Friday, September 28, 2012

Pack Rats--Pleistocene Survivor

There are 21 different species of Neotoma from the edge of the Arctic Circle down to the tropics of Nicaragua. They have been around since 6.6 million years ago!

I'm sure many of you desert dwellers shudder when you even see the name of these destructive animals. Our neighbor has gone into lengthy detail about the problems pack rats have added to his life--most especially gnawing on wires in his car. He wishes they did not exist.

We noticed several months ago that they were taking insulation out of the front hood of our RV...we also found small bits of chewed off tubing, which made us both nervous, but so far the RV still runs. We now keep the hood up, hoping the little guys will leave it alone.

In the back yard my brand new seat cushions for the wooden bench have been gnawed and bits of stuffing removed. But I have yet to see who's doing this.

It was only yesterday that I had firm evidence of them. I was looking over the wall that surrounds our back yard and thinking about covering a hole at ground level with wire to keep out snakes when I saw an interesting mound. Had Jim been throwing sticks and dog poop over the wall here?  At the base of the Palo Verde tree, it looked very much like a beaver den with well organized twigs and other detritus stacked high, and on top of it all were bits of cholla and dog poo! Several shiny pieces of paper had been cunningly added to this mound which I now know is called a midden. There have been pack rat middens discovered that are 40,000 years old!

Now I've read all about these interesting creatures--how their dens are organized into chambers where they eat, sleep and poop. They eat seeds, yucca pods, cactus and berries that they collect in the night. Their water intake is almost entirely from cactus and succulent plants. When they gather the strange bits that they add to their middens, they have been said to leave something in return, like a pebble, but another explanation given for this strange behavior is that while foraging they might find something they like better and so drop the first object.

They are said to carry plague, lyme disease and yesterday I was told their droppings carry the dust responsible for valley fever. Despite all of this I'm reluctant to do anything about their nest. I suppose if they choose to ruin our cars I'll feel differently about them. But worst case, I would trap them and take them somewhere away from here. Apparently they are easy to trap with nuts.

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