Summer Naturalist Series 3: Mammals

As a mammal, perhaps I’m biased towards these loveable creatures.

Squirrel at FeederEach twilight, I stand near the windows and crane my neck to see into the graying day.  If I’m lucky, a few times a year I’ll catch a glimpse of this scene: a waddling, bushy bandit followed by five more, tinier lumps hop-stepping at her flanks, and a sixth furry fluff ball hurrying to rejoin the group, called a “nursery” of racoons. Or perhaps I’ll stumble upon a doe and her fawn in mid-afternoon while I tend to outdoor chores. At midnight we hear the armadillo rustling around in the leaves outside our bedroom.

At any of these occasions, I’m liable to jump up and become a dangerous (if well-intentioned and still cute) force of stealthy urgency. Midnight armadillos bring a flailing arm or jutting knee with a startling squeal of joy that cuts into Ryan’s dreams.  Like a true lover, he never minds.  He just smiles, rubs his sore side, and falls back to sleep just after hearing “Oh no, it’s the BABY racoons!  Hear them trilling??” Mm-hmm, he mumbles, oblivious but happy to see me happy.

Any good day includes mammals.  But I think of them less as organisms classified into groups, and more as revelations of the meaning of life.  Tiny secular deity symbols, if you will, of the interdependent web of life.  Mammals are a stampeding, scuttling segment of the world that can’t seem to find contentment with just one size or function.

To virtually travel the world and learn more about mammal species, play around with the interactive WWF WildFINDER.

The BBC’s Life of Mammals with David Attenborough is a fantastic educational romp with a great diversity of species:

Mammal Trivia

  1. Name 3 characteristics of mammals.
  2. Which kind of North American fox can climb trees?
  3. True or False: Humans have both hair and fur.
  4. True or False: Marsupials are not Mammals.
  5. How many teeth does an opossum have?

Organizations Working for Mammals

The Marine Mammal Center

World Wildlife Fund

National Wildlife Federation

How to Help

One of the best ways to help animals is to first educate yourself and be ready to share that information with others.  Did your neighbor find a spotted fawn in the grass that looks “abandoned”?  If you know a lot about mammals like the white-tailed deer, then you know to tell your neighbor not to remove the fawn – it’s mother will likely return for it within a day or two, and the supposed abandonment is a part of fawn survival strategy.  Learn more about mammals from UC Berkeley’s Hall of Mammals.  Or challenge your kids to try the mammals quiz and other fun games.

Visit a conservation center at a state or national park near you, and listen to park interpreters teach about mammals like bears, coyotes, deer, and many more.  Learning about mammals almost always involves understanding “the food chain” and the complex symbiotic relationships that make up any ecosystem – the herbivores shape the plant life, and the carnivores maintain a healthy population of herbivores.  But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that wolves shape rivers:

Answers to Trivia Questions:

1. warm blooded, mammary glands, and hair or fur; 2. Grey Fox; 3. True; 4. False; 5. 50 teeth (more than any other North American mammal)

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