Antelope Squirrels and Muskrat Love in the Spring Ted Williams of Audubon Magazine speaks about the antelope squirrel's survival tactics, and the courting calls of muskrats.
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Antelope Squirrels and Muskrat Love in the Spring

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Antelope Squirrels and Muskrat Love in the Spring

Antelope Squirrels and Muskrat Love in the Spring

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Environmental reporter Ted Williams has been walking us through the colors, smells and sounds of spring this last few weeks. Ted writes the Earth Almanac feature for Audubon magazine, and he's back with us.

Mr. TED WILLIAMS (Writer, Audubon Magazine): Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So the animals we're going to talk about today are not among nature's grandest creatures. We're going to talk about muskrats and antelope squirrels?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Right. The reason they're called antelope squirrels is because they - when they run - and most squirrels escape predators by climbing trees or diving into the ground - but antelope squirrels run like antelopes and they - their tails flash up and they have a white romped that looks like an antelope.

ELLIOTT: Where do they live and what are they up to this time of year?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, they live in the Pinion-Juniper Woodlands of our desert West and Southwest. They have to deal with a lack of water, and they have ingenious devices for dealing without that. They rub saliva on their faces with their paws.

ELLIOTT: Now, what does that do?

Mr. WILLIAMS: That just cools them off through evaporation. They have extremely efficient kidneys, so they don't have to waste much water by urination. If it gets too hot, they'll climb a cactus and let the wind blow through their fur.

ELLIOTT: So what are the antelope squirrels doing in the springtime?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, right now the males are vying for dominance, competing for females. It's pretty funny to watch them. They chatter and chip and growl, and actually appear to box. Then they mate and the female may give birth to one or two liters of five to 14 young.

ELLIOTT: You've been also been watching the muskrats, which is very common in your part of the country, New England. What are the muskrats doing this time of year?

Mr. WILLIAMS: If it's ice, they might be popping through push holes, which they maintain all winter. It's like a seal in the Artic will come up through the ice to breathe and look around, and they'll do that. You might see them doing that. Or if ice is melted you might see what looks like a spot of silver moving across the water at dusk, and that's the bow wake of a muskrat. And you know, the rat is an unfortunate name. They're really not a rat.

ELLIOTT: What are they?

Mr. WILLIAMS: They're a vole. They are four times the size of a rat. If you see a pile of mussel shells - that's one of their favorite foods - that's a sign that muskrats have been around feeding.

ELLIOTT: Are there other ways to spot them? Don't they make a sound? Can't you hear muskrats?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, yes, they - the muskrats - the females make a squeaking sound this time of year when they're mating. There was actually a popular song called "Muskrat Love."


Mr. WILLIAMSL: Which approximates with remarkable accuracy that the sound of the female squeaking.

ELLIOTT: Does that mean we're going to have to have a listen to "Muskrat Love" by Captain and Tennille?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Absolutely. You have to listen to that song.

(Soundbite of song, "Muskrat Love")

ELLIOTT: Is that really what the muskrats sound like?

Mr. WILLIAMS: It really is.

ELLIOTT: Ted Williams writes Earth Almanac, a monthly feature in Audubon magazine. Thanks for speaking with us, Ted.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Thanks, Debbie. It was a pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Muskrat Love")

Ms. TONI TENNILE (Captain and Tennille): (Singing) And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed, singin' and jingin' the jingo, floatin' like the heavens above. It looks like muskrat love.

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