April 14th, 2017

The Art of Paying Attention: Round-tailed Ground … – Arizona Public Media

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Their diet is primarily vegetationcactus, mesquite pods, seeds–and insects, but I had witnessed a round-tail squirrel eating road kill of its own kind, which did lower the cuteness quotient.

I had questions and I love talking to people who devote much of their time to particular species. So I put out a call to the [National Phenology Network}(https://www.usanpn.org/) , asking for a squirrel expert. That led me to John Koprowski, Professor and Associate Director of the School of Natural Resources & the Environment at the University of Arizona. He studies squirrels around the world.

Turns out these common squirrels have yet to be focused on as much as the other two Arizona speciesantelope squirrels and rock squirrels. Even though Professor Koprowski described round-tailed ground squirrels as the neighbor we know so little about, he knows a lot.

When I asked about cannibalism, he said, They do not pass up a protein opportunity. We dont know if round-tailed squirrels kill each othersome other kinds of male squirrels will kill the youngbut they do cannibalize their dead.

Round-tailed ground squirrels are themselves a source of a large amount of food to raptors, mammals, and snakes. Squirrels also move soil and disperse seeds. When you add up these benefits, the pest moniker doesnt really apply.

That doesnt mean I want them in the house. Last year, in the spring, I found a baby round-tailed ground squirrel lying on its side on my kitchen floor. It looked stiff, eyes closed, unmoving. I thought it was dead, but when I picked it up in a paper towel, the squirrel was breathing. No marks, no blood, so I took it outside and sat with it in my lap, just watching.

It flailed and I realized that one leg was broken at the hippoor little leg just flopped. The squirrel squinted, reached up, and touched my finger, barely grazing his claws on my skin. Then it collapsed. No hope for this precious one.

You know that feeling when you sense someones watching you? The next day, I looked down from my work table to see another baby squirrel looking up at me. The screen doors were closed, but theres a small gap between the wood door jamb and the metal doors. Its barely as wide as my little finger, but these acrobatic creatures are not only flexible, they can also stretch their skins. Perhaps this route is how the first one broke its hip, but the one sitting on her haunches was perfect.

She stared at me with eyes black and shiny as obsidian, her ears like cropped rosettes. Her fur was the muted color of desert earth and clouds Before we started the chase that could only end with the cat, or my setting out fruit and nuts in a humane trap, I dropped a container upside-down over her, slid a piece of stiff paper under her and took her outside. Baby scampered away.

Cutest cannibal ever.

NOTES: In the book Our Desert Neighbors, written in 1950 by Edmund Jaeger, the author referred to these squirrels as Citellus territicaudus neglectus. It seems an appropriate tag for these busy little bodies that haven’t been studied much, but I noticed a different designation in current descriptions. According to Professor Koprowski, the name of the round-tailed ground squirrel was recently revised by scientists to Xerospermophilus tereticaudus neglectus the neglectus portion is the subspecies and is often left off.

“Round-tailed” refers to the circumference and “ground” refers to their burrows.

Visual storyteller Beth Surdut invites you to observe, with unbounded curiosity, the wild life that flies, crawls, and skitters along with us in our changing environment. From exotic orchids and poison dart frogs to local hawks and javelinas, Surdut illustrates her experiences with wild and cultivated nature by creating color-saturated silk paintings and detailed drawings accompanied by true stories.

You can find Surdut’s drawings – and true stories about spirited critters – at listeningtoraven.com and surdutblogspot.com.

Beth Surdut’s illustrated work Listening to Raven won the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Elements of her raven clan have appeared in Orion Magazine, flown across the digitally looped Art Billboard Project in Albany, New York and roosted at the New York State Museum in an exhibition of international scientific illustrators.

The solo exhibition of the drawings and stories of The Art of Paying Attention will be at The Ranch House Gallery at Agua Caliente Park from April 15 to May 10. It presents a unique opportunity for AZ Spotlight listeners to see her illustrations of the animals she talks about.

During that time, other than the scheduled reception and workshops listed below, Beth will be there often during gallery hours, working on drawings and new critter stories. In April, hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 am – 3 pm and in May, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 – 2. The Reception is Sunday April 30, 10 am – noon.

Under the aegis of the National Phenology Network, Beth Surdut is hosting two Paying Attention workshops at Agua Caliente Park Sunday, April 23, 9 am – noon and Wednesday, May 10, 8 am – 11 am. Advanced registration required.

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The Art of Paying Attention: Round-tailed Ground … – Arizona Public Media

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