If you are like me (and I assume most people), you have probably never heard of a Mountain Beaver. The ironic thing about a Mountain Beaver is that it doesn't really live in the mountains and it isn't a beaver. It is actually more of a prehistoric rat without a tail that one author described as looking kind of like a furry football with claws and teeth.
Apparently the Mountain Beaver hasn't changed much in 40,000 years. The only thing they seem to do is burrow and eat vegetation -- primarily ferns, rhododendrons and tree bark (which is probably why they got confused with beavers). They need to live near water because their kidneys haven't evolved in 40,000 years either so they need to drink the equivalent of 2/3 their body weight each day.
Lewis and Clark were some of the first people to write about the Mountain Beaver after being sold a couple of robes made out of their fur by local natives. Like much of the world, Lewis and Clark never actually got to see a Mountain Beaver, just their fur because they are very shy critters and fairly anti-social. This may because they also have the nasty habit of eating their own poop so they don't get invited to many parties.
Why do I devote so much precious blog space to an evolved animal from the rat family? Because I have met a Mountain Beaver.
We just bought our house about a year ago. And one of the cool but high maintenance aspects of it is that although it doesn't have a backyard, it has a forested section that our deck overlooks that slopes down to a creek. The forested property had been landscaped at one time, but has more or less been reclaimed by nature over the years before we bought the house. I decided to re-reclaim it a couple of weekends ago.
Little did I know that my little patch of wilderness would be considered a Club Med for the average Mountain Beaver. It has ferns, rhodies, trees, a creek and lots of soft dirt for burrowing. And until I started clearing it away, it had plenty of ground cover to shield the many entrances to the Mountain Beaver's burrow from prying eyes.
It didn't take much clearing of ivy and horsetails to uncover the first burrow entrance. If you aren't familiar with horsetails, they are ironically also a prehistoric throwback, but from the plant world. They resemble a horse's tale (thus the name) but come apart in sections when you pull on them. They don't spread through seeds, but through spores. So I have a prehistoric rat and prehistoric plants thriving in my backyard. What's next, T-Rex?
Anyway, I assumed the hole was a gopher hole, (albeit for a big gopher ). So I throw a couple of rocks in it and cover it with dirt. Then I go about my futile effort to pull out ivy and horsetails. The following weekend I take up the gauntlet again. When I go through the gate, I discover that the burrow has been uncovered and the rocks pushed out. I begin get a bit edgy about an animal big enough push out a fair sized rock. So I throw a bigger rock down the hole, cover it up again and place a larger rock on top.
After finishing my day's weeding, I'm standing on my deck looking over the slope and I see something move down a few yards from the original burrow entrance. I watch for a minute and sure enough I see this brown animal the size of a football pushing out dirt and brazenly piling it up around the entrance of a new hole. It seems oblivious to that fact that the sun is still out and it is exposed to prying eyes.
My wife opens the gate and walks down the steps past the burrowing critter and it doesn't stop pushing dirt out of the new entrance. Its as if it was making a point of showing us that no matter how many holes we covered up, it could dig new ones. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had lifted a furry paw and flipped a middle claw up at me.
That night my wife does an Internet search. She has apparently heard rumors about something called a Mountain Gopher. Sure enough, the few photos of the "elusive" and rarely seen Mountain Beaver is the creature burrowing on the slope behind my house. As with most information on the Web, I find a smattering of information, mostly regurgitated versions of the same text stating that a Mountain Beaver is basically a prehistoric rodent with a pissy attitude an no tail that is rarely seen and often misunderstood.
One official Washington State site provides helpful suggestions on how to discourage a Mountain Beaver from living in your backyard by being a bad neighbor. This involves filling up every burrow entrance you can find with old newspapers or used kitty litter (I'm not sure how this will faze an animal that eats its own crap). They also suggest wadding up old rags soaked with bobcat or coyote urine and shoving them into the burrows with a coat hanger. Apparently you can purchase bobcat and coyote urine online or at local trapping stores. I don't think Walmart carries it but if they do I'm sure the urine would sell at a very reasonable price. I haven't done a search for online outlets, but I imagine the companies have names like predatorpiss.com or badassurine.biz.
They also suggest that you can trap the Mountain Beavers, but chances are if you kill one, another one will move into his or her old burrow since the Mountain Beaver real estate market is pretty competitive.
For now I just filled in five or six of the burrow entrances with rocks and dirt. I can tell you that I was a bit nervous on Sunday while I continued clearing the ivy and horsetails waiting to be leaped on by a disgruntled Mountain Beaver. Being savaged by a feral Mountain Beaver is not the way I want to go out. For one, it would sound pretty pitiful on the evening news:
Anchorperson Jennifer: This breaking news, an Edmonds man was attacked today by a Mountain Beaver in what was described as a dispute over kitty litter and bobcat urine. Never heard of a Mountain Beaver, Steve, have you?So far I haven't seen any signs that Theodore (that's what I've decided to call my Mountain Beaver... it was Beaver Cleaver's real name on the Leave it to Beaver series) has unplugged the burrow entrances I filled in on Sunday. But I know he is down there, probably watching old Rambo videos plotting his revenge.
Anchorperson Steve: Not much Jennifer, but I hear they are more vicious than the elusive Jackalope.
In the meantime, I'm going to go run a search for bobcat urine and hope I don't get in trouble with my IT department for surfing "blocked" Web sites.