Mouse In The House II

Dateline  Chicago North Shore.  Friday 11/11 1 AM.

Sleep interrupted by small cat running on the bed, crying and then jumping off. Repeatedly. Clearly doing her best Lassie imitation.

I get up, look around. Nothing. Or is there? This happened once before in her 7 years. Last time she dropped a mouse she had caught on our bed.

Turn on more lights. Sure enough she is standing over a mouse in one of our bedrooms. Mouse is still but clearly alive.


Get plastic container to trap mouse. We humans are sooo smart. Then try to slip a cover underneath the container to seal mouse in, to  complete the trap. Mouse struggles to get out. Can’t get cover and bowl completely closed. Get plastic bag and through partially closed container and top in. Run to alley and through mouse filled bag/container in garbage. Disaster averted.

Write blog entry. Try not to think why there would be only ONE mouse in the house. Attempt to sleep.

Dateline Chicago. 1:26 AM

Green City Slickers Acres

Our first activity on a week long vacation Costa Rica reminded me of both the mid-1960s TV show and the 1991 Billy Crystal movie.

We are at a lovely resort in the cloud forest, the first of three stops. The day before was a typical travel day, long hours on planes and a long drive to the resort. But today the adventure begins. Up for breakfast and then some time before our guided tour through the cloud forest. So what was the morning activity sponsored by the resort? Cow milking lessons!

We watched as they made the cow safe for touristas. They tied her hind legs together and then stuck the tail in as well. The experienced hand demonstrated the technique. As we observed the hand to udder motion we noticed two things. First there was a young calf in the field nearby. The calf reminded me of Norman from City Slickers.

Second we kept hearing what seemed to be an animal sound. As true city slickers we at first thought the sad sounds were from the cow who may not be enjoying the experience. But the cow was too busy constantly eating to be the source. Being a natural detective I carefully walked past the cow. I found 6 hens in a pen eating and clucking away. I am guessing that anyone who had spent more that 24 hours on a farm would have recognized the difference between sound of hens and cows immediately. Hence the Green Acres reference.

To finalize our Green Acres experience, we milked the cow. Not as obvious as it seems. Or maybe it was just us. The topper came as I sat on the stool for a turn. Three good squeezes and I get whapped in the face by a tail that had escaped from its bondage.

I think I will keep my day job.

Hey Hey We’re The Monkeys

We got up close and personal with a bunch (gaggle, barrel?) of monkeys while on a kayak in Costa Rica.

Suburban Wildlife Run Amock

The near north suburbs of Chicago have little in common with the deep woods. And yet we have our own slice of wildlife. For example, there is a family of raccoons living in a tree in our backyard. The mother raccoon is huge and can be found outside our back door from time to time in the early evening. She looks mean and I would not want to accidentally surprise her as I walk from our garage to the house. Nothing good could come of that.

I have witnessed deer and a coyote  within a few miles north of our house. However right in my backyard except for the aforementioned raccoon, the creatures tend to be small. Squirrels dominate followed by birds and for the first time in the 15 years we have lived here, a chipmunk has recently appeared.

It all came to a head during the adventure hike I refer to as “the walk between my garage and the back door.” So here is what happened.

I take the first careful steps outside the sanctity of the garage. We have taken to making noises just like the park rangers tell you to as you hike through bear country. In our case, it is to avoid the mama raccoon.

Immediately I see a couple of squirrels on the ground 2 feet to the left of the back door. They seem to be agitatedly chattering. I stealth-fully, slowly moved ahead. Big Mistake. By focusing on the squirrels on the left I almost stepped on 3 other squirrel guys (or gals) directly in my path. That seemed to set off the fireworks.

Squirrels running at mach speed in all directions. There are three trees in the immediate area and the squirrels scattered to all. Quickly another 5 or six appeared and the next thing I knew for 3 solid minutes about a dozen squirrels were wildly chasing each other. It is hard to describe without video footage the mayhem that ensued. The motion, the noise level and the chaos were unbelievable!

To my right half way up one tree I thought I saw two squirrels mating. One was behind the other with his (I am assuming gender) paws holding fast to the middle of the body of the squirrel in front. The front squirrel however seemed to be pulling away as hard as it could with no success initially. Finally a third squirrel ran at the other two giving the front squirrel the break she needed. She escapes only to be chases by both of the other two squirrels down the tree, through some bushes and back up the tree. My best guess is that this was a squirrely menage-a-trois gone wrong.

Then as fast as the mayhem ensued, it was over. I stood for a moment stunned. I looked to see the chipmunk sitting on top of the gas meter on the south end of the house. Four feet higher was the robin sitting in the nest she had made in the curve of one of our drain pipes.

Sure why not nest there. It was a lot quieter than in the trees.

Animal News

From the pages of The Economist.

1. A New Giant Lizard” This week Biology Letters, one of the journals of the venerable Royal Society of which both Wallace and Darwin were fellows, describes something novel from northern Luzon, in the Philippines, that is large, showy and also slightly strange. It is a monitor lizard as long as a man is tall, which is a close relative of the notoriously carnivorous Komodo dragon, yet which is, itself, vegetarian.” I think it is cute. No one else in my family is into this kind of stuff. When in Orlando a few weeks ago we could have gotten free passes to Gator City. No takers.

2. Shelling Out. I have no idea why a story about cross breeding oysters would fascinate me. I like lite science. Always have. This one caught my fancy. (Do people say “caught my fancy” anymore? What would the texting for that be.) Here is an except from the story.

“As many gardeners and farmers know, crossbreeding two wimpy specimens sometimes produces strong offspring—an effect known as hybrid vigour. Hybrid vigour is common in plants and is found in some animals—though, some speculate, it may be lacking in European royalty.

Several years ago Dennis Hedgecock of the University of Southern California and his colleagues discovered that oysters can hybridise. If a tiny inbred strain called “oyster 6” is bred with the similarly puny “oyster 7”, the result is a large and fast-growing oyster—“oyster 6×7”—which is easy to open and produces tens of millions of eggs. The problem, though, is that when oyster 6×7 is bred with itself, the resulting offspring are puny again. The hybrid does not, in the jargon, breed true.

If new hybrids were easy to generate in quantity, that would not matter. But oysters 6 and 7 themselves produce only around a million eggs per adult, and their shells are hard to open. Oyster farms each need tens of billions of eggs to operate commercially. Constantly regenerating the hybrid is not a viable approach.

To get around this problem, Dr Hedgecock and his colleagues took some other puny inbreds and created a second hybrid line, oyster 8×9. This is also big, fast-growing and easy to open, and, like oyster 6×7, it produces tens of millions of eggs. The trick is that although it too does not breed true itself, when it is hybridised with 6×7 to produce a super-duper 6x7x8x9 crossbreed, the outcome is just as large, fast-growing and tasty. The result of this two-stage crossbreeding process is that, though none of the hybrids involved breeds true by itself, a marketable hybrid oyster can nevertheless be turned out in large quantities. That is the hope, although the proof will come next year, when the hybrids are grown on a commercial scale.”

Cross bred oysters with a little horseradish. Yum.


Skunks and Possums and Deer, Oh My!

Pepe-Le-Pew-All in the past week Mother Nature has been unleashing her creatures on the streets and back alleys of the city. Bike paths too.

First, the route to a client took me past a forest preserve. On a stretch just outside the preserve, not far from some homes I saw my first skunk. Well at least my first live, not road kill, non-cartoon one. He (or she I did not get close enough to tell) was running? hopping? It was hard to describe. All I could think about was that I was glad this was miles from my home. But it was only yards from someone else’s home.

A few nights later we were trying to exit a parking lot. My wife was out of the car because the machine took dollars only, no credit cards, and it was not liking so much the singles that we had. From the corner of my eye, which like the rest of my body was safely in the car, I saw a creature too big to be a cute little mouse. It looked like a medium sized rat and it was heading our way. I suggested to my wife that she might want to hurry.

Once safely in the car we got close enough to see that it was a baby possum. We have an adult  that frequents our backyard and occasionally scares the bejesus out of me as I come in the back door at night. They are not attractive creatures when large. At least they aren’t rats.

Then last Sunday I was riding on the bike path about 20 miles north of where I live. Typically my eyes are focused more down than ahead. At one point I glanced up to see a deer straddling the two lanes of the path. In this area there is only a foot of grass on each side of the path and them woods on the other side of the grass. I hit the brakes. Being the great outdoors man that I am I surmised that I would not fare as well as the deer should we collide. The image of hooves crashing down on my skull also gave me pause.

Instead of a crash I slowed long enough to witness the deer bound off into the woods. They are beautiful creatures.

I love Mother Nature but that was more than enough nature for one week.

Snakes On the Plains

emrattlesnakeThere are many great reasons to live in Chicago–the past 12 months weather not being one of them. Yes we suffer from many of the urban, man-made disasters such as crime, homelessness, and not enough green space.  But natural disasters are rare.

No floods, hurricanes, drought, locust, etc. Even the occasional tornado in the vicinity stays in the towns far west and south of the city itself. As far as animals go we generally have nothing more than pests. Aggressive squirrels, raccoons, possums and the occasional skunk. We did have a coyote wander the city limits but that is a once in a lifetime even.  So imagine my shock and amazement when I read about the rattlesnake roundup. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, as it turns out, is native to the area.

Now I have had the “pleasure” of being up close and personal with a rattlesnake. I do not mean in a zoo or from a safe distance. I was in Tuscon for business and there was a hiking trail up a small hill immediately nest to my hotel. I took off at dusk to get a little exercise in before dinner. on the way down, I heard it. Yes, it really is a rattle. I turned toward the sound and caught a glimpse of a green and black snake in some bushes about shoulder high. I leaped forward and did not stop running until I was in my room with the door locked.

Well, the ones in Chicago are apparently shy as rattlers go. There native habitats are decreasing and so many save the snake groups are rounding them up in order to breed them in a safer environment until their numbers are sufficient to return them to the wild that is Chicago.

To be honest I do not even want the shy rattlesnakes here. Unless of course they will eat a raccoon or possum or six. Then they can stay in my backyard.