Gardening, Places

Holes of the Backyard Garden

This is a chipmunk hole. There are several here, dotting the top and sides of the smallest garden bed nearest to the house. It makes sense since the ground is high and the soil is dry and well draining, while the rest of the property is too boggy and wet for burrows.

I’m impressed by how perfectly they’ve sculpted the entrances to their homes. I bet their tunnel structures are impeccable.

In March 2014 we stayed at an Airbnb in the Mojave desert just outside Joshua Tree, California. The place came equipped with a handful of area guide books, but the one I’ve never forgotten was, A Field Guide to Desert Holes because it really highlighted how much desert life is underground. We spent the entire week thinking about holes, looking at holes, and wondering who lived in them. We inspected a few for tarantulas, but it’s only now that I know what to look for and how to lure them out with a blade of grass. I am reminded of that book here, although the inhabitants of our holes are different.

On a positive note, none of our hole-dwellers are venomous. But they do carry Lyme-ridden deer ticks, so I guess that’s not any better. Given a choice, I’d much prefer living alongside fossorial desert tarantulas. The species I know of in that area are Aphonopelma mojave, and my experience with that genus overall is that they tend to be pretty chill spiders, prone to lumbering away rather than biting. Sadly, we did not see any on our trip, and we looked. We even hired a local herpetologist to take us out looking for snakes, and it was no go there too. Same with scorpions. Of course, the one creature that gives me the willies, the desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha), ended up surprising us one morning IN OUR BED. It bit my partner Davin, but fortunately it was a baby so the venom was mild. An adult can pack a serious punch that can send you to the hospital.

Speaking of venomous creatures, there is a population of Massassuaga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus) in a nearby conservation area! We haven’t been there yet because it’s a bit further away, but it’s a peat bog and I’ve read there are carnivorous plants such as sundews and pitchers there too! I hope to go as soon as it’s accessible and my health allows.

All this talk of holes and the coming spring is tangentially making me excited to spot garter snakes as they emerge from their winter brumation (the snake equivalent of hibernation). The Eastern Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) is my favourite snake going back to childhood. There was a population of them living in the brown field next to the townhouse subdivision where I grew up and a stray would show up in the tiny backyards or underneath the stoop on occasion. Sadly, that field is long gone having been built up in the 90s.

We saw one here in the front yard (also on high and dry ground) when we first moved in last August, but I was a bit disappointed not to see more before winter hit. Did you know that garters are technically venomous? They secrete a small quantity of venomous saliva from around their back teeth, so they’d need to chew on you for a bit to envenomate, and unless you have a serious allergy, it wouldn’t do much.

Coming back full circle to chipmunk holes, I suspect that soon enough I will have my fill of garden ground dwellers, at least those of the plant-munching mammal kind.

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