Posts Tagged ‘Niles Ohio’

Colorful Fox Squirrels–Were they the More Common Squirrel in the Southeast During the Pleistocene?

July 5, 2012

The extinction of the megafauna saddens me.  America’s wilderness areas are devoid of mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and so many other animals, and an ungodly long drive is required to see the remaining species such as bison and elk, unless a person is lucky enough to live somewhere near Yellowstone National Park or in Alaska.  But at least squirrels and rabbits are still abundant in most places.  They are every bit as interesting as the extinct species of megafauna and during the Pleistocene the total biomass of smaller animals probably outweighted that of the larger beasts, so they were common then too.

Tree squirrels are relatively rare in fossil sites because they live in wooded habitats.  When they die, their bodies mix with acidic leaf litter which dissolves bones, if a scavenger doesn’t come along and munch them down first.  Thanks to predatory birds, squirrel fossils do occur in cave deposits.  Hawks and owls capture squirrels, carry them to roosting sites in caves, and often sloppily drop pieces of squirrel where the cave environment preserves them.  Yarbrough Cave in Bartow County Georgia yields the remains of 5 squirrel species–woodchucks, chipmunks, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and 13-lined ground squirrels.  This cave deposit dates to the Last Glacial Maximum (~20,000 BP carbon date average based on 4 sample dates).  The variety of squirrels is evidence of a diversity of habitats.  Gray squirrels prefer young dense forests; fox squirrels like open mature woodlands; chipmunks inhabit boulder-strewn woods; woodchucks live in open meadows; and 13-lined ground squirrels are denizens of prairie.

Although Pleistocene environments in Georgia consisted of many constantly changing stages of succession, I think 0pen mature forests would have been the most common type.  Frequent fires, megafauna foraging, insect infestation, tree diseases, windthrows, and drought eventually convert dense young forests into open parkland environments with widely spaced large older trees lucky enough to survive the ravages of nature.  Gray squirrels are more common today in Georgia because young dense forests predominate, following the clear cutting of yesteryear.  These squirrels escape predation by jumping from tree to tree which is possible in forests with closely spaced trees, but bigger clumsier fox squirrels run along the ground to reach the safety of a tree.  They’re better adapted to open forests.  Therefore, fox squirrels may have been the more common squirrel of the late Pleistocene in the upper south.  (Fossil evidence suggests they didn’t arrive in Florida until very late in the Pleistocene.)

This fox squirrel was recently spotted in Ringgold, Georgia which is in the northern part of the state where fox squirrels are said to be rare to absent.  This proves they still live in this region.  The lady who took this photo didn’t know what this animal was and posted it online.  Notice to college biology students searching for a thesis idea:  No recent study has been conducted on fox squirrel populations in Georgia.

Mounted fox squirrel killed by a hunter in Georgia.  I lifted this and the following photos from the Georgia Outdoor News forum.  Check out their political forum.  They aren’t exactly open to progressive politics. 

Another mounted fox squirrel killed in Georgia by a hunter.  Note the orange color phase.  Fox squirrels in northeastern Ohio are orange but have no white marking on their nose.  Fox squirrels are locally common on the southeastern coastal plain.



Note all the color variations on these fox squirrels killed in just 1 locality on the South Carolina coastal plain.

In present day Georgia and South Carolina fox squirrels occur locally on the coastal plain.  They are reportedly rare to absent in the piedmont and mountains, though the the top photo proves they’re not extinct in the region.  In the southeast they seem to prefer open pine forests with a few oaks.  Curiously, in the midwest they’re restricted to hardwood forests.  On average they weigh twice as much as gray squirrels and come in a much greater variety of colors.

I grew up in Niles, Ohio, a small town in northeastern Ohio.  Big orange fox squirrels were the only kind of squirrel I ever saw there.  Our house was surrounded by an oak-dominated woods on 2 sides.  Unlike the orange color phase of southeastern fox squirrels, the ones in Ohio had no white marking on their nose.  I also saw gray and black fox squirrels at a park next to Niagara Falls.  In Georgia I’ve only seen a fox squirrel once.  It was a black one among a dozen gray squirrels poaching pecans in a Burke County orchard.  They are reportedly common on golf courses in the South Carolina coastal plain.  I haven’t seen a fox squirrel in 20 years.  I’m trying to determine how I can find some time to scope this species out on a beach trip next month.

If I could Live During the Pleistocene Part VII–The Food I Must Have

November 21, 2011

I’m writing a food-oriented blog entry in honor of Thanksgiving week.

If I’m going to live in my imaginary adobe brick home 36,000 years BP on a stone-wall protected piece of land 1 mile north of the Broad River and 2 miles west of the Savannah River, I’ve got to have certain favorite foods.  But I don’t want to travel back and forth through the time portal to go grocery shopping.  I’d suffer a letdown every time I left my pristine wilderness and returned to the decimated mess man has created.  So I’d manufacture as much of my own food as possible on my Pleistocene homestead. 

There are numerous staples of my diet I can’t live without–cheddar cheese, chili con carne, sourdough bread, fruit, vegetables, brown gravy, soy sauce, etc.

I’ve been making sourdough bread, pancakes, and biscuits from this sourdough starter since 1998.

I grow my own wheat on my Pleistocene homestead.  (In reality I have successfully grown wheat in my backyard garden.)  The weather conditions in Georgia during the interstadial I chose should be favorable for winter and spring wheat.  Setting up a stone mill for grinding grain into flour though is too complicated.  An electric home mill that I plug into an outlet is sufficient for my needs.  (I have electricity, thanks to solar power and a generator that runs on wood alcohol which I manufacture.)  It’s necessary to grow 2 kinds of wheat–a high protein variety for bread and a lower protein type for pastry.  I’ve got to have pies and cakes.

A bowl of red with a side of cornbread.  Chili con carne is my favorite dish and a useful one for converting dodgy game meats into tasty food.  For this batch I diced round steak and cooked it in the crockpot.  I more commonly use ground meat which shouldn’t be cooked in a crock pot because slow-cooking the meat that long will turn it mushy.   I use 2 tablespoons of pure New Mexican chili powder per pound of meat.  I serve it on red beans that are cooked in a different pot.

I can’t live without chili.  This is a quite useful dish for Pleistocene living.  Most of my meat is wild game.  I live in a mostly forested region interspersed with small prairies and meadows.  The most common big game animals are white-tailed deer, elk, and long-nosed peccary.  Less common but occasionally available are long-horned bison and horses.  Depending on the age, condition, and diet, the meat from these animals varies in flavor and tenderness.  By grinding the meat and seasoning it heavily with chili powder and tomatoes, I can make tougher cuts of meat taste good.  George Leonard Herter in his book, How to Get out of the Rat Race and Live on $10 a Month (a volume that deserves its own blog entry), wrote that the only way he could make coot meat taste good was to turn it into chili.  He stated that coot meat tastes like a mouthful of mud prepared any other way.  Cajuns soak coots in milk overnight to get rid of the bad flavor.  I avoid coot meat.

I do raise milk cows on my Pleistocene land, but I’m reluctant to kill them for meat because they’re like pets that provide me with cheddar cheese, butter, and cream.  So my chili is most often made from venison and/or peccary meat.  Tomatoes, new Mexican chili peppers, red beans, onions, garlic, and cumin all grow in my garden and greenhouse.

Jagerschnitzel with a side of sweet potato.  I had leftover mushroom gravy from making hamburger steaks and gravy (another good dish for using wild game meat), so I added fresh mushrooms and smothered pork chops in the gravy.  Sweet potatoes should be easy to grow during an interstadial.  The good cuts of a peccary make excellent pork chops.

I could probably eat chili everyday and never get tired of it, but I also like meats smothered in a brown mushroom or onion or mushroom/onion gravy.  Lipton makes a great mushroom-onion gravy mix that I believe I can duplicate.  In my Pleistocene garden I cultivate shitake mushrooms.  (In reality I innoculated an oak stump with shitake mushroom spawn.  I’m still waiting for the first bloom.)  Mushrooms don’t grow year round, and I wouldn’t dare forage for wild mushrooms, so I dry some of the cultivated ones when they bloom.  I make my imitation Lipton gravy mix with dried mushrooms, dried onions, flour, salt, and soy sauce and store it in jars.  I brew my own soy sauce–another magical condiment that transforms wild game meats into civilized food.  I make a fine dish by slicing tough game meats against the grain and stir frying them with vegetables.  Marinating game meats with vinegar, oil, oregeno, and salt and cooking them shish ka bob style also helps to make them tender.

Frying hamburgers in an iron skillet.  I love cooking in this vessel.  The best Pleistocene hamburgers are made out of the ribeye steak meat from a long-horned bison.  I more commonly have venison in my meat freezer.  This requires added fat.

A meat grinder is a must for processing wild game.  I raise geese for the fat.  A good hamburger requires a certain amount of fat not found in most game meats.  To make a decent hamburger with lean venison, I mix it with rendered goose fat.  (I’ve actually experimented with this in real life and it works well.)  It keeps the burgers from getting too dry, and the grease rendered out can be re-used.  Turning tough game meats into meatloaf, meatballs, and sausage is another way to make them tasty.  A meatloaf made out of 1/2 ground vension and 1/2 ground turkey is excellent.  (Another successful real experiment.)  I capture all the turkeys I need with my turkey trap.  (See

A Niles pizza burger with a salad.  Niles, Ohio is the only place I’ve ever seen a real pizza burger on the menu.  I lived in Niles from the age of 2 to the age of 13.  It’s another one of those little Italy’s where many Italian-Americans settled.  The secret to this dish, besides using real pizza instead of a hamburger bun, is to keep it in aluminum foil, like a gyro, so it doesn’t fall apart.  The salad is a mix of leaf and head lettuce dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Olives are difficult to grow in Pleistocene Georgia, but walnut oil is an acceptable substitute.

Fish and chips with a side of mustard greens.  My Pleistocene home is located close to a river for the abundant food supply.  Game, fish, waterfowl, turtles, crayfish, and mussels abound near the water.  Potatoes are easier to grow in Pleistocene Georgia than they are today because the summers are cooler.

I eat a lot of fish in the Pleistocene.  I have fish traps throughout the Broad River and in the Savannah.  Most of the fish are small bream, crappie, catfish, smallmouth bass, and sucker fish.  I pan fry these, usually dredged with a mixture of cornmeal, flour, garlic salt, and lots of black pepper.  I dip the fish in egg first so the coating sticks.  (I have plenty of eggs because I raise chickens as well as geese.)  Surprisingly large fish, even today, still swim in smaller streams.  Fish big enough to filet often get caught in my traps.

Diagram of a colonial era fish trap from google images.  My Pleistocene fish trap differs slightly.  Mine doesn’t stretch all the way across the river and has a net or basket at the point of the v instead of slats.  I remove the net when I’m not planning on eating fish to reduce unnecessary fish kill.

I sometimes use a milk or beer batter to fry these.  Fish weighing over 10 pounds can be cut into steaks and grilled over a charcoal fire.  Or they can be stewed.  When I tire of fried fish I cook them in a white wine-cream sauce with mushrooms or sorrel.  Sorrel is an easy pot herb to grow.  Vegetables in the brassica family are also easy to grow.  Brassica pollen even shows up in a couple of palynological studies of Pleistocene age sediment, proving that some type of wild mustard grew in Georgia then.  In my real life gardening experience I’ve successfully grown mustard, bok choy, napa cabbage, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, green cabbage, and red cabbage.  All grow in my Pleistocene garden.  They thrive in the long cool season.  I’ve had mixed success with lettuce.  Some times I can’t get the lettuce to grow big enough to use.  The best lettuce I ever grew was a variety known as Rouge d’River–a red leaf type.

Spicy meatball and sausage jambalaya.  I make many different versions of this famous dish–chicken jambalaya, chicken and sausage jambalaya, double sausage jambalaya, shrimp and sausage jambalaya, turkey and ham and mushroom jambalaya, etc.

I grow rice in my Pleistocene garden because I can’t live without jambalaya or dirty rice.  Brown rice is a common side dish, but for jambalaya I remove the rice bran and feed it to the chickens.  White rice makes a better jambalaya.  I use sodium nitrates to turn the sausage red.  Curing meats is another way to make game meats quite palatable.  Much of my venison is corned.

Green posole.  This is the first time I ever made this dish.

Corn grows in my garden.  It provides a vegetable and a starch and animal feed.  I manufacture corn oil and corn syrup as well.  In the pioneer days the dried cobs were used as toilet paper.  In my Pleistocene world I manufacture more modern toilet paper.  There are just some improvements I can’t live without.

Fire Suppression = A Decline in Biodiversity (Part 2–The Animals of Longleaf Pine Savannahs)

June 29, 2011

Fox Squirrels come in several color phases–orange, black, and gray.  Some have white or gray masks as well.

Fox Squirrel–Sciurus niger

I love these big colorful squirrels.  I lived in Niles, Ohio until 1975, and our home was bordered by oak woods on 2 sides.  Big orange fox squirrels were the playful denizens there.  But since I’ve lived in Georgia, I’ve only seen one–a black masked fox squirrel foraging with a group of gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in a pecan orchard in Burke County.

This range map is bullshit.  No statewide survey of fox squirrels has been done in at least 50 years, if ever.  It’s likely an accurate range map would show a much patchier distribution.

Southern fox squirrels differ in their habitat requirements from northern fox squirrels, despite being the same species.  The former prefer mature longleaf pine savannahs with fingers of oak forests, while the latter thrive in oak/hickory woods.  Fox squirrels are declining in Georgia because longleaf pine savannahs were largely replaced with shorter rotation loblolly pine tree farms.  Lumber companies harvest loblolly pines every 50 years which is not enough time for trees to develop snags.  The Trees are also planted closely and fire is suppressed.  Gray squirrels are more abundant today in state because they’re well adapted to the dense young forests that have sprouted on abandoned agricultural lands.  Gray squirrels escape predation by jumping from tree top to tree top, while fox squirrels prefer to dash on the ground as far as they can before retreating to a tree.  Though clumsy in trees compared to their smaller cousins, their larger size allows them to put up more of a fight, if a predator catches up to them.  This difference in behavior explains why gray squirrels occur in closed canopy forests, and fox squirrels prefer open parkland forests.  For this reason I think fox squirrels were more abundant in this region during the Pleistocene when open environments were common.  Areas managed for red-cockaded woodpeckers should benefit fox squirrels.  Forest managers used longer rotations and fire to maintain the bird’s required habitat.

Red Cockaded Woodpecker–(Picoides borealis)

Photo of a red cockaded woodpecker from google images.  All the photos in this entry are borrowed from there.

Thirty years ago, this bird was on the verge of extinction, despite having formerly been common throughout the south.  Fire suppression and short forest management rotation nearly caused the death of this species.  Young pine trees never develop the soft rot that red cockaded woodpeckers need for boring nesting cavities.  As a defense mechanism, red cockaded woodpeckers constantly peck wells below their nesting cavities from which pine sap continously flows.  The pine resin repels rat snakes–their number one predator.  For this defense mechanism to work, live trees are a must.  And without fire hardwood understory reaches the level of the nesting cavity allowing flying squirrels, and other predators easy access.  Flying squirrels will decimate red cockaded woodpecker nests.

In a successful effort to save the birds, scientists identified habitat requirements and some suitable land was set aside and managed using prescribed burns and longer tree harvest rotations.  Birds were relocated to the best habitat, artificial nesting boxes were installed to supplement the shortage of good nesting trees, and flying squirrel exclusion devices were used.  In many protected areas red cockaded woodpecker family groups (family groups consist of 2-10 individuals) have increased dramatically to the point where it’s no longer necessary to provide artificial nests or to protect them from flying squirrels.  At SRS for example the population grew from 1 family group in 1987 to 30 by 2003.

Sandhill Crane–(Grus canadensis)

These impressive birds grow to 5 feet tall.  They prefer to nest in grassy marshes adjacent to prairies or savannahs.  The real life version of Sesame Street’s Big Bird used to be common, but since grasslands and wetlands have declined so have the birds.  Georgia’s population includes a permanent one consisting of small family groups, and large congregations of winter migrants.  They’re omnivorous feeding on insects, crayfish, mice, snakes, frogs, worms, acorns, fruit, roots, and farmer’s crops.

Bachman’s Sparrow–(Peucaea aestivalis)

Another inhabitant of open pine savannahs that is declining in abundance.  I heard this bird’s song on a youtube video and recognized it as one I’ve heard.  Evidentally, the sparrow still occurs in Augusta.

Indigo Snake–(Drymarchon corais)

This snake grows to 9 feet long, making it the longest serpent in North America.  They’re rare because their habitat has been fragmented, and they need large ranges.  They hunt during the day and retreat into gopher tortoise burrows at night.  A wide variety of prey is taken–other snakes including venemous ones, small mammals, birds, frogs, and fish.  Indigo snakes don’t kill by constriction or envenomation, but instead bite the head of their prey and thrash, breaking the spines of the small creatures.  Their metabolism is faster then that of most other snakes.

Gopher Tortoise–(Gopherus polyphenus)


Gopher tortoises depend on a frequent fire regime to spark the growth of the kinds of plant they eat.  They also like sandy soil that makes it easy for them to dig their elaborate tunnel systems.  They’re a keystone species–over 60 vertebrates and invertebrates depend on their burrows for shelter.  (See also my article–“The Giant Extinct Tortoise, Hesperotestudo crassicutata, must have been able to survive light frosts” from my April or March archives)

Popular game animals such as white tail deer, turkey, and quail thrive in longleaf pine savannahs.  Savannahs were a favored habitat of many extinct Pleistocene species as well including mammoth, long horned bison, horses, llamas, Harlan’s ground sloth, hog nosed skunks, giant tortoises, and others.