Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 21, 2008

Arakun’s Up and Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:39 pm

  This winter has been a doozey in many respects.  Although punctuated with warm days and periods of snowlessness (is that a word?) there have been equally long sessions of bitter cold and snow to balance them out.  Members of the Arakun tribe long ago adopted a wait and see strategy to deal with winters such as these.  In other words, they wait out the cold snaps and come out during the late winter warm spells.  This last bout of warmth (a relative term used by us northerners) has encouraged the Arukuns to spill out over the countryside.  The critters look out of place in a snowy setting – something like your hairy neighbor walking out to get the Sunday paper in his bathrobe and bare feet. The fact is that you don’t usually see either of them. The track evidence is enough to decipher both Arakun activity and the actions of your neighborhood Yeti.

  The Arakun critters we are talking about here are Raccoons.  Like our Coyotl discussion earlier, the name of this familiar bandit derives from a slight slander of their Indian name. In this case, the original name was bestowed upon them by the Algonquin speaking peoples of North America. Say “Arakun” enough and you will find yourself saying “A Raccoon.” Drop the “A” and you have the present name, although many simplify that to plain old “coon.”

  Raccoons are basically southern beasts that have learned to tolerate northern winters by getting fat (perhaps your neighbor does the same thing?). Healthy early winter coons can pinch nearly an inch of the life saving flab which accounts for well over 1/3 of their total body weight. They retire to denning sites, such as abandoned woodchuck burrows and hollow trees, when the snow begins to fly.  The first few months are spent in a drowsy sleeping state.  This is not hibernation, but an effective way to conserve energy that allows their bodies to maintain heat by burning off the fat reserves.

  By the time the late winter thaws arrive, the coons are starting to feel the need to begin re-stocking their internal cupboards. They pepper the snowy landscape with their prints as they wander far and wide foraging for food.  

  Here is a typical set of raccoon tracks.  The one thing you’ll notice on this set is their resemblance to tiny human hands. Each foot leaves an impression with five finger-like toes. The hind foot is larger -2 inches or so -and leaves a full sole impression (raccoons, like bears, skunks, and your neighbor, are so-called plantigrade walkers that put full weight on their soles when walking).

  In cases where the critter walks in deeper snow (see here) the toes are harder to see. There are swish marks made by the tail in this last example, but normally that kind of thing doesn’t show up. What you will notice on any set of coon tracks is that they are laid down in pairs with the front and hind feet marking the snow right next to each other (see here).

  Today I followed an extensive set of raccoon tracks that bounded back and forth along a creek. At many points, the tracks ventured out onto the ice or ended at the open water. It was apparent that this animal was searching in the stream for victuals. The creek was flush and the rushing cold water was not very conducive for the usual Arakun hand fishing method. After a quarter mile, though, I did find the remains of a very large crayfish pulled out onto the bank (see here). It was “rent asunder” by the coon and no doubt provided a nice seafood entrée.

  The fishercoon was long gone by the time I arrived on the scene this afternoon, but there was enough evidence before me to reconstruct a potentially mesmerizing picture. Last night there was a total eclipse of the moon.  By 11 pm, the earth’s shadow enveloped the lunar face and the full moon glowed with a deep copper radiance.  I can picture our coon as a ghostly form moving about the snowscape – his nightshine temporarily removed. A few crisp splashes and the crunching of crawdad shell would have cut through the still night air as he made his find.

  This night of the blood moon was bitter cold, so the coon – his hunger temporarily satisfied – hurried back over the flats and entered his cozy den.  By the time the moon was restored to its full face in the wee hours, our raccoon was sound asleep and dreaming of the next thaw. 

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