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Bobcat Lynx rufus

Bottlenosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Sylvilagus floridanus

Eastern Gray Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

Eastern Woodrat Neotoma floridana

Gray Fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Marsh Rabbit Sylvilagus palustris

Norway Rat Rattus norvegicus

Raccoon Procyon lotor

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus rafinesquii

River Otter Lutra canadensis

White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

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Mammals

Bobcat Lynx rufus

bobcat

Description

The bobcat is easily distinguished from similar species of felines by its characteristic short (bobbed) tail. Its fur ranges from grayish to reddish-brown with black spots and its tail is tipped with black above and white below. This species has dark ears with white tips, stands 40 to 55 cm (16-22 in) at the shoulder and measures 60-100 cm (24-40 in) long (not including the 8-18 cm (3-7 in) tail). Bobcats range in weight from 5-30 kilograms (10-70 lbs), with males being slightly heavier than females.

Habitat and Biology

Bobcats are found throughout North America except in the central and lower Midwestern states. In South Carolina, bobcats typically inhabit areas of dense, thick brush such as bottomland forests in the coastal plain. They are found in many different habitats including swamps, mountainous regions, and forests.

Bobcats are polygamous; that is, they mate with more than one partner during the breeding season. They reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age and breed in late winter and early spring. After a 62-day gestation period, females give birth to two to four kittens whose eyes open in 10 days. By 4 weeks, kittens begin exploring their surroundings, and they are weaned by 7-8 weeks. Juveniles leave the den the following spring. Bobcats are opportunistic, feeding on a wide variety of prey depending on availability. Their diet includes mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and occasionally white-tailed deer. They have been known to prey on deer during the fawning and hunting seasons, during which times they find young and wounded or crippled deer easy prey. Bobcats hunt primarily with their keen visual and auditory senses. Unable to outrun their prey, bobcats prefer to stalk and ambush unsuspecting creatures. They live to approximately 15 years in the wild.

Species Significance

Bobcats are a recreationally important species in South Carolina. They are hunted from Thanksgiving Day to May 1 with no bag limit. Bobcats are currently not endangered. Humans have historically trapped bobcats for their valuable pelts and caused subsequent population decline. Today, the bobcat population is rebounding due in part to both a decrease in hunting and the restocking of individuals. Bobcats are currently classified as protected game by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and may only be hunted during legally established seasons. For further information on the rules and regulations of hunting, review the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Hunting Regulations exit icon

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Bottlenosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus

Bottlenosed dolphins

Sound Sound, SCDNR

Description

The bottlenosed dolphin is one of 79 species of cetaceans. Its common name originates from its blunt snout, or rostrum. These aquatic mammals are silver-grey on top with pale grey, white or pinkish bellies. They may grow to 3.6 meters (12 ft) in length, but they commonly measure 2.4-2.7 m (8-9 ft) with an average weight of 180-270 kg (400-600 lbs). The lateral fins of a dolphin are called flippers, and its tail is called a fluke. Over time, their dorsal fins acquire notches and scratches that are used by scientists to identify individual dolphins. As all mammals, bottlenosed dolphins have hair (a few whiskers on their faces) and nurse their young.

Habitat and Biology

The bottlenosed dolphin is a common inhabitant of temperate oceans and coastal waters around the world. Along the east coast of the United Sates, bottlenosed dolphins range from Maine to Florida. This species of dolphin occupies different habitats throughout its range. Some dolphins are residents of coastal waters, and others lead a pelagic existence, traveling long distances across the world’s oceans. In South Carolina, the bottlenosed dolphin is the most common mammal inhabiting estuarine habitats as well as open water.

Inshore dolphins live in bays, lagoons, and estuaries and travel short distances in groups of four or five. Offshore animals gather in groups that may number in the hundreds and migrate north and south during the year following prey. Oftentimes groups of dolphins associate with gatherings of other marine mammals such as whales. This association affords protection and makes it easier for both parties to find food. Dolphins use several different feeding techniques to catch fish, shrimp, crabs, and squid. Females reach sexual maturity at 7-10 years of age, breeding is seasonal with most activity in the spring, gestation lasts 12 months, and the young begin eating fish at 6-7 months of age.

Species Significance

Dolphins are not threatened or endangered but are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Dolphin are commonly residents in the estuarine areas of the ACE Basin and can be observed from shore and from boats.

References

Heyning, J.E. 1995. Masters of the ocean realm: Whales, dolphins and porpoises. University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA.

Kelly, W.J. 1993. Dolphins that feed on land. Undercurrents 2(3):2-5.

Simbeck, R. 1997. For wildlife watchers: Bottlenose dolphin. South Carolina Wildlife 44(3):42-43.


Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Sylvilagus floridanus

rabbit

Description

Distinguished from the other three rabbit species native to South Carolina by a white underside to its tail, the Eastern cottontail rabbit is the most common rabbit encountered. The upper body is reddish or greyish brown, and the underparts are white. The cottontail is also distinguished by a distinctly rust-colored nape and often has a white spot on the forehead. Average weight of Eastern cottontail rabbits is 0.9-1.8 kg (2-4 lbs), with females being larger than males.

Habitat and Biology

The cottontail rabbit prefers disturbed habitats, occurring most commonly in brushy areas, old fields, woods, cultivated areas, thickets, and brush piles. Habitats with heavy cover are needed for rest and escape from predators.

The life history of rabbits in the ACE Basin includes onset of breeding in mid-February, although timing is controlled mainly by temperature. The peak of breeding occurs in May and June. The female, or doe, seeks a well-drained location for her nest, which is an excavated pit lined with grass, leaves, moss, and fur that is plucked from her thoracic and abdominal areas. The doe provides care of the young for 2 weeks after birth. Rabbits are extremely prolific breeders and may have as many as seven litters during one breeding season. As many as half of the female rabbits born early in the season may reproduce during their first year, with some being sexually mature at 6 months.

Although rabbits are prolific, the vast number of predators keeps the population in check. Important predators include foxes, bobcats, owls, raccoons, hawks, snakes, and man. Fire ants, diseases, and parasites also reduce rabbit populations. Rabbits are often infested with fleas, ticks, and mites, which also contribute to the spread of tularemia, a microorganism that can decimate populations.

Food is not usually a limiting factor for rabbits, which consume a wide variety of plants. During spring and summer, grasses, leaves, shoots, fruits, branch tips, buds, and bark are consumed. Preferred foods include clover, chickweed, goldenrod, strawberry, blackberry, wild cherry, and grape. During winter, rabbits consume primarily woody plants such as bark from dogwood, sumac, maple, and oaks. Grains such as corn and soybeans also provide a source of high-energy food.

Species Significance

Although rabbits are still hunted on a small scale, harvests have declined in recent years, as has the number of hunters. The cottontail rabbit is probably still an underutilized species statewide and in the ACE Basin study area. This species is a primary prey species for a wide range of predators including hawks, bobcats, and occasionally owls. Loss of habitat is the most serious threat to the cottontail rabbit in South Carolina. Expanding development, conversion of old fields into pine plantations, and the loss of edge habitat have reduced numbers more than have all of the rabbit's many predators.

References

Baker, O.E., III and D.B. Carmichael, Jr. 1991. South Carolina’s furbearers. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Columbia, SC.

Lucas, G. 1991. Fleet foot, South Carolina Wildlife 38(6):6-10.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Eastern Gray Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

squirrel

Description

Characterized by gray fur and a bushy tail, the Eastern gray squirrel reaches a length of 41 to 51 cm (16 to 20 inches), half of which may be tail. Weight averages from 0.45 to 0.68 kg (1 to 1.5 pounds).

Habitat and Biology

The gray squirrel is common in hardwood forests with nut-producing trees. It can also be found in residential areas where it eats twigs, buds, seeds, and nuts. Cover is important for bedding, nesting and protection from predators. Tree cavities are used as dens for litter raising and winter shelter. Leaf nests consisting of leaves and twigs are also utilized by gray squirrels, although litter survival has been reported to be higher in cavities.

Population levels of gray squirrel are closely correlated with availability of hard mast. Diet generally includes twigs and buds, fruit, seeds and nuts which are often stored by burial for winter. Other supplemental food items include insects, bird eggs, frogs and lizards.

Mating takes place over two distinct breeding periods. The winter-spring period peaks in January, with young produced in February and early March. The spring-summer mating period peaks in June, with young produced in July. Sexual maturity and litter production generally occur between 10 months to 1 year of age. Gestation takes about 44 days, with the young generally remaining with the female for as long as 12 weeks.

Life expectancy of gray squirrels is short, averaging only 1-2 years. Population declines occur primarily as a result of mast crop failures. Because squirrel populations are resilient and can naturally recover in 1-3 years if food and weather conditions are favorable, hunting has little effect on population numbers. The natural mortality of gray squirrels is particularly high within the first year, and those young born in summer appear to have a higher mortality than those born in spring. Parasites such as fleas, botflies, and ticks are likely contributors to mortality. Major predators such as bobcats, raccoons, owls, hawks, and snakes probably do not limit populations.

Species Significance

Squirrels are primarily hunted recreationally in South Carolina, although there has been a dramatic decline in harvest of gray squirrels in recent years. Squirrel populations have not suffered any declines in population.

References

Baker, O.E., III and D.B. Carmichael, Jr. 1991. South Carolina’s furbearers. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Columbia, SC.

Teaford, J.W. 1986. Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Section 4.7.1 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual, Technical Report EL-86-6. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterway Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.


Eastern Woodrat Neotoma floridana

eastern woodrat

Description

The Eastern woodrat has brown-gray fur with black tips and a white underside and feet. In the summertime, adults change color to a cinnamon brown above. The woodrat’s eyes are black and large, its tail is bicolored, dark brown above and white below, and its ears are large with little hair. It typically weighs 7-12 ounces and measures 13-17 inches long, including its tail. It can be differentiated from the introduced Norway rat by its larger eyes, blunt snout, and scaleless tail.

Habitat and Biology

In the United Sates, Eastern woodrats live in much of the southeastern states and the central Midwest. They prefer deciduous forests, lowland forests, swamps, and the occasional abandoned building. In South Carolina, they inhabit the Coastal Plain and mountainous regions.

The Eastern woodrat breeds year round on the South Carolina coast. Females mate with multiple males and produce two to three litters per year, with an average of two to three young per litter. Following a 33-35 day gestation period, the female gives birth to altricial (helpless, usually blind, and lacking hair) young. After 15-21 days, young woodrats are able to open their eyes. They are weaned at 4 weeks and begin breeding the following year. Woodrats consume a variety of food including nuts, seeds, twigs, and fruit. Like other rodents, they must constantly gnaw in order to wear down their continuously growing incisor teeth. These solitary rats construct large, elaborate nests from sticks, twigs, leaves, and any other material deemed appropriate. Commonly referred to a "pack rats," they are well known for their habit of collecting shiny objects, such as coins, bottle caps, and pins.

Species Significance

Woodrats play an important role as prey in the ecological community. Many carnivores such as raptors, snakes, foxes, wolves, and bobcats utilize the woodrat as a food source, making it an integral part of the food web.The Eastern woodrat is not currently an endangered species.

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Gray Fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Gray fox

Description

The gray fox is smaller than the red fox, standing about 38 cm (15 inches) at the shoulder and weighing 3.2-4.5 kg (7-10 lbs.). Fur color is gray with rust-colored areas under the throat, on the sides of the neck, and on the legs. A black-tipped tail distinguishes the gray fox from the red fox, whose tail has a white tip.

Habitat and Biology

The gray fox is common throughout much of the United States, with densities in South Carolina being among the highest. The gray fox outnumbers red fox more than three to one, with grays preferring wooded and mixed wooded/open areas. Gray foxes benefit from edge habitats where forest meets field or roadways intersect a forest and are active from dusk to dawn.

Dens may be built in hollow trees or logs, as well as under brush and wooden debris. Gray foxes are monogamous, with mating generally occurring from January to March. Young are born from March to May and the average litter size is 3-5 pups. Like other wild canids, gray fox are susceptible to periodic outbreaks of distemper and weakening by parasites. They can also contract rabies from dogs or other animals. The annual mortality rate is estimated at 52%.

Seldom seen except at night, the gray fox stays within its home range, where it concentrates its activities according to food sources in abundance. The gray fox is an opportunistic omnivore, consuming fruit and berries, corn, acorns, bird eggs, and insects, as well as field mice and rabbits.

The gray fox is capable of climbing and is reported to be the only member of the dog family that can climb. Its main predators are man, dog, bobcat, and great horned owls.

Species Significance

Prized for their fur, gray foxes are primarily taken by trappers. Once they were hunted by houndsmen, but such sport hunting is dwindling due to increased development, danger to hounds from car traffic, and diversion to other game such as deer. For additional information on the gray fox, review the Hunting section.

Harvesting actually helps to stabilize the fox population from a "boom and bust" cycle that occurs when numbers increase until starvation and disease depress population density. Current harvests of gray fox in Colleton County remain depressed compared to previous years. Demand for long-fur pelts may eventually increase pressure on this species.

References

Baker, O.E., III and D.B. Carmichael, Jr. 1991. South Carolina’s furbearers. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Columbia, SC.

Simbeck, R. 1995. For wildlife watchers: Grey fox. South Carolina Wildlife 42(1):48-49.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.


Marsh Rabbit Sylvilagus palustris

Marsh rabbit

Description

One of the coastal area’s common residents, the marsh rabbit belongs to the family Leporidae. It is one of four species of rabbits in the genus Sylvilagus that are native to the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. The marsh rabbit has dark chestnut-colored fur, a bluish-gray tail, and conspicuous claws on its hind feet. It differs in appearance from the cottontail rabbit in that it does not have a white tail and its ears are shorter, measuring approximately 7.6 cm (3 in). Marsh rabbits are approximately 40 cm (16 in) long and weigh 1-2 kilograms (2-5 lbs). Like other rabbits, the marsh rabbit has two pairs of upper incisor teeth. The first pair has a chiseled edge, and the second is peg-like and is located directly behind the first. The function of this second pair of teeth is not clear.

Habitat and Biology

Marsh rabbits range from the coastal plains of North Carolina south to Alabama. They are abundant in marsh and bottomlands, in both brackish tidal marshes and wooded flood plains common to the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Marsh rabbits are polygamous. They begin reproducing before one year of age and continue breeding year round. Females typically produce an average of four young per litter, after a gestation period of 30-37 days, and can have four to six litters per year. Marsh rabbits are nocturnal and feed on a variety of plants including catbrier, centella, marsh pennywort, rushes, cane, and woody stems. They are themselves food for many carnivores in the maritime ecosystem including raptors, alligators, snakes, bobcats, wolves, and foxes. As a method of escape, marsh rabbits take to the water and are known to swim quite well.

Species Significance

Marsh rabbits are hunted for sport and food. In South Carolina, hunting season extends from November 27 to March 2, and there is a bag limit of five rabbits per day. Different counties and Wildlife Management Areas have different hunting times and regulations. Marsh rabbits are not threatened or endangered. Even though they are taken in such large numbers by top level carnivores, their high fecundity allows them to maintain stable populations.

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Norway Rat Rattus norvegicus

norway rat

Description

The Norway rat is a large rodent with short, coarse fur that is grayish-brown above and pale below. It weighs 280-540 grams (10-19 oz) and measures 30-50 cm (12-19 in) long including a 15-23 cm (6 -9 in) tail that is covered with scaly rings. This species is differentiated from the Eastern woodrat by its scaly tail and smaller eyes.

Habitat and Biology

The Norway rat is widespread throughout all of North America. It frequents diverse habitats such as salt marshes, wharves, garbage dumps, and sewers. However, this rat can be found anywhere it finds shelter and a food source. Since its introduction in the eighteenth century, it has spread prolifically throughout the United States.

The Norway rat is polygamous, breeds year round, and lives up to 3 years in the wild. It produces an average of seven litters per year with 7 to 11 young per litter. Gestation in this species lasts 21-23 days, after which the female gives birth to altricial young (naked and blind) who open their eyes after approximately 2 weeks. Young are weaned at 3 weeks and are ready to reproduce after approximately 4 months. Norway rats construct their nests out of rags, paper, or other suitable material. Colonies typically consist of 10 to 12 individuals with one dominant, older, larger male.

Norway rats consume almost anything organic they can find and have been known to kill poultry, birds, and rabbits. They are themselves important food for raptors, snakes, and predatory mammals.

In the late eighteenth century, Hessian troops hired to fight against the colonists in the American Revolution introduced this species to the east coast of the United States in boxes of grain brought aboard ships from Europe. The Norway rat arrived in Europe from central Asia in the sixteenth century and subsequently spread throughout the continent. This rodent derives its common name not because overly large populations of this species occur in Norway, but because Norway was where early scientific descriptions of the species originated. When local populations of the Norway rat become overcrowded, mass migrations tend to occur. This fact most likely led to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who rid the town of rats by leading them into the Weser river to drown.

Species Significance

The Norway rat is abundant in the area. Like other rodents, Norway rats can carry diseases harmful, and even fatal, to humans such as typhoid, bubonic plague, and spotted fever. They can also be destructive to agricultural crops and property. White laboratory rats are a specially bred albino strain of the Norway rat used for scientific purposes.

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Raccoon Procyon lotor

raccoon

SoundSound, SCDNR

Description

The raccoon is one of the most common and easily recognized mammals on the South Carolina coast. The two characteristic features of the raccoon are its brownish-black "face mask" and alternating black and white ringed tail. Raccoons have brownish to gray fur on the rest of the body. They measure 22-25 cm (9-10 in) tall at the shoulder, 70-100 cm (28-38 in) long, and weigh 3.6-21 kg (8 and 48 lbs), with males being substantially heavier than females.

Habitat and Biology

Raccoons inhabit most of the United States, including all of South Carolina, with population densities being higher along coastal areas than inland. In the ACE Basin, raccoons are found near wetlands, including tidal marshes, swamps, and bottomland hardwoods. They prefer mature woodlands and wetlands, which provide abundant food sources and shelter. Due to an omnivorous nature, raccoons have invaded most habitats including agricultural fields and urban areas, and are often considered to be pests. Field crops such as corn are a favored food, and turtle-nest depredation can be a severe problem on barrier islands.

Raccoons are monogamous and breed primarily in late winter (January and February) after their first or second year. Following a gestation period of approximately 2 months, females give birth in April or May to a litter of two to four pups in a hollow den tree. Female raccoons wean their young at 16 weeks and continue to care for them for approximately 9 months. By autumn, the family grouping of mother and cubs generally disperses. Females mature at 1 year and will leave to establish their own dens. Males, which mature after 2 years, may share a den with the mother until forced out in favor of a male suitor.

The average life expectancy of raccoons is about 3 years. In addition to disease, predation is an important population control. Predators such as bobcat and great horned owls take juvenile raccoons.

Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. Preferred foods include crayfish, crabs, shellfish, reptiles, eggs (both bird and reptilian), and vegetation such as fruits, nuts, and berries. The species name lotor, meaning "washer," comes from the raccoon’s habit of "washing its food." In reality, the raccoon feels for inedible matter in its food, and wetting its paws enhances its sense of touch. The common name "raccoon" is derived from the Algonquin Indian word "aroughcoune," meaning "he scratches with his hands." On South Carolina beaches, including those in the ACE Basin, raccoons prey on the eggs of threatened loggerhead sea turtles. Currently, wildlife managers live-trap raccoons and relocate them to help reduce loggerhead hatchling mortality due to predation.

Species Significance

Raccoon hunting and trapping are popular sports in South Carolina. The hunting season for this species extends from August 15 to May 14 with no limit on the take. Some sportsmen use dogs to hunt raccoons entirely for sport, while others harvest raccoons for their pelts. During the 1970s and 1980s, raccoons comprised 60% to 80% of the total commercial fur harvest in South Carolina. However, because of depressed fur values in the late 1980s, hunting pressure on raccoons declined and raccoon populations increased. Raccoon pelts from the Piedmont and upstate regions of South Carolina command a higher price than pelts from coastal raccoons because they are fuller and of a darker color. For additional information on raccoon harvest, review the Hunting section.

Raccoons are not an endangered species; in fact, they occur abundantly throughout South Carolina. Raccoons have adjusted to pressures that humans exert on their habitat and have assumed a scavenging existence in many urban and suburban areas. Recent raccoon population growth has increased the threat of rabies from wild animals throughout the country.

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus rafinesquii

bat

Description

Bats belong to a diverse group of mammals, second to rodents in numbers of species. Rafinesque's big-eared bat, however, is among the least known of all bats in the eastern United States. As its name implies, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is distinguishable from other bats in South Carolina by its large (3 cm or 1.25 inches) ears which, when laid back, are about half the length of the animal’s body. The ears are thin, have fur only along the edges, and are joined at the base across the bat’s forehead. Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is gray/brown above and silvery below with thin and naked membranes on its wings and tail. This big-eared bat typically weighs 8-14 grams (less than 0.5 oz)and its wingspan ranges from 26 to 30 cm (10 to 11 in). This species can be differentiated from the federally endangered Townsend’s big-eared bat primarily by its darker fur and hair that extends beyond the tips of the bat’s toes.

Habitat and Biology

Rafinesque’s big-eared bats inhabit the southeastern United States, west to Louisiana and north to Kentucky and North Carolina. In South Carolina they are permanent residents of the coastal plain and hibernate rather than move south during winter months. Big-eared bats characteristically roost in dilapidated buildings or tree cavities near water. In the ACE Basin, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats are known to inhabit Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, where they roost in an old plantation house. One of the biggest colonies in the state resides in Hampton Plantation on the South Santee River. Although not documented in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Heritage Trust database, this species is suspected to be in the ACE Basin.

The breeding season in this species extends from late fall to early winter. During this time, both males and females occupy the same roost. For the remainder of the winter and on to early spring, the bats hibernate. In some portions of their range, hibernating bats are found in caves, wells, and similar habitats. Males are solitary or gather in small groups during summer months, whereas females congregate in maternity colonies of up to 100 individuals. In May-June females give birth to one hairless young, which can fly at 3 weeks of age and attains adult size by August or early September. Rafinesque’s big-eared bats feed exclusively on moths but will eat other insects if moths are not available. They live at least 10 years in the wild.

Species Significance

Although this species has no direct commercial value, it is extremely beneficial, along with all other species of insectivorous bats. Bats are the most important predators of nocturnal insects, some of which are harmful to humans. Bats also provide recreational opportunities; an increasing number of bat enthusiasts watch for their emergence from colonies, and commercially available bat cry detectors are gaining popularity.

Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is a rare species throughout its range and an endangered species in the state of South Carolina. Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is very sensitive to human activities and will abandon a roost if disturbed. If awakened while hibernating, a bat will use up precious energy reserves meant to sustain it until insects are again available in the spring. Thus, starvation brought about by disturbance causes high mortality. Disturbance of maternity colonies is also a source of mortality since adults may abandon their young or drop them to the ground. Habitat loss and alteration have also contributed to the species' decline in the past decade. Large cavity trees used for roosting are increasingly scarce.

References

Best, T.L., J.S. Altenbach, M.J. Harvey, R.R. Currie, and K. Sutton. 1997. Bats of the eastern United States. Poster. Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

Bunch, M. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Clemson, SC.

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Harvey, J.M. 1992. Bats of the eastern United States. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.


River Otter Lutra canadensis

River otter

Description

River otters belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, minks, and skunks. They are semi-aquatic, large (90-120 cm or 35-50 in) mammals with a short, blunt snout and conspicuous whiskers used to locate food in turbid water. River otters have small eyes and ears, thick necks, legs that are short and stout, and webbed toes. The tail is long and thick and tapers at the tip, and the ears and nose are protected by flaps of tissue that close when the animal is under water. Many genera in the family Mustelidae are sought for the beauty of their fur. That of river otters is dark brown, oily and very dense, with the face and breast of the animal having a grayish sheen. Both sexes are similar in appearance, with males being larger than females.

Habitat and Biology

River otters are found in Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes states and along the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico. River otters are adaptable animals inhabiting a variety of aquatic habitats including ponds, rivers, and saltmarshes. In South Carolina, they are common along waterways of the coastal plain.

The reproductive biology of river otters, as in other Mustelids, is unusual in that they exhibit delayed implantation. The fertilized eggs float around in the uterus for about 9 months before implantation occurs, rather than implanting on the uterine wall shortly after fertilization. Gestation lasts about 60 days, and the young, called kits, are born almost 1 year after conception. The female otter usually gives birth to two to four kits in a den located in a hollow tree or some other type of shelter. Kits are helpless and blind at birth but are fully furred. Their eyes open after about 3 weeks, and they take to the water in about 8 weeks. Female otters teach their young swimming and foraging skills until they can look after themselves, usually by 6 months. However, kits usually stay with their mother until they are 1 year old. Adult male otters do not participate in caring for the young.

River otters establish home ranges that vary in size depending on the animal’s age and gender and on food availability. They are most active from dusk to dawn, but diurnal activity it is not uncommon. River otters are carnivores, feeding mainly on fish, especially slow-moving species. Crayfish, where available, are also important food items. Crabs, amphibians, and other aquatic organisms are also a part of the otter's diet. River otters are very curious and playful animals. They engage in more play behavior, either by themselves or with other otters, than do most other wild animals. River otters live about 15 years in the wild.

Species Significance

River otters were heavily harvested for their fur throughout much of their historic range. Currently, 27 states and 11 Canadian provinces have otter trapping seasons. However, otter harvest in North America is no longer considered to be a threat to the species. In South Carolina, the average number of otters harvested commercially over the past 20 years was 478.

Otter fur harvest, which peaked in the northern United States around 1800, was the main factor contributing to the decline of the species throughout North America. Currently populations of river otters are threatened by pollution (including pesticide poisoning), acid rain, habitat loss, and illegal hunting. The river otter is not an endangered species in South Carolina, but it is listed as such in other states where it occurs.

References

Foster-Turley, P., S.M. MacDonald, and C.F. Mason (eds.). 1990. Otters: An action plan for their conservation, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland.

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.


White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed deer

Description

White-tailed deer are easily identified by the white underside of their tail, which is visible as the animal flees. They have a reddish-brown coat during most of the year, but their fur turns a grayish color during the winter. Adult white-tailed deer have a white belly and throat patch and a white band across the nose. Males grow their first set of antlers, which are shed on a yearly basis, during the summer of their first year. Antlers get progressively bigger as the deer matures; however, the size of a deer’s antlers is more related to the general health of the animal than to its age. White-tailed deer stand approximately 1 meter (3 ft) at the shoulder and are approximately 2 meters (6 ft) long. They range in weight from 20 to 160 kg (50 to 350 lbs), with an average of about 60 kg (125 lbs). Males generally are larger and heavier than females. Young, called fawns, exhibit white spots on their fur until after their first year.

Habitat and Biology

White-tailed deer range from southern Canada throughout all of the continental United States except for portions of the far West. They inhabit all of South Carolina, from coastal marshes to mountain forests, but have a preference for mixed young forests, old fields, and croplands.

The following discussion of whitetail natural history is summarized from Moore (1978). Male and female deer reach sexual maturity at 1.5 years of age or during their second fall. White-tails are polygamous breeders, with one male mating several females during the breeding season, which extends from late August through January. The gestation period ranges from 190 to 210 days. A doe giving birth for the first time generally bears a single fawn, with successive birthings often producing twins Sex ratio of new-borns is generally even with more males born in overpopulated herds and more females born in expanding herds (Verme 1985). Most deer herds in the ACE Basin are overpopulated and would produce slightly more male fawns than female. The mother nurses them for 8 months, after which time the young deer may remain with their mother for up to 1 year before setting out on their own. Many reproductive characteristics of the population, such as timing of breeding, fertility rates, conception rates, age at first breeding, and sex ratios, are dependent upon population density, habitat conditions, and genetics (Jacobson and Guynn 1995).

Male fawns exhibit rudimentary antler growth, resulting in small knobs known as "buttons." Noticeable antler growth, usually two or more antler points, occurs on second year or yearling bucks. Antler development is largely dependent on adequate nutrition. Older deer generally have heavier, better-developed racks than younger animals if nutrition is comparable.

Bucks shed their antlers each year unless there is injury or physiological stress. Shedding typically begins in late December and peaks in mid-February, with few antlered deer seen by early March. Once shedding is complete, new growth immediately begins, with mature antlers present in 3-4 months. During summer, antlers are soft, engorged with blood, and covered with a hair-like membrane called "velvet." Antlers become solid and hard in late summer or early fall when annual growth is completed. The "velvet" is sloughed or rubbed off on shrubs and trees.

White-tailed deer are fairly social animals. As such, they employ two means of communicating with each other. The first method of communication involves the white patch under a deer’s tail which is only visible as the animal flees. It is thought that this behavior maintains a social group’s cohesiveness in a dangerous situation, such as when escaping from a predator. Each individual animal has a better chance of survival by staying in a group. Thus, the white patch serves as a "flag" for other deer to follow. Another important means of communication among deer is scent. Seven glandular areas on the body of a deer have been identified. Glands produce chemicals that are secreted at particular times for specific purposes. For instance, deer may get information on dominance status, reproductive state, sex, and condition from sniffing each other's tarsal gland, which is located on the inside of the hind legs.

Deer are diverse foragers, eating twigs, leaves, bark, and other herbaceous material such as grasses, weeds, and soft-stemmed plants. Deer also eats acorns, other nuts, fruit, mushrooms, algae, and mosses. Soil type, succulence, and seasonal occurrence of forage species affect utilization of food by deer. They forage primarily at dusk and dawn, but may also feed during the day.

Species Significance

White-tailed deer are eagerly sought-after by hunters throughout their range. In South Carolina, deer hunting season varies in the different Game Zones and Wildlife Management Areas. Generally, it extends from August 15 to January 1. For further information on the rules and regulations of hunting, review the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Hunting Regulations exit icon

The white-tailed deer is not an endangered or threatened species. However, deer populations in some areas of the United States are not healthy. They have out-of-balance male to female ratios, which puts a social and reproductive stress on the population, and poor nutrition. Among the contributing factors are increasing numbers of deer with few natural predators, human encroachment into deer habitat, and poor deer management strategies. Their abundance in some parts of the country has even earned white-tailed deer "pest" status.

References

Golley, F.B. 1966. South Carolina mammals. Charleston Museum, Charleston, SC.

Jacobson, H.A. and D.C. Guynn, Jr. 1995. A primer. p. 81-102. In: K.V. Miller and R.L. Marchinton (eds.). Quality whitetails: The why and how of quality deer management. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Miller, K.V. 1994. Why the white tail? Quality Whitetails 1:30.

Miller, K.V. 1995. Deer scent communication: What do we really know? Quality Whitetails 2(2):16-17.

Moore, G. 1978. Natural history. p. 174-175. In: J. Culler (ed.). Carolina's hunting heritage. South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Columbia, SC.

Ozoga, J.J. 1995. Whitetail welfare. Quality Whitetails 2(1):19-21.

Verme, L.J. 1985. Progeny sex ratio relationships in deer: Theoretical vs. observed. Journal of Wildlife Management 49(1):134-136.

Webster, W.D., J.F. Parnell, and W.C. Biggs. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.

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