Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Little Gray Furry Creature

     Just having completed my photo essay on the End of the Earth, I was walking through the house not trying too hard, but contemplating a possible topic for my next posting. And low and behold came to mind my adventure with the little dark grey mouse like character on my back porch. I learned quite a bit from that experience and will share my knowledge.
     In preparation for this weekend with its warnings of snow (it did produce a winter wonderland) and the cold snap that was to follow, I was cleaning off my back stoop. There were some osteospermia (Cape daisies) that I had planned to pot up and over winter, along with three pots of fuchsia where 2 out of 3 of the fuchsia vines had died. I planned to pot up the three into one hanging pot and take it in for the winter as well. Also there was a conglomeration of lawn sprinklers, spray hose heads, garden tools from trowels, clippers, a lopper, to small saws accumulated out there. They need to be brought in and cleaned up and maybe sharpened for next year. (This is what Martha Stewart would say. I usually don't do anything with my tools. They aren't pretty and they probably become dull too quickly, but I am lazy that way. But they did need to be brought in.) I picked up an old plastic flat left over from my summer annual purchases. Various items had found their way into this tray including a couple pots, some gloves, and a small box of powdered fertilizer, Miracle Gro, I think. It was windy and I was going to take this tray into the warmer shelter of the back porch to sort through these odds and ends and get them to where they belong, or in the garbage can. As I entered the porch, a small dark creature wriggled out and flopped down to the floor. It immediately scurried under one of my bamboo shelving units. Oh dear! A problem! Maybe not as bad as in the house proper, but still more work than I had planned.
     The porch is small, contains two bamboo cabinets, an outdoor cushioned chaise lounge, and a matching rocking chair, various baskets of fairy garden items gathered for the winter, a small terrarium on a stand, and some bags of seeds, fertilizer, and potting soil, along with the plants that I had potted up and brought in just a short time before. The little charcoal colored furry creature scurried under one of the shelves. I took a broom and stomped around and chased it around for about 20 minutes with the porch door open trying to get it to run out. Every time it came to the door molding it just ran across no doubt to some shelter that it saw straight ahead. Finally I gave up that day.
     I thought it was a mole at first. And the next morning even more so, because there was a pile of dirt dug out of one of my potted plants and a nice round hole to the very bottom of the pot. Aha! I thought I had the solution. I carefully took the pot outside and emptied it. This was one of the osteospermia I had just potted up so the dirt was very loose. No animal was there. I did a very thorough search of the porch, under the shelves, in various baskets and paper bags-- no animal found. Due to the digging I was more certain that this was a mole. I have seen their pig like nose poking out occasionally from holes in our stone wall. Maybe I would have to get a live trap and bait it to try to catch this critter. I went online to find out what to do. I learned first that moles are fairly solitary, almost always underground, blind, and above all fairly slow in movement. They move according to their very acute hearing and vibration sensation. One guy said if you find a mole outside its tunnel, or one by accident gets in your garage, just pick it up with gloves. Well, this creature moved far too fast to just pick it up. And in terms of trapping moles, it was difficult. They eat worms and grubs and not seeds or peanut butter like a mouse, so live traps don't work. There are some fake poison worms you can try but they need to be inserted into their tunnels and they don't always work. I didn't think they would lure a mole into a live trap. What I did learn was that moles have to eat every 8 hours or so and I didn't think there were any worms or grubs in my porch, even in my pots because I had just potted them with store bought soil. Maybe my "mole" would become hungry, get weaker, and slower and I would be able to find it, catch it, or maybe it would die. Ewwww!
     Last night I looked out onto the porch before I went to bed. Nothing. No piles of dirt, no mess. Maybe the little creature had squeezed through one of the porch drainage holes and gotten out. I hoped.
     This morning amid the white wonderland out there, I looked out onto the porch. I still had the problem. There were scatterings of dirt on the floor and now stems and chewed leaves from my osteospermia plant. What ever it was, it had food. No hope on that solution. Then I looked out again at noon. There it was next to the potted plant eating a stem of osteospermia. I went to get a camera for a picture and the binoculars to focus on its snout to determine what it was. When I came back, I must have made a little noise and it dove into the flower pot. A little bit later, dirt began to fly out of the pot. It was digging. Well, I gave up on the photos and decided this was my chance to move it out. I carefully picked up the pot and quickly set it outside. Then I watched. And out came the little gray creature, wondered over to under the grill, then ran along the stone heading of the foundation of the porch and disappeared. Problem solved. And as it had run away I had gotten a view of its tail, a very short hairless pointed one, unlike the mole which is more bulbous and hairy. This animal was way to dark gray - really a charcoal gray - for a field mouse, or deer mouse. I didn't get a good look at its snout which would distinguish it as a shrew, but what it had eaten and the tail told the story. It was a meadow vole. Wow, I had seen these little buggers rustling around in my leaves near the house and once in a while running across the walk. So we have many many little voles living around our house. Now I have to look up if this could become a problem. I have often thought they make great horned owl food and I like to have the owls around.

A meadow vole.
      Moles, voles, shrews, and mice?  Which is it?

     Moles are fairly solitary, usually not seen because they stay beneath the ground. They eat earthworms, grubs and other underground insect forms. They are the larger of these four animals, have dark black very thick short velvety fur. Their front feet are broad and stick out from the body because they use them to dig. Their eyes are so tiny as to not be visible. The species I have seen in our yard is the star nosed mole. It's nose is quite something. Moles move slowly and are almost blind but are very sensitive to sound and vibration. They are regarded as beneficial to your yard because they aerate the soil and eat destructive grubs. Some people have hired professionals to come and trap the moles thinking they have created all the shallow tunnels in their turf, only to lose large sections of their turf to the grubs that had drawn the moles in the first place.

     Field mice and deer mice are characteristic mice with long pointy ears, a small pointed snout, and long hairless tail. They tend to be light brown or gray. They eat seeds and plant materials. And they like to come into warm houses for the winter. They can be destructive of various things they encounter in order to make their nests. They are easily trapped with peanut butter, cheese, or bread as bait.

     I had no idea how common shrews are. The most common is the short tailed shrew here in Wisconsin. They are the smallest of this similar group of animals, only about 3 inches long including its 1 inch hairless tail. They have a very long pointed snout. They are also carnivorous, eating insects, bird eggs, baby birds, and other baby rodents if they come upon them. They even eat voles which we will discuss next. They have a vicious bite with a toxin in the saliva which will paralyze and kill some of their prey. They even prey on voles and each other. I have never seen one of these little guys. When your cat leaves you a "gift" of a mouse on your doorstep, it is often a shrew. The reason the cat left it is because it has glands which produce such a pungent odor, that most cats will not eat it. However, owls and snakes with their poor sense of smell will prey on these tiny animals.

     And of course my animal was a vole. It is between a shrew and a mole in size, with a stubby body, small ears, tiny eyes, blunted snout, and a hairless tail just a little longer than a shrew's. Voles are completely vegetarian. They also multiply very quickly and prodigiously. These are the animals that can do damage in your garden. They eat small tree bark at the ground level and are usually the animal that is guilty of girdling and killing a tree, rather than it being rabbits. They also eat the stems of several garden favorites like hosta, and hydrangea. I now recognize that it was a vole I saw eating off the stems of my clematis. It forced me to put an apron of hardware cloth around that bush. I had blamed the rabbits until I saw this creature in action. My vole on my back porch was doing a destructive number on my osteospermia. I knew there was an unknown reason why I always plant these in my pots and not in the ground. They have left them alone in the pots. Also when the supposed mole runs in your yard are particularly noticeable in the spring, it is more due to the voles using them and digging to the side looking for roots and other vegetation than to the moles themselves. Voles don't like to show themselves so if you keep the mulch and leaves away from trees and other stems the voles will be less likely to eat them because they have to show themselves. If you have a problem with the number of voles, you can easily catch them by putting traps baited with peanut butter along their runs, and covering the traps with a small cardboard box, or pot. They will be more likely to investigate the peanut butter in the dark under the box or pot. If you catch one, then put a slice of apple under the box. If you see teeth marks in it the next day, use the trap again. Fortunately, voles usually do not come into the house on their own as mice do. Unless, of course, brought in accidentally as I did and then they seem rather ingenious about finding the plant materials. 

     Always curious, I learned a lot. Hope you did too.    

No comments:

Post a Comment