We are not alone

I grew up in a house just five miles from where I live now. My childhood home was surrounded by farmland. Sometimes the cows next door would escape their pasture and wander onto our property to eat apples on the edge of our woods, and I spent summer afternoons lifting up mossy logs to look for salamanders.

Knock knock

These days I live in town — it’s a small town, but a town all the same. I’m surrounded by sidewalks, and there’s nary a mossy log in sight. But there’s still a fair amount of wildlife nearby. For example, I found this on my back door. It’s too big to be a cat print, and too articulated to be a dog print.

Having just finished the recent Harry Potter book, I’m tempted to think of house elves. Wouldn’t it be nice if some cousin of Dobby was looking for a new job?

But no. My visitor is likely to be a raccoon — and a pretty big one, considering the size of the prints that lead up the stairs to the door, and then across the deck. My trash cans are inside the garage and there’s nowhere in the immediate vicinity for him to have created a nest or den or whatever, so I think (hope) he was just passing through.

Passing by, stopping for a visit

Not all my wild visitors are so large. I also seem to have a bunch of praying mantises in the yard. The first one I saw was small, only about an inch long.

They’re bigger now, and they have been exploring the area. Here’s a shot from my basement office, looking out as one of them looks in.

View from the basement

I see one or two about once a week, and each time they’ve grown a little bit.

Last year there had been at least two in the area — my cats caught one, and another stalked around the deck catching bees and bugs — and those mature mantises were each about four inches long. So I know the little ones have a ways to go.

I'm looking at you looking at me

13 replies on “We are not alone”

  1. Of course you know I can’t comment rationally about raccoons, but I also just discovered a praying mantis in one of my flower pots the other day. I usually see grasshoppers, who like to hang out in the other pots of petunias, but this was a new discovery for me. I hope it’s still there so I can show the kids tonight…

  2. Susan: Of course I thought of you when I realized they were raccoon prints. I’m a little nervous that the den might be nearby — maybe next door? — but I think my cats would be much more freaked out than they are if that were the case.

    Regarding the praying mantis: Maybe he or she is the reason you’re not seeing the usual grasshoppers. How big is the mantis? Big enough to eat grasshoppers yet, or only enough to feast on ants and the like?

  3. The mantis wasn’t very big, but the grasshoppers are definitely staking out their turf in the other 2 pots on the other side of the walkway. It’s like wild kingdom around here!

  4. I envy you the praying mantisses. They are beautiful insects, and we could use them to keep the plant-eating insects’ numbers down. Though what I really want is something that would eat my slugs and leave my vegetables alone, I suspect that this is a pipe dream.

    Here in Scotland, we’ve got plenty of logs with salamanders under them, and once in a while people have seen foxes and deer in their gardens. We also have badgers, buzzards and a depressingly large number of rabbits.

  5. Mary: Yes, I’m excited that the mantises will help keep bugs off my meager garden. If they can also do something about the ants that have invaded my yard and house, that would be fantastic. Ants are pretty much the only insects I dislike.

    Here in western PA, I’ve seen deer by the dozens, a couple of buzzards, and of course millions of rabbits. Lots of opossums too, mostly dead but a couple live, and groundhogs. But I’ve never seen a live fox in the wild, and I’d love to. I don’t even know if we have badgers here. Apparently there are North American badgers, but I think of them as residents of the British isles.

  6. Definately racoon prints. I’m an expert on suburban/urban wild life. And I’m positive that’s a racoon. SEnd me six bucks and keep your head up when taking to the streets after midnight as racoons get posessive even if they have no discernable right to be. Just in case you’re curious.

  7. A friend of ours has taken to raising praying mantises…manti…um, whatever the plural of praying mantis is. She has a bunch of them in her garden now, and her kids have named them. (“Pete” was one. Her kids aren’t very creative.)

    I saw a fox once, in Monroeville of all places. It was hanging outside the studios of 1510 AM WXVX, 1000 kick-ass watts of alternative music way down on the exteme right end of your AM radio dial. I don’t know if foxes eat mice, but he could’ve come into our studios and had a feast if he was so inclined.

  8. Bob: How can your friend’s kids tell the mantids (wikipedia says that’s the preferred pluralization) apart?

    I’m not at all surprised to know there was a fox near the radio station. They seem like they would have fabulous taste.

  9. Good question — I’ll have to ask the kids.

    If the fox did indeed like our format, he probably HAD to sit on the lawn, since that’s about all the further our transmitter would reach.

  10. I’m so jealous — I’d much rather have a local family of praying mantises than the loose affiliation of house centipedes that seems to be finding its way into my bathtub, one by one.

  11. Years ago when I lived in NJ I was walking through a park with my then-boyfriend, now my ex. He knows a lot about the outdoors and wildlife, to say the least, and he had been explaining to me about how elusive fox(es?) are, that he’d only seen one once or twice before while out hunting, it was rare to see one, I may never ever have the chance, blah, blah. Minutes later, I said, “oh, there’s one” because there was a fox standing just yards away from us. My boyfriend was so amazed and so annoyed. I was just amused.

  12. Susan: “Obviously the elusive woodland creature was drawn to you, foxy as you are.” That’s what the boyfriend/ex should have said, rather than being annoyed.

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