Small mammal life

We have got about 15 squares of roofing felt placed in strategic parts around the meadows which act as reptile viewing galleries for us. Last summer we could be reasonably assured that we would see several lizards under the squares as we did our rounds in the morning but this year we have scarcely seen any lizards at all – its so peculiar and we have no idea whats going on. We have, however, had a really good haul of Slow Worms. This was what we found under a square yesterday that faces south:

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Five Slow Worms and two Viviparous Lizards (far left and top right). Quite a reptilian haul. 

Elsewhere in the meadows, though, small mammals have been safely spending time under these squares, often making their nests and raising their families there. We have seen Shrews, Voles and Mice.

We have disturbed a little Field Vole several times under one particular square that is by a wild plum tree.

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The sampling square
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The wild plum tree
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The vole has made a nest under the square and has been feeding on the wild plums.

I decided to try a little experiment on this vole. I placed four different nuts under the square to see which one it would like the best:

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Walnut, Hazelnut still in shell, Pecan and Almond.
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The four nuts placed under the square

The next morning, the almond had gone:

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So that was a surprise because I had been expecting the native British nuts to go first, either the walnut or the hazelnut.

A couple of days later, the walnut had gone as well:

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Will look again in a few days and see if these two remaining nuts are still there.  What fun! Personally, I’d have eaten the pecan first.

Under another square, there is a little Wood mouse and her nest. She has got quite a few ticks on her:

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This shocking image prompted me to research ticks and their lifecycles. There are many different types of ticks in the UK, many of them specialising on specific animals. For instance, there is a hedgehog tick, a fox/badger tick, a deer tick and many more. There is also a small mammal tick (Ixodes trianguliceps) that feeds on small mammals in its adult phase which looks very much like these ticks. But many ticks such as the Sheeps tick (Ixodes ricinus) look very similar and I don’t really know for sure.

Ticks have four life stages – egg, larva, nymph and adult. The larva, nymph and adult stages each need a blood meal and many ticks larval and nymph stages use small mammals for their blood meal, even if the adult stage is going to feed on something else such as a badger.

The thought is that small mammals act as a reservoir for Lyme Disease. The eggs of the tick are never infected with the disease. If the larva or nymph tick uses an infected small mammal for its blood meal, the tick is then infected itself and passes that infection on to anything else it bites over its life time.

So that is all very interesting and worrying. The dog is protected against ticks since her monthly flea treatment also includes ticks these days and so we don’t need to worry about her. We need to worry about ourselves, although we have never found a tick on us. I read that many people who get Lyme disease haven’t been bitten by an adult tick because these are large and easy to spot and remove before the disease passes across (24 hours). No, they are bitten by a larval or nymph stage tick which, at the size of a poppy seed is much less likely to be noticed.

Yuck. Anyway, it helps to be informed and aware. I will check back on that little mouse in a few days and see how she is getting on.

 

 

 

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