Monday, May 12, 2014

Nature's Olympian - The Jumping Meadow Mouse -1

     Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1841 journal "A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears and makes life seem inexpressibly serene and grand." 
     Thoreau loved his days at Walden Pond and each spring I marvel as he did at the nighttime sounds of spring and summer.  The serenade begins.  The woods, fields and wetlands abound with music.
     Three weeks ago in mid-April we in southern Michigan were still living with cold and snow and now as of May 12th, the green leaves are emerging on trees and Spring is bursting at the seams.  For the last three days beads of sweat have run down my face as I raked up the leaves of autumn and prepared the garden for tilling.  It is warm, muggy and buggy tonight.  No longer can I sit outside in silence, but now I must endure the highly explosive duck-like quacking calls of thousands of mating frogs and can hear the humming of thousands of immature mosquito wings.  Nature's vampire of the night struck blood on my arm and now we have five itchy months to endure the ladies seeking a blood meal for egg laying.
     The Chorus frogs are uttering a rapid series of "it" sounds with an increasing tempo and pitch as the warm nights thunder showers approach.  The males chirp with glee to attract a female and soon after mating the cheerful sounds will wane.  We Michiganders wait all winter and it was longer than usual just to hear the sweet singers at night and within a span of three more weeks the rites of spring cease.  By July, all the newly metamorphosed froglets will leave drying ponds and take up life in the foliage near our windows and trees will provide more local music on muggy evenings.
     A bunch of small red, orange and black Painted turtles are basking in the bright sunshine soaking up radiant heat.  The warm heat felt good after a long winter's nap buried in deep mud.  As water warms they surface and forage for a mate and food.  In another month they'll be sampling succulent strawberries - the nibblers of night.
     Even the snakes are beginning to emerge from hibernation.  Heard some neighborhood boys scaring some girls tonight with snakes they found near a pond.  The squealing girls brought back memories of my youth when I threatened to tie my sister to a post and burn her at the stake when playing Cowboys and Indians.  Captured she stood atop a bushel basket and when I tossed down the wood she tipped the basket over and beneath was a six-foot Blue racer.  She fainted and I got my bottom warmed and grounded for a month.
     I've seen past sawdust piles covered with sunning Garter and Watersnakes.  Looked like chocolate dripping down the sides so thick with serpents.  The Garter is daytime and Water snakes are nocturnal, but both will bask and soak up the sun's rays during daylight hours.  They lay motionless on rocks and logs in the Rogue River.  The first warm days the snakes head for water, because that where they can find a mate and food; frogs, toads, salamanders and insects.  Meadow jumping mice prefer the wetland settings to.  The wetland is a veritable buffet of tasty food.  They are bent on moving around looking for food or predators.
     Male Meadow jumping mice are beginning to stir, too, but unlike their counterparts, reptiles and amphibians who hibernate during the winter in mud and decaying aquatic matter, they dig deep tunnels and live below the frost line.  After a 7-8 month nap they surface to resume life topside.
     Meadow jumping mice are the Rip Van Winkle's of mousedom and believe it or not, these jumping mice cuddle up with Rat snakes for body warmth and the snakes will make no attempt to eat their bed partners when shacked up in hibernation chambers.  Nocturnal water snakes feed upon these mice.
     Generally male meadow jumping mice emerge from hibernation the first week in May.  Saw one already and some young White-footed Deer mice in my flower boxes.  Nearly scared me to death this morning - all those twitchy noses sniffing the air and wondering if they should leave.  The meadow mice love the moist fields and marshes since they favor high humidity areas, however they frequent brushy fields and cherish living beneath the delicate waterside flowers known as Forget-Me-Nots, which just so happens to be Alaska's state flower.
     Startling a jumping mouse causes human hearts to flutter.   They sport yellowish sides with brownish backs, a white belly with long tail and big feet.  They highly developed hind limbs are for jumping long distances in a single bound.  They themselves measure 7-10 inches long, the hind feet measuring up to one and a half inch long.  They are often referred to as the Jumping Jacks of mousedom.  They are guaranteed to really make you jump over the moon, should you beam one with a flashlight on nocturnal walks at night.  They disappear almost like magic - faster than a speeding bullet.  No it wasn't Superman, but a jumping mouse that can cover 10 feet in a single bound and run  8 feet per second.  (to be continued).

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