Random news

Some news from around the world:
1. I’ve been back to North America for a couple months, and did a few all-nighters in New Jersey forests with a thermal scope. Except for just one flying squirrel, the only small mammals I saw were white-footed mice. I kept cursing the “black hole of biodiversity” where I have to waste the prime of my life, but recently I learned that 2019 has been a terrible year for small mammals in many parts of the US, particularly for voles in the East and in California. The reasons are unknown. Guess I just have to wait a few months, and hopefully I’ll see a deer mouse sooner or later if I put enough effort into it.
2. There is a growing consensus among Taiwanese zoologists that the recently claimed sighting of a clouded leopard was bogus. Moreover, there is suspicion that all historic specimens have been imported from the mainland. Clouded leopards certainly inhabited Taiwan in prehistoric times, but were apparently wiped out by humans around the end of Pleistocene, together with tigers, hyenas, brown bears, giant elephants, rhinos, etc., etc.
3. I have a free week in the first half of December, so if anyone wants a guided tour to any place in the world, I can do it for expenses covered plus a few hundred bucks. It’s a good time for mammals in Sichuan, much of Canada, Pacific Northwest, non-Plateau Mexico, and almost anywhere in the tropics. I’ll be flying from New York. Personally I’d like to give Cuban solenodon another try (now I know a few sites that don’t require a permit); we should also get at least 3 hutias and a few bats.


  • Evan

    Thanks for your post. Just a quick response regarding point #2 and the clouded leopards in Taiwan. In 2017-2018, I conducted an extensive human dimensions survey in southern Taiwan and also in urban areas to ascertain Taiwanese attitudes towards clouded leopards (and their potential reintroduction). This information will be published shortly in a scientific journal. It does seem likely that the recent clouded leopards claims are false and (probably) politically motivated. I received many sightings claims when I spoke with the Paiwan and Rukai indigenous tribes, but any recent claims seemed far fetched and none could be substantiated. However, there is definitely not a consensus among Taiwanese biologists regarding when clouded leopards were extirpated from Taiwan. And considering the plethora of clouded leopards products (teeth, pelts, skulls) that are coveted and displayed by indigenous leaders, I think it likely they were extirpated closer to the end of Japanese rule or after. A few elders claim they used to see clouded leopards with some frequency in their youth. Moreover, no other “imported” cat products were seen in my research, nor were any Sunda clouded leopard pelts mixed in with mainland products. Given that, historically, Taiwan was a trade hub for wildlife products, one would think other cat products would be coveted by indigenous locals if all products were a result of trade. If possible, genetic testing of indigenous clouded leopard artifacts would aid in the determination of their origin. Hope this has been helpful!

  • Alvaro Jaramillo

    It is actually a massively high vole year this year in coastal Central California where I live (San Mateo County). So it is high somewhere.

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Weird, someone just posted in MAMMAL-L listserve complaining that voles have totally crashed on SF Bay coast.

  • Jon Hall

    It is indeed a bad year for small mammal numbers in the north east. But the reasons are quite well known. If I understood correctly shrews are also influenced by masting it seems… does anyone know why?

    “The reasons for low mouse numbers this past year are quite well known I believe – the lack of a (typically biannual) mast crop (e.g., conifers where I live in the ADKS) or acorns/beech nuts elsewhere. These trees tend to mast synchronously across wide geographic areas. We are just now having an excellent mast crop of all conifers and deciduous trees across much of the northern forest so there will be lots of mice next year as mast crops lead to better over-winter survivorship and enhanced reproduction. Many of our barred owls were starving this past year but soon they will be doing just fine for another year.” Extract from a blog below with more information about masting….
    This is a good mast year. It’s one of those phrases that many people hear, but may not know exactly what it means. This phrase commonly passed between Vermonters who live close to the land or spend a lot of time out in the woods, refers to the large crop of seeds or fruit produced by a particular tree population that year. There are two types of mast: hard mast and soft mast. Hard mast consists primarily of seeds and comes from trees such as oaks, beeches, and hickories. Soft mast refers to fruits and catkins, and comes from trees and shrubs such as apple, mountain ash, and birch. Not every year is a good mast year, though. Many tree populations can go two or more years with minimal seed production before their next bumper crop. Scientists are still unraveling the complex mechanisms driving seed masting in the hopes of better understanding how climate change may affect seed crop production in the future.

    What scientists do know is that seed crop production is closely linked with certain animal populations that rely on these energy-dense food sources. Many seed predator populations rise and fall in relation to fluctuations in seed production. One species that has received special attention in recent years is the white-footed mouse, due to its status as a known reservoir for Lyme disease. Research from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies shows that white-footed mice populations explode directly following good mast years. These higher mouse populations create more opportunities for ticks to feed successfully and get infected with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Based on their studies, if this year is indeed a good mast year, then we will likely see an increase in Lyme disease infections in 2021.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Weird. Mast should affect mice but not voles. Voles mostly feed on grass and don’t care much about seeds.
    Right now I’m seeing huge numbers of white-footed mice, and 5 out of 6 are juveniles, which is, indeed, explainable by mast (BTW, I expect Lyme disease to peak in 2020, not in 2021 – things move fast in mouse world). Jumping mice usually oscillate in opposition to Peromyscus, so they can be expected to be rare. But where are the voles and the shrews?

  • Conuropsis

    Yes, this fall is a great mast year for oaks and others so they little guys should be fine over the winter and into next year. I too have noticed the lack of rodents in the NY/NJ area. I have been catching many white-footed mice, mostly juvies, but no other small mammals. Heading down to South Florida for the turkey day week so will see if it’s better down there.


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