Nature Notes

Vol. XII January - 1934 No. 1

A Bear Story

A land flowing with milk and honey is emblematic of a region of plenty and a period of prosperity, but, from the human standpoint, is customarily considered in the figurative rather than the literal sense. However, a middle-sized black bear that was observed among the alders fringing the foaming Cascades of Van Trump Creek one morning last August, was enjoying an actual "honey flow."

In several places on the southwest flank of "the mountain" there has been noted a severe infestation of the green aphis on the alder. These insects actually covered the tender shoots of the alder so thickly as to completely hide the bark, and in many cases were noted on the woody portions where it would seem impossible for them to penetrate to the cambium tissue. The air above the alder thickets was filled with myriads of the aphids in the winges stage, while the trunks and leaves of the alders were covered with a syrupy coating of honeydew (a sweet liquid which those insects excrete profusely), and tiny droplets of this material fell in a saccharine shower upon the leaves of mertensia, false solomon's seal, sweet-after-death and other plants growing in the shade of the alders.

The bear, apparently a two-year-old, was first noticed as members of a naturalist-conducted hiking party on their way to Van Trump Park were resting and observing, the stands of Noble and Amabalis fir on the steep slope of the valley wall opposite. At first the party was entertained by the antics of Bruin who was evidently attempting to climb the slender stems of the alders which would not support his weight and continually frustrated his efforts by bending. It soon became apparent that the bear was not merely seeking a new form of diversion, for his eager tongue could be seen licking the bark and twigs of the trees as he attempted to reach higher and higher on the slender trunks. Tantalized by his appetite for sweets, and actually wallowing in a sea of honeydew, he appeared frantic in his efforts to satisfy his craving on such of the thin coating of sweetness as he was able to remove. So intent was he that he paid no attention to the party whose members whistled and shouted at him, and finally continued on their way, leaving Bruin absorbed in his efforts to obtain the "manna" so peculiarly provided. He probably secured as much nourishment from the bodies of the thousands of aphids which he must have swallowed as from the honeydew which aroused his appetite.

Natt Dodge, Ranger-Naturalist
Summer 1933

Go To The Ant

Most of the small mammals in the park belong to the zoological group known as rodents, including the mice, pack-rats, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, conies, marmots, etc. All are characterized by four heavy, chisel-shaped front teeth that we usually think of in connection with the cutting of vegetable food. On occasion, however, rodents will eat animal food that happens to strike their fancy. For instance, on Dege Peak the fire lookout has reported his pet chipmunk frequently catching and devouring the large black ants that swarm about the rocks. The chipmunk learned to pick these insects up in his paws, carefully remove the wings, as we would pluck a chicken, and devour the body. Perhaps the small amount of formic acid found in the body of the ant furnishes a certain tart or spicy taste relished by the chipmunk, for certainly it would take a great many ants to furnish three square meals for an animal as active as this diminutive rodent.

It has been said (believe it or not) that the lumberjacks of the north, deprived during the winter of fresh acid fruits, derive a certain satisfaction from nipping an occasional black ant of the variety common in the north woods, much as a boy will chew leaves of the sour-dock or sorrel. When an ant bites a man, nothing is said, but when a man bites an ant -- that's news!

Victor Scheffer, Ranger-Naturalist
Summer 1933

Eastern Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Eastern Golden-Crowned Kinglet

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