Posts Tagged With: Sequoia National Park

The Solitary Cougar: 13 Fast Facts!

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Gorgeous Puma Concolor, I admire and respect your ways, and I hope we never meet…

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Captain and I discovered this incredible adult cougar print on our road in the forest.  It was about 4″ long!  We regret deeply that we didn’t get back out to take a plaster cast of it before the rains came…

Oh mountain lions! We are certainly on the lookout these days for these magnificent creatures, as we have been finding scat around regularly.  We do live in the Sierra Nevada, where cougars, black bears, rattlesnakes and bobcats share the land, but there is something especially eerie about the thought of a large cat stalking my kid or dogs.  It is simply a responsibility of the land in which we live.  Captain knows that she cannot run around outside alone during these times. She is learning to live as safely as possible in a remote mountain location.  This does not mean that I don’t watch her like a hawk!  It just means that we exercise precautions as necessary.

Lately, we have found a LOT of cougar scat all around us, and do know that they are on the move.  They are solitary and elusive, mostly moving about at dawn and dusk, and to see one is a rare sight. My husband, K, and I did see one years ago while driving slowly home down the dirt road one night.  The headlights flashed upon a face in the trees that nearly took our breath away!  A fleeting glance was enough to see and feel the power and beauty of this animal.  I would like to share some facts about our calm, and quiet, friend, the cougar.

1. Mountain lions are also known as cougars, pumas, panthers and catamounts, and many other names as well.  In fact they hold the Guinness record for the animal with the highest number of names in the world.  The term “mountain lion” is incorrect actually.  They do not only reside in the mountains, and they do not roar like a lion, but it is a name coined “back in the day” and it has kind of stuck.

2. Cougars have powerful limbs and can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40 feet.  Their top running speed is between 40-50 mph (64-80 km/h)!

3. Cougars can swim.

4. These big cats measure 2+ feet at the shoulders and weigh 110-180 pounds typically.

5. They have a lifespan of about 12 years in the wild.

6. Cougars are solitary animals.  They are extremely territorial and actively avoid other cats, except during courtship.

7. With the exception of humans, cougars have the largest range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Their range can vary in size from 10 square miles to around 370 square miles. They are found from Canada to Argentina.

8. There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western United States.

9. They eat large mammals like deer, and also smaller mammals like mice, raccoons, rabbits, beavers and squirrels.

10. They are active hunters and will travel long distances in search of food.  They hunt alone and attack from behind, breaking the neck of their prey by biting it at the base of the skull.  Their weight coming down helps with the kill as well.

11. After killing their prey, they will bury it and leave it, coming back to feed when hungry.

12. Cougars commonly mate from December to March, but are known to mate at any time of the year.  Moms have 2-4 kittens, which they raise alone.  The kittens nurse for two months, then start to travel with mom so that she can teach them to hunt.  They will stay with her for about 1.5-2 years.

13. Mountain lions are on considered a low-alert species on the United States endangered species list, due to population increases.

Cougars are fascinating, and beautiful, and I hope they stay healthy and at a distance from our home!  We have learned to identify their scat, and will keep an eye out for scat that contains a lot of hair.  Healthy cougars tend to eat the fleshy, good, parts of their prey, and leave the skin and hair behind.  If they are unhealthy, or mal-nourished, their scat would contain hair, which would put us on extreme alert.  Mountain lions don’t tend to attack humans unless they have been imposed upon and their habitat taken, or if they are unhealthy and HUNGRY!

Let us not have these creatures get a bad rap for taking down the occasional human.  I suppose if we delved further into the story, we would find out that whole neighborhoods have been built on their land and whose fault is that?  In the meantime, we root for them!  Let them live in the peace and quiet that they are born for, and we will do our best to stay out of their way.  Thanks for reading.

I stalk you with good thoughts!  Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

California Black Bear Facts, and How Little Bear Broke Into Our House!

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Greetings junior Sequoia bear!  In this photo, the little guy is in the pine tree right outside our cabin.

They have 5 toes, each with a well-developed claw.  The adults weigh between 100-350 pounds, and they are, well, as cute as teddy bears. Hello California black bears!  Some say they are dangerous (but aren’t all wild animals?) and in some areas, especially near, or in, the national parks and forests, they have been known to break into restaurants and houses, causing many upsets. I know it is inconvenient, to say the least, but, I must ask, isn’t this their forest and park?  Do humans not leave food and trash out to tempt them?  Have we humans not greatly harassed their habitats?

I live with my family in a remote cabin in Sequoia National Forest, where bears, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and even mountain lions are our neighbors. Last summer when the little bear in the photo above broke into our cabin, we were not offended, in fact, we were amazed that he was able to squeeze through our (large) dog door.  Afterward, we took measures to secure the trash bags that had drawn him in.

California black bears vary in color from tan or brown, to black.  Typically, they are dark brown, and occasionally have a small white chest patch, just like Little Bear.  Years ago, K and I saw a gigantic bear out on a hillside that was red.  It was a rare and magnificent sighting!

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Bueller, the labrador, protecting the cabin from Little Bear, who was still in the tree.

Before Little Bear came visiting inside the cabin, we awoke one morning last June to a quiet, gorgeous, Sierra morning. I walked outside with K to greet the day when I saw a flash of black on the side of the cabin. Bueller went nuts. It was a little bear!  He scampered across the “yard” to an 80 foot pine tree and loped right up.  We were able to take a good look at him before we called the dogs back and waited patiently for him to feel comfortable enough to climb down and run off.  It was exciting, but we also knew that we would interrupt both the bear’s, and our, natural systems of living if we didn’t take steps to be sure that bears were not drawn too close to our home.

A few nights later we came driving up to the cabin and surprised Little Bear, who had decided to go through the dog door and investigate the cabin kitchen.  I opened the front door and was confused. There was liquid on the floor, right inside the door, and it had a bunch of dried pasta in it.  It dawned on me what was happening when I smelled the husky, earthy scent of wild animal.

BEAR!” I yelled to my husband, who popped Captain immediately back into the truck and shut the doors.  It was dark and eerily quiet in the house.  We carefully looked around and found the house clear. The screen door in the living room was open and there were paw prints so we knew that we had surprised Little Bear when we drove up, and he broke out and was gone. Now that things were safe, we brought in the very excited Captain, who ran around looking at everything with moon eyes. K and I got the kitchen cleaned up; Little Bear hadn’t been in our house long, thank goodness.  He had pawed around the kitchen a bit, but everything else looked okay.  We make our own power at the cabin and at night have little gas lamps to see by. It was pretty dark, and it was late, so we all climbed into a bed out on the deck, under the stars, and went to sleep….

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Little Bear’s perfect paw print on my pillowcase!!!  I have kept this pillowcase and might even stretch and frame it…

The next morning, my brother-in-law, Ryder, and I did some more looking around in the cabin and were surprised by what we found!  We were able to trace Little Bear’s exact steps through the house.  He had entered through the dog door and barely started pawing through the kitchen (there were some broken jars of molasses, a bag of pasta etc) when we must have driven up and surprised him.  He probably panicked to get out and ran straight into my bedroom, which is right off the kitchen. He scrambled over the top of my bed, and my pillow!, down and over a giant stuffed teddy bear of Captain’s (!) and up on top of the piano, which is up against a wall with a window above it.  There were sticky paw prints on the piano and nose prints all over the window behind it.  He couldn’t get out there, so he scrambled back through my room, past the kitchen, into the living room where he made it to the screened window and jumped out, probably as I was opening the front door.  Wow!

Now this was an exciting event, but we do not want it to happen again, for both the safety of our family and home, but also for Little Bear. We don’t want his natural ways to be interrupted by getting used to humans and their habitats. California Black Bears eat both plant and animal matter, and tend to eat whatever is around that seems edible to them. This includes human food and trash. They eat a lot of ants and other insects in summer, and in the fall prefer nuts, especially acorns, and eat tons of manzanita berries. They are mostly plant eaters, but will take down young deer fawns, or other animals, if they are hungry.  Our Little Bear broke into our house because we live in his home of Sequoia National Forest, AND because we had some bags of trash penned up outside.  We take full responsibility for this event and have taken steps to greatly reduce the chances of it happening again.  Basically, we took care of the trash pile!

Cool California Black Bear Facts!

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California black bear population has increased over the past 25 years.  In 1982 the statewide bear population was estimated to be between 10,000-15,000.  A current, conservative, estimate is 25,000-30,000!  Hoo-yeah! That is such great news!!  40% of the statewide black bear population inhabits the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Bears mate in June and July.  Reproductive success is directly related to the abundance of high quality summer and fall foods.  You see, if bears eat a lot of human food and trash, it doesn’t really count as “high quality” foods, and effects their reproductive success.  We must keep our trash and human food out of their faces!!!

Wild female black bears have a very remarkable trait called “delayed implantation“, whereas an adult female will carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months.  This allows the mama to time the birth of her cubs so that they are not born too early or too late.  If food is scarce, she will not have enough body fat and the egg won’t attach.  The females reproduce at about 4 1/2 years old and generally breed every other year, and produce 2-4 cubs per litter.  The young are born around the 1st of February while Mama is “hibernating”.  The little cubs weigh less than 1 pound at birth, nurse in the den (ahhh!), and emerge in April or May at about 5-7 pounds.  They will stay with Mama for up to 2 years, following, and learning all about being a bear from her.  Go Mama Bear!

Bears “hibernate” for 3-4 months, but it isn’t really a true hibernation!  It is called that, for convenience sake, but it is, in truth, something called “seasonal lethargy”.  Bears keep their body temperatures at 88 degrees and live off of their own fat. By contrast, the body temperature of smaller hibernators such as marmots, chipmunks, and ground squirrels may drop below 40°F. These smaller creatures are known as the “true hibernators”. Bears can go on sleeping because of their ability to retain body heat. They can wake if disturbed, although they require a few minutes to awaken.

One last fascinating fact:  Bears have the ability to regenerate and repair bones by a mysterious mechanism during hibernation!  Cool! Scientists are investigating this automatic regeneration to try to find out how it works.

You can click here for a free, printable “Keep Me Wild” bear poster, courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Seeing first hand the beauty of the California black bear is truly a remarkable experience.  I hope that my family and I can be of help to these majestic creatures.  Thank you so much for reading, and please let us know your thoughts, or ideas, here on kartwheels.

Good thoughts, Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

California Newts Rock! 10 Fast Facts For Newt Lovers

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Taricha torosa!  The gentle California Newt  

They are adorable, they are orange, and they’ll kill you if you eat them!  Who couldn’t love a California newt?  Over the years we have noticed some interesting things about them, like how they always seem to be moving in a purposeful direction, and on rare occasions, we have even come upon several of them all balled-up together in a stream. Newt balls! Delightful!  It wasn’t until recently that we delved more deeply into learning about these special creatures that are found mainly in California, on the coastline, and in the Sierra Nevada.  Captain asked many questions and we discovered some remarkable things about our little orange friends that we would like to share.  Most kids love newts and we invite you to read on for 10 fast facts.  You can also find free coloring pages of California newts, and other cool creatures, on the USGS site by clicking here.

Fast Fact 1. California newts are poisonous!  There are glands in their skin that secrete a potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, which is hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide.  It is the same toxin found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs, and one drop can kill up to 7,000 mice.  The neurotoxin is strong enough to kill humans, but they are only dangerous if ingested.

Fast Fact 2. Due to their toxicity, California newts have few natural predators, although garter snakes, and some other species, have developed a resistance to tetrodotoxin.

Fast Fact 3. California newts eat earthworms, snails, slugs, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and other invertebrates.

Fast Fact 4. They reproduce between December and early May.  The adult newts will return to the pool in which they hatched.  This “homing instinct” is probably why they seem to be moving with purpose.  Cool!  The “ball of newts” is actually several males wrapped around a female during the mating process.

Fast Fact 5. When a female releases her egg mass, it will have between 7 and 30 eggs.  The egg masses attach to stream plant roots or rocky crevices.

Fast Fact 6. California newts make sounds that humans can’t hear, unless under special conditions, like in a lab or aquarium environment. They whistle, squeak and click to tell other newts that this is “their territory”, to attract mates, or to warn predators that they are poisonous.

Fast Fact 7. These newts can live up to 20 years!

Fast Fact 8. California newts grow to be about 3-8″ in length.

Fast Fact 9. When threatened, a newt will take a sway backed position and close its eyes.  It will extend its limbs to the side and hold its tail straight out in warning.

Fast Fact 10. California newts are currently a California Special Concern Species due to population reduction.  Human habitation and invasive species are the biggest contributors to the reduction. We hope that if you read about them here, or elsewhere, you will encourage others to do so as well so that they are not overlooked.

There are many more things to learn and I encourage you to check out Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy I. Storer and Robert L. Usinger, and, for lots of great photos, visit californiaherps.com.  Thanks for reading!

Good thoughts, Karen & Co!

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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