Monday, July 16, 2012

Midnight Surprise

Walking weed- Click to enlarge
Driving down the lane at midnight last night, a large clump of vegetation with large leaves appeared in the headlights of the Ranger, bouncing along slowly under its own power.  It took a second to grasp what I was seeing.  Cup plants are not usually self-propelled.  By the time I stopped and jumped out and took a picture it was disappearing into the knee high weeds, headed toward the swimming hole.

I pulled out my flashlight and plunged in after it.  There it was, bounding ahead of me, plowing a path through the grass.  I still couldn't see what was dragging it, so I stepped on the trailing leaves and it came to a stop.

Tenacious beaver
Now I could feel it tugging at my shoe sole and hear the tearing of the stalk.  I could just make out a large brown shape as the leaves broke free and it resumed its journey to the edge of the creek.

I stepped on the foliage again, this time higher up on the plant.  Again it stopped and I now got a good look at a large beaver with the base of the cup plant firmly in its jaws.  It paid no attention to my flashlight or camera flash, just jerking desperately at its treasure.

I was able to take see it better and to lean closer for pictures.   This was a big beaver by Bull Mills standards. Comparing the 11-12" leaves like the one in the picture above confirmed my impression that it measured a good 28" to the base of the tail.  It was remarkably tenacious, not even considering giving up on its treasure to escape.

I finally lifted my foot from the stalk of the plant.  The beaver and its treasure plunged into the weeds and over the bank, splashing into the water out of sight.  I just stood there and thought deep thoughts like "WOW!"

Hanging on tight
The most memorable picture in my mind was the first seconds of seeing the large leafy cup plant, Silphium perifolatium, bouncing slowly down the road under its own power.  Cognitive disassociation kicked in.  Crazy as it sounds, my first thought in the dark wasn't what was dragging it but how could a plant bounce along a drive on its own?

Now the remaining question is what did a wood-eating herbivore want with a cup plant anyway?  Maybe salad?  It turns out that while I think of beaver eating bark, in the summer woody plants drops to 10% of their diet as they shift to higher energy foods such as water plants and even sweet corn when available.*  The hot dry summer with the creek drying up is enough to drive a beaver to drink, or at least to more leafy greens.

* Wild Mammals of Missouri, Schwartz and MDC.

1 comment:

  1. That's hilarious Bob! Now if you can train them to eat garlic mustard...Chris