Saturday, October 23, 2010

Going Nuts

We got back from our September trip and plunged into activities.  Why is it that I am never able to keep an open schedule?   Two weeks have gone by during which I had planned to post every day about our mammal sightings on our trip.  Instead I've been teaching classes and overseeing deskwork.  I'm starting to think that we're not eclectic homeschoolers--we're suffering from multiple homeschooling personality disorder.

A couple days ago I decided to do an experiment with my science class on what happens to fish if you cool the water they are in.  We were supposed to do this with goldfish, and they were supposed to open their mouths less often.  Instead we did it with guppies, because we have a lot of guppies, and well, they did open their mouths less often as the water they were in approached 10 degrees Celsius.  They opened their mouths less often because they rolled over and sank to the bottom, dead.  Actually, they were only apparently dead.  We quick bathed their jars in hot water and they all revived.  Phew.

You just never know what will happen when you try things out in the real world.

Back to our mammals.  This fellow is a douglas squirrel, commonly known as a chickaree.  This was the easiest squirrel ID ever.  There are tons of them running all over the campsites at Jedediah Smith Redwoods.  They'll obediently sit on a picnic table and let you take photos.

Chipmunks are another story.  They aren't too hard to photograph, but the identification is terrible!  There are at least a dozen species that live in California.  Some are browner, some are grayer, some have a brown stripe as their outermost stripe.

And others have a white stripe on the outside.

This is a lodgepole chipmunk.   The one above it is a Siskiyou, I think.  We were trying to figure out why the rangers were saying Townsend's Chipmunk when a brochure claimed the area had Siskiyou chipmunks.  Then Evelyn cleared it up for us.  She read in the guidebook that Townsend's chipmunks had been recently split into four species based on differing penis bones.  Right then I realized that I am just not committed enough to kill a chipmunk and inspect its os penis.  That's another name for penis bone.  And if that wasn't enough, here's another: baculum.  In researching this I found a place where you can buy raccoon penis bones.  In bulk.  Yes you can buy a "Bag o' Raccoon Bacula".  But careful, these are second quality raccoon penis bones, suitable for "art and craft purposes".  Not first quality ones, used for....I have no idea.  Anyway, luckily it turns out that chipmunks species usually do not live in the same area, so you can ID them without dissection.

This guy really drove us nuts.  Evelyn spent a long time with the guidebook and eventually shouted with glee.  It is not a chipmunk at all.  Chipmunks have stripes on their faces.  This golden mantled ground squirrel "superficially resembles a chipmunk" our guidebook taunted.  We were chastised.

Later at Lassen park these guys were running around everywhere.  A woman asked Greta if she had seen the chipmunks.  She said, "That is not a chipmunk, that is a golden mantled ground squirrel."  "Well if you say so," the woman replied, "but in Georgia we call 'em chipmunks."

So we're not the only people to be fooled by this superficial resemblance!


Michigander said...

Wow. I guess the birds and the bees were dispensed with long ago ...

Carolyn said...

So there ARE chipmunks in California! In my 3 years in the Bay Area I never saw a one. For that matter I never saw a golden mantled ground squirrel. I'm feeling deprived.

sarah in the woods said...

Ha! Sounds about like trying to id female warblers. Frustrating but fun.

Susan said...

Michigander, oh yes...we have inquiring minds here.

Carolyn, chipmunks tend to live at higher altitudes which may be why you haven't seen them. Those that live at the highest altitude have apparently disappeared:

Sarah, oh yes--hopeless without photos. Unless you know their calls. Apparently we could have used calls to distinguish chipmunks as well, but was that chipmunk saying chit chit chit or chee chee chee? I'm not sure! We finally found a guidebook that had a page of California squirrels with helpful arrows pointing to the most important differences. That, combined with range info, allowed us to ID with reasonable certainty.

Kat said...

This one made me laugh out loud. Too funny about the guppies. And very interesting about the chip/squirrels.

Susan said...

Kat, the guppies made me laugh, too, which may have undermined our impromptu foray into ethics in science. I called for us to terminate our experiment since it was terminating our subjects. I was relieved when they revived though.

Karen said...

Glad your guppies dodged the bullet :-)
My 10-year-old loves trying to ID the birds and other animals that wander through our suburban yard, he'll spend hours looking through guidebooks. And, he was given a book recently called Know Your Chickens, which has gotten him all excited about chicken genetics! Cool stuff.

patricia said...

Your girls are just so smart. I love that Evelyn figured out that the squirrel wasn't a chipmunk, and that Greta was so indignant about the Georgia woman's misidentification. I'm just bummed that Greta won't be there for our habitat group, because she is so entertaining. But the other two--having them there is a joy. They're so knowledgeable. How could we have ever identified that California Slender Salamander without Evelyn? And we'd have never learned about goose pens!