Of mice … and harvestmen?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 10, 2007

Column by Al Batt, Nature’s Way

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&8220;How are you doing?&8221; I ask.

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&8220;I learned something important yesterday. Never go back and check on a dead skunk.&8221;

&8220;I haven&8217;t been so surprised since Bueller took a day off from school,&8221; I say.

&8220;There are those who think I am the world&8217;s dumbest man, but you take me off the hook. You&8217;d need one more IQ point to grunt. That&8217;s why your wife, The Queen B, is always saying that men are like lava lamps. Fun to look at, but not all that bright.

Oh, I need to tell you that the regular Wednesday meeting of the Procrastinators&8217; Club will not be held Friday this week, but will be held on Saturday instead because Monday is a holiday.&8221;

&8220;Ah, the Procrastinators&8217; Club. The members have two speeds: Slow and stopped. The Club should adopt the motto, &8216;We&8217;re not lazy. We&8217;re just prone to motion sickness,&8221; I say.

&8220;You are about as smart as a tack. I&8217;ll bet you could entertain yourself for days with a flyswatter. I don&8217;t know why I waste my wisdom on you. I should be coming up with more get rich quick schemes. Right now, I could make more money milking chickens. Being here in your kitchen makes me homesick for the open range.&8221;

&8220;The open range?&8217; I ask.

&8220;Sure. I used to warm my feet in it during the winter.&8221;


So you are carrying your binoculars and you see something small that you would like to examine more closely, but you do not have a magnifying glass. Is that what is getting your knickers in a twist? Fear not, I have the solution to this perplexing problem. Turn your binoculars upside down. If you hold it close to the object, you will find that the magnification will reveal many wondrous details to your eyes.

Daddy longlegs

They are called spiders, but they are not. They are daddy longlegs or harvestmen. Take a good look at a spider. It&8217;s a worthy activity while you&8217;re eating lunch. Spiders have two distinct body segments &8212; the cephalothorax (head and thorax) and an abdomen. The harvestmen have the appearance of a single body segment. Their small, oval bodies have eight long, thin, flexible legs.

Spiders have eight legs, too. Spiders have eight eyes. An optician&8217;s dream. The daddy longlegs has two eyes. The name harvestmen came because the insects were common during harvest. These arachnids make their living by eating decomposing vegetative and animal matter. They do not have venom glands, fangs or any other mechanism for chemically subduing their food. A daddy longlegs chews and swallows its prey instead of sucking out the body fluids. If they are caught by the legs, they are capable of losing their legs at will in order to escape. This process is called autotomy. They are unable to grow replacement legs. Its longest pair of legs is used more for sensory perception than locomotion. They are waved at whatever the creature happens to be investigating. Folklore holds that they always point in the direction of cows.


&8220;You know the old woman who lived in a shoe? And had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I think if she lived in a little shoe-house &8212; That little old woman was surely a mouse!&8221; &8212; Beatrix Potter

As the cold weather of fall approaches each year, mice look for sheltered areas in which to create a nest and spend the winter. Mice are small animals and lose body heat very quickly so adequate shelter often spells the difference between life and death. That&8217;s why house mice, white-footed mice, and deer mice become stowaways in the ships that are our residences. The house mouse came from Europe and is very small. The body is grayish-brown above and lighter, but never white, below. The native deer mouse and white-footed mouse are very similar. Both have large eyes and ears, and long tails. Deer mice&8217;s tails are bicolored. A white-footed mouse&8217;s tail is generally shorter than its body and head. They are called deer mice because the coloring of their fur resembles deer. These mice are major prey items for owls, especially Screech Owls and Barred Owls. White-footed mice tend to be woodland dwellers, but you’re likely to encounter deer mice in most any terrain. None of these mice species hibernates.

The tree mouse

I called it a &8220;tree mouse&8221; when I was a child. It&8217;s a White-breasted Nuthatch and its visits to my bird feeders give me great pleasure. It enjoys sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and peanut butter. I watched as one would grab a sunflower seed and fly to a tree. The nuthatch would stuff the seed in the bark of the tree and use its bill to crack open the seed. Nuthatch derives from &8220;nut hack.&8221; This comes from this habit of wedging nuts in bark and hacking them open. It gives voice to a low-pitched &8220;yank, yank&8221; call. I smile when I see a nuthatch traveling headfirst down a tree trunk. Because of this odd way of looking at the world, they are able to find nutritious insects in the bark that have been overlooked by other hungry birds. The White-breasted Nuthatch has a bluish-gray back, black cap, white face, and chestnut feathers under its tail.

Which way is north?

Find the Big Dipper. Then find the two stars on the outside of the dipper&8217;s cup. Imagine a line connecting those two stars and follow it up to the bright star known as the North Star or Polaris. This star always appears in the north.

Look for moss growing high on trees. Moss prefers to grow where moisture lingers, so it tends to grow highest on the north side of the trunk where it is shaded from the sun.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In Minnesota during the winter, the sun stays in the southern sky throughout the day.

Leaf color

Soils may dictate the array of fall colors according to a forest survey out of North Carolina. By doing laboratory analyses of the autumn foliage, it was found that in places where the soil was relatively low in nitrogen and other essential elements, trees produced more red pigments known as anthocyanins. This is an expected stress response from the trees.

Who is out there?

Hold a bright flashlight to your nose some night. Turn your head slowly, scanning the light through brush or woods. Look for the eye shines of critters. Deer eyes will show up as white or silver. Cat eyes will be silver or green. Skunks, raccoons, and opossums have yellow or orange eye shine. Wolf spider eyes will sparkle like diamonds.

Thanks for stopping by

&8220;Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.&8221; &8212; H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

&8220;If your mind goes blank, don’t forget to turn off the sound.&8221; &8212; Red Green


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at SnoEowl@aol.com.