Nature Notes

Vol. XIV September - 1936 No. 3

The Cover Design - Mountain Beaver

The old saying, "What's in a name?", should be modified in the case of the animal whose picture appears upon the cover of this issue to "what isn't in a name?". The Mountain Beaver, for that is the generally accepted common term, is by no means a beaver; neither does it inhabit, exclusively, the mountains. The "mountain" portion of this animal's name might apply in this park, as it has been noted in this section at nearly 4000 feet, but it is more common at low elevations nearer the coast. Sewellel or Aplodontia, the generic term, would be more appropriate terms, for in this way one automatically eliminates the possibility of confusing it with the better known American Beaver.

Another glance at the cover design will reveal a short, chunky animal whose chief characteristics seem to be two surprisingly small eyes and long "whiskers". An inspection of the animal itself would further reveal the fact that it, apparently, has no tail. Actually, of course, this is not the case, though that portion of the animal's anatomy is so small that it will escape notice in a casual inspection. The fore claws are admirably adapted to the animal's needs for the inner toes are short, thumb-like stubs which enable this fellow to take a good grip upon the food that it eats, stones that it digs out or the short stubs of twigs upon the bushes and shrubs that it climbs, "ladder-fashion", a few feet off the ground. The other claws are long, suited to the purpose of digging, an activity that is indulged in by the Aplodontia almost to the point of being a mania. The burrows, usually from 6-24 inches beneath the surface, often honeycomb the soft springy soils which the animal frequents. In addition, runways are prepared on the surface which utilize, for protection, the sloping surfaces of down logs and the canopy of ferns and other vegetation which grows in such rank abundance in situations generally frequented by the "Mountain Beaver". Such evidences of their activity may be readily found in many places in the park where open areas border woodlands and where running water and abundant vegetation, which is used as food, are found.

When captured they show a peculiar mixture of stupidity, surly ferocity, and "bull-headedness". On one occasion one of these animals, released in the open after being captured, pursued a particular course without any apparent reason, resenting all efforts to turn it aside with an angry chattering of its teeth. (C. F. B.)

Porcupine in Mt. Rainier National Park

Until recently the porcupine was not definitely known to be a resident of Mt. Rainier National Park. In spite of various pros and cons dealing with the possibility of this animal's presence here, the feeling existed among many of the park personnel that there would eventually be tangible proof of their existence in this section. Thus everyone kept a keen eye to the trail towards a possible solution of this puzzle.

It was along the trail leading down to Stevens Canyon in the summer of 1930 that District Ranger Charles Browne found possible first proof of the presence of this animal in Mt. Rainier National Park. There, high in the trees of that region he found mute signs of peeled bark that he believed to be the work of porcupine. Again, in the summer of 1932, while on a survey trip down the ridge above Stevens Canyon, Ranger Browne found more workings in a grove of trees - with some fifteen or more having fresh signs of the activities of animals which he believed to be porcupine. In May of 1954 Mr. Beal of the Bureau of Entomology and Ranger Dan Pryde were on a tour of inspection in search of insect infestations. It was on this tour that they found some quills and barked trees in the area just below Sunrise Point below Yakima Park. Thus definite evidence of the presence of porcupine was first established in this area, although the animal itself had not yet been seen. Again, in the summer of 1935, Ranger Dan Pryde and District Ranger Charles Browne visited this area to further check the presence of this animal and were successful in locating some old caves with a few quills buried in the refuse piles at the entrance of the caves. Signs were found to indicate that either ants or mice had carried away quills from the heaps. Shortly after this discovery, Ranger-naturalist E. Y. Danner, and Mr. Davidson, one of the powerhouse operators, were fortunate in seeing a porcupine on the Yakima Park road about four miles below Sunrise Point. Near this same point, after the close of the busy summer season, Rangers Dan Pryde and Darroch Crookes also saw one of these interesting animals cross the roadway in front of their car. Upon stopping, they were successful in getting near enough to the animal to drop an old sweater over it. Releasing the animal they found that the sweater had many quills caught in the wool by the interesting minute barbs on the blackened tip of each quill.

Tangible records began to become more numerous with the first sight of the animal. Mr. E. A. Kitchin, then E.C.W. Naturalist Technician, found one of them in the Nickel Creek section of the park in the fall of 1935 and in the early summer of 1936 the most recent and most interesting observation was made. An old discarded box with a wire screen in one end served as an unintentional "porcupine trap" in June of 1936. The animal had, in its nocturnal wanderings, fallen into the box and when found was trying to make its way through the wire mesh. It had not made its escape from the open end of the box apparently because of the inherent instinct of the animal not to move backwards, as the nature of its quills tends to prevent any backward motion as it moves through the brush when in its native haunts. Upon being freed from its trap it hid in a pile of window sash in the rear of the "Blockhouse" and remained there from six in the morning until nine that evening.

So with more and more reports of this animal and its activity being recorded, it is now definitely established as a resident of Mt. Rainier National Park.

E. Y. Danner,

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Raccoon - common about Longmire.

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