Preying animals in wild capture local interest
HUGHESVILLE – Ever wonder about the wildlife around here and where they came from? A lot of interesting information about existing animals that live in our immediate surroundings was given during a presentation sponsored by the Muncy Creek Watershed on Thursday evening, March 12, at the Hughesville Library. Jonathan Wyant, a local game warden told a room-filled audience about the beaver, the fisher, bobcat, coyote and fox all of which can be seen here in Pennsylvania. Some have become extinct over the years, some are endangered and some are still thriving in natural habitats.
Wyant brought in taxidermic samples of some of the animals and gave a slide show presentation on their habitat, origins and prey. The fur or pelts from these animals were mostly used for barter, often for food, in early America and popular for making hats. “Felt was compressed beaver hair,” Wyant said. “You would usually pay a market hunter to get your meat.” Hunters would use a “punt” gun mounted on a boat and go after flocks of geese or whatever they could find. “One shot would get 300 ducks.” Soon exploitation of species led to extinction such as the eastern Mountain Lion and Eastern Elk. “1850 to 1880 was the age of exploitation,” Wyant said. “There are 63 mammals that are indigenous here.”
Bobcats are pretty well distributed throughout Lycoming County and the Game Commission traps them. They average about 30 to 35 pounds. “We get calls about 20 to 30 a year for sightings,” added Wyant. A bobcat can live 15 to 20 years in this particular area. There are currently 150 licensed mountain lions in Pennsylvania, probably in zoos or used for pets. Ohio, a neighboring state, has no laws on the sale of wildlife.
The bobcats who live in the eastern part of the United States have a different color than the western part where large black spots appear on fur that is a darker grey. They are great climbers and swimmers, feed on muskrats and fish using their long claws to capture prey. The bobcats who live here blend in well with the forest floor. “They run 33 to 34 miles an hour, and can run down a full grown deer. The most successful animals are animals who can put on weight. They are better hunters with better litters.”
There are two types of foxes in PA, red and grey. According to Wyant they were brought here from England and range in weight from 9 to 12 pounds. “They like a forested, brushy habitat. Their young are born in the spring, and the males raise them,” he said holding up a stuffed grey fox. They prey on small mammals and like to climb trees. A female fox is called a vixen. Foxes are predators to elk and deer.
Much discussion took place on the fishers, a fur bearing animal that belongs to the weasel family. They are not hard to trap and have luxurious furs, weighing only 4 to 12 pounds. “They can run a squirrel down a tree,” Wyant said, “Even a wild turkey.” An interesting fact is that their gestation period is 51 weeks, not quite a full year.
The fishers came here from the Catskill Mountains and West Virginia and reintroduced by the Game Commission in 1994. “They were indigenous to Pennsylvania, but then became extinct.” Wyant added, “The eagles were released here too in 2011. Pennsylvania had its first fisher season in 90 years.” Most of these were found in the northern part of Clinton county.
Fishers are the only natural predators of porcupines. They have to hunt every day as “they don’t go after big kill to make their life easy.” They are not a water species, not hunting so much for fish, but rather sight predators who like to hunt at night.
The short tail weasel is endangered and it can kill up to 30 pheasants according to Wyant.
Coyotes are another interesting predator and they have been here a lot longer than most people think. The Eastern North American species are larger than the Western species and weigh up to 60 pounds. Pennsylvania had bounties on coyotes until 1966. A pelt could be sold for $40.
They were more prevalent in the 50s and 60s, most likely here before the 40s moving down this way from the Catskill Mountains. “Coyotes didn’t have to compete for breeding rights and have established themselves here,” Wyant said as he held the preserved animal. “They have a high mortality rate, and have litters (5 to 7) in a short period of time.”
Sightings for coyotes became more common in the 70s. “They can have an astounding number of young that stay with their parents until late fall.” They breed in February and according to Wyant are more vocal right now. Used to confuse prey, coyotes can modulate their voice up to 8 octaves. “The prey won’t know which way to run.” Coyotes can usually outrun their prey, up to 35 miles an hour and after the howling, they locate prey and hunt in a circle. “There will always be coyotes in Pennsylvania. We won’t get rid of them,” said Wyant.
It is advisable not to touch wild animals. Rabies are always a concern. The last person to die of rabies in Lycoming County was a 13 year old who handled a fox. “It got in his bloodstream,” added Wyant who cautioned against going near wild animals. They could be compromised.
Pennsylvania is a good state for survival. There are 352,920 deer accounted for in Pennsylvania. “We kill about 70,000 deer every year on the road, and they don’t often get picked up, so nature has to feed on them. We are a rich forage state,” Wyant explained.