The Real Week of Love
While we human animals celebrated our love for one another last week on Valentine’s Day, most other mammals will be doing their… celebrating… this week.
While in the woods, the ever observant naturalist might catch signs of mating behavior. Tracks, fresh scent mounds and even the small drops of blood from a female in heat can be found in the snow.
This is also the time when many mammals are their most vocal. “A woman screaming in the night” is the phrase that has been used to describe the vocalizations of coyotes, foxes and bobcats. All of these animals are mating this week.
However, most of us will only witness one very visible sign that these animals have increased their activity levels. Our question of the week comes from one disheartened traveler.
Why is it that there seem to be many more road-killed animals at this time of year? – Barry M., Boone
Every late February, the sight of road-killed skunks and raccoons serves as a reminder that these two mammals and many others have emerged from their winter dens and have gone searching for mates.
The ever-exuberant male, on the scent of a woman, seems unable to notice such things as a highway or rushing car. His drive to mate is so strong that he would do anything to get to his femme fatale.
The female, either running to or from the male, often loses her senses, as well.
You see, their urge is so strong because many of the females are monoestrous, meaning that they come into heat only once a year. That time is now and there is reason behind it.
A female that mates now will give birth to her young in April. Springtime lends itself to milder weather, the re-greening of vegetation and the return of prey animals. The mother can eat in the spring, and so provide plenty of milk for her newborn babies.
It is the week of love for skunks, raccoons, coyotes, red foxes, gray foxes, bobcats, minks, muskrats, beavers, cottontail rabbits, groundhogs and chipmunks.
Besides love, these animals might also be drawn to the road to eat the trash that some inconsiderate person threw out of their car window. How is that for a romantic dinner?
Road salt also attracts wildlife. Animals naturally crave salt because it is needed for the proper development and maintenance of bones and muscles. During a harsh winter, the road may be the only place for wildlife to find it.
Please slow down, dear readers. This is especially important when driving at night, as most of our highway-crossed lovers are nocturnal.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (firstname.lastname@example.org) All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!
Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.