Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wyoming wildlife

There are still a couple more blog entries to come, including one about our last day at camp and the ride home, but as promised, here is your tour of Wyoming wildlife. I have never seen so much wildlife. By which I mean relatively large, wild animals, not squirrels and birds.

This is not wildlife. This is Dolly the llama, who belonged to the camp's neighbors. We went out to feed her one day.

The camp director hides llama food in his hands. Dolly would take it from our hands. Afterward, I guess my hands still smelled like food, because she then took my fingers into her mouth and bit them. Apparently llamas have no top teeth, so it wasn't as painful as it could have been, but still.

Dolly was very protective of the neighbors' cows; that is why she was in the field with them. She would not let herself be petted though.

After we'd been in the pasture a while, the cows came up to investigate us. I found this a little disturbing.

There were some lizards in Wyoming, though not as many as in Arizona.

A horny toad. One of the defense mechanisms of the horny toad is to go very still. You can even pick them up and they won't react. Or put them on someone's hat.

One day we found a snake in camp. It didn't have a rattle, so people decided to pick it up and take pictures with it.

In this picture taken by another student we see what is probably a bull snake, which I think is the same thing as the gopher snakes I saw in Arizona. This snake was clearly a bit irritated but otherwise docile.

I only saw a couple rattlesnakes in the field; here's one:

A prairie rattlesnake, I think. It didn't rattle until after Kaylee had almost stepped on it. It was much feistier than the bull snake, coiling up to strike when I stepped a little too close. But the feistiest thing we found all summer was definitely this:

It is a small scorpion, maybe two inches long. At the start of field camp the instructors told us to flip rocks over with our rock hammer before picking them up, just in case there were scorpions underneath. I always forgot to do this. But this day my field partner did happen to lift the rock we wanted to look at with his hammer first, and that was good, because there was a scorpion underneath. The scorpion immediately ran at his boot and began stabbing it repeatedly with its stinger. When pushed away with a rock hammer, the scorpion proceeded to try to stab the rock hammer about 1,000 times, in between trying to chase my partner's boots again. It was possibly the most aggressive animal I've ever seen in my life.

There were other interesting arthropods:

Here, it looks like Charles is offering a beer to the giant moth. Moths love beer.

This is a Jeremiah cricket, also known as a potato bug. Wikipedia states that it is neither a cricket nor a true bug, nor does it eat potatoes. states, "Other names include: Satan's fetus, the Devil's spawn, the Devil's child, the Devil's baby, the Devil's fetus, evil fetus, bald devil fetus, bald fetus of Satan, and earth fetus." They also include this on their FAQ:
Q: Do potato bugs eat potatoes?
A: Potato bugs eat your cheeks.

Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, as far as I can tell it is just a large, striking bug. There were also a lot of spiders in Wyoming, like, everywhere. Especially running around on the ground and in the porta-potties.

But now for the part everyone is waiting for: the large mammals.
This is some sort of post-mammal (or mammals). We did find a lot of bones, which were disappointingly difficult to identify. It turns out that dead pronghorns, elks and deer don't look like you expect them to.

Here is a live (not stuffed!) bighorn sheep. We did not see him in the Bighorn Mountains. We saw him in the Wind River Mountains, right next to a pulloff on the highway. In fact, just out of frame to the left is a red Subaru. This ram seemed very docile but we did not get very close. (Remember, I have 10x zoom on my camera.) I can imagine they do a great deal of damage at ramming speed.

Just beyond the fence here is a mule deer, which wandered by while we were working on our Wind Rivers project. Deer love beer.

A couple nights before, some of us had wandered up onto a hill as the sun set, and as we were nearing the top a pronghorn suddenly crested the peak in front of us. It stood silhouetted against the last of the sunlight, snorting at us in mechanical-sounding whooshes of air. I did not have my camera but a fellow student captured this shot:

I like the pronghorn, they are always out there on the plains of Wyoming, with their oddly big heads that make them all look like juveniles, and their inscrutable dark eyes. They go wherever they like and they sometimes go very fast. They seem to have their own mysterious business. I must have seen a hundred of them while I was out there but didn't get a single good picture.

In the Tetons I saw a moose and calf but it was too dark for a good picture; here's someone else's shot of what was probably a different moose and calf, though taken on the same night:

But it was in Yellowstone that we had the greatest opportunities for wildlife photography. We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife in the wilderness, but boy, did those animals love lawns and parking lots.

Here are some elk.

These elk were feeding on a lawn in front of some kind of administrative house at Mammoth Hot Springs. It was a herd of females with a number of fawns and juveniles.

A fawn wonders what it's like on the other side.

Here, two females seem to argue over a patch of grass. After flailing at each other with their hooves, one backed off and walked away.

Of course, we saw bison too:

The funniest thing about this bison (which is the same thing as a buffalo) is that there was a family there watching it with us... the little boy had a toy bow-and-arrow set, the kind with suction-cup arrows, and the mother kept telling him he better not shoot it at the buffalo. So, eventually, the kid shot it at the buffalo. The arrow landed maybe five feet in front of it. This buffalo, which up to that point had been chomping on the grass totally oblivious to us, suddenly looked up and began glancing around with a kind of wide-eyed expression. It got very quiet. These animals, of course, are known for being a bit mean-tempered, and one had gone out of its way to ram a woman who had simply been making a pay phone call on the other side of the road a couple weeks earlier. However, our buffalo soon went back to its grass-eating, leaving the embarrassed parents to explain to the child why he couldn't get his arrow back.

They look very furry and friendly, though.

Especially when they scratch their fuzzy-wuzzy heads against (tiny-looking) fire hydrants.

Another funny thing was this family playing softball while several male buffalo wandered around them. They didn't even glance at the animals.

While driving the Yellowstone roads we ran into several of what the park rangers apparently call "bear jams," or tourists clogging up the two-lane roads because someone saw, or thought they saw, a bear. One of these bear jams actually came with a bear, a small black bear, which was crossing a stream near the road. It was very cute and looked just like they do on TV, but I didn't get a picture. We didn't see any grizzlies, but I imagine they look something like this:

However, the last bear jam we passed didn't have a bear at all, but a beaver. Beavers are bigger than you think. This one was just sitting by the side of a pond, while tourists crept up to it, within a couple feet, until the beaver got annoyed and went into the pond. I could see all this because traffic had come to a total stop, a tourist having stopped their car right in the middle of the road, put it in park, and gotten out to take pictures while a dozen cars backed up behind him. After several minutes our van driver managed to communicate that the driver should move his car, so the guy got back in, drove five feet to the side of the road, put it in park and got out again. I thought this was hilarious.

More entries to come!

1 comment:

Mom said...

You crack me up!

Love, Mom