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It’s in your nature: Our woodland mammals

Pennsylvania is home to about 75 mammal species. Many are small and reclusive and are seldom seen. About 10 of those species are bats and unfortunately, many of those species are so threatened they may disappear in our lifetimes (white-nose syndrome may doom them).

I’d like to highlight a few of the more common and/or unique mammals you could encounter on your nature treks throughout the Times News area.

Our local mammals range in size from the black bear, sometimes reaching 600 pounds or more, to the least shrew, weighing 1/7 ounce. Few ever see them, and when barn owls were more common, biologists would find their skulls in the barn owl pellets.

Two rodents, the house mouse and Norway rat, are introductions here from Europe and I’m sure they are here to stay. Meanwhile, the Allegheny wood rat, once very common on the mountains of this area, is threatened. Their numbers dropped drastically after the American chestnut was ravaged by chestnut blight.

We have three canine species, the red fox, gray fox, and eastern coyote. The coyote can weigh up to about 50 pounds while the foxes barely reach 20 pounds. Rather surprisingly, the gray fox, woodchuck and bear all climb trees rather easily. Only one feline species remains, the bobcat, which calls the Carbon County mountainous areas its home.

The mammals most familiar to us are the white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, gray and red squirrels, eastern chipmunk, the black bear and the meadow vole (mouse).

You can also find seven species of mustelids in this region. They include the striped skunk, mink, river otter and long-tailed weasel.

Some of the unique mammals are the short-tailed shrew, the only venomous mammal in North America, and the opossum, the only North American marsupial (pouched mammal).

One of my favorites, and seldom seen, is the meadow jumping mouse. I occasionally chase them from a field I mow throughout the summer and they hop “kangaroolike” ahead of my tractor. Occasionally household cats will “bring home” both the jumping mice and shrews.

I’ve included photos of some of our woodland mammals for you to enjoy; and remember, get out there, enjoy and learn.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: A baby beaver is called a ______: A. cub, B. pup, C. kit, D. colt.

Last Week’s Trivia Question: Root beer, a longtime soda favorite, was once made from the roots of the sassafras tree.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

The black bear is our region's largest mammal. Once limited to the heavily forested mountains of the state, the bear now thrives in woodlands close to many homes.
The most notable mammal in “Penn's Woods” is the white-tailed deer. These two 7-month-old deer fed past me this past December. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
LEFT: Found year-round in our region, particularly in oak forests, are gray squirrels.
Close relatives of gray squirrels, the red squirrels prefer the hemlock and conifer woodlands. I have a wait-and-see attitude whether the dying hemlock stands will negatively affect their numbers.
Our largest canine in our local woodlands is the eastern coyote. Hunted and trapped heavily, their numbers have seen any big impact.
Once rather rare in the Carbon County area, the porcupine population has increased and enlarged its range. This one decided to cross a lightly traveled Penn Forest road.
A red fox pup waits outside its den for mom to return with some rodents. Both red and gray foxes are found in our local woodlands.
More common than most realize, the short-tailed shrew is one of many reclusive shrew species you can find locally, with a little luck.
BELOW: The cottontail rabbit is as much at home in your backyard as in our local woodlands. In another six weeks or so they will begin breeding, preparing for the first of four or five litters each year.
The chipmunk is a vital prey animal in our woodlands. It feeds hawks, foxes, owls, rattlesnakes, weasels, coyotes and many more predators.