What You Can See on March 21
Submitted by Ted Williams on Tue, 03/21/2006 - 08:47.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Gaudy Undertakers In spring our largest carrion-eating insect, the inch-and-a-half-long, black-and-orange American burying beetle, emerges from the earth, where it has spent the winter as a pupa, and starts scanning the countryside with antennae that can detect decaying flesh a mile away. A male will fly to a carcass at night, then emit powerful pheromones that attract females. Lying on its back and using its legs like a conveyer belt, a beetle can move a creature 200 times its weight. Working together, a mated pair buries the carcass, clips off fur or feathers, and injects it with preservatives. This done, the female excavates a nearby nursery in which she lays 10 to 30 eggs. Both adults attend the larvae, which rear up and beg for food, stroking their parents' jaws like wolf pups and thereby inducing them to regurgitate. Burying beetles, federally listed as endangered and benefiting from an aggressive recovery program, used to occur in at least 35 states but now are restricted to parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Their decline may be linked to extinction of prime food sources -- the heath hen along the Atlantic coastal plain and elsewhere the passenger pigeon, thought to have been more numerous than all other North American birds combined. Currently they’re being depressed by a proliferation of competing scavengers such as skunks, raccoons and opossums. Desert Jesters Monkey-like, nosy, noisy, gregarious, playful, busy, inquisitive, intelligent, comical. All these adjectives describe the white-nosed coatimundi, the raccoon’s skinny, diurnal cousin which seems to proclaim its attitude by carrying its long, ringed tail straight up and curled at the tip. Now, in the desert country of Mexico and our Southwest, coatis are mating and, though it hardly seems possible, even more active than usual. Females, which travel in troupes of 5 to 20, admit one dominant male for breeding. At 15 pounds, he is nearly twice their size; but he is submissive. Still, when confronted by a rival male he’ll rear up, puff up, raise his snout, and display his impressive canines in a protracted grimace that can induce laughter in even the most clinical biologists. After the male impregnates the females they throw him out of the troupe. Coatis spend hours grooming each other, removing burrs and ticks with their teeth. Like raccoons, they are omnivores, eating anything they stumble on from fruit to small mammals to invertebrates to reptiles to birds and birds’ eggs. They communicate by barking, chattering, hissing, spitting, growling, snuffling, scampering, and tail waving.