Science

A Rare, Secretive Creature with Big Furry Feet – The Story of Peluria

wetland coverphoto

During the winter, when the ground is frozen in varying shades of white, gray, and sometimes shades of blue, a wetland often appears devoid of life. No movement. No sound. Have all the amphibians, birds, and mammals gone away?

Chapter 3: A rare, secretive creature with big furry feet, 4 letters in its name, but not a Yeti.

Perhaps you recognize this picture of the wetland above from reading the story of Clarence, the snowshoe hare, in Chapter 2 of this series.  Well, this wetland area is part of my home too. Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.

I am named Peluria, named after the Italian word for hairy and fuzzy, which makes sense when you see a picture of me.  You see, I am a female lynx with some of the biggest, furriest, fuzziest feet found on an animal!  I also have tufts of fur sticking up from the tips of my ears. Because we live in areas that usually have long, cold winters, I have a thick coat of fur.

Now, people have confused me for my cousin, the bobcat and vice versa, but to help you see the differences between us, here is a picture of me on the left, and here is one of Mrs. Bobcat on the right. Let’s see if you can see the differences I describe!

A female lynx walking on the snow                    A small animal, the bobcat, has shorter legs and body than the lynx.

I have a slightly larger body with less visible spotting, longer ear tufts, a solid black tip on my tail and much bigger feet and paws. Now, Mrs. Bobcat has more visible stripes or banding on her tail and she always has a white under tip.

Also if you look at me sideways, you can tell that I have longer legs than Mrs. Bobcat and that my hind legs are longer than my front ones which cause my hips to be higher than my front shoulders. My back looks slanted instead of straight across.

So hopefully, if you are lucky enough to get a glimpse of me, you will be able to identify me… but enough of what I look like, let me tell you where I live, because it is incredible.  I live up in the Nulhegan Basin at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in the rural Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont. In fact, I have raised a family here and we love it. You see, we really need a mixed conifer forest and a large area of land that doesn’t have much, if any, development. I am a pretty shy and secretive kind of animal, and I need a large area of land in order to find enough food and shelter to live. I came over from Maine so that I can have enough room to raise my family and the Northeast Kingdom is an amazing place.

One of the reasons I can stay in in the Nulhegan Back of a lynx walking on the snow.Basin is not only because it has low-growing conifers like spruce, balsam and cedar, but also because it has some large areas of wetlands, like the 76-acre Mollie Beattie Bog, one of Vermont’s most significant and incredible black spruce woodland bogs. The basin also has other types of wetlands such as peatlands, other bogs, beaver-influenced wetlands, and forested wetlands.

Having wetlands within my home territory is important because my main source of food is the snowshoe hare. They like to hide in the shelter of conifer trees, but will often come out into the wetland to feed. This is where I can catch them! Although the snow might be deepest out in the open in the wetlands, I have really big feet that act like snowshoes. This is a great photo showing my back feet.  It’s my feet that also help biologists find out where I am, because I leave pretty big tracks in the snow that are easy to identify.

2 lynx paw prints in the snow, next to a ruler.You see, my paw print is quite round compared to other species. I have 4 toe pads and an interdigital pad, but because I even have fur covering the bottom
of my feet, the pad looks small in proportion to the rest of my foot. If the snow is deep enough, you will see an impression made by my furry heels, giving an “ice cream cone” shape to my tracks. Often you will see a trough extending off the toes of my tracks, because as I lift my feet and step forward I have fur that hangs down and drags along the top of the snow. Generally though, my tracks will look like they kind of “float” on the top of the snow, rather than sinking very deep into the snow bank. That’s the snowshoe effect and why I am fast enough to catch a snowshoe hare in the winter!

The VT Fish and Wildlife biologists used my tracks to identify where to put up some video cameras in 2013. Here is a picture of me from one of the video cameras as I was crossing a snowmobile trail. See my big feet. If you want to see the whole video, you can take a look at this website…I guess I am a bit famous!

https://usfwsnortheast.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/canada-lynx-caught-on-video-at-vermont-refuge/

When I was getting filmed I was traveling to the wetland that I showed you a picture of at the start of my story to hunt for snowshoe hare. That’s why I know Clarence. A still image of a lynx walking past a game camera, in the snow.I have tried to catch him a couple of times, but he is very fast and very clever.  Sometimes, Mr. Blue Jay warns him of my coming and all I get to see when I get to the wetland is his snowshoe hare tracks. You should take a walk one winter day after a fresh snowfall and see if you can find where I have been. Tracks can tell you a whole story about what animals have been in an area and even what they have been doing. I share my wetland with a number of woodland critters. You can easily pick out the small tracks of rodents, slightly larger ones of squirrel, and bigger ones of deer, fox, coyote and otter.  Have you met any of them yet? The biggest tracks of all are of Mr. Moose. Sometimes you can even find the tracks of Mrs. Grouse or the wing pattern of an owl having swooped down for a rodent dinner. Even I will eat mice, voles, grouse, red squirrel and carrion if I can’t find and catch a hare.

In the meantime, it is almost March and time for me to mate. I hope to raise another family here this year. I should give birth in June or July. I usually have between 1 and 4 kittens.  I don’t have a den. I usually just find an existing feature, such as a downed log, root system, or simple ground depression surrounded by dense vegetation. My kittens will stay with me for one year before they have learned enough to survive on their own.  Perhaps you might find my tracks and my kittens’ tracks at the beginning of the next winter season. Put on your snowshoes and come visit one of the wetland areas up in the Nulhegan Basin, it is a great place to live and to play in.