We arrived on Naked Mountain Saturday after being away for several weeks. Greeting us was a badly chewed front door and cedar siding that surrounds it. Actually, it was shocking and distressing as you might imagine. We knew the culprit, or culprits, was a squirrel(s) because we had caught him or her in the act a few weeks before. We read that squirrels will sometimes do this kind of destruction to sharpen their teeth, or to try and get into warmth, or whatever.
The first thing I did was spray the worst of the areas and one that looked newer, with a stinky, organic compound designed to discourage rodents (there is a similar product for deer) from eating plant roots. Then we bought some cayenne pepper sauce and plan to spray areas with a solution of it before we leave again tomorrow. But we also decided to try to trap the squirrel with a Havahart trap. We put peanut butter in it and set it on the porch near the damaged area. Then, we waited.
And voila! This morning we found something in our trap…but it wasn’t a squirrel. It was an adorable Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister). These little squirrel sized critters that live in the Appalachian mountains are the quintessential packrats. Very sweet natured, long-whiskered and button-eyed with a furry, not naked, tail, they build sizable cup-like nests called middens. They collect all kinds of things for their nests and are very attracted to shiny objects. If I could locate this little critter’s nest, I bet I would find our missing, shiny new keys we had made last summer and put in a hiding spot in case we accidentally locked ourselves out of the house. I wondered for a long time how I could possibly have misplaced those keys after hiding them so carefully. A neighbor, who has a family of woodrats on his property said that a woodrat probably stole them because he found his keys in the critter’s nest. I have another neighbor who accused his wife of taking his newly purchased, shiny tags to help keep the items in his outdoor workshop organized. When they discovered a woodrat nest nearby, they found the lost tags.
You can read more about Allegheny woodrats here.
We were happy to let this little one go back to doing whatever woodrats do (they are nocturnal; cache and eat buds, leaves, fruit, nuts and seeds; procreate slowly – two to three litters annually of typically two pups; and last a mere three years on average in the wild). And it was important to let it go safely because these little animals are rapidly diminishing in numbers. They are a species of concern in Virginia, threatened in West Virginia, endangered in North Carolina and completely extirpated in New England states. Loss of habitat is the main reason. They prefer rocky outcrops associated with ridges that are surrounded by mixed hardwood, or pine-oak forests.
See the video of the release here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DRTOWI96tc
That describes the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. I am so glad the preserve supports and protects these charming creatures. Now, about those keys….