel’s from invading their feeders. We have red squirrels visiting our bird feeder regularly. I’ve outsmarted them for the moment, but they continue to work on the problem I’ve presented them and feel a failure coming my way!

I’ve watched red squirrels manipulate fir cones with their front paws with amazing dexterity. Like myself eating a cob of corn, it spun the cone rapidly while shredding the cone scales to access the seed. Their tiny toes grip the cone identically to my fingers gripping the cob of corn. I’m amazed how they can unerringly navigate their way from tree to tree through our forest. There are many examples of squirrel intelligence witnessed by animal behaviorists.

Arboreal squirrels often build dreys that look like bird nests. Dreys are made up of twigs , moss, feathers and grass. All the items surrounding the dreys provide support and insulation. Chimpanzees exhibit very similar behavior.

Squirrels make use of several vocalizations to communicate with each other, they also create scents to attract opposite sex or communicate. They can create signals with their tails as well, by twitching it to alert other squirrels on the presence of a potential danger.

Tree squirrels display fantastically acrobatic movements, phenomenal adaptability to urban environments, and possess very cute little faces to boot. The 7th International Colloquium on Arboreal Squirrels was held 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. Studies routinely come discover new, amazing behaviors, especially involving the squirrel’s signature behavior, that it buries caches of its food to access later. One experiment found that they’ll try multiple tactics to open a locked box. Another found that squirrels remember the location of their caches without using their keen noses to locate them. Another found that they’re able to quickly learn from their peers.

A 2010 study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive, or paranoid, behavior. When squirrels are being watched, they’ll construct fake caches, pretending to bury a nut by digging a hole, patting it down with their front teeth, and scraping dirt or grass over the top of it while concealing the nut in a pocket near their armpit, and will make the real cache somewhere else. Even while watching, it can be difficult to tell when a squirrel is making a fake or a real cache. How smart is that?

A study was conducted at UC Berkley in which students were placed in a competitive game to act like squirrels. They hid caches of plastic eggs, and then 15 minutes later returned to find them. This is a very squirrel-like test: memory, deception, location, observation, paranoia. Most students couldn’t remember their own hiding places. Squirrels bury about 10,000 nuts per year, making many different caches, and may not uncover them for months. They may dig up a cache and bury it somewhere else, and do that up to five times. Squirrels, unlike UC Berkeley students, are engaged in this intellectually draining activity while also avoiding predators and braving the elements.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon. I’m Wild About Utah and its amazing squirrels!

Credits:

Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Alexas Fotos, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/squirrel-rodent-animal-cute-nature-5158715/
Audio: Courtesy UPR
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Utah Fox Squirrels, NHMU is studying Fox Squirrels, and we need your help!, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/citizen-science/utah-fox-squirrels

Types of Squirrels in Utah! (3 species w/ pictures), Bird Watching HQ, https://birdwatchinghq.com/squirrels-in-utah/



Berries

Berries: Oregon Grape  <i>Mahonia repens</i> Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons Park Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer
Oregon Grape
Mahonia repens
Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons
Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer,

Red Raspberry Rubus idaeus var. strigosus Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, JW Stockert Photographer, 1972 Red Raspberry
Rubus idaeus var. strigosus
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, JW Stockert Photographer, 1972

Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, JW Stockert, Photographer Thimbleberry
Rubus parviflorus
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, JW Stockert, Photographer

Utah-Serviceberry Rosaceae Amelanchier utahensis Courtesy National Park Service, Lee Ferguson, Photographer Utah-Serviceberry
Rosaceae Amelanchier utahensis
Courtesy National Park Service, Lee Ferguson, Photographer

Rose Hips Wood's rose Rosa woodsii Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer, 1977 Rose Hips
Wood’s rose Rosa woodsii
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer, 1977

The berry season is upon us- huckleberries, raspberries, gooseberries, chokecherries (not a berry but close enough), elderberries, bearberries, while early berries have faded- golden current, serviceberries, thimble berries are now fruit leather.

Berry picking during my youth in the North woods of Wisconsin was a wonderful tradition that I, and our black bear neighbors, looked forward to with great anticipation. We often shared the same patch evident by fresh bear scat and tracks. Those rare occasions where brother and sister bear were with us are frozen in time. “Just keep picking and talking- they won’t bother us.” My grandmother’s refrain. I was enthralled, watching every move and sound they made, with an occasional “woof” from mother bear alerting the youngsters.

Now, so many years later, I take my students to the Tetons hoping for a glimpse of bruins harvesting berries, rose hips, and thorn apples along streams and roadsides. Black bears are efficient berry-eaters, consuming up to 30,000 berries a day in a good year. They gather berries quickly, using their sensitive, mobile lips swallowing them whole. The berries enter a two-part stomach, which grinds the pulp off the seeds which pass through unbroken and are able to germinate, making black bears important seed dispersers.

Our Bear River Range here in Northern Utah was once a stronghold for the bruin. Overharvesting by hunters and the government has left it wanting, but the berries remain. One berry favored by bears is the white snowberry. Don’t copy the bears on this one as it’s toxic, but a great medicinal. Another that I avoid is the buffalo berry, called soapberry in the northwest. It contains saponin, the active ingredient in most soaps. It’s much like biting into a bar of soap, applied in my younger years for mouth cleansing. And please avoid the voluptuous red and white fruit of the bane berry, and cute little mini tomatoes of deadly night shade. You will be all the better for it.

“Harvesting berries can be a powerful meditation, centering us in the power of “now,” and is one of the oldest human experiences. This simple action can be an opportunity to revel in the abundance of nature. Tangibly interacting with food that is so wired into its life source is otherworldly, and it reminds us of a time when humans were more directly connected to the origins of our food. It is a grounding experience that demands every cell in your body resonate with the source of our food, catalyzing our connections to the universe.” Valerie Segrest quote

I strongly recommend “Blueberries for Sal” for younger generations. A delightful 1948 children’s book by renowned author Robert McCloskey. I recently visited the Blueberry Hill in Main’s Acadian N.P., the location for this story, and picked a few myself. Unfortunately, the bears had been replaced swarms of tourists!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and yes, I’m wild about Utah’s bears and wild berries!

Credits:

Pictures:
Oregon Grape Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons, Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/blue-wild-berries-in-the-tetons-blue-3842367/
Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus); JW Stockert; 1972, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/08720.jpg
Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii) hips; J Schmidt; 1977, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/06964.jpg
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus); JW Stockert; 1973, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/08718.jpg
Utah Serviceberry, Rosaceae_Amelanchier_utahensis, Courtesy US NPS, Lee Ferguson, Photographer, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/images/Rosaceae_Amelanchier_utahensis.jpg
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Valerie Segrest, Foods Still Matter: The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project, National Museum of the American Indian, The Smithsonian Institution, 2018, https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/pnw-history-culture/muckleshoot

Valerie Segrest, Food sovereignty, TEDxRainier, TEDxSeattle, https://tedxseattle.com/talks/food-sovereignty/

McCloskey, Robert(Author), Blueberries for Sal, Puffin Books, September 30, 1976 https://www.amazon.com/Blueberries-Sal-Robert-McCloskey/dp/014050169X

A Bear’s Menu, Student Activities, Educator Resources, Yellowstone National Park, https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/a-bears-menu.htm

Gallop Thru Time

Gallop Thru Time: The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS
The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS

Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary Heers' Selfie with the Hagerman Horse Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mary Heers’ Selfie with the Hagerman Horse
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse Equus simplicidens Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse
Equus simplicidens
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse Equus ferus caballus Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse
Equus ferus caballus
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

In 1928 Elmer Cook, a rancher in Hagerman, Idaho, noticed an interesting bone sticking our of the hillside on his land overlooking the Snake River. Intrigued, he started to dig around and discovered it was a fossilized bone and there were plenty more like it. Elmer alerted the National Smithsonian Museum, who sent out a team. This team determined the bones were ancestors of the modern horse. They were 3½ million years old. In the end, after digging into the hillside for 2 years, they took over 200 fossils, including 12 complete horse skeletons, back to Washington D.C.

My own fascination with horse fossils actually began a few years ago when I was giving tours at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. A fossil hunter near Kemmerer, Wyoming, had been quite surprised to find a small mammal while digging through layers of fossilized fish in an ancient seabed. This skeleton is now also in the Smithsonian Museum in D.C., but the Utah museum owns a copy.

When giving tours, I always paused my group as we entered the dinosaur floor. “I’m going to pull a whole horse out of here,” I’d say as I pulled a sliding drawer out of a chest with a flourish.

It was a fully grown horse about the size of a small dog – 24 inches long and 20 inches high.

It was over 50 million years old. In that time, the Intermountain West was a lush, swampy place. Fierce predators like the Utah Raptor roamed the land, and the mammals that survived were small and stayed hidden in the dense forested undergrowth.

Over the next 50 million years, the dinosaurs went extinct and the terrain dried out The Hagerman Horse (dating back 3 ½ million years ) stood about 4 ½ feet high. Most notably, it now stood on four hooves. The 3 toes on the Kemmerer Horse had evolved into a single dominant toe, perfectly adapted to running away from predators over dry terrain.

Unfortunately, this remarkable adaptation was not enough to save the horse. The horse went extinct in the Americas (along with other large mammals like the mammoth and giant sloth) about 10,000 years ago. It was the Spanish Conquistators that reintroduced the horse to North America. When Hernan Cortez and his 200 soldiers landed in Mexico in 1519, they brought 16 horses with them. Over time, some of these horses got away to form wild bands, and others fell into the hands of the Native Americans.

This summer I made a small archeological pilgrimage into Idaho, to see the Hagerman Fossil Beds, now a National Monument. In the newly opened visitor center I found a life size replica of the Hagerman Horse. As I stood next to it, admiring its shapely hoof, I remembered one more remarkable fact about the horse. The bows now used to play violins are made from horse hair It takes 5 horse tails to make a violin bow. To this day, absolutely nothing has been found that makes the strings of a violin sing as sweetly.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, History, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, http://npshistory.com/publications/hafo/index.htm

The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/equus_simplicidens.htm

Hagerman Fossil Beds, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/hafo/index.htm

The Horse (Exhibit), Natural History Museum of Utah, July 21, 2014 – January 4, 2015, https://nhmu.utah.edu/horse#:~:text=The%20Natural%20History%20Museum%20of,and%20spiritual%20connections%20with%20them.
Natural History Museum of Utah,https://nhmu.utah.edu/

Fossil Horse Quarry Near Hagerman, Idaho, Worked by National Museum, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/fossil-horse-quarry-near-hagerman-idaho-worked-national-museum:siris_arc_367758

Plesippus shoshonensis Gidley, 1930, National Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/plesippus-shoshonensis-gidley-1930:nmnhpaleobiology_3590445


A Tale of Green Inspirations

Green River Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Green River
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

In one of my first childhood books I met a washerwoman hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle who lived on a hilltop higher than the clouds that had a spring, peculiar rocks, and mysterious footmarks. Its author had studied and recorded both in words and watercolor detail in her sketchbooks everything from bird eggs and bees to caterpillars and cornflowers to water lilies and Flopsy Mopsy rabbits with naturalist precision.

What if children’s book author Beatrix Potter would have known Utah the way she captured interesting elements of places she visited while on her family holiday outings in the English Lake District, North Wales, and Scotland? I wonder how her mind might have played with our minty Green River, sometimes in Utah’s history known by the names Rio Verde and Seedskeedee. What would she have done with its Gates of Lodore or Desolation Canyon?

Green. Everywhere I look outside I see green. Perhaps that is why green is my favorite color. Nothing stops me in my tracks like chartreuse wolf lichen clinging to the bark of conifer trunks. What stories would Potter spin with that had she wandered through Utah’s forests? It is said that her favorite organism was actually fungi like the Amanita gemmata or jeweled deathcap, so much so that her naked-eye and microscope-enhanced renderings led her to compose an essay about spore germination for the Linnean Society in 1897.

The world knows her best for her Peter Rabbit tale, yet because she was such an observant nature artist, spinning fantastical stories about creatures in the wild and pairing them with companion pencil and watercolor illustrations begs little of the reader in the way of imagination.

Few may know her, though, for her beautiful nature journals. Her entry of a painted lady butterfly, zooming in specifically on the wing scales, or magnified studies of a ground beetle’s leg and elytra reveal hours she spent noticing. I marvel at how long it must have taken her to know amphibian structures and behaviors to craft a tale with such specificity. In “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” she portrays a frog punting like on the River Cam, fishing, and nibbling butterfly sandwiches. She draws him dipping his foot in the pond, swimming, and leaping across the meadow in his tattered macintosh. What would she have imagined the Northern Leopard frog thinking as it zigzagged through my lawn last summer? Why did it have to come from the far-away canal across concrete and road to my home before I noticed its distinctive snoring and clicking croak or learned to appreciate its tenacity?

Potter found equal perfection in “the highest and the lowest in nature,” aware and eager to capture it all with imagination and detail. As our world greens this spring, I hope we take time to sit and sketch the wonders, even if we don’t have the courage to eat “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Drost, Charles. Status of Northern Leopard Frogs in the Southwest. December 15, 2016. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/southwest-biological-science-center/science/status-northern-leopard-frogs-southwest

Larese-Casanova, Mark. The Call of Springtime: Utah’s Frogs and Toads. March 22, 2012. https://wildaboututah.org/the-call-of-springtime-utahs-frogs-and-toads/

Lear, Linda. About Beatrix Potter. 2011. The Beatrix Potter Society. https://beatrixpottersociety.org.uk/about-beatrix/

National Park Service. Northern Leopard Frog. https://www.nps.gov/articles/northern-leopard-frog.htm

Northern Leopard Frogs. Biokids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lithobates_pipiens/

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. 1906. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15077/15077-h/15077-h.htm

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. 1905. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15137/15137-h/15137-h.htm

Strand, Holly. Last Blank Spots on the Map. October 29, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Thomson, Keith. Beatrix Potter, Conservationist. May-June 2007. https://www.americanscientist.org/article/beatrix-potter-conservationist

Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866), Day by Day in Conservation History, Today in Conservation, July 28, 2017, https://todayinconservation.com/2020/04/july-28-beatrix-potter-author-and-conservationist-born-1866/

U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Lichens. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/didyouknow.shtml

Victoria and Albert Museum. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. 2022. https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/beatrix-potter

Webb, Roy. Green River. Utah History Encyclopedia. 1994. https://historytogo.utah.gov/green-river/

Wilkinson, Todd. Utah Ushers Its Frogs Toward Oblivion. High Country News. May 27, 1996. https://www.hcn.org/issues/60/1858

Woolley, Ralf R. The Green River and Its Utilization. United States Department of the Interior. 1930. https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0618/report.pdf