Archive for the 'Living' Category

The Bycatch

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

(or, The Volume Discount)

bycatch (n.): fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish”

After doing bandwidth hogs, groundhogs, and marsupials, it’s time to eventually return to mammals with this post.  (You may want to read part 1 and part 2 of this series before continuing.)

Episode 21. In trap #2 we catch a smaller, much angrier opossum. When I look at him he weaves back and forth and bares his teeth at me just like we are playing basketball with a lot of money at stake.

He must be angrier because he is younger. It’s rebellion.

Episode 22. We decide to stop naming our vermin as there are so many of them.

Episode 23-24. Two entire days with no new developments. I (wrongly) start to think that the era of wildlife trapping is coming to a close.

Episode 25. We discover a nest of yellow jackets near one of the traps. That explains the rotting fruit / radon guy attack in episode 1 of this blog post series! Closure for a sub-plot = excellent narrative arc.

Can you find the nest in this picture? (Think of it as a very easy “Where’s Waldo?”)

Episode 25-a. I read that in mild climates, yellow jacket nests can be quite large, such as this one that is the size of a Chevrolet. In Michigan they are normally the size of a basketball and hold 3,000 (!) yellow jacket workers and one queen. That worker number seems too high to be correct but it is in the Tuscaloosa News so it must be true.

Episode 26. Trap #1 caught a Chickaree! I like how he has no regard for gravity.

Episode 26-a. Chickarees are called Chickarees because of the noises they make, but they are also known as Red Squirrels. Although in this photo above this one looks sort of like what I think of as a “normal” (Fox) Squirrel, actually Fox Squirrels are much bigger. (And they are silent.)  This Chickaree is tiny — the size of a chipmunk. I’m not sure how he even triggered the trap.

Episode 26-b. Here’s a surprise. Whenever I looked in this cage he leapt at my face. Pretty bold for a creature that weighs less than half a pound.

Episode 27. The Critter Control guy tells me that Red Squirrels / Chickarees are “fierce.” OK, he did leap at my face, but “fierce“? Really?

Then Mr. Critter Control opened the cage and let the cute little guy out. Believe it or not, the Chickaree immediately jumped to a nearby tree while loudly making his Chickaree noise, he then started fighting with a much larger Fox Squirrel right in front of us. They wrestled a while, then the Chickaree chased the Fox Squirrel off our property at about 120 mph. Fierce.

The Critter Control guy gave me a meaningful look as if to say, “See?” But he didn’t say anything out loud.

Episode 28. What a busy day. Trap #2 catches a raccoon. He is just about the cutest thing anyone has ever seen.

The Critter Control guy advises us that we should just let him go. Raccoons are smart and not afraid of people. They don’t dig burrows and they don’t usually chew things. They occasionally eat your garbage if you leave the can open. They could try to shelter under your porch for a while to have some babies, but that is rare.

This raccoon looked quietly at us when we were near him but as soon as we moved away he would start trying to pick the lock on the cage with his tiny paws. At least that is what it looked like he was doing. Then when he saw us looking at him he would stop and put his paws under himself and stare at us. I felt like a correctional officer.

Episode 29. When we let him go he sauntered slowly out of the cage and then after moving a little way away from us he stopped and stared back at us for a while. Maybe he felt that he was owed an explanation? For this treatment?

Episode 29-a. I noticed that he did eat the apple.

Episode 30. While we are standing in the yard after letting the raccoon go, amazingly, he comes back and stands on our side porch. He will not be cowed. We walk over to him and he retreats to the front porch where he goes under the step but then sticks his face out to look at us. As if to prove we are not really scaring him. I guess we have a new pet.

Episode 31. The Critter Control guy put insecticide down the yellow jacket nest for us and doesn’t charge us “because we have been such good customers.”  That’s right. We’re getting volume discounts from the pest control guy now. That tells you something about our situation.

Continue to Part 4 of this series.

Let’s Meet MORE of the Previous Residents

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

(or, I’ve Become a Wildlife Trapper )

Today we extend our scope from mammals (bandwidth hogs) and rodents (groundhogs) to marsupials.  You’ll want to read part 1 of this series before continuing.  (Or maybe you won’t want to.)

Episode #14. After our successful capture, is our problem really gone? The Critter Control guy shows us that we can stuff a wad of loosely crumpled newspaper into a groundhog hole like so:

This will give you an indication of what’s happening in the den. The paper is easy to push out of the way, but it helps you diagnose what’s going on. If it’s pushed into the hole, something went in there.  If it’s pushed out of the hole something WAS in there. If the paper isn’t touched, relax.

Episode 14-a. I fantasized about groundhogs constructing an elaborate infrastructure of interconnected tunnels around our house but in fact they don’t do that. They create a short little hole and use it as a den.  I was thinking that they could go in one hole and come out another but maybe that’s prairie dogs.

Episode 15. Newspaper is untouched. Traps untouched. Problem solved?

Episode 16. Rustling in trap number 1 — the one that hasn’t caught anything yet. Investigation reveals… the wrong animal!

This charming marsupial also loves a tasty apple.

I was thinking that he would “play possum” [sic] but he was chill. Wikipedia says that when an opossum “plays possum” he passes out involuntarily for up to four hours and secretes a disgusting scent from glands near the anus. (You can learn a lot of things from this blog.) He smells like death, in other words. It’s not just closing his eyes for a second.

He didn’t “play possum” for me, though. This guy just wrinkled his nose.  Apparently I am not scary enough.

Episode 17. We have a debate about whether or not the opossum needs to be deported. I want to keep him. The rest of the family says no. Outvoted.

Episode 18Oh no! The newspaper has been pushed in. Someone went down there.  Or was it the roofers? The traps are untouched.

Episode 19. Critter Control hasn’t even picked up the opossom yet and there are reports of a chittering, chattering banging from trap #2! Another capture. And — it is difficult to see in this picture because of the perspective — this guy has a serious weight problem.  This is a wide groundhog!  And he’s fighting mad!

He bites the cage for a while until ennui sets in. Then he goes quiet and waits for his ride to the county park.  Along with the opossum.

Episode 20. Is this the last post in the series?  Who knows? Two more apples and the traps are re-set and waiting.

Continue to part 3 of this series.


Let’s Meet the Previous Residents

Friday, August 24th, 2012

(or, Diary of a Groundhog Trapper)

OK, my last post was about bandwidth hogs. This one is about groundhogs. I’ve just moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take a new job at the University of Michigan. Here is a quick episodic diary of my first few days with our new house.

Episode #1. Our home inspector reports that when he arrived at our new house there were two groundhogs “frolicking” on the lawn. We don’t have groundhogs where we are from. We’re not sure what to make of this news.

Episode #2. Our home inspector shows us a large hole that has been chewed through the front porch with bits of fur caught on the edge. There are a lot of little footprints leading up to the hole. We are concerned.

Episode #2-a. It turns out that groundhog, woodchuck, whistle-pig, and land-beaver are all synonyms.

Episode #3. The home inspector’s report is finished. It includes a photo that shows something has been in our crawlspace, chewing on the underside of our floor.  In addition, there is a groundhog-sized tunnel leading through our stone (!) foundation wall nearby, undermining our foundation. The inspector comments that this area looks like a “critter dining room.” We are concerned. Something should be done, but what?

Episode #3-a. An Internet search reveals a variety of improbable folk remedies, like filling groundhog holes with cat poop. We are dubious. Where would we get enough cat poop?

Episode #3-b. Having big holes full of cat poop all around your house seems worse than having a groundhog.

Episode #4. After moving in, we found two medium-sized Havahart traps already in the house. One came with a squirrel’s corpse still inside it… so we know they work.  Spouse reads on the Web that groundhogs love cantaloupe. A quick run to the grocery store and the two traps are baited and set.

Episode #4-a. I found myself removing the seeds from the cantaloupe until I realize that this is silly.

Episode #5. Both traps are triggered, but the cantaloupe is still inside them. Chipmunks? A lead-footed groundhog? We are not sure.

Episode #6. Arriving home in the early morning a groundhog is seen sunning himself on the driveway. He runs when we approach and we can’t help noticing that he is obese. He is also fairly slow. Will he even fit inside the trap opening? This is debated. He runs into the bushes.

Episode #6-a. We decide that our obvious next step should be to research cute animal pictures and funny videos on the Internet. We discover that certain dog breeds are very good at killing groundhogs. Terriers are excellent but reportedly they are hard to live with. We discover that the Blackmouth Cur (pictured below) is both an excellent pet and also a great groundhog chaser. Coincidentally, we meet a neighbor with a Mountain Cur (a related breed). The neighbor confirms that his dog really likes to catch and kill raccoons,  groundhogs, and even squirrels (!). We leap into action and look at a lot more cute animal pictures on the Internet.

Episode #7. Rustling in the bushes near one trap. Spouse hears sound outside like someone “knocked something big over.”

Episode #8. One trap is triggered and cantaloupe is gone. Victory groundhog.

Episode #9. The cantaloupe in the second trap lures a swarm of angry yellow-jackets, which we discover when they sting the radon guy. He says he “doesn’t mind.” We doubt this.

Episode #10. The first trap is triggered a few more times but the cantaloupe is not removed.  So close!

Episode #11. The second trap’s cantaloupe is now covered in swarming ants. They fight the yellow jackets. We decide to never touch this trap again.

Episode #12. We call Critter Control and the very nice man comes out and agrees with our overall strategy. He puts down two larger traps in addition to our two traps. He baits his with apples and he puts them directly adjacent to the groundhog hole.

Episode #13. Finally! Just a few hours later, we meet the previous resident of our property.

The groundhog caught in a trap

Episode #13-a. For reasons unknown, our daughter names him “Thomasson.” (Is she a fan of Sweet Home Alabama or Free Bird?)

Episode #13-b. Thomasson has a lot of B.O.

Continue to part 2 of this series.

Experimental Meat

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

(or: University Public Engagement — a New Meaning)

(click to enlarge)

That’s right, today’s topic is the sales room at the Meat Science Laboratory at 1503 South Maryland Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801. They sell meat. And they are at the Meat Science Laboratory.

If you go there does that mean you are eating experimental meat? Meat produced… for science? I asked the manager, and in fact that’s just what it means.

He assured me that everything was USDA inspected. Sure, sure. But what kind of science is this meat science? I asked him to give me an example of a research project involving this meat. He said that they did not talk about specific projects but that they were all run by University faculty members.

That sounds a little shady. I’d go to a hospital run by university faculty members. But a grocery store? A dog groomer? Would you go to a Pier One Imports run exclusively by university faculty members? It seems like a mismatch. Maybe that’s why my daughter is afraid to come here.

But I love it.

Where else can you get University-branded meat?  The University of Wisconsin–Madison has that crazy orange chocolate chip ice cream made at the university dairy.  We have this meat.

It’s fresh and tasty. You can meet the herd — some of them hang around a field on the south side of Windsor Road. Now that’s eating local.

I also asked the manager: are there any faculty meat research projects involving organic, grass-fed beef?  He said no. This was wishful thinking on my part. (Damn you, ConAgra!)

A Milestone: 100 Comments

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

I know you may have thought this blog was dead because I skipped September.  September was a busy month but this blog lives on.  In fact, multicast has now received 100 comments!  Yay.  (The 100th comment was mine, actually, but the rest are genuine.)  Hopefully the blogging hiatus is now over.  I’m back.

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