Kathryn Bowers & Barbara Natterson-Horowitz by Zoobiquity

Kathryn Bowers & Barbara Natterson-Horowitz by Zoobiquity

Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
ISBN: 9780307958389
Publisher: Knopf
Published: 2012-06-12T05:00:00+00:00

A typical morning in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park might look something like this: A chipmunk pokes a whiskered nose out of her burrow and scurries over to a scattering of pinecones. With a blur of forepaws, she nibbles at several. Alone, furtively, she stuffs her cheeks, sails back to her den, and stashes the hoard in her secret underground hiding place. Then, although she has just eaten, she heads back out and approaches the food again. Ears pricked, eyes wide, she pauses. Scans her surroundings. Ignores a rustle in the leaves. She eyes the nuts. Suddenly: another crackle. This sound is different—she flees for her den, but too late. Pounce! Swipe! A bobcat bites down on the chipmunk’s neck and carries her limp body away.

In the tall grass nearby, unnoticed by the bobcat, crouches a silent hare—his heart revved and muscles taut for a now-unnecessary sprint to shelter. He remains frozen for a few more moments until, sensing safety, he can resume feeding. But the patch he had been heading toward when he smelled the cat is now out of the question, too dangerous even though it’s only a few hops out of reach. Some tufts of lupine, while less nutritious, will suffice. Jaws grinding, heart racing, the hare stuffs his mouth with the easy and available vegetation.

Deep in the grass patch abandoned by the hare, a grasshopper freezes. It senses, but can’t see, a hungry spider nearby. Abruptly, the insect stops munching the protein-rich grass. Moving cautiously, it sidles over to a new plant—sugar-laden goldenrod. Its mandibles start churning rapidly on the sticky yellow flowers.

In an aspen grove on the banks of a river, elk browse in seeming calm, their twitching ears and flaring nostrils the only giveaway that stress hormones are pumping through their veins as they monitor the silent forms of a wolf pack stalking their fawns.

Under the river’s turbulent water, a juvenile cutthroat trout hides in the cleft of a rock. In the current around her drift mayfly nymphs, midges, and other nutritious morsels. But, too young and inexperienced to take on a predator in the open water, the cautious young fish stays frozen where she is, camouflaged and protected—sacrificing food for safety.

Hawks and eagles, their stomachs awash in hunger hormones, patrol overhead. Their quarry—the vigilant denizens of the gold-and-green scrub, from sagebrush lizards, partridges, and bull snakes to gophers, deer mice, and skunks—all constantly weigh a risky tradeoff. Nibble food in view of the voracious air force above—or remain hidden and go hungry?

As the sun starts to descend, the animals become even more watchful. Some, driven by hunger, are desperate to kill their calories before dark. Others shovel in food selected from their own larders or pilfered from a neighbor’s. Some animals awake with the setting sun and begin the dangerous proposition of finding food by moonlight.

One thing you can say about meals in the wild: they’re never boring. Every bite requires a life-or-death focus on two things: getting food and avoiding becoming food.


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