Prior to European expansion, large mammals such as bison, antelope, and elk roamed throughout the area that is now Pipestone National Monument. Today, over 25 species of primarily smaller mammals (rabbits, beavers, thirteen-lined ground squirrels) and deer call the Monument home. The following mammals have been recorded within the Monument's boundaries:
Opossum (Didelphis virginianus)
Size: ~2.5' long (nose to tail), between 8 and 13 lbs.
Appearance: Thick bodies with (typically) grayish fur and a lighter colored face. They have large ears and a long, bare tail that they use to help with climbing. Their feet have an opposable toe, which also helps with climbing.
Diet: They will scavenge roadkill, eat grass and nuts, hunt smaller animals, and dig through human containers such as dumpsters looking for food. It should be noted however, that they do humans a huge favor since they absolutely love to eat ticks, so try to avoid hitting these animals if you see them while driving!
"Playing possum": This saying originated from the opossum's tendency to play dead in the face of predators in order to confuse them long enough to make an escape.
Their unique distinction: Opossums are the only marsupial in North American and Canada. Their babies are born the size of a honey bee, and crawl into their mother's pouch to finish developing.
Common names: Masked Shrew and Short-Tailed Shrew
Size: 2.5-4" long (masked), 4-5.5" long (short-tailed)
Appearance: Shrews have gray, brown, or black velvety fur. Their faces are pointy and the masked shrew has a long, skinny tail while the short-tailed, as the name implies, has a short tail.
Diet: Insects such as ants and spiders as well as small mammals. Shrews have a poisonous saliva that helps them dominate prey and can cause severe pain in humans for days.
An Impressive Metabolism: The heart of a shrew beats approximately 1200 times per minute, resulting in a feeding habit that occupies their time both day and night.
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
Size: Body length is approximately 4-5" with a wingspan of 13-16"
Appearance: Their fur is brown, their ears are short and blunt, and they have a broad mouth and snout.
Diet: Mostly they eat beetles, but they also prey on flies, wasps, moths, and other flying insects.
Do they really have bad eyesight? No, this is a myth. They have very good eyesight, but hunt at night when it's naturally more difficult to see small, flying insects. That is when they use echolocation to accurately target their prey.
Their Benefit to Humans is Enormous: Bats have voracious appetites, consuming upwards of 1,000 insects each hour during the night. In fact, one colongy of 150 big brown bats can protect a farm from over 30 million rootworms every summer.
White-Nose Syndrome: Millions of bats are being killed in North America by this fungus, and there is a world-wide effort to stop the spread of the disease. It is widely considered the worst wildlife disease in modern times.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Size: ~3' long, 9-12" tall at the shoulder, and 15-23 lbs.
Appearance: Dark gray and black fur, a ringed and bushy tail, black markings on the face that strongly resemble a mask, and extremely dexterous hands.
Diet: Frogs, insects, crayfish, fruit, nuts, and bird eggs. In urban areas, they are known for dumpster-diving and eating whatever food they can get their hands on.
Natural Problem Solvers: Raccoons are known for their intelligence. In the early 1900s, researchers put food in a box locked by several devices, including locks, latches, levers, hooks and more. The raccoons were able to figure out 11 of the 13 different mechanisms.
Fit for a President: President Calvin Coolidge had a pet racoon named Rebecca in the White House. She frequently accompanied him on walks around the White House grounds.
Dogs and Foxes (Canidae)
Common names: Red Fox and Coyote
(Red fox) ~15-20" tall at the shoulder, 3' long, 8-15 lbs.
(Coyote) ~21-24" tall at the shoulder, 3.5-4.5' long, 15-50 lbs.
(Red fox) Rust-red fur with a white-tipped tail. Black legs, ears, and nose.
(Coyote) Gray and reddish-brown fur with tall, pointed ears and narrow face.
(Red fox) Barks and shrill screams
(Coyote) Short, high-pitched howls interspersed with yips and barks
Diet: Both of these animals eat meat, but will occasionally eat vegetation as well. In fact, foxes are one of the few predators who will bury surplus food they gather for future use.
Den Mothers: Coyotes and foxes will construct dens for having pups under rocky crevaces, thickets, or expanding the abandoned dens of other animals. Once their pups are weaned, they too will abandon the den.
Formidable Athletes: You have to be quick to get away from both of these predators. A coyote can run up to 40 mph and the red fox can clear 15 feet in a single leap!
Common names: Woodchuck, Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel, and Fox Squirrel
(Woodchuck) 16-20" long with 6" tail, 4-13 lbs.
(Thirteen-lined ground squirrel) ~11" long (nose to tail), 4-9 oz. in weight.
(Fox squirrel) ~20" long with 8" tail, 1.5-2 lbs.
(Woodchuck) Grizzled brown fur with frosted-looking guard hairs and a bushy tail; short limbs with thick claws.
(Thirteen-lined ground squirrel) Brown with 13 alternating brown and tan stripes and spots running the length of its body.
(Fox squirrel) Very large squirrel with reddish-gray fur. They are the biggest tree squirrel in Minnesota.
(Woodchuck) Vegetation, nuts, tree bark, and small critters like snails. Unlike other members of the squirrel family, they do not bury food for future use.
(Thirteen-lined ground squirrel) Mostly grass and seeds, but they will eat insects like crickets and caterpillars.
(Fox squirrel) Mostly nuts, but they will also take advantage of mushrooms and maple seeds.
An Underground Network: Thirteen-lined ground squirrels build short, dead-end tunnels for emergencies and more elaborate burrows for nesting and hibernating. Woodchucks will build separate chambes in their burrows as well - even for sanitary purposes. They are known to build one burrow for nesting/hibernating and another for going to the bathroom!
Pocket Gophers (Geomyidae)
Size: 5-14" long and approximately 1/2 a pound in weight
Appearance: Stout, burrowing rodents. They have brown fur and a tapered, mostly bare tail. They have external cheek pouches (pockets) that they use to carry food, hence the name 'pocket' gopher. They have small, naked ears and large front claws for digging.
Diet: Vegetation such as roots and tubers
A Rare Sight: Pocket gophers spend over 70% of their time underground in burrows. They only emerge for food or for finding mates.
Notable Work Ethic: The average pocket gopher is capable of moving 1 ton of soil to the surface each year. The buried vegetation provides nutrient-rich soil over time.
Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Size: 2.5-3' long, 25-70 lbs.
Appearance: This semi-aquatic animal is the largest rodent in North America. The fur is dark brown with coarse outer hair and very fine inner hair. The tail is large, paddle-shaped, and flat. The hind feet are webbed, but the front claws are not. Their incisors are long, dark orange, and powerful.
Diet: Aquatic plants, leaves, roots, and tree bark
Skilled Engineers: They fell trees with their teeth and weave branches into watertight dams to create ponds. The lodges they create in the middle of these ponds can reach over 6' high and be 40' long and are only reachable from underwater. A monogamous couple will live with their babies (kits) and yearlings in them throughout the winter.
A Tidy Species: Beavers will build a separate den in their lodge for the specific purpose of drying off.
Three eyelids? Yes! Beavers have an inner, transparent eyelid which they use like goggles while swimming underwater.
Weasels and Skunks (Mustelidae)
Common names: Short-Tailed Weasel, Mink, and Striped Skunk
Short-tailed weasel: 7-14", 2-5 ounces in weight
Mink: 12-18", 2-4 lbs.
Striped skunk: 15-37", 3-10 lbs.
Short-tailed weasel: Long and small with a black-tipped tail. Their fur is brown with a white or yellow underside. All of their fur, except the tip of the tail, turns white during winter.
Mink: Brown fur with rounded ears. Their body is long and their legs are short. Unlike weasels, their fur remains brown in winter.
Striped skunk: One of the most easily identified animals in the wild! They have black fur and a single white stripe between the eyes that breaks into two large white stripes along the back and bushy tail.
Short-tailed Weasel: These deadly predators hunt small birds, baby rabbits, mice, insects, and even carrion. They will often peel back skin as they eat, leaving it inside-out once they're done feeding.
Mink: Crayfish, lizards, mice, rabbits, frogs, and anything that lives in or near water!
Striped skunk: These critters are omnivores, but prefer mice, egges, insects, and sometimes even chickens.
Home of Opportunity: Minks, skunks, and weasels will dig burrows for their nests, use rock or wood piles, hollow logs, and even take advantage of the abandoned burrows built by other animals.
Keep your distance! The skunk is well-known for the smell it uses to deter predators, but many people don't realize it can spray from up to 10 feet away. It's best to give them plenty of space if you cross paths with one in the wild!
Mice, Rats, Lemmings, and Voles (Cricetidae)
Common names: Western Harvest Mouse, Deer Mouse, White-Footed Mouse, House Mouse, Meadow Jumping Mouse, Meadow Vole, and Muskrat
Size: All of the mice within the Monument are between 5-10" long (including the tail). Meadow voles are roughly 5-7" and muskrats average about 20" long. The mice and vole only weigh a couple of ounces or less, but the muskrat comes in at 1.5-4 lbs.
The mice: Many of the mice within the Monument can be difficult to distinguish from one another. One exception would be the meadow jumping mouse, which has a very long tail, long hind feet for jumping, short forelimbs, and a dark dorsal band.
Meadow vole: A short-tailed, cylindrical body with brown chestnut fur and gray undersides.
Muskrat: A cousin to the beaver, these large aquatic rodents look very similar, except they have a long, rat-like, and almost hairless tail. Their very round bodies are supported by extremely short legs.
The mice: Seeds, grasses, berries, and insects
Meadow vole: Plants, grains, tree bark, roots and berries (especially cranberries!)
Muskrat: Mostly vegetarian (leaves, roots, cattails, fruit, etc.), but will eat fish, turtles, and snails.
Prairie Protection: The mice and voles take advantage of the tallgrass prairie and construct nests in little burrows for protection. Muskrats will build beaver-like lodges along water banks, though they are smaller than beaver lodges and are made out of plants like cattails instead of branches and logs.
Hares and Rabbits (Leporidae)
Common names: White-Tailed Jackrabbit and Eastern Cottontail
White-tailed jackrabbit: 1.5-2' long, 5-10 lbs.
Eastern cottontail: 12-16" long, 2-3 lbs.
White-tailed jackrabbit: These hares are grayish-brown with a pale underside, but turn white everywhere except their ears in the winter (this only happens in northern climates). They have extremely long ears and powerfully long hind legs.
Eastern cottontail: A small grayish-brown rabbit with a rusty-looking patch on the back of its neck. The tail is white, like cotton.
Diet: Both of these mammals eat a variety of plants, seeds, and grasses. They will even resort to eating their own droppings as a source of protein.
The 'jackrabbit' is not a rabbit at all! Jackrabbits are actually hares - the dominant difference being that their babies are born with their eyes open, ready to move, and already have fur. Rabbit newborns are blind and naked.
Fun facts from the hare and rabbit family!
White-tailed jackrabbit: When startled, this hare tends to bound almost like a kangaroo, but upon accelartion can reach 40 mph in 10' leaps (compared to the eastern cottontail's 15 mph zig-zag).
Eastern cottontail: When these rabbits eat buckthorn, they end up excreting a chemical from the plant in their urine that turns blue in sunlight. So if you come across blue snow, that's likely the reason! This species is also a prolific breeder - a single pair can produce 350,000 descendents in 5 years.
White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus viginianus)
Size: 4-6' long, 2-3' tall at the shoulder, 85-130 lbs. (females/does), 100-300 lbs. (males/bucks)
Appearance: Reddish-brown (summer) or grayish-brown (winter) with a 12" white tail it lifts when running. Males have antlers they regrow annually. Young fawns are light brown and covered in white spots.
Diet: Acorns, grass, tree leaves, wild grapes, shrubs, twigs, bark, corn, and soybeans.
Their Timing and Ours: These mammals are most active at dawn and dusk as they search for food - when many humans are leaving for work or driving home and visibility is poor, which is why so many collisions with deer occur. If you see one cross the road, remember that they are almost never alone and at least one more deer is probably not too far behind!