Animals Tend to be Opportunistic

Many things that have been held to be fact, are not true at all. In my first year of school teaching I depended heavily on the text book, only to learn at a later date that some of the facts were not really facts. In our travels, we are constantly regaled to not feed birds, and other forms of animal life because it will hinder their survival in the wild. I just don’t believe this anymore. I have been around animals and observed their behavior all of my long life, and have learned that they will do whatever is necessary to survive or make their existence easier. In short, animals are opportunistic!

We have observed Western Tanagers, with their insectivore beaks, eating seeds. Now that just isn’t supposed to be. Meat eaters, such as Fox or Coyote, will often consume non-meat items. Great Blue Herons are supposed to eat small fish, frogs, and other small aquatic organisms. Much to my surprise, I once watched for some minutes a heron, on a park lawn, carefully creeping up on a ground squirrel hole. What, I wondered, was it doing? Suddenly its head shot out and into the hole. Out it came with a large ground squirrel in its beak, which it swallowed in one mighty gulp.

Little kids will all say that bears eat honey and that may be so, but in reality (and this is shocking to some) they eat a large quantity of grass. It is interesting to watch them on a hillside grazing like cattle.

But of course, we all know that Grizzlies are opportunistic and will consume almost anything. Meat is a big favorite – their “Ice Cream food” so to speak. However, other than squirrels and such, and the new born, they are poor predators. Scavenging on the larger winter-killed beasts is common after emerging from hibernation. The Grizzly pictured is feeding on carrion at the side of a pond. When I saw the bear moving to it, I ran and hurriedly walked for about a mile (packing a heavy camera and tripod) to witness the spectacle that was to occur. Now, that is hard on a 75 year old man, but it was well worth the effort!

Grizzly Bear Gorging upon a carcass

Gorging upon the carcass

Living Without Water: A Desert Adaptation

Previously I wrote about the importance of water in maintaining life. That brought up another question. How do desert animals get by with practically none? One way is to conserve body moisture by being nocturnal. However, some rodents, such as the Kangaroo Rat and the Round-Tailed Ground Squirrel, have the ability to manufacture their own water from seeds.

The carbohydrates in seeds make this possible. The chemical make up of a carbohydrate is that every atom of carbon is attached to a molecule of water (C H2O). Simple sugar, the basic carbohydrate, is C6 H12 O6. Hence the term carbohydrate. All animal bodies break these molecules down during respiration in their cells and any excess H2O is excreted in the urine. If this water is retained, the need for additional is satisfied.

One would probably not expect to see much life in a desert because of the harsh conditions. It is always amazing to me to witness the variety of species we encounter there. Besides the birds, a favorite rodent of mine is found in arid areas.

The Antelope Ground Squirrel is an omnivore. It will consume insects, grasshoppers, and carrion, as well as vegetative matter. This squirrel can also go long periods without water. Unlike other ground squirrels, it does not hibernate. It digs an extensive burrow, two feet under ground, with two or three entrances.

This cute fellow is distinguished by a white stripe on each side of its spine. It prefers open areas and is diurnal (daytime active) which makes it more easily seen.

(An Antelope Ground Squirrel enjoying the cool of the morning)