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Oct 23, 2017 2:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Naturalist Quiz, Part II: Mammals Of Long Island

Oct 24, 2017 12:20 PM

Last week’s column discussed the fact that, of the various wildlife surveys that have been done on Long Island over the past 30 years—birds, reptiles and amphibians, freshwater fish, moths, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies—none have comprehensively examined the status and distribution of mammals here.There are some exceptions, including my survey work on otters here, the NYSDEC’s annual work on the white-tailed deer, and several surveys to document Long Island’s bats.

So, how many mammal species do we have residing on Long Island? Excluding the marine mammals, there are 33 mammal species here. Among the 14 families represented, the bat family, Vespertilionidae, comprises the largest number of species (seven). Due to the lack of suitable hibernacula sites on Long Island, there is a question as to whether they are all migratory or year-round residents.

With the exception of the eastern chipmunk and gray squirrel, the other 31 species are most active at night (nocturnal) or at dawn and dusk (crepuscular), or spend most of their time underground (fossorial) and are difficult to observe in their well-hidden, daytime resting areas. My backyard is visited by deer every night, but all I see is the feeding sign and tracks in my garden. Across the street, my neighbor had more than a dozen flying squirrels in her attic, but I never saw one until a nuisance trapper caught them. And during my river otter fieldwork, which was done during daylight hours, I only once happened to startle, and glimpse, an adult and pup out of their secluded “day bed” in a cattail marsh.

At certain times of the year—for example when having to supply food for young who are weaned but still too inexperienced to fend for themselves—even the generally nocturnal creatures can be seen during daylight hours actively hunting or feeding. Still, despite many hours in the field over the past 30 years, I have yet to see a few of our local mammals: the striped skunk, masked shrew, star-nosed mole, meadow jumping mouse and relatively recent addition to our list: the coyote. And the only gray fox and short-tailed weasels I’ve seen on Long Island were roadkills.

Here is this week’s nature quiz, based on mammals:

#1) Who is our most recent ‘new’ mammal, arriving on the island in 2009 and first documented breeding here (in Queens) in 2016?

#2) What mammal can jump three feet high, swim a half mile, tread water for three days, climb straight up a brick wall, and is now found on all continents except Antarctica?

#3) Scientist Paul Connor, in his 1971 publication “The Mammals of Long Island, New York,” considered this rarely seen fossorial species to be the most numerous mammal on Long Island.

#4) What three mammals (other than the bats) found on Long Island hibernate in underground dens?

#5 and #6) Long Island’s two fox species can be distinguished from one another by their respective tail tips: black or white. The answer to #5 has a black-tipped tail (and a black stripe over the top of the entire tail) and was the most common fox here until the late 1800s when most of its forest and thicket habitat had been cleared for farming. The answer to #6 has a white-tipped tail, is native to North America and is now our common fox on Long Island.

#7) What two mammals make dreys (stick and leaf shelters lined with shredded bark, moss and pine needles) securely wedged between tree branches?

#8) This species is North America’s only marsupial. It is a southern species that became established on Long Island in the late 1800s.

#9) What am I? (See accompanied photo).

#10) What made these tracks, including the four-foot-long slide, over this snow-covered pond in Southold? (See accompanied photo).

ANSWERS: 1) eastern coyote; 2) Norway rat (introduced here in the mid-1700s, displacing the black rat that arrived with the first colonists); 3) masked or common shrew; 4) meadow jumping mouse, eastern chipmunk and woodchuck (aka groundhog); 5) gray fox; 6) red fox; 7) gray squirrel and southern flying squirrel; 8) opossum; 9) weasel (the species on L.I. is the long-tailed weasel); 10) river otter (otters will run and slide on their bellies even over level ice and snow-covered terrain).

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