Otter? Beaver? Muskrat? Nutria?

Muskrats are energetic swimmers often stopping to gobble up aquatic plant; note the hairless, laterally flattened tail. Otters usually swim with their head up. Otters are predators preferring fish, frogs, crayfish or other similar sized prey. Ducks disappear when otters show up. Nutria often expose themselves from head to tail while swimming and display very prominent white whiskers. They eat aquatic and terrestrial vegetation. Then you see the obviously flattened, scaled tail of the beaver. (I got lucky with this shot out at Northwest Trek some time ago.) But if beavers are around it is hard to miss their assaults on the trees in their domain. For more on nutria go here: Nutria -Invasive Species Master on this website or just type in Nutria on the search space.

Often in ponds, streams, and rivers we see a swimming mammal that looks just like a what? The first instinct is to call it a beaver. But unless that sighting was very early in the morning or well into the evening that guess was probably wrong. You are much more likely to see a muskrat, otter, or nutria during the bright daylight hours. But even then, how can you tell the difference? Most wildlife resources point out the differences in the appearance and posture of their bodies and tails while swimming. Beavers have the obvious and famous flat tail which they tend to keep underwater when swimming while exposing their head, neck, and back. The much smaller muskrat exposes its body in the same manner but its small round tail sticks out. The nutria or coypu very much looks like a beaver when swimming due to its size but its rounded tail that sticks out of the water gives it away. River otters tend to swim with just their head above water and it has a much thicker tail than the nutria and muskrats. Head shape and whiskers are other identifiers. Just the same, these animals are difficult to differentiate at a quick glance. In my experience, behavior is another key. Beavers are just about nocturnal animals; your best chance there is to get up well before sunrise and head out to the water just as the sun begins to rise. Otters are out during the day but immediately pop back under water when frightened and stay there for a long time; enough to make you think it has disappeared. Muskrats get frightened by human appearances as well but do not stay underwater nearly as long as otters. They also like to munch on aquatic plants. The introduced nutrias I have observed seem less alarmed by humans. They also do not stay underwater for as long as otters and are noticeably much bigger than muskrats.

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Wildlife for WA National Guard Children!

Coming soon (10 June at 4 p.m.) I will be doing a wildlife presentation in honor of the wonderful women and men of the WA National Guard and their children based on my book “Let’s See What’s Under There!” I am doing this thanks to a great organization – the WA National Guard Child and Youth Services. This will be a live presentation featuring numerous photographs of many amazing animals; mostly the fascinating little things living right under your feet and often in your own backyard. But you are going to see them in a way you’ve never seen them before.

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Golden Crowned Sparrow

Just in case you’re wondering how they got that name. Beyond the obvious, though, the sun has to hit their noggin just right to get a good look at that gold patch, not to mention a photograph. Their trademark is sported by both female and male of the species.

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Happy Mom Day from Northwest Wildlife Online!

God bless all Moms out there no matter what your species! None of us would be here without you.

Wildlife Springing Out in Spring

As our spring weather moves in a lot of animals move out and into view. Swallows are out in huge flocks but are seldom seen sitting still. I was lucky to stumble upon this mating pair. There seems to be a lot of possums out and about all of a sudden, many of them unfortunately on the roadways. But that made this turkey vulture very happy.

Ring Around the Moon!

I normally write and display nothing but wildlife photos on this site. But last night as I took my dog out for a walk I could not help but notice this astonishing sight of the moon  surrounded by an enormous perfect circle. I had to share it. This occurs on rare occasions when  the moon glow shines through a high layer of ice crystals. Yes, I had to enhance the photo to make it better.

Porcupine Time!

These examples of beautiful North American Porcupines were photographed inside Fort Lewis, WA. You can see how well they blend into the vegetation they are feasting on in the first picture. Then one guy shows off his prehensile tree climbing foot. The last picture is a porcupine in its rear defensive posture. They will snap that quill covered tail if you get too close.

The North American Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, is our only representative of the 12 different species found in the “New World”. This very interesting animal is visitor from South America which has managed to extend its range almost throughout the United States and Canada and has achieved the title of our second largest rodent according to some sources. (I suspect the introduced nutria may be competing for that title, though.) Despite its origin, however, the one area of our country it has avoided is the Southeast. Our North American Porcupines seem to prefer cooler and drier environments. Mmm…maybe that’s why it migrated. Anyway, the periodic instances of warm weather we have in the Northwest are great times for observing these very interesting mammals. They are strict vegetarians and will gobble up just about anything from acorns to tree bark depending on what is available. They are active year round and do not hibernate but are seldom seen during winter months as they often feed on evergreen needles and tree bark during that time of year and are consequently up over our heads, an appetite that has proven to be pretty harmful to a number of trees in the eastern part of America. They have other preferences. Porcupines are known to be especially fond of salt and eagerly crunch down on bones and shed antlers in order to gain needed mineral content. In the spring and during bouts of warm winter weather they fond of the vegetation found along roadways. So if you happen to be driving along a road bordered by a bushy landscape outside of a wooded area be on the lookout. They blend in pretty well, however, so you could very well miss one.

Hidden Wildlife – What’s Under There!?


Ever wondered about the myriad creatures of the wildlife world living just out of your sight, and often in your backyard? Then check out my new book “Let’s See What’s Under There!” Loaded with high quality, often macro, photos this book will take you on a hidden wildlife adventure from the mammalian world down to the creatures you have never seen; unless of course you spend time as I do turning over logs, rocks, rotted bark, old chunks of wood, etc. Younger folks will love this unique zoological journey filled with eye catching photographs. Parents and grandparents will enjoy page after page of educational material for their children that displays the fascinating animals so very close to home. No need to travel to some exotic location – these things are within arm’s reach!

Ancient Unknown Insect Species

Diplurans – an ancient, mostly unknown insect

There is a small, unusually shaped, and very common insect that most people do not even know exists. They are called diplurans. About a 1000 different types of these insects inhabit the world and over one hundred species here in America. At first glance a dipluran might be mistaken for a small centipede or a beetle larvae. They certainly look similar; I’ve made that mistake myself. But a closer look reveals that the animal has just six legs – way too little for a centipede. And unlike beetle larvae diplurans spend their entire life in this shape. Diplurans are among the most primitive insects in the world. The name Dipluran comes from the pair of appendages at the rear of the animal which some species actually use to catch and hold prey. I usually find them under wet rotted bark of downed trees. They prefer moist habitats and are found across the U.S.

Wiley “Sickly” Coyote

Happy New Year, all. As 2019 ends and 2020 begins there have been a lot more sightings of coyotes around my neighborhood, and the rest of the country as well. Be careful when you see these animals; they can be dangerous when healthy or when diseased as this one found on my property New Years Day probably is. Coyotes sometimes tend to be curious and do not instantly run away when discovered. But if they hang around for an extended time don’t approach. That could be a rabid animal. Protect yourself and your pets. These guys are out 24/7.