Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 3, 2017.
Summer music camps for kids are in full swing now, and Tanglewood is featuring its Young Concert Artists’ Series. At Lathrop, our coyote youngsters are also starting to perform in evening or pre-dawn concerts.
The young performers will have been born in April or May, in a burrow dug by their mother under a fallen tree or in a thicket. The den might be up to 15 feet deep and a foot or two wide. Careful moms will have made several dens so the kids can be moved from one to the other to avoid detection and keep down parasites. Not a bad excavation achievement for a critter weighing 20 or 30 pounds, with only her feet as tools.
Last week’s column featured two of our pregnant Lathrop predators–the coyote and the bobcat. The column ended by asking, “What are all these hungry predators and their babies going to eat?
Well, one of their favorite foods is — Rabbit!
Talk about pregnant. Our rabbit moms–whom we ALL see in our lawns and gardens–will give birth 3 or 4 times this year, each time to 3-8 babies. The babies are sexually mature in only 2-3 months. This could be a math challenge for the students that Cranberry Lane resident Roger Herman tutors at the Williston School. Rabbit populations, notes one source, “are able to grow with staggering speed.”
Except, of course, that all our bobcat and coyote babies, and their moms and dads, will be eating rabbits. Without these predators, we could look like the Australian outback with every green shoot eaten, and, for population statistics, we would have to call in Huckleberry Lane resident Roger Howe’s math students at Yale. With average predators, however, only 15% of baby rabbits survive their first year. Aha! You students–multiply by decimals.
So Mama Rabbit, how do you protect your babies?
The mother rabbit usually feeds her babies under cover of darkness in early morning or evening, when a predator cannot easily “see” the mother returning to her nest. She feeds two to three times within 12-hour timeframes. The babies flip over onto their backs and nurse upside-down. The mother stands over them, ready to flee the nest at the first hint of a predator. Her milk is so rich that it takes only a minute or so for the babies’ stomachs to fill and for the feeding to be complete.
After 3-4 weeks the babies leave the nest. By then, they know by instinct how to camouflage themselves, what foods to eat, and what a predator is. They automatically know to run away from a predator in a “broken path” pattern, thus making it hard for a predator to catch them, or to freeze in the “you can’t see me” position.
There are one heck of a lot of pregnant females on our land at Lathrop right now. No, I’m not talking about us old folks becoming the new biblical Abraham and Sarah. I’m talking about the wild creatures that call our Lathrop land their home.
Our coyote couple–the ones we hear howling sometimes at night–has mated in February or March and is expecting a litter of 4-8 pups in April or May. The cute pup above was photographed by John Good of the National Park Service. The coyote family unit contains mom and dad, who mate for life, possibly 1 or 2 “teenage” coyotes called helpers (are they more willing than our human teenagers?), and perhaps other, non-mating adults who, if the alpha couple is killed, will mate like crazy and have bigger litters than usual. More at http://www.predatordefense.org/coyotes.htm
Our bobcat female has mated in late winter with a philandering dad whose territory overlaps hers and that of several other females. On the east campus, we see our bobcat passing through; resident Chuck Gillies photographed this one in his back yard. All winter, we see bobcat tracks in the snow.