“The Owl Critic”

“The Owl Critic”

Several years ago, two barn owls set up housekeeping in the hayloft of the old barn at my place. From seven eggs, the pair hatched four owlets, but they weren’t safe. The nest had been made on the top of a stack of square hay bales in a corner, but a crafty raccoon or possum must have found them, as one day the little ones had simply vanished. I was sick about that, and asked my friend Mike Mothersbaugh to build a nesting box for the owls, and mount it high up on the north wall of the loft, where no nasty varmints could get to it. Following a design from the conservation department’s website, he completed the job as requested, and every once in a while I climb the stairs in the barn to check for signs of occupants. Finally, this summer. . . success!

While it was fascinating to watch the progress of the little white fuzz-heads with the big dark eyes, I tried to keep my visits to a minimum so as not to disturb the family. Each time, though, I would speak softly to the owls, telling them how honored I was that they’d chosen my barn as their home, and how perfectly beautiful they are. Some days they would listen to me, tilting their heads to one side or the other from a perch far above my head, doing a little bob-n-weave move to bring me into better focus. Soon there were at least two fledglings–maybe three–out and about with the parents, learning to fly in the hayloft and later moving outside at twilight for hunting lessons. I learned about the various sounds they make, and what they eat (lots of mice and voles!) and examined the odd-looking pellets they cough up after they’ve digested all the nutrients from their prey. Captivating and shy, these barn owls have me enthralled. Maybe it’s because of a favorite poem that my sister and I memorized as children. I hope you’ll like it too . . . it’s a Hoot!

The Owl-Critic                                               

by James Thomas Fields (1817-1881)

“Who stuffed that white owl?”

No one spoke in the shop,
The barber was busy, and he couldn’t stop;
The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The “Daily,” the “Herald,” the “Post,” little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised a head, or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving.

“Don’t you see, Mr. Brown,”
Cried the youth, with a frown,
“How wrong the whole thing is,
How preposterous each wing is,
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is —
In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck ’tis!
I make no apology;
I’ve learned owl-eology.

I’ve passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And cannot be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskillful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right, from his beak to his tail.
Mister Brown! Mr. Brown!
Do take that bird down,
Or you’ll soon be the laughingstock all over town!”
And the barber kept on shaving.

“I’ve studied owls,
And other night-fowls,
And I tell you
What I know to be true;
An owl cannot roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in this world
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his bill canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.
He cant do it, because
‘Tis against all bird-laws.

Anatomy teaches,
Ornithology preaches,
An owl has a toe
That can’t turn out so!
I’ve made the white owl my study for years,
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!
Mr. Brown, I’m amazed
You should be so gone crazed
As to put up a bird
In that posture absurd!
To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him don’t half know his business!”
And the barber kept shaving.

“Examine those eyes
I’m filled with surprise
Taxidermists should pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem
They’d make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have him stuffed again, Brown!”
And the barber kept on shaving!

“With some sawdust and bark
I could stuff in the dark
An owl better than that.
I could make an old hat
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl,
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about him there’s not one natural feather.”

Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,
The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,
Walked around, and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:
“Your learning’s at fault this time, anyway:
Don’t waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I’m an owl; you’re another. Sir Critic, good day!”
And the barber kept on shaving.

Old-Fashioned Fun

Old-Fashioned Fun

My esteemed brother-in-law David H. had warned me:  “The iPhone will change your world. One day you will think back on life before iPhone and life after iPhone, and see what an enormous difference it makes. I think you’ll really like it!” And he was right; I do really like it. But lately I find myself succumbing to what so many of us have–a life with my attention on a screen of one sort or another for way too many hours of the day.

As a small fish in an ocean of cousins, I enjoyed the games at family reunions and ice cream socials. Hide and seek when we were younger, then “Flags” when we had grown a bit. “Flags” consisted of the kids dividing off into two groups, each one of which had a different colored shop rag from the barn or garage. The groups were each to hide their flags in the best spot they could find within fifteen minutes, and then each team scurried around trying to locate and take the flag of the other. It doesn’t seem like there were any rules or restrictions, just lots of running around in the twilight at my Aunt Kate & Uncle Dick’s farm. We had a blast!

Earlier this summer when I picked up my two youngest granddaughters to come visit overnight, we had time that Saturday morning to pause along the side of the gravel road between my place and theirs, looking at the various wildflowers and naming those that we could. We took photos of those we didn’t yet know, then used the conservation website later to figure out what they were. I also showed them a fun thing that my own Grandma Helen May had taught me when I was about the same age; instilling colors into Queen Anne’s Lace. We picked four specimens of the white blossoms, placed each one in a separate glass filled about three inches high with water, then the girls carefully added three drops of different food colorings to the water. We set the timer for half an hour. The results were less than spectacular, so they added three more drops and the timer was set for an hour. By then we were able to discern some color wicking up through the stems and into the flowers. And by the next morning, there were more definite results. Within the next week I saw larger, more open blooms of this weed along the ditches, and wondered if our scientific experiment might have worked better with those. Next time!

Since both of our grandmothers practiced the art of home canning, mason jars were always available. Another summer game was that of seeing which one of us kids could collect a jar full of what we called “locust” shells. I believe now the prehistoric-looking dried exoskeletons are actually from cicadas, but back then, we didn’t know the difference, nor did we care. They were fragile and hollow, and the brownish-gray color blended well with the trees onto which they were usually clinging. Yesterday as I was heading back into the house I found this one latched onto a rail outside my door. It brought back fond memories of hunting around outside with my siblings, gathering prickly cast-off bug shapes that were likely to end up tossed out our Grandma’s back door when the jar was needed. And it made me smile. We had some good old-fashioned fun, didn’t we?

What was your favorite outdoor activity in the dog days of summer, and do you still do it? Have you passed it along to a niece or nephew, a neighbor or your next generation? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

More Than One Type of Red Bird

More Than One Type of Red Bird

Cardinals are such beautiful birds, and we see a lot of them here in Missouri, throughout the entire year. And while I adore seeing them at the feeders that hang over my front porch, there are other red–or at least partially red–birds that are just as fun to watch. Their plumage might not be quite as spectacularly scarlet as the ever-popular cardinal, but let’s take a look, all the same.

The photo featured above was taken yesterday near the bank of a cove on the Lake of the Ozarks. The picture isn’t crystal-clear, but I was sitting inside a screened-in porch when it was snapped. My cousin had recently filled the feeder outside, and we saw the ubiquitous sparrows, cardinals, goldfinches, a tufted titmouse, a nuthatch, and this purple finch. Why it’s called a “purple” finch when the parts that aren’t brown are so obviously red is beyond me! But it was a cute little thing, and seemed determined to get its fair share from the buffet. I don’t see these birds often at home; maybe I need to invest in another kind of birdseed to attract them.

One of the types that does show up here, however, is this Red-Bellied Woodpecker:

Frequently seen carrying his prizes back to the nearby cottonwood tree on my front lawn to hoard for later consumption, this bird is very vocal, and no longer allows my presence nearby to disturb his enjoyment of a meal. From inside the window or the storm door, I can stand within 10 feet of him, but if I’m outside on the porch, I sit about 18 feet away. Again, it’s a mystery as to why the name of the bird focuses on the belly portion (which has barely a dusting of red) rather than the top of the head and the back of the neck. Granted, he’s maybe not quite as striking in appearance as a Red-Headed Woodpecker, but he bigger than a Cardinal, and rather comical in his behavior. Until recently, I was unaware that they typically have two of their four toes pointing forward, and the other two backward, which better enables them to maintain a vertical stance while clinging to tree bark. Maybe that’s why he always perches on the feeder like this, with his tail tucked underneath for balance? I also learned that the repeated tapping they perform on trees is called “drumming”, and that they use it to help them find insects inside the bark, sort of like the way we might thump on a wall with a fingertip, our heads cocked to one side, listening for the difference in sound when trying to locate a wall stud before hanging a picture. A woodpecker might also drum to announce his territory to others, or a pair of them will sometimes use this method to communicate with each other. The smaller Downy Woodpeckers around here seem to favor the suet block, but this guy is an expert at picking out the peanuts from the feeder tray. Birds are such fascinating creatures!

What’s your favorite bird to watch? Is there anything new showing up at your feeder this year? Leave a comment, and enjoy the show!

A Fowl Story

A Fowl Story

Supper at the kitchen table was tradition at my parents’ home, a meal we all ate together, and one in which we (mostly) ate what we were served. Mother was a good cook, and her constant efforts to provide us three nutritious and tasty meals each day must have been exhausting. The discussions around that table could be interesting, educational, and often amusing. Daddy regularly kept us entertained with jokes and poems and stories of all kinds, but the one I’m thinking of this week actually came from one of my siblings. Here’s hoping one of them will chime in with a comment below and take the credit they deserve! The story goes like this:

Once Upon a Time, there was a state-owned zoo that was famous for its dolphins. The dolphins looked like the dolphins from any other zoo, and they acted the same, and learned the same tricks from their trainers. The special thing about this particular school of finned wonders was that the same set of dolphins had been there as long as anyone could remember, since the zoo had first opened a very long time ago, and none of them died. People began to say they were Immortal!

Well, obviously, this created some interest from the scientific community, and a team of marine biologists were sent in to make a study. The only difference they could pinpoint about the porpoises, was that they ate primarily a certain type of young seagull at specific feeding times each day, and that this habit had never varied in all the years of record. The scientists told the zoo officials at the state house that as far as they could tell, as long as the dolphins received their regular diet on time, every time, they showed every sign of being able to live forever.

Late one Sunday, however, as their devoted keeper approached the arched stone bridge leading across to the porpoise pool with the cages containing their evening meal, he encountered a dilemma. The zoo’s prized male lion had escaped from his cage, and was stretched out, napping in the last rays of sunlight that had warmed the bridge, blocking the path. What to do?! If the keeper woke the lion, it might attack him. If the dolphins failed to receive their regular dinner on time, they might die. He had to think fast. In a flash of brilliance, he recalled that the seagulls loved to eat little fish.  The keeper grabbed a bucket of shad, tossed them gently but quickly into a trail leading up to and over the sleeping lion and on over the bridge to the pool. Then he released the seagulls, who followed the trail of fish over ol’ Leo and into the waiting reach of the dolphins. All was saved!

The next day, however, as word got out about this episode, the police came and arrested the zookeeper.

The charge?

“Enticing Young Gulls Across a State Lion for Immortal Porpoises”.

(yes, I hear you groaning . . .)

And while it might be the longest set-up for a pun I’ve ever heard, keep in mind, I still remember it, more than 40 years later. Surely that’s worth something!

Got a favorite pun? Leave a comment, and Happy New Year!

A Frog of My Very Own

A Frog of My Very Own

While I often extol the many benefits of living the country life, the truth is, I really do mean it. This little piece of farmland in mid-America is a very good place to be. Nearly every day, I see something in my surroundings that makes me smile.

In the Spring when the weather was cooler, my sister and I were chatting on the phone when she asked: “What is that noise, a locust? Are they out already?” She knew I was sitting on the porch swing out front. “No,” I told her, “those are frogs. Tree frogs, I think.” Just then a baritone voice joined in the song. “And that’s a bullfrog,” I added. His voice was loud, as he was located near the vicinity of the ornamental pond in the flower bed just in front of the porch. We agreed that he was probably trying to lure a lady frog to his pad. Sure enough, the following evening there were two froggy voices bellowing from the area.

The photo above might not be the same frog as the one I heard, but it was fun to see one sitting on the artificial lily pad in the goldfish pond a month or two after that conversation. It brought to mind a memory from my childhood, one involving the bitterness of disappointment, and the sweetness of the eventual outcome. The story goes something like this . . .

Our parents had taken us to visit my dad’s brother and his family, and during the course of the summer afternoon, Daddy and Uncle David took my cousins, my brother and sister, and me on a brief outing to the creek.  It was either Coon Creek or Cuivre River, I’m not sure which. (That’s pronounced “Quiver”, and until about ten years ago, the correct spelling was unknown to me!) Anyway, as the men tried out a new handgun on a snake that was lurking in the shadows, we children looked for snail shells and dried locust skins and other sundry treasures. My brother and sister each caught tiny brown frogs with buff-colored bellies and throats, and cousin Bruce tried to help me catch one, too, but we failed in our efforts before it was time to leave.

“Noooo!!” my three-year-old self moaned to my dad, “I dinna get my fwog yet!” He sympathized, but explained that we had to go, that we’d already been out longer than originally planned, and that Mother and Aunt Evelyn would be worried. My sister assured me that she would share her frog with me. My brother named his frog Herman, and let me touch it gently on its little head. “But I wanna fwog of my vewy own!” I sobbed.

It was a long drive home.

Thirty years went by, and one day, quite out of the blue, the mail brought a little parcel, wrapped in brown paper, from my aunt and uncle. As I removed the paper, the words on the white cardboard box brought the memory rushing back. Uncle David had written “A Frog of Your Very Own” on the side, and within the box was a small, molded resin frog with the sweetest expression on its face. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I called my uncle. “How did you remember?” I asked him.  “How could I forget!” he replied.

So among the knick-knacks and souvenirs on the shelves by my kitchen doorway, there sits a smiling little green frog. He greets me each morning as I come downstairs and head to the coffee pot to start my day, and he’s one of the last items I see as I shut up the house for the night; a symbol of an uncle’s kind heart, and of a wish fulfilled.

A frog of my very own!DSCN4166

Beautiful Bird

Beautiful Bird

In spite of the fact that the weather is warmer and many plants are budding out–even blooming–I am still in the habit of filling the bird feeders that are suspended from my front porch overhang.  Sure, there are bugs aplenty crawling and buzzing around already (the winter wasn’t as bad as expected), but I enjoy watching the cardinals and sparrows and finches so much, that I just can’t resist filling the feed troughs that bring them close to my front windows.  Besides, they provide hours of entertainment for Tripod Jack, who loves to perch in his carpeted “kitty tree” just inside the dining room window, and the busy birdies keep him from trying to monopolize my desk or computer keyboard quite so much.

So, perhaps it was Divine Intervention or just pure luck that saw the feeders empty a few days ago, when I glanced out of the glass of the storm door and saw something large on one of the branches of the cottonwood tree.  Just a small sapling when we moved to this farm back in ’92, the cottonwood now towers above the house, a mere 30 feet or so from the porch and the bird buffet.  But the object I saw was fairly low in the tree, and the size of it must have been what caught my attention; it was considerably larger than the usual winged visitors who are so often in those branches.  Using the zoom feature on my camera, and staying just at the edge of the doorway and on the inside, so as not to frighten the newcomer, I snapped several pictures.  Alternately preening and studying the area, the sleek gray head turned around almost completely backward, the clear golden eyes focused intently in my direction.  I know you’re watching me! it seemed to say.

Watching me, watching him

Later, I took the time to research exactly what type of bird this is.  That it was in the category of Birds of Prey was obvious.  The Missouri Conservation Department has some great information on their website, and I started there, then moved on to a search for various types of hawks that frequent the vicinity.  Two choices stood out:  the Sharp Shinned Hawk, and the larger Cooper’s Hawk.  The coloring and markings of these two types are very similar, according to my reading, and they’re not always simple to tell apart.  In the case of this specimen, I am thinking it is a Cooper’s Hawk, partly due to the size, and partly to the shape of its head, and the way the lighter neck feathers sort of wrap around toward the back.

Here’s a link to one of the websites I used in my attempt at identification:  https://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-iding-coopers-and-sharp-shinned-hawks

Take a look at it, if you have time, and let me know your opinion.

And in case you’re wondering why it was a good thing there was no bird seed in the feeders?  Well, hawks don’t eat bird seed, but they just love to take little songbirds out to dinner, and I bet you can guess who pays!

 

DSCN4043

Pecking Order

Pecking Order

Bird watching is a hobby that demands so little for what we can reap in return.  This time of year I try to pay more attention than ever to the little cedar feeders that are suspended from the overhang of my front porch roof, keeping them stocked with a steady supply of food for the wild birds. When the landscape looks barren and brown, I figure the birdies can use a little extra help in the meal prep department, and their antics can be pretty entertaining.  As I am sitting here typing this, I can glance out the windows to my left and see sparrows, chickadees, cardinals and snowbirds (a.k.a. dark-eyed juncos), all jockeying for position at the buffet stations provided for them.  Now and then a bluejay shows up and tries to convince them all he’s the Boss, but they all get their fair share eventually.

On decent days–meaning it’s not raining and there’s little or no snow on the ground–I let the chickens and guineas out of their pen to forage, even in winter.  Of course, they have grain in the feeders inside their coop every day, but by nature they love to roam around the yard, hunting and scratching for tasty tidbits.  I figure happy hens lay healthy eggs, and it makes a noticeable difference in the feed bill when they’re able to get out and about.  Recently a couple of the younger Highland Brown hens have occasionally found their way onto the front porch, where they clean up the loose seeds that have been scattered by the wild birds during the day. After tossing that freshly killed rat snake (see prior post “Unwanted Gifts”) onto the top of the concrete steps after measuring it, and then finishing my phone call inside, I returned to the porch with the intention of removing the thing to the ditch, only to find it halfway down the throat of a brave little hen already, and another hen running up to see just what sort of big fat worm her friend had found.  The chickens have a pecking order amongst themselves, with Rojo the Rooster as the obvious ruler.  Even the guineas don’t challenge him!  IMG_2551

While the farm cats and the barnyard fowl all coexist with no squabbles, the cats most definitely have an unwritten hierarchy.  Last summer a new tom cat wandered in from somewhere, and the whole balance went Kablooey.  Sammy, the youngest of my bunch, began challenging the newcomer to fights, even though Sam and all the other kitties here have been “fixed”.  Seeing Sammy getting the stuffing knocked out of him, Wally jumped into the fray, and the next thing you know I’m doctoring wounds on two cats, and trying to decide whether to run off the stranger or try taming him, so I can get him to the vet for neutering.  It’s taken a while, but finally the last few weeks I’ve been able to pet the new guy (now named Louie), and can pick him up and carry him around with no problems.  He’s not as aggressive toward the other cats, and has learned to keep his distance from Mary Alex (the Queen of the Outdoor Cat Community, just ask her!)  IMG_2403

Of the three inside the house, Tripod Jack wants to think he is Top Cat.  Once in a while, the older gal Pepper has to put him in his place when he gets a little too rambunctious in his play.  They both have their bluff in on poor Sugar Baby, who won’t stand up for herself, no matter how many times I tell her to give it a try.  They’ve all been together for years, with Jack being the youngest at seven.  And yet, it was just this past November that I was finally able to capture them all in one photo.  Bet you can guess which one is Jack.

It’s the same routine with the horses in the pasture.  Since there isn’t a stallion in the herd, one of the older mares seems to think she’s in charge.  Even Bindi the Very Good Dog has recently taken to putting on airs a bit, since I adopted a bird dog, Jethro Bone-dean, from the shelter in town.  All in all, it turns into quite a show.  It’s no wonder that I haven’t watched a soap opera in years!

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Unwanted Gifts

Unwanted Gifts

Now that the holiday hiatus is truly over, the pool of memories from which to dip for writing subjects has refilled, although the Midwest weather this weekend has it rather frozen-over at the top.  Having pick-axed my way through the surface (that means downloading photos from my iPhone to my computer), I will start this year with the subject of Unwanted Gifts.

Part of the peril of living in a rural setting–and having a house that is almost 100 years old–is the intrusion of various forms of wildlife when the temperatures outside become frigid.  Spiders hide out in my upstairs bathroom.  Mice leave their calling cards in the potholder drawer of my kitchen.  Snakes slither their way up the drainage pipe end from the ditch by the road into my basement.  None of them are invited, nor welcomed.

IMG_2450One morning about a month ago, I found my Roomba stopped dead in the middle of the living room.  Programmed to run daily in the early morning hours, the little sweeper is usually done with his task and back on the charger base by the time I wake up.  If he stalls and shuts down, it is typically because he got hung up on a floor register, or his dustbin got full, but this was not the case that day.  Picking up Roomba and turning him belly-up, I saw something wrapped around the paddle wheel that sweeps debris into the device.  Sheesh, that looks like a snakeskin, I thought.  Indeed, it was, and what’s worse, the snake was still in it.  My best guess was that one of the cats had found the little rat snake in the basement, played with the thing until the snake went belly-up, then brought the prize upstairs to leave in a highly visible area where I could not fail to find it come morning, like somewhere between the stairwell and the coffee pot.  “See what I brought you?  I am a fierce protector!” Roomba had simply foiled the surprise by trying to do his job.  No cats were praised.  IMG_2453

 

This week, as I was on the phone in my office, a stramash broke out in the living room.  It sounded as though Bindi the Very Good Dog had turned wrong-side-out as she scrambled her way out of a previously peaceful nap on the couch, only to stand in the doorway and stare at me with a look that  spoke volumes.  Thanks to the convenience of cordless phones, I was able to investigate, whereupon the party to whom I was speaking was treated to something unprintable, also spoken at volume.  Another rat snake, this one in a heap on the floor, mostly dead.  But as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride:  “Mostly dead is also partly alive”, which was apparently as unacceptable to Bindi as it was to me.  Tripod Jack the ornery cat was perched on the kitty tree by the window, pretending with great nonchalance to watch the birds outside at the feeder.  I hadn’t actually seen him bring the repulsive reptile up from the basement and drop it onto the sleeping dog, so I couldn’t officially blame him for the episode, but once again, no cats were praised.

Today, no snakes.  No spiders, no mice, and no major upsets in the household.  There’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the wind chill is brutal. But the sun was out, and I managed to bundle up and get to the barn, where the chickens were thankful for some kitchen scraps, and for fresh grain in their feeders. They rewarded me for my efforts with several nice big, brown eggs.  Upon my return to the warmth of the house, I rewarded myself with a bit of that St Louis specialty, Gooey Butter Cake, which I had been hoarding in the deep freeze since Christmas, when it arrived courtesy of my wonderful Daddy & Mother.  THIS was NOT an unwanted gift.  This brought back my attitude of gratitude. This, with a cup of fresh coffee, made all seem well with the world.  And no cats were blamed.

But they weren’t praised, either.  If you know cats, they’re probably plotting something, right this very minute.  IMG_2520Happy New Year!

 

Antsy

Antsy

If we could bottle up the energy and determination showed by any random colony of ants, wouldn’t that be a neat thing?  It might be a valuable commodity to sell or trade, and there are days I could use a dose of that medicine myself.  We hear about busy beavers and busy bees, but what about the ambitious ant?

Just to set the record straight, I am not a big fan of most insects.  Sure, I like butterflies (who doesn’t?), and as much as I absolutely detest spiders, the wonder of some their webs can be fascinating to look at, providing I haven’t accidentally walked into a strand of them first.  Bad, spastic dancing, forsooth!  Recently, though, my friend–and book editor!–Kendall Wills Sterling came from Virginia for a visit, and we took a stroll around the cemetery in town.  We were admiring the various art forms that were favored by the stonemasons over the years, and looking for the oldest legible headstone, which seems like it was from the 1870s, when we found a two-directional procession of ants at the base of one of the monuments.  They were climbing up from ground level to the point where the headstone joined the base, entering a tiny cavity between the two parts, coming back out with what appeared to be eggs, and returning to the ground with them.  At that point they disappeared into the grass and we couldn’t see what happened next.  Maybe it wasn’t the ants we cared about so much as the mystery!

The trusty iPhone in my pocket allowed me to capture some photos of the constant traffic.  “This is going to turn into a blog, isn’t it?” K. stated, more than asked.  “Yep.”  I confirmed.  “This is how it happens.  I see something that catches my attention, snap a few pictures, and read about it later.  Then I write about it.”  Nothing fancy, but the method seems to be working so far.

Here’s what I’ve learned about ants since then:  they are ectotherms, meaning coldblooded.  Although ant nests here in Missouri are typically comprised of underground tunnels, these tiny insects know by instinct that they can use rocks to assist in thermoregulation.  My assumption now is that the ants had stored their larvae in a weather-worn cache between those stones to keep them warm.  By the time we saw them, it was getting a bit too warm, so the little workers were retrieving their precious cargo and taking it back to their subterranean home, all in the name of temperature control.  Who knew?!

Now if the ants in the cemetery could send word to their country cousins to stay the heck out of my kitchen, that would be fine.  Otherwise, the war’s still on.

Possum on the Half-Shell

Possum on the Half-Shell

Half-shell may not be quite accurate to describe the bony plates protecting the armadillo; they look more like a two-thirds or even three-fourths shell now that I study the photo. The title of today’s post is my half-joking nickname for them, but it is possibly more derogatory than it ought to be.  Maybe . . . but maybe not.

Possums are (to me) like big ugly rats.  Snarly, hissing, narsty barsteds when they climb up onto the front porch of my farmhouse to eat the food intended for my cats, or raid my chicken coop and wreak havoc on my laying hens. Can you feel me trembling with righteous indignation from just typing that?!?  Despite the fact that some people have actually kept a possum as a pet, the very idea of such a thing just gives me “the all-overs” as writer Barbara Kingsolver calls it.  Now there’s an author who has a way with words!  But I digress.

Armadillos are indeed omnivores, but if they are predatory enough to try for a chicken, I haven’t heard about it.  They do tunnel around in the ground, rooting out beetles and termites (hey, there’s a bonus!) and other insects.  In the process, though, they might also dig up all those tulip and daffodil bulbs you worked so hard to plant, or disturb the root system of your favorite rose bush.  If the burrow they’ve dug for themselves–where they tend to sleep about 16 hours a day–happens to be in your lawn, it creates an even bigger hazard than a mole tunnel for turned ankles and bruised bums.  Take another look at the claws on those feet.  These guys are digging machines!  Their long shovel-nosed faces are custom-designed for pushing through the soil to find their favorite treats, which helps just one of these critters to make a mess of a carefully tended yard in short order.

Because their eyesight is poor, this nocturnal mammal can easily become road kill, and has sometimes been called a Hillbilly Speed Bump.  The first time I saw one like that alongside the road was on a trip to Texas, maybe 30 years ago.  Normally a warm-weather animal, armadillos have migrated over the decades from our most southern states, up through Arkansas and Oklahoma, and have now been spotted regularly in Missouri for several years.  But you won’t catch me inviting one to stick around my place; besides the risk to flower beds, did you know that armadillos can carry the bacteria for Hansen’s disease, more commonly called leprosy?  My research for today’s post told me that only about 5% of the human population is susceptible to catching that, with the rest of us having a natural immunity, and that it’s actually treatable now, but I’m not taking any chances.  The short legs, triangular faces, and long skinny tails remind me way too much of a possum.  And you already know what I think about those.

Who’s your outdoor nemesis?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!