View from Lava Beds CA
Juniper Sagebrush Country
From the files of Donald R. Kirk:
In my previous Blog I introduced the grasshopper mouse who climbed on my shoe while I was seated at a campfire in a Warner Mountains juniper–sagebrush life community. The grasshopper mouse is very different from an ordinary mouse. For home base, these rodents may use the abandoned underground den of some other animal, or dig their own. A hole about one and a half inches in diameter is dug vertically about six inches deep where a nest chamber is excavated.
For a mouse, these small mammals have a large territory. Not satisfied with just a nest burrow, they also excavate retreat burrows, cache burrows, signpost burrows, and ‘bathroom’ burrows. Signpost burrows are short, marked with the owner’s scent, and scattered around the edge of their territory to warn other grasshopper mice to mind their own business. Bathroom or defecation burrows are used to deposit fecal pellets.
Grasshopper mice are highly social. Dad, mom, and the kids will hunt prey together and search for food. Both parents will defend their young against other animals, small or large, including humans.
Youngsters are taught to approach a prospective meal such as a stink beetle from the front, not the rear, thus avoiding a shot in the snoot of a putrid smelling spray. They learn how to bite off the stinger of a scorpion before attempting to eat it. Lizards are killed by a quick bite at the base of the skull.
The grasshopper mouse makes several different calls, probably to communicate with other family members. Its masterpiece is a wolf–like howl. The sound is much more than just a mouse squeak. The furry little animal rises on hind feet, lifts its nose in the air wolf–fashion, opens its mouth and emits a high–pitched, whistle–like call that can be heard at some distance. A distinctive, rather spooky sound if you don’t know what it is, likely to be heard only on dark, moonless nights.
We hear no miniature wolf howls tonight because of the bed of glowing embers in the fire pit, and the fact that we have been talking quietly. Tomorrow night, there will be no fire and no talking. Perhaps we will be treated to a mouse–howl.