Friday, July 11, 2008

Mouse Hunt

The 1.3" of rain received last night did not make the canoeing perfect for the campers in the second session of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but it did make it possible. There were a few tight spots between the buttresses of trees that would have been avoided with another inch of water, but the campers took the minor delays with good spirits.

Although the rain put water in the deepest of channels, much of the swamp was still just mud. As we ventured (without a camera) back out toward Goodson Lake to stash the canoes for next week's summer camp session, we saw a Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) drop from a broken, hollow branch that had long ago plunged into the swamp floor. The snake appreared to snap at something on its gravity-induced drop. The 4-foot snake hit the mud and was immediately on high alert with its head a foot in the air looking like a hoodless cobra. It was definitely looking for something. That something suddenly made a break for it when the snake turned away. We saw enough of the blur to identify the fleeing prey as a large mouse with a younger version attached to its back. The snake remained agitated and looking in all directions from its elevated observation post. The mouse bolted from behind a nearby log just as the snake looked its way. The mouse retreated equally as rapidly as the snake belly-flopped to the mud and shot after its desired meal. Alas, the mouse was able to put plenty of real estate between itself and its attacker once beyond sight of the snake.

Though the larger of the meals was safely away, the smaller of the meals unwisely squeaked for its parent to return. As the snake followed the scented trail of the adult mouse, it heard the squeaking or alerted on the separate scent. The snake popped back up into its cobra-like pose and its movements became quick and jerky as it attempted to pinpoint the young prey. It did not take long for the snake to move to the opposite end of the log from behind which the adult mouse had earlier appeared. We did not see the strike, but we recognized the death coil from our extensive mouse-feeding experiences with our two captive snakes. The jaws of the snake were barely extended as the back legs and tail of the mouse slipped passed and no noticeable lump appeared along the snake's body. If we had walked up at that moment, we would not have known a meal had taken place. Seemingly unsatisfied by the snack, the snake reacquired the scent trail of the adult mouse and began the delayed pursuit.

Later, a dragonfly lost its battle for life to another species of dragonfly. We commented on how terrifying the world would be for humans if every day we had to face the gauntlet of predators that often go unnoticed in the world all around us.

Images by Mark Musselman

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