Odd otters, weird woodchucks and one mad muskrat: why are the rodent-like critters in revolt?

A few weeks ago, a rare summertime aurora alert arrived in my inbox.  According to the email from SpaceWeather.com, an especially strong CME was about to trigger a vivid display of the northern lights in the skies over Minnesota.

At about 2:30 on the morning of July 16th, my son and I hopped in the truck and headed north, seeking an unobstructed view of the horizon. Such a vista proved difficult to find, but eventually we found a promising gravel road. We bumped along that road for a few miles, until we found a lengthy stretch of darkness between the rural security lights which are the bane of skywatchers. We parked along the edge of a boggy meadow with a decent view, killed the lights and stepped out into the warm night. Though the sky was clear, and there was a certain glow that might have been a weak manifestation of the lights, we decided that we were out of luck.

(In other parts of Minnesota, however, the display was amazing. Check out these shots of the event, from a talented photographer in St. Cloud – a location approximately an hour and a half northeast of where we were.)

Despite our disappointment, we lingered. The pre-dawn morning was lovely, with a thick, low layer of fog swirling over the meadow and lapping at the roadway. Inevitably, of course, I started to imagine zombies shambling in the mist, and we decided to go. As I turned the truck into a nearby driveway, a motion in my sideview mirror caught my eye. Illuminated in the glow of my tail lights, a small, furry beast was following us.

It disappeared from my view when it marched directly underneath the truck. I stomped on the brakes and told my son what I had seen. He said, “Well, huh.” We looked at each other for a moment. Then we both leaned out our windows, trying to figure out how to not run over the damn thing. After long moments, it waddled out from behind the front, passenger-side wheel.

My son reported on the creature’s ever-changing relative location as I cautiously backed up. It seemed intent on circling us. We both assumed it was simply trying to return to the boggy meadow, but retreat was not on its mind. By the time I had squared myself in the right direction, it had taken a stand in the middle of the road, blocking our exit. Now the headlights clearly revealed the critter’s species:

Muskrat by Brian Gratwicke
flickr.com/photos/dcnature/

As muskrats go, it wasn’t a particularly big specimen. Despite its harmless appearance, however, its behavior -along with the steadily thickening fog that was closing in around the truck – thoroughly unnerved me. My response in such situations is often laughter, and this one had me in a near-hysterical giggle-fit.

For a few seconds we each held our positions, then the muskrat charged straight toward the truck. I hit the accelerator and swerved around and past it, thankful that the road was wide and the shoulder firm. As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror. That mad muskrat was chasing our truck – as fast as its furry little legs would carry it.

It was a strange encounter, but not as strange as some others which have been in the news lately. Even before we went on our aurora quest, we saw a story on the national news that amazed and amused us:

Dead Flag by Tim Parkinson
flickr.com/timparkinson/

Click on the above photograph, or go here to view a CBS news story about some grave robbing rodents in New York.

Subsequent to our muskrat encounter, rodenty happenings in Minnesota took a darker turn. (Yes, I know that otters are NOT rodents. In fact, they are considered to be members of the weasel family. That’s why the title of this post includes the word ‘rodent-like’.)

The Kiss by Sharon Mollerus
flickr.com/photos/clairity/

Doesn’t this pair look sweet? I’ve certainly always thought of otters as gentle, playful creatures. I’ve never seen one in the wild, but if I had, I would have been delighted. In light of recent developments, however, I think I will be cautious if I ever get the chance to observe one up close.

Click on the otter picture above, or go here to read about two different attacks by otters in Minnesota waters.

What does this mean for the human race? Probably nothing. All things considered, though, I’ll be keeping an eye out for unusual behavior in any animal I meet in the coming days.

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All photos subject to Creative Commons.

WriMoProg: 0 + 9 = 9/46


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