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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers Day!

Black bear mother and cubs
(Wayland, NY 11/09)
It is only fitting that I use today's entry to honor the important role mothers play in the world of mammals. The term "mammals" is derived from "mammary gland" that makes mammals unique. The females of all mammal species produce milk for their young. As I tell my students, producing milk implies a whole host of other behaviors. For example, mama mammals must be good caregivers or the milk would be useless. Being good caregivers often means that the build a nest of some kind. It may mean that they protect their young from danger. And in the case of larger mammals, it means the investment of many, many months. Take black bears for example. Black bears will care for a set of young for up to 15 months. In New York, cubs are born primarily in January (I have several posts regarding black bear den visits. Search for black bear label or go to: for a posting that shows some cubs). After leaving the den, the mother bear spends the entire spring, summer and fall teaching her cubs the ways of the world, especially how to find food. When the cubs are born, they weigh less than a pound. In the camera trap photo above, courtesy of my father, you can see that they have grown substantially. Here in Western and Central NY, the cubs can reach 100 pounds by November. That is an amazing rate of growth! The photo was taken on November 1st and these bears will be heading to the den soon. When they emerge from the den, they will be called yearlings. By June, they will have dispersed to their own territories.

Tapir at clay lick
(Manu National Park, Peru 8/08)
Black bears are so small when they are born because the fetus spends very little time developing. That is NOT the case with our next critter. Meet the tapir. Tapirs are pregnant for 13 months before having a single calf. This odd looking animal was photographed in the Amazonian jungle of Peru. We were specifically staked out at this particular mud pit in hopes of a tapir visiting. Tapirs come to these clay licks in order to ingest mud. The theory is that the mud helps the herbivore deal with some of the toxins that are found in the leaves they eat. According to our guide, this was the first observed visit of this baby at the clay lick. I would like to believe that this was its very first visit; that we were there to witness an important moment in this tapir's education. Regardless, it was an important moment in MY education. This was my first wild tapir encounter, and to be able to see a mother and young was just more than I had hoped for. The pattern on the young tapir affords it a little extra camouflage as it learns the ways of their predator filled world. But tapirs are not the only babies with a unique pattern...

White-tailed deer fawns (Seneca Falls, NY 7/10)
I would guess my readers are more familiar with white-tailed deer than tapirs. So am I. We are only a few weeks away from the birth of this year's crop of fawns. In our part of NY, the last week of May is the peak of fawn births (so many fawns are born over Memorial Day weekend, I think we should rename it Labor Day :) ). The spots fade in the fall, but throughout the summer you can spot a fawn by its spots. Here is my favorite camera trap fawn portrait. It has an abstract look to it...

So, a big THANK YOU to all moms out there, no matter what the species. Every mammal owes his or her early success to a mom that provided food, safety and lessons on life. It was our job to follow and learn. Thanks Mom!
Raccoon family (Seneca Falls, NY 9/09)

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