I have a recurring fantasy (and it’s an ongoing irregular series on this blog) that I’ve found a time tunnel allowing me to travel back and forth from the present day to 36,000 years BP. The site at the other end of the tunnel is located at what today is Elbert County, Georgia about 1 mile north of the Broad River and 2 miles west of the Savannah River, and at this location I’ve established a homestead. I produce all my own food here, growing vegetables and fruits and raising milk cows, geese, chickens, and bees; so I rarely need to return to the present day for supplies.
Location of my imaginary Pleistocene homestead, 36,000 BP.
Varied pristine environments untouched by man offered many different habitats for wildlife here. (Homo sapiens probably didn’t reach North America until 20,000 BP at the earliest.) Interstadial climatic conditions prevailed 36,000 years ago–a warm spell between Ice Ages. Oak trees predominated over pine, a situation that was reversed during cold stadials. In the vicinity of my imaginary homestead there are moist slope forests consisting of beech, hickory, a variety of oaks, and walnut; open old growth woodlands composed of black oaks, red oaks, jack pine, and shortleaf pine; dry chestnut ridges; natural meadows; canebrakes; freshwater marshes; clear fish-filled rivers with lots of rocky shoals; creek bottoms laced with beaver ponds; brushy areas where storm-downed trees resulted in open canopies; and recently burned over areas with dense stands of young trees.
In my imaginary life as a Pleistocene homesteader, I’ve surveyed the wildlife and produced a checklist of mammal species that I’ve collected or observed. The large animals are easy to see and catalogue, but the smaller ones are harder to collect and identify. At night I set mist nets to capture bats–a more humane method than the one Frances Harper used in the early 20th century when he surveyed bats in the Okefenokee by smacking them down with a fishing rod. I used live traps for small ground dwelling mammals.
Mist net for catching bats.
H.P Sherman trap for catching small mammals alive.
Below is a checklist of the mammals that I would probably collect or observe in this region during this time period. I put question marks by the species that I might or might not find. The fossil record in east central Georgia is very meager, and even in the surrounding states, it’s incomplete. This checklist is simply an educated guess.
1. Opossum–Didelphis virginianus: Probably less common than today because of the abundance of mid to large-sized carnivores.
2. Southeastern shrew–Sorex longirostis
3. ?Smoky shrew?–Sorex fumeus
4. ?Longtail shrew?–S. disper
5. ?Pygmy shrew?–Microsorex hiyi: None of these 3 species of shrew are known in this region today, but they are known to have had wider ranges during some climatic phases of the Pleistocene. At least one of these species might have occurred in east central Georgia then.
6. Least shrew–Cryptotis parva
7. Short-tailed shrew–Blarina brevicauda
8. Star-nosed mole–Condylura cristata
9. Eastern mole–Scalopus aquaticus
10. Vampire bat–Desmodus stocki
11. Small footed myotis–Myotis leibi
12. Indiana myotis–M. sodalis
13. Gray myotis–M. grisecens
14. Little brown myotis–M. lucifruga
15. Southeastern myotis–M.austrariparius
16. ?Silver haired bat?–Lasionycteris noctivagus
17. Eastern pipistrelle–Pipistrellus subflavus
18. Big brown bat–Eptesicus fuscus
19. Hoary bat–Lasiurius cinereus
20. Red bat–L. borealis
21. Yellow bat–L. intermedius
22. Evening bat–Nycterius humeralis
23. Rafinesque’s big eared bat–Plectocus rafinesquis
23. Brazilian free-tailed bat–Tadarida brasiliensis: This species no longer occurs in this region. It had a wider range before the Last Glacial Maximum and has yet to recolonize much of its former range. It may do so in the future.
24. Northern pampathere–Holmesina septentrionalis: A 300 pound grass-eating armadillo that probably survived cold spells by digging underground burrows.
25. Beautiful armadillo–Dasypus bellus: As I’ve speculated in a previous blog entry (https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/is-the-9-banded-armadillo-dasypus-novemcinctus-a-dwarf-mutation-of-the-pleistocene-species-dasypus-bellus/), I hypothesize the modern 9 banded armadillo is a dwarf mutation of this supposedly extinct species.
26. Jefferson’s ground sloth–Megalonyx jeffersonii
27. Harlan’s ground sloth–Glossotherium harlani: Jefferson’s prefered woodlands; Harlan’s preferred grasslands.
28. Fisher–Martes pennanti: I think this species would have a wider modern range, if not for its high quality fur. Fisher skeletel material has been found in the fossil and archaeological record of north Georgia.
29. Long tailed weasel–Mustela frenata
30. ?Badger?–Taxidea taxus: There may or may not have been enough pure grassland in this region then to support a population of this prairie-loving species.
31. Mink–Mustela vison
32. River otter–Lutra canadensis
33. Spotted skunk–Mephitis putorius
34. Striped skunk–Mephitis mephitis
35. Hog-nosed skunk–Conepatus leuconotus: This is another species that had a wider range during the Pleistocene. The desert grassland habitat it requires completely disappeared in this region during the Holocene.
36. Coyote–Canis latrans
37. Dire wolf–Canis dirus: Probably one of the most common large carnivores in the region then.
38. ?Dhole?–Cuon alpinus: Dhole fossils have only been found at 2 sites in North America in Mexico and Alaska. This species may have been more widespread than the fossil record indicates. See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/did-the-dhole-cuon-alpinus-range-into-southeastern-north-america-during-the-pleistocene/
39. Gray fox–Urocyon cineaoargenteus
40. Red fox–Vulpes vulpes
41. Raccoon-Procyon lotor
42. Florida spectacled bear–Tremarctos floridanus: This species likely didn’t hibernate and required year round forage. It may have been as common as the black bear in Florida and the coastal plain of the south where winters were especially mild but less so in the piedmont and mountains.
43. Giant short-faced bear–Arctodus simus: Probably a wide ranging occasional animal that would have been scary to encounter. A kleptoscavenger that drove other predators from their kills.
44. Black bear–Ursus americanus: Probably very common in east central Georgia then. Pleistocene black bears grew as large as grizzlies, and I hypothesize were more aggressive than they are today thanks to the big cats below.
45. Saber-tooth–Smilodon fatalis: I would have loved to have seen one of these alive and in action.
46. Scimitar-tooth–Dinobastis serum: Ditto.
47. ?American lion?–Panthera atrox: A denizen of open grassland habitat. Unknown whether enough grassland existed to support this species in east central Georgia 36,000 BP, but it did colonize Florida during the LGM when drier conditions fostered more grassland.
48. Jaguar–Panthera onca: Probably the most common big cat in this region then.
49. Cougar–Puma concolor
50.? Margay?–Leopardus amnicola: An arboreal cat that was common and widespread in southeastern North America during the Sangamonian Interglacial. It’s difficult to determine whether it still survived in the region 36,000 BP. Winters may have gotten too cold by then.
51. Bobcat–Lynx rufus
52. Woodchuck–Marmota monax
53. ?13-lined ground squirrel?–Spermophilus tridecemlineatus: Difficult to determine if there were enough relic grasslands to support a population of this species in this region during this climatic phase.
54. Eastern chipmunk–Tamias striatus
55. Giant chipmunk–Tamias aristus: Fossils of this species have been found at sites dating to the Sangamonian Interglacial. It may not have become extinct until the Last Glacial Maximum. I hypothesize it was a year round forager, unlike its smaller cousin which hibernates. See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/tamias-aristus-the-extinct-kicked-up-version-of-the-eastern-chipmunk/
56. Fox squirrel–Scirius niger
57. Gray squirrel–Scirius carolinensis
58. Red squirrel–Tamiascirius hudsonicus
59. Southern flying squirrel–Glaucomys volans
60. Eastern pocket gopher–Thomomys orientalis
61. Southeastern pocket gopher–Geomys pinetus
62. Giant beaver–Casteroides ohioensis: Giant beavers favored treeless marshes, but may have occasionally built dams. Modern beavers create habitat favorable to giant beavers by felling lots of trees and the 2 species did not compete as some scientists erroneously claim. They ate different foods.
63. Beaver–Castor canadensis
64. Rice rat–Oryxomys palustris
65. Eastern harvest mouse–Reithrodontomys humulis
66. Deer mouse–Peromyscus manisculatus
67. Old field mouse–P. polionatus
68. White-footed mouse–P. leucopus
69. Cotton mouse–P. gossypinus
70. Golden mouse–Ochrotomy nuttali
71. Cotton rat–Sigmodon hispidus
72. Red-backed vole–Clethritonomy gapperi: No longer occurs this far south.
73. Meadow vole–Microtus pennsylvanius
74. Pine vole–M. pinetorum
75. ?Prairie vole?–M. ochrogaster
76. ?Florida muskrat?–Neofiber alleni: This species formerly had a much wider range. They require year round green vegetation. Difficult to determine exactly when they disappeared from east central Georgia.
77. Muskrat–Ondatra zibethicus
78. Southern bog lemming–Synaptomys cooperi
79. Meadow jumping mouse–Zapus hudsonicus
80. Porcupine–Erethizon dorsatum: Had a wider range during the Pleistocene. Summers may be too hot for them in the south today.
81. Capybara–Hydrochoerus holmesi: 2 species of capybaras lived on the coastal plain of Georgia during the Pleistocene. It’s unknown exactly how far inland they ranged. They favor grassy flooded marshes alongside rivers.
82. Eastern cottontail–Sylvilagus floridanus
83. Swamp rabbit–S. aquaticus
84. Horse–Equus ferus
85. Half-ass–Equus scotti
86. Tapir–Tapirus veroensis
87. Long-nosed peccary–Mylohyus nasatus: Probably one of the most common large mammals in east central Georgia then and would be common table fair for a Pleistocene homesteader.
88. Flat-headed peccary–Platygonnus compressus
89. Large-headed llama–Hemiauchenia macrocephala
90. Stout-legged llama–Paleolama mirifica
91. White-tailed deer–Odocoileus virginianus: Probably at least as common then as today and an important part of my diet at my Pleistocene homestead.
92. ?Caribou?–Rangifer tarandus: Fossils of this species dating to the LGM have been found as far south as Charleston, S.C. There were probably large herds of caribou seasonally migrating just south of the glacial margin which at the time was near the Canadian border. Some of these herds evidentally broke off and wandered south.
93. ?Stag-moose?–Cervalces scotti: May have been another rare straggler that was more common farther north.
94. Elk–Cervus elephus: Occurred in central Georgia as recently as the 18th century. May have been fairly common here 36,000 years BP.
95. Helmeted muskox–Bootherium bombifrons: Colonized Louisiana and Mississippi during the LGM, but fossils are unknown this far east. See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/the-south-central-salient-of-the-helmeted-musk-ox-ovibos-cavifrons-or-bootherium-bombifrons/
96. Long-horned bison–Bison latifrons: Probably fairly common here then.
97. Mastodon–Mammut americanus: Were either seasonal or year round residents here.
98. Columbian mammoth–Mammuthus colombi: Ditto.
99. ?Gompothere?–Cuvieronius tropicalis: Another elephant-like mammal that lived in the southeast. Climate may have become too cold for this species in this region by 36,000 years BP.