Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 26, 2008

Slip Slid’n Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:28 pm

  You have to admit that it is funny to see someone trip or slip. Call it human nature, call it sadistic pleasure, call it what you will – our taking pleasure in someone else’s sudden lack of control is a very human thing. Of course, our better nature immediately takes over if the slip or the trip results in injury, but luckily we humans are made of fairly durable stuff (so we bounce rather than break).  What would “America’s Funniest Videos” be, after all, without the forces of gravity and the people who manage to film others in the act of being defeated by it?

  On this note, can you honestly tell me that the only reason you watch Olympic ice skating events is strictly to marvel at athletic or artistic prowess? No, you expect to see someone take the plunge – to end up ingloriously sprawled and spinning out of control into the side boards. Seeing such a thing is comforting to those of us who have no athletic skill. It is a chance to see a world class athlete assume a familiar greenhorn position. It confirms that ice is indeed slippery.

  Winter, of course, offers daily opportunities for blundering on natural ice. Trekking over glaze ice is a tenuous thing for us bipeds, but I’d like to switch gears to the animal world for a moment (this is a nature column). We might mistakenly believe that quadrupeds – four legged critters – are much surer footed on such medium. I would like to present a few case studies to prove that such is not the necessarily the case.

  Last week, I came across abundant track evidence of animal slippage on the ice. A light dusting of snow covered the hard icy patches and any critter passing over them was duly recorded.  Many of those animals slipped. You didn’t have to be there to witness the events since they were recorded in crisp clarity.  

  Take this set of Fox Squirrel tracks, for instance. Let’s hang the scientific stuff for a moment and just look at the story this set of prints can tell. The squirrel was headed toward the left of the photo when it was suddenly compelled put on the brakes.  As you can see, it had no ability to stop its forward momentum and slid for some distance. At the end of the slide, it was able to make a right angle turn and jump off into the sheltering woods.

  I can only surmise that an approaching car or predator was cause for the action, but the tracks are silent on this aspect of the story.

  Deer, equipped as they are with hard pointed toes, are especially prone to slipping.  They have an extremely hard time maintaining balance when on ice. Take a look here and you can see ample proof of this. One can almost hear the “oops,” or “whoas” as the less than sure footed critters attempt to recover their dignity. Here’s another set with a few “leg swing outs” and “toe pirouettes.”  This small patch of ice (see here) proved to be a completely un-nerving experience for an entire herd of toe-walkers (I believe pandemonium would be the word here)!

  It is amazing that none of the deer in this case ever fell on their bums. That all apparently recovered their balance with cat-like agility is credit to their remarkable physical abilities. Still, it gave me small pleasure to know that these graceful animals can be just as incredibly awkward as we are on ice. Call me human, but I find that fact strangely comforting.

1 Comment »

  1. Well, it would appear from the bottom of the last image that one of them felt the need to express that at least they were having fun while doing it…

    Great posts, very informative and great sense of humour. 🙂

    Comment by Seabrooke — March 7, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

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