Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. IV February 1, 1927 No. 16

Issued monthly during the winter months; weekly during the summer months, by the Mount Rainier National Park Nature Guide Service.
By: F. W. Schmoe. Park Naturalist.


"You can't tell how far a frog will jump by looking at him". It is an ancient saying, and still true. Just how true can well be illustrated by a few of our native animals. The cougar or mountain lion is a powerful animal of the cat tribe often upwards of eight feet in total length and with powerful lever-like hind legs designed especially for short quick rushes and long jumps. He looks like a champion jumper and is usually considered as such. Being a carniverous animal he must depend upon his highly trained senses and native ability to capture his game. A sensative nose, sharp eyes and keen ears aid him in locating his quary. silent padded paws, tawny color and stealthy movement make it possible for him to approach within striking distance of the alert deer. But it is upon the spring of his legs that he must depend to actually bring down his dinner. For so heavy an animal he is a wonderful jumper by no means the best.

Contrast with the cougar his neighbor the pine marten. The marten lives by the chase also. He is an expert climber and often captures squirrels in their own treetops. His legs are short and like all the weasels spaced far apart. He doesn't look like he could jump but he can. A two foot marten built for climbing can jump as far as an eight foot cougar built for jumping. Thats where appearances are deceiving.

Several of the hoofed animals have made reputations for themselves along this line, notably the antelope, deer, mountain goat and big-horn sheep. Deer and antelope run by a series of great leaps. "Buck-jump", is a term in common use. The jump of the deer, however, is mostly up-and-down and although it gives the appearance of great speed, deer do not run fast compared with other animals who use more direct methods. It is likely however, that the deer would stand well up in the list of high-jumpers. A seven foot fence will not hold deer that really want out.

The jack-rabbit for example runs with a series of great leaps as does the deer but he goes much faster because his movement is the right direction. Were a deer or antelope will cover ten feet at a jump the speedy jack will cover twenty and he is not one-tenth the size.

The big-horn sheep has been described by many writers as a phenominal jumper, "they leap from crag to crag." Wild sheep and also goats are splendid jumpers, but more remarkable for their sure-footedness than the length of their leaps. It is not likely that either would risk a jump of more than twenty to thirty feet unless hard pressed by dangerous foes, and then it would have to be from a vantage point to another lower down. As to the myth that sheep make great laps and land uninjured on their horns, there is absolutely nothing to it. Even a sheep knows better.

The real champions however, are not the big game animals but rather the tiny athletes of the animal kingdom. If a mountain lion could jump as far in proportion to his weight as the little jumping mouse of the northern states, he could easily clear a distance of well over a mile on level ground. He would indeed be a formidible animal if this ability to cover a mile at every leap were added to his preditory propensities.

Another famous jumper is the Kangaroo Rat of the Southwest. Although he is in no way related to the kangaroo his hind legs were built from the same pattern and allowing for the differences in size he can out-jump the best of the kangaroos many times over. Fifteen feet is not a long jump for this tiny athlete. Like their cousins the little jumping mice have long tufted tails that serve as a balance during their remarkable flights. A rat which has lost its tail through some accident will turn over and over in the air and after a few such failures will learn to confine himself to short jumps or to running on the ground. Another interesting thing about the Kangaroo Rat is that he is not a rat at all and like his relative the pocket mouse never drinks.

Other members of the weasel family, notably the mink, otter, fisher, wolverine, and the weasel himself, are excellent jumpers. The mink and otter often take long dives into the water from high banks or trees, and the weasel and wolverine more often than not stalk their prey until from a remarkable distance they can pounce upon it and bring it down. Greatest of all the weasels however, is the fisher or pekan. When in persuit of squirrels or when frightened he often makes astonishing leaps from tree to tree and has been known to run down and capture his near relative the martin in tree tops persuit - a truly remarkable feat.

All the squirrel family as is well known are remarkable aerial performers, often jumping ten feet or more from limb to limb, and it remains for one of his tribe to hold the undisputed broad jump championship of the animal world. However, the flying squirrel would likely be disqualified by the judges for although he uses no artificial aids as man does he does possess a little private areoplane which he unfolds upon launching forth and thus equipped, sails gracefully away for a distance of a hundred or more feet. Unlike the bat which is capable of sustained flight the flying squirrel can exert no more effort after once launching forth and so can only glide from a higher to a lower point the distance of the wind if any.

The point is however, that the large animals well known as jumpers, even the kangaroo himself could not place in a contest with their smaller relatives.

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