I enjoy finding relatively obscure but interesting facts about some of our common local species.  It’s a gentle reminder that we still have so much to learn about each one.  Here are a few of my recent favorites.  Perhaps you can weave these into your next nature talk.

  1.  White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) — Did you ever notice that on the hind leg of a white-tailed deer, there seems to be a dark spot at the “knee” joint that almost looks like an eye?  I thought it might be a marking used to scare off predators, similar to butterflies that have eye-shaped spots on their wings.   There is another purpose, however.  This is the tarsal gland and it may be their most important one.  Combining a urine-rub with the bacteria of this fatty gland produces unique scents.  During the breeding season, it plays a role in attraction.  The scent can also help a doe identify her offspring.  Apparently many hunters use these scents as well.  
  2.  Moose (Alces alces) — Russians have a long history of attempted moose domestication, starting at the end of the Stone Age.  In the 1930s, the Soviet Union domesticated moose for use in its cavalry.  The animals pulled their sleds.  Others would be ridden as one would ride horses.  During his inspection, Stalin was intrigued but concerned that the animals “were not yet trained to distinguish the Red Army soldiers from the White Finns.”  Perhaps he misunderstood the intent of the program.
  3. Black Bears (Ursus americanus)— During the winter, while hibernating, bears don’t sleep the entire time.  Originally, people believed that they didn’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate during these months.  That isn’t true, though.  They are indeed mostly inactive. However, a bear will suck on snow and icicles to drink water and will back out of the den when he or she needs to “use the latrine.”  This makes me wonder about the safety of the researchers who stick their heads in dens during this time to conduct the bear census.
  4. Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) – Sleeping behavior of animals varies greatly.  Some nap for only a few minutes at a time.  Others, like the chipmunk, can sleep upwards of 15 hours a day.  Or not.   While this is frequently quoted on the internet, there does not seem to be a single study that documents this observation.   Even the NatGeo article most often cited seems to be missing… Sounds like a research project begging to be done.


  1. White-tailed Deer — https://researchmagazine.uga.edu/summer2005/deerspeak02.htm

2.  Moose — https://globaljournals.org/GJSFR_Volume19/1-Some-Aspects-of-Moose.pdf

3. Black Bear research — https://www.bearstudy.org/website/images/stories/Publications/Behavior_in_Free-Living_American_Black_Bear_Dens-_Parturition_Maternal_Care_and_Cub_Behavior.pdf

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