What You Can See on Feb. 28
Submitted by Ted Williams on Tue, 02/28/2006 - 09:37.
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. Sexy Snakes Among the first reptiles to emerge from winter’s hibernation in the Northeast is the handsome striped or checkered eastern garter snake -- also and more aptly called garden snake. As the Northern Hemisphere leans into the sun, sex -- not food -- is the garter’s first priority. It’s not uncommon to see a female pursued by a dozen males. In late summer 12 to 40 young are born alive. To find this most common of suburban reptiles you often don't have to look beyond your front steps, provided there is space underneath and they are in full sunlight. Garters eat fish, frogs, tadpoles, earthworms, insects and toads, whose poison doesn’t affect them. While birds are often eaten by snakes, with garters it's the other way around. Hawks and owls glut themselves on them, and it is not unusual to see young robins and jays with the wiggling tails of baby garters protruding from their beaks. Especially when cold, garter snakes are adept at flattening themselves out and appearing and acting vicious and viper-like. But it's all bluff; the gravest danger is getting squirted with foul-smelling musk when you pick them up. Salt Seekers Who’s been eating the canoe paddles, the boat transoms, the truck tires, the work boots, the work bench, the outhouse floor? If you live in or around a forest, there is one likely culprit: the orange-toothed, squint-eyed, nearsighted porcupine, alias quill pig. At this time of year porcupines are leaving the rocky dens where they slept away the daylight hours of winter. They won't return until late fall -- except to die. Now they crave salt, especially the females who are losing sodium through the production of milk for the single pups. Virtually any item touched by human sweat or urine is greedily devoured, even glass. Because their only serious enemies are fishers and cougars, porcupines are docile when confronted by humans. Press them, though, and they'll turn their raised backs toward you, protecting their heads against a tree or under their chests. The barbed, loosely attached quills, which the animals appear to "shoot" with swift swipes of their tails, are drawn into a victim's flesh by muscle action. They can kill by migrating to the heart or brain.