Wisconsin Mammals

By best estimations there are about 72 resident mammal species in Wisconsin. Guesses on the Order with the most species? It’s Rodentia with 26 species of squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and mice – plus the lemming, porcupine, beaver and pocket gopher. I recall Scott Craven, perhaps Wisconsin’s most famous Wildlife Ecologist, once stating that the meadow vole is the most populous mammal in Wisconsin. I couldn’t find anything to verify that but I believe him. He has, after all, answered over 1,000 wildlife questions per year in his career, and continues to do so once a month on the Larry Meiller Show.

Although deer are populous enough to be the third highest cause of car crashes in Wisconsin, it’s animals in the Order Carnivora that often garner people’s attention most: wolves, bears, coyote, fox, skunk, and badger (among others – see a full list of Wisconsin mammals here). You can see all these species and anything else that wanders in front of over 750 trail cameras distributed across the state with the DNR’s Snapshot Wisconsin program, which uses citizen scientists to monitor trail cams and identify species. The aim of the project is to provide data needed for wildlife management decisions.

Here’s some Wisconsin mammals making news lately:

Bear: Research Says Bait Makes Up More Than 40 Percent Of Bear Diets In Northern Wisconsin (Aug. 2017)

Bats: White-Nose Syndrome Devastating Wisconsin’s Bats (May, 2017)

Deer: Walker Signs Bill Limiting Deer Baiting Bans (Aug. 2017)

Wolf: Court keeps Wisconsin’s Wolves on Endangered Species List; Hunt on Hold (Aug. 2017)

Nature Net News Flashback from 2007:

The Skinny on Skunks

Though historically listed as a subfamily of the weasel family, recent genetic evidence shows skunks to be less closely related to weasels than originally thought. They now enjoy the reclassified status of their own family, Mephitidae. Speaking of Latin, it’s not surprising the genus name for the most common skunk, Mephitis, is Latin for “bad odor.” (Quick refresher: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.) Wisconsin’s skunk species, the commonly seen striped skunk and the less common spotted skunk, are both famous for their well-developed scent glands (which, incidentally, all carnivores have – just without such skilled ability to use them). The pair of glands, grape-like in shape in size, are filled with enough oil to last 5-6 sprays and take about ten days to replenish. The thiol compounds that make skunk spray so smelly are created when proteins break down – think rotting flesh or feces – and are detectable to the human nose at a mere two parts per million. Due in part to their nearsightedness and lumbering waddle, skunks are most often prey to cars, the only known natural predator being the olfactory-deficient great horned owl. They are also infamous rabies carriers though they represent less than a third of all reported cases. February and March are typically skunk mating season and expectant mothers looking for a den may choose to inhabit other animals’ burrows, rock crevices, brush piles or a space under your building. If you have a skunk for a neighbor, there are several suggested methods to deter the skunk from staying. Find out more from UW Extension’s Skunks: How to Deal With Them.

You can also find more general information about skunks from Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks, or the National Wildlife Magazine article “Living with Skunks.”

The yellow oil skunks secrete as defense is unpleasant to our noses because of chemical compounds called thiols. And just to be sure we stay away, skunks mix in another compound, thioacetate, which once it breaks down, turns into…thiol. That’s why the stink can really stick around! Find out more from the New Scientist.

Did you know…

There’s an update to last month’s post about mosquitoes: Verily — formerly Google Life Sciences — began releasing bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in Fresno, California. Read more at The Verge.

To Do This Month: 

Take yourself on a self-guided hike at the MacKenzie Center (open daily dawn to dusk). There are many self-guided, interpretive trails at the Center taking you through woodlands and prairies. Check out this map to learn more about the trails: [PDF].

Visit the Wildlife Exhibit MacKenzie Center (open daily, 10am-4pm). The wildlife exhibit at MacKenzie houses live animals native to Wisconsin, including bison, deer, gray wolves, lynx, river otter, red fox, raptors and coyote. All of the animals in the exhibit were injured, orphaned or raised in captivity and cannot be released into the wild. The animals are cared for as part of an educational exhibit, providing students and the public an opportunity to see and learn more about the animals that are part of Wisconsin’s ecological community.

Stop by on Wednesday August 30th, 8-10pm for Movie Night at MacKenzie Center. Grab your family, friends, and a blanket and come enjoy popcorn and a movie under the stars at the MacKenzie Center.

Visit other Nature Net sites with your Nature Passport and explore the many wonders Nature Net sites have to offer. Check out the Nature Net Calendar of Events for more fun family programs.

August Events

Test Your Senses

MacKenzie Center

Our Favorite Mammal Books

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For Educators:

Educator Trunks

Sometimes you just need the right tools to get your message across. The Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education Resource Library has you covered. They have created dozens of educator trunks filled with an amazing array of hands-on props, posters, puppets, and activity guides. The trunks are loaned out free to educators and cover many topics, including mammal species like bats, bears, deer, wolves, and a general mammal kit. Find out more from or the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.

Or, check out this “Deer Talk” activity for 4th-8th graders designed to help students understand non-verbal communication used by deer to protect their herd.

Gearing up for the new school year? Don’t forget that Nature Net offers bus funding assistance through our Nature Express program.

For Families:

Mammal Hunt

I asked my 14-year old daughter (whom I subject to #mandatorynaturetime on most Sundays so, she has some experience in the field) what families should or could do to learn about Wisconsin mammals. She said, “everyone loves a scavenger hunt.” But when we started listing the mammals we regularly see on our nature walks, the list was quite slim. Squirrels and rabbits were about it. And though some may argue that our state is overrun with deer, I’ve only see a handful while on solo walks, none while with scrabmley kids. But the more we thought about it, we realized a good scavenger hunt should include things that make you open your senses a bit more than usual. Here’s a list of animal signs from December 2015’s Nature Net News that just might do the trick, and could serve as a well-rounded scavenger hunt list:

Scat (droppings) which can tell you which animal left it, what it ate, how long ago it was there, and other animals in the area. You might also find nests, middens (piles of discarded nut shells or seeds), food caches, dig holes, tunnels, dens, nipped twigs, runs (trails used over and over or by many animals), beds (places where an animal has laid down), and bark rubbings or scrapes.

If you want more ideas and specifics on animal tracking, my favorite book is “Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign” by Paul Rezendes.

Betsy bylineCopy of Betsy bylineBetsy Parker is an environmental educator who supports all children, families, and classrooms getting their recommended daily allowance of #VitaminN.
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