Posts Tagged ‘Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp’

Another Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–the Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)

August 21, 2013

I’ve been periodically posting excerpts from a rare book published in 1927 entitled Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp by Frances Harper.  This time I’m posting Harper’s collection of accounts about the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans).

Southern flying squirrel

Youtube video of a southern flying squirrel gliding from tree to tree.  They can glide for up to 30 yards.

Supposedly, the southern flying squirrel is common and widespread throughout the state of Georgia, but I am skeptical.  They prefer old oak forests with lots of  snags and woodpecker holes.  I’ve never seen one in the wild and my cat never brought me a specimen, so I really doubt there are any in the woodlot behind my house or in any of the woods in my neighborhood.  Thirty years ago, a  college buddy of mine  did find and tame a specimen he found living in a birdhouse in his backyard, but that is the only time I’ve ever seen a flying squirrel in person.  Most flying squirrels commandeer woodpecker holes (sometimes eating the eggs and nestlings of the evicted birds in the process), although they do build their own nests on occasion.  The old oak forests of the Georgia piedmont have been replaced by young 2nd growth forests with far fewer snags and woodpecker nests than in former days.  Moreover, as far as I can determine from an internet search, no study on flying squirrel abundance in Georgia has been conducted…ever.  Flying squirrels are probably still common in the north Georgia mountains where unlogged oak forests still occur (See: ).  And they are a problematic predator of red-cockaded woodpeckers in south Georgia.

Fossils of southern flying squirrels have been found in several Pleistocene-aged sites in Georgia, including Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Yarbrough Cave in Bartow County, and the Isle of Hope site in coastal Georgia. The advanced evolutionary trait of gliding is probably an ancient characteristic of this species.

Below is Frances Harper’s collection of accounts of the southern flying squirrel which he refers to as the Florida flying squirrel.

Florida Flying squirrel–Glaucomys volans querceti

“The Flying Squirrel is known to most of the residents, and by its regular name.  It has been recorded or reported from the following localities in the swamp: Floyd’s, Minne Lake, Billy’s, Honey, and Chesser’s Islands, Clayhole Island, and Mixon’s Hammocks and Billy’s Bay.  It is said to be more or less common in various localities on the eastern side of the St. Mary’s River; north of Macclenny, Florida; along the Satilla River near Hoboken; and near Milltown, Lanier County…

…In the choice of its home within the Okefinokee this species does not exhibit a narrow taste, being found in such widely varying habitats as hammocks, pine barrens, and cypress bays.  It is perhaps attracted more particularly to the hammocks by reason of the acorns which it finds there on the live oak and other oaks.  Without the swamp it is found in unwelcome abundance in pecan groves.  It is entirely nocturnal, as far as my observations go.

In early January, 1917, at our camping place in the hammock on Floyd’s Island, several Flying Squirrels were heard moving about in the great live oaks overhead, and giving their slight, sharp, sibilant, little cries.  They were known to feed on some shelled corn stored in a large wooden box, and two specimens were trapped there.  In June, 1921, Jackson Lee reported hearing this species in the same camp.

On several nights in September, 1922, I heard the squeaky tseet, tseet, tseet of Flying Squirrels in the oaks about our camp in the hammock on Chesser’s Island.  One evening acorns began dropping outside my tent, and a couple of times one of the little creatures seemed to be scampering over the tent fly.  It was very successful, however, in eluding the rays of  a flashlight which I tried more than one to turn upon it. 

Ben Chesser once found a Flying Squirrel in a nest of  Spanish Moss which it had built in a quart cup about 6 feet above the ground by a spring in the piney woods on this island.

On June 19, 1922, David Lee cut down a dead slash pine (Pinus elliottii) in the pine barrens close to the hammock on Billy’s Island.  As the tree fell, a Flying Squirrel jumped out to another tree, then made for still another, but fell short and was caught.  It was kept in captivity for about six weeks, meanwhile feeding upon pecans, watermelon seeds, and huckleberries (the last with perhaps special avidity).  It refused peanuts.

Harry Chesser spoke of seeing several in the pine barrens on Billy’s Island.  Two sailed out of a living pine which he was cutting in the spring of 1922.  W.F. Keaton reported one or two during the previous spring in an old dead pine on Honey Island.

During the summers of 1921 and 1922 several were reported in holes in girdled cypresses, and one in a ‘green’ or living cypress.

On August 6, 1921, between 8 and 9 p.m. , a Flying Squirrel jumped on the roof of our tent, which was pitched on an oak ridge along the St. Mary’s River north of Macclenny, Florida.  At about the same time we began to take note of a shrill, sibilant, almost incessant calling on the part of two or three creatures of some sort, apparently in the trees overhead.  At the time I was inclined to consider them insects rather than Flying Squirrels, although, as David Lee remarked on a later occasion, the note of the latter is so much like that of some insects that it is difficult to tell them apart.  Meanwhile, several rat traps, baited with peanuts, were set on the trunks of near-by oaks, and presently, one of them contained a fine specimen of a Flying Squirrel.  Several nights later one was heard about our camp in a pine grove about 5 miles south of Traders Hill.

Some prejudice has been aroused against this species on account of its depredations on pecans in various localities near the swamp, where the pecan-growing industry has been considerably developed in recent years.  Its nocturnal habits enable it to pilfer to an extent not possible for a diurnal animal, and in places it evidentaly becomes a rather serious nusiance.  For example, various members of James Johnson’s family, living near Thompson’s Landing on the St. Mary’s, stated that a cat of theirs had caught 37 Flying Squirrels about their place during the pecan season of 1921.  The cat would eat each squirrel behind a certain door, and leave the tail there, thus enabling the members of the household to keep a tally.  They themselves made no effort to kill the animals saying, ‘It ain’t no use.’  Further complaints were heard concerning depredations on pecans near Cornhouse Creek, Charlton County, near Hoboken, Pierce County, and near Milltown, Lanier County.

Another Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–“The Florida Cougar”

July 25, 2013

Testing 1,2,3

I’ve been periodically posting excerpts from a rare book published in 1927 by Frances Harper entitled Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp.  This excerpt is a collection of local accounts about the cougar.  It mentions the last known specimen killed by hunters in Georgia in 1925 (until 2007 when a hunter shot a wandering Florida panther near Lagrange).   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has proposed the Okefenokee Swamp as a possible site for re-introduction of the Florida panther, although it’s unclear which subspecies of cougar used to live here.  The population that inhabited south Georgia may have been a blend of Florida panther and eastern cougar, the latter of which has been declared extinct.  I would like to live where cougars roam, but from one of the accounts below, I can understand why this might make some people nervous.  Cougars used to jump on people’s roofs.  I don’t think suburban moms would be too crazy about a 150 pound cat standing on top of their house while their kids were playing in the backyard.  The below account also uses a racially offensive place name.  I chose not to censor it because I favor historical accuracy.  Harper used the archaic scientific name, Felis coryi, for cougar.  The official scientific name for the cougar today is Puma concolor.

Florida Cougar from Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp

“When Goldsmith sang of the  ‘wild Altamaha Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey’  his zoogeographical knowledge was not so faulty as some critics have supposed.  For to this day the Cougar is almost invariably spoken of as ‘Tiger’ in the Okefinokee region, and doubtless it has been known since colonial times in many other localities in the Southeastern states.  There is little to record of it in the present region except the accounts of bygone days, for it is now very nearly if not entirely extinct.  Yet it lingered well into the present century, and it is perhaps not beyond the bounds of possibility that some solitary survivor may yet be taken.

James Henderson, one of the oldest of the local hunters, has heard one or two in his time, and spoke of having been ‘backed out by a Tiger one night.’

J.D. Hendrix, a contemporary of Henderson’s saw a ‘Tiger’ that had been killed by Judge Albritton on the Nigger Camp Islands, near the upper end of Cowhouse Island, about 1883.  The only one he ever saw alive was on the Big Water, about 1903.

He also spoke of one killed by William Gunter on the Little Okefinokee in 1864.  The latter’s wife went down to a spring about 4 p.m, and was followed by a ‘Tiger.’  She ran to the house, and tried to shut the dog out.  The ‘Tiger’ jumped on to the house, and walked from one end of the roof to the other.  The man meanwhile came back from the woods with an old flintlock.  He saw the animal, dropped down to his knees, and shot it off the house.  It measured 9 feet from tip to tip.

Harrrison Lee stated that about 1876 his father, Dan Lee, and a companion were pursuing a ‘Tiger’ with dogs on Suwanoochee Creek a few miles above Fargo.  While temporarily separated from his companion, he was mistaken for a ‘Tiger’ and seriously wounded with a rifle ball.

It is said that about 1896 a “Tiger’ appeared in the Lees yard on Billy’s Island, and fought with the dogs before running off.  It was seen by Avner and Farley Lee.

Allan Chesser has never seen a ‘Tiger’ but has ‘seen where they killed deer and kivered ’em up…I’ve seen many a deer where they’d been fought by the Tigers.  Jest the throat cut.  I’ve seen where they’ve jumped on ’em.  No sign er scufflin’ a-tall; just squashed ’em down ter earth an’ killed ’em right there.  One time one scared me out er goin’ out on the prairie.  I stood still a little while an’ watched  ‘is tracks fill up with water, an’ I decided ter go on.  I didn’t see nothin’ ‘uv ‘im.  The bushes wuz thick.  That’s ben, I expec’, erbout 18 er 20 years ago.  In what is called Buck Prairie, on the north side er Black Jack.’

About 1910 Allen and Sam Chesser saw the tracks of a ‘Tiger’ along their trail from Lake Sego to Chesser’s Island.  There was a distance of 4 feet between each track of the hind feet at a walking gait.  Its trail was followed to where it had pulled up ferns to make its bed in a prairie ‘house.’  Hair about 6 inches long was found in its bed.

Allen Chesser also reported that three of the animals had been killed by a man named Osteen about 1885 on the eastern edge of the swamp half a dozen miles southeast of Chesser’s Island.

About 1898, while working in the swamp about 3 miles east of Coffee Bay on the canal, Sam Mizell heard a ‘Tiger’ one evening.  He said the sound suggested some one ‘hollerin while hoarse,’ and that it ended with a sort of growl.  About 1903 he saw tracks where one had killed a deer on Craven’s Hammock.  He also found the skeletons of two deer that had been covered up with leaves, bushes, etc., evidentally by a ‘Tiger.’

Leonard Lloyd spoke of having seen the tracks of a ‘Tiger’ crossing the St. Mary’s River near Stanley Branch, above Trader’s Hill in 1901.

In 1916 John Hopkins, superintendent of the Hebard Cypress Company, informed me that seven or eight years previously there was a newspaper report, which he considered authentic, to the effect that a Panther had been killed between Mixon’s Ferry and Moniac, and exhibited in Valdosta.

On or about December 19, 1916, a hog was killed between Mixon’s Ferry and Fargo by some animal which a resident of that section, Sam Jordan, pronounced a ‘Tiger.’  A couple of weeks later Steve Williams was traveling in an automobile along the road between Fargo and Homerville, about 10 miles from the former place, when he saw a ‘Tiger’ cross the road very close in front of the machine.  Some hounds had apparently been in pursuit of the animal.

I heard from Samuel Davis a report of one passing along the St. Mary’s River near St. Georgia on July 24, 1921, and ‘hollerin almost like a woman.’ He also stated that ‘one comes through every year.’  On September 16, 1922, I heard from Ben Chesser another rumor of one having been seen recently in the vicinity of St. George.

According to McQueen and Mizell, ‘a large panther was killed a year or so ago (1925?) on the southern edge of the Okefinokee after it had killed an unusual number of grown range cattle.'”

An Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–“The Florida Wolf”

July 8, 2013

Frances Harper was a biologist from Cornell University who lived from 1886-1972.    He conducted a biological survey of the Northwest Territories of Canada before WWI and again after WWII.  He served as a rodent control officer for the U.S. army during the first world war.  He was a also a historical scholar who followed in the footsteps of William Bartram, and he’s responsible for getting Bartram’s Travels re-published in the 20th century.  He edited that re-publication and added notes about where he thought Bartram was on the trail compared to modern landmarks.  After WWI he conducted a biological survey of the Okefenokee Swamp.  (He used the archaic spelling of Okefinokee.)  He was instrumental in getting the swamp protected as a National Wildlife Refuge.  He wrote a fascinating book–Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp– that was published as a scientific paper in 1927.  This book is long out of print, and I checked where they have 1 used copy for $86.  The book is worth closer to $20.  I have a copy of this book, so periodically, I’m going to type up excerpts from it on my blog for people who are interested in it but don’t want to shell out that kind of dough.  The first excerpt will be his account of the Florida Wolf .

Illustration of the Florida wolf.  Harper gives it the incorrect scientific name Canis floridanus.  Actually, it’s an extinct color variation of the red wolf–Canis rufus.  Incidentally, there are no illustrations in Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp.

“The story of the Florida wolf is now largely a matter of past history.  The Okefinokee was certainly one of its last strongholds and may even yet shelter a few survivors.  Many residents of the region have personal recollections of Wolves, and some of their reports are considerably later than the date of the last known capture, about 1908.

In former times the species was doubtless distributed throughout the surrounding country as well as in the swamp itself.  Apparenly it frequented a wide range of habitats, from the pine barrens to cypress bays, with perhaps a general preference for the former.  Evidentally it moved freely by day as well as by night.  It preyed upon cattle and sheep as well as hogs, and it must have been a far more serious enemy to the stockman than the bear ever was.  Yet the accounts seem to indicate that it was neither very wary nor very courageous.  Its wide variation in color is mentioned here and there in the following notes.

S.L. Davis, of St. George, said that his father brought 300 head of cattle to that vicinity (probably about the middle of the last century), and that within three months or so only about 60 were left, the others having been killed by Wolves.

Chester Burkhalter related how his grandmother, when a girl about 1850, was followed by a couple of black Wolves near Arabia, in Clinch County.  She passed through a herd of cattle, where the Wolves made a detour and lost her trail.  Meanwhile, she climbed up a sycamore and remained a couple of hours.

In 1866, when J.D. Hendrix came to the swamp, there were a few Wolves here, and they preyed upon hogs and calves.  In 1867, at Beaver Dam, near Fort Mudge, while turkey-hunting early in the morning, he heard a Wolf howling and coming closer.  Then a pair of them appeared in the road, playing like dogs.  The male came up to within 21 steps, and when shot, bit its sides.  The female ran off.  The specimen was ‘a right black one’ . Others he knew of were gray or yellow.

He added that about 1887 Obadiah Barber and Leroy Thrift killed a Wolf that was being trailed by dogs in Pipe Swamp, between Waycross and Cowhouse Island.

The only time James Henderson has heard Wolves howling was in the fall of 1874, on Barnum Branch.  He thought there were eight or ten ‘head,’ but another man with him said there were three or four.

His father once poisoned an old dog Wolf that had been killing his sheep.  This was about 1865, 2 miles north of Ruskin, Ware County.  He dragged a beef hide, with ‘lights’ in it, for half a mile or so, then put a bait about 3 feet up in a tree, and repeated this in several places.  The Wolf was later found dead about 75 yards from one of the baits.  It was black with a white spot on its breast.

Fifty years or more ago Allen and Sam Chesser, while camping with their father and mother at Gannet Lake, heard a Wolf.  Its lonesome howl sounded an hour or two before daybreak.  The animal was apparently between Mitchell and Black Jack Islands.

Allen Chesser added that Berrien Dedge had killed a Wolf on Number One Island about 1890 or earlier.

About 1895 Hamp Mizell saw a Wolf near his home on the eastern border of the swamp.  It lay down in the road and wallowed, looking like a shaggy dog.  It had several holes dug about 4 feet into the ground, with a turn at the end.

Once, about 1911, he carried a shoulder of a shoat from the Suwannee River to a shanty on Rowell’s Island.  Later he saw by the tracks that a Wolf had trailed him for 3 miles.  That night it came close to the shanty and dug a hole about 3 feet deep.

In 1901 Sam Mizell saw tracks, which he took to be a Wolf’s, on Burnt Island, between Indian Swamp and Cross Swamp.  They were longer and narrower than a dog’s.  At about the same time period Mitchell Mizell saw a brownish Wolf on Black Jack Island.

David Lee can just remember the time (probably about 1900) when several Wolves killed a cow within a mile of the house on Billy’s Island.  He himself heard the racket they made in killing the cow, which had a bell on it.  Jackson Lee recalls how, in the same locality and at about the same period, a yearling was bitten in the back, probably by a Wolf.

About 1908 a black Wolf was trapped by James Lewis in a creek called Indian Swamp, on the west side of the Okefinokee about 10 miles north of Fargo.  It was said to have been the smaller one of two in a pack.  The hide was shipped to market by Willian Mobley, and the skull was not preserved.  This is the last record of a Wolf being taken in the region.

In 1916 (probably in May), while traveling along the ‘run’ through Billy’s Bay, David Lee heard some animal howling.  He thought at first that it was a dog, but stopped and listened attentively, and then knew it was not a dog.  He does not know what it could have been except a Wolf.  The water in the bay was rather low at the time.

There have been a number of possible records on Floyd’s Island in recent years.  In November, 1916, Harrison Lee heard there a strange noise like the howling of a Wolf.  A similar noise was heard by Jackson Lee about 7 o’clock one morning in May, 1921.  On two different occasions, at about this time, he heard something moving about near the camp in the hammock, and he considered that it might have been a Wolf.

About 1918 Harry and Ben Chesser saw the tracks of a Wolf on Number One Island, heard it ‘holler’ and chased it with dogs.

The disappearance of the Florida Wolf, like that of many another interesting creature, has evidentally been brought about solely throught the agency of civilized man.”