Thursday, July 08, 2010

Animals that you didn't see

I read about nature all the time. And because I do, I am pretty familiar with what plants and animals are found in which parts of the U.S. I often get calls or emails from people inquiring about some animal that they think they saw or just wondering if something might live in these parts. So here is a little quiz to see how much you know.

Which of the following animals are you most likely to run into here in East Tennessee? Alligator, water moccasin (or cottonmouth), wolverine, badger, porcupine, grizzly bear, wolf, armadillo, black panther, elephant.

Let’s take them in order. Tennessee is far from the natural range of alligators, but then so is Oklahoma. Near where I used to go fishing in Oklahoma there was documented evidence of a six foot alligator living on a remote lake. The alligator obviously didn’t get there on its own, but somehow it survived. So, the only way you’ll see an alligator in Tennessee is if someone releases a pet and it somehow survives winter and humans.

Water moccasins…only in far west Tennessee. I have had local folks swear that water moccasins (sometimes called cottonmouths) live here on the plateau…but they don’t. There are lots of water snakes here and water snakes are usually ill tempered but none are water moccasins.

Wolverines….not even close, unless you count the humans from Michigan. Badgers…you are getting closer but still not here. You might find badgers in states west or north of Tennessee. Porcupines…nope! You would need to get about to the Mason-Dixon line to find your first porcupine.

It is always very interesting to me when I am in Gatlinburg to see a statue on route 321 of a life size bear. It makes sense because the Smoky Mountain area is known for bears but the only problem is that the statue of the bear is a grizzly bear. Grizzly bears don’t live here, never did, and never will. Don’t worry about running into a grizzly bear until you get to Yellowstone National Park.

I have had people in Pennsylvania, Texas, and here in Tennessee swear that they saw a wolf roaming around. Sorry, as I explained in an earlier article several months ago, you didn’t see a wolf; it was a coyote, a German shepherd, or a large Shih Tzu.

These last three are interesting. Did you think you saw an armadillo? Well you just might have. They have slowly been expanding their range from their original U.S. home in Texas. There are armadillos in Tennessee and they are moving this way. You are most likely to see one on a highway…flat. Armadillos apparently don’t always look both ways before crossing a road.

Recently I had two reports of someone spotting a black panther in my neighborhood. First let’s understand what a black panther is. A black panther is a melanistic (black) phase of a leopard or in rare cases a jaguar. Leopards live in Africa and India and jaguars live in Central and South America. There has never been a black mountain lion or cougar…ever. So what could it be? Well I finally found someone who saw the Fairfield Glade black panther. He described it as “a cat”, “bigger than a dog”, and “very dark”. When I asked about the length of the tail he indicated with his hands about 6 inches or so. That is no black panther…that is a bobcat. As for the “black” part, it is just a dark bobcat or one with the light behind it. Relax; you won’t see a black panther around here unless one escapes from a travelling zoo.

Elephants! Well, you obviously won’t find them running wild around here, but believe it or not Tennessee has the nation’s largest natural habitat refuge for elephants. In Hohenwald, southwest of Nashville, there is a 2,700 acre sanctuary for old, needy, and retired circus elephants.

So the answer to the quiz is that of all the animals mentioned above, you are most likely to see an armadillo. You did not see any of the others. If you said, elephant, take partial credit.