Science Grab Bag

Nature Biology

How many mammals are there in the Athabasca region?

a) 10
b) 50
c) 100
d) 200

Answer: b) Excluding introduced livestock and humans there are about 50 species of mammals here.

How many endangered mammals live in the Athabasca region?

Answer: One, the Woodland Caribou. However, sightings are very unlikely because in addition to being endangered in this area, Athabasca also lies on the extreme southern edge of their distribution. 

Are flying Squirrels common around Athabasca?

Answer: Yes! However they are seen only rarely because they are nocturnal and live out of sight high in the forest canopy.

How many species of snakes are there in the Athabasca River Basin?

a)  0
b)  1
c)  5
d) 15

Answer: a) None. Although there are Garter snakes north of Athabasca, there are none in the immediate area because of the absence of over wintering sites.

Are there any scorpions that live in the Athabasca River Basin?

Answer: No, but there is one species (Paruroctonus boreus) that does live in Southern Alberta, occurring mainly in the valleys of the Oldman River, St. Mary River, Milk River and South Saskatchewan River. It feeds on immature grasshoppers and other smaller insects, and is not normally dangerous to humans. Like all other scorpions, they fluoresce under UV light.

How many species of True Frogs occur in Alberta?

a)  0
b)  3
c)  10
d)  30

Answer: b) Three. The Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) is present throughout Alberta and prefers a damp woodland habitat. It breeds in early spring with the ice melt and may reach a maximum size of 65mm. The Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa) is found mainly in the Rocky Mountains and has irregular dark markings on its back. At a maximum size of 102mm, it is slightly larger than the Wood Frog. The Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) is found only in the western half of Alberta and reaches approximately the same size are the Spotted Frog. As the name suggests, it is distinguishable by its leopard-like spotting pattern.

Which one of the following mammals common to the Athabasca region are most active at dusk/dawn?

a)  Richardsons Ground Squirrel
b)  Flying Squirrel
c)  Coyote
d)  White-Tailed Deer

Answer: d) White-tailed deer. Most animals that are active at this time do this to avoid a feeding overlap with other animals that use the same resource but who are instead chiefly nocturnal or diurnal. Its also a mechanism to minimize encounters with potential predators. 

Which one of the following mammals common to the Athabasca region migrate out of the area in winter?

a)  Bats
b)  Flying Squirrels
c)  Bears
d)  Moose

Answer: a) Bats. In the winter, bats migrate to caves in the Rockies or to warmer climates farther south. Flying squirrels under go a period of dormancy during the winter, as do bears. Moose are active throughout the winter.

Which one of the following mammals common to the Athabasca region are active underneath the snow in the winter (ie. subnivean)?

a)  Richardsons Ground Squirrel
b)  American Marten
c)  Masked Shrew
d)  Least Weasel

Answer: c) The Masked Shrew. They eat a large variety of insects of invertebrates, which they kill with their poisonous saliva. The American Marten and the Least Weasel are also active throughout the winter, however are not normally classified as subnivean. The Richardson Ground Squirrel remains dormant during the winter.

Which one of the following mammals common to the Athabasca region is NOT native to the area?

a)  Flying Squirrel
b)  Deer
c)  House Mouse
d)  Cougar

Answer: c) The House Mouse. It presumably became established here as it moved with people as they immigrated west during the colonization of Canada.  This is not suprising since this species of mouse is largely synanthropic (strong ecological associations with humans). 

Both the Grizzly and Black Bear are present in Alberta, how can you tell them apart?

Answer: The Grizzly has a hump above the shoulders and a dish-shaped face while the Black Bear is smaller than the grizzly with no hump and a pointed face.

What is the most dangerous mammal in the Athabasca region? (excluding humans, which are the most dangerous of all).

Answer: Lynx, Wolves, Black Bears, Wolverines, and Cougars are all present in the Athabasca region but do not normally pose a threat to humans unless provoked, cornered or, as is the case with bears, accustomed to being fed. Cougars however, have been known to occasionally stalk small humans and should therefore be considered dangerous, albeit quite uncommon in this area.

How many species of snakes are there in Alberta?

a)  0
b)  4
c)  10
d)  20

Answer: b) There are four species of snakes in Alberta. The Garter snake, the Gopher snake, the Western Hognose and the Western Rattlesnake. Only the Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis paretalis) can be found outside of southern Alberta. Garter snakes are known for their adaptability and can survive in a variety of habitats, usually feeding on earthworms, frogs and minnows. Although not dangerous to humans, they can release a foul smelling scent if threatened. The Gopher snake of Alberta (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi) can be quite large and may reach 6ft in length. Occasionally they are quite aggressive, coiling up, hissing explosively and striking in defense. For a snake of almost 2 m, this can appear very intimidating. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is present in the south eastern grasslands of Alberta, feeding on rodents and living in old animal burrows (similar to the Gopher snake). The Western Hognose (Heterodon basicus bascius) also can be found in southern Alberta, although it is very endangered in this region. It prefers sandy soil and feeds on frogs and toads, but is not venomous. However, they are know to be great imitators, often coiling up, spreading their necks like a cobra, hissing and striking (but with the mouth closed).

Science Outreach Athabasca - September 26, 2012

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