Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rodent Cache

One of the previous owner’s last activities prior to my purchasing Blue Jay Barrens was a harvest of large Eastern Red Cedar logs.  As a result, there are numerous short lengths of tree trunk that were discarded after the log was trimmed to marketable length.  Being highly resistant to decomposition, cedar logs remain on the ground for a long time.  The younger wood near the outside of the log is the first to break down, giving a good foundation for mosses and other small plants to take hold.

The side of the log in contact with the soil breaks down much more rapidly.  Eventually, the most rot resistant portion of the log, the heartwood, is left in contact with the ground.  As microorganisms work on the organic matter in the soil beneath the log, the volume of material reduces.  In dry upland areas, it is not uncommon for the underside of these logs to lose contact with the soil.  Air freely flows beneath the log and the log acts as a roof protecting a dry environment.

That’s the case here.  A dry cavity has formed that was used by a small rodent to cache a supply of food items. 

I’m guessing the owner of this stored food was a White-footed Mouse, Peromyscus leucopus.  I once maintained a captive White-footed Mouse for almost three years and periodically fed it mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers.  If given more than it could consume, the mouse would eat the heads from the excess insects and store the bodies for later.  This headless grasshopper is exactly what my pet used to produce.  Besides that, the White-footed Mouse is extremely common here.

Included in the debris were several scraps of bright, blue-green exoskeletons.

There were enough body parts to account for at least three of these insects.  The various parts reminded me of what was left behind when my pet mouse ate crickets.  Large cricket bodies were routinely butchered and the soft insides eaten along with the smaller legs.  Thorax and abdomen exoskeletons plus the wings and wing covers remained.

The insect in question seems to be a Southern Green Stink Bug, a common non-native garden pest.  I find a few of these on my tomatoes and squash every year.  It’s always nice to see a native species reducing the numbers of a non-native, but I doubt that a little mouse predation will have an impact on the bug population.

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