What is a fur-bearer?
Who are Canada’s fur-bearing animals? Below is an introduction to the animals we are committed to advocating for:
A badger (Taxidea taxus) belongs to the same family as weasels, otters, ferrets, marmots and wolverines. They have a black and brown stocky body, short legs, as well as a triangular and flattened head with tiny ears on top. A white stripe that runs from their nose down to the back of their head, gives the appearance of having two dark “badges” on their cheeks. Their fur grows shorter on their back than on their sides, making their body also appear flattened. Badgers grows to between 65 and 90 cm in length and can weigh between 6 and 14 kgs. By means of large powerful forelimbs that are equipped with long sharp claws, a badger is able to tunnel and excavate like a little machine.
Classified as a carnivore, the badger diet primarily consists of marmots, moles and squirrels. They also eat amphibians, reptiles, nesting birds and snakes – rattlesnakes, in particular. Although perfectly capable of finding their own dinner, the badger has been known to team up with one or two coyotes to hunt for prey. The coyote will chase after and pounce on their target, whereas the badger will burrow into their victim’s den. While the spoils of the hunt are never shared, by combining forces, at least one of the hunters stands a greater chance of being successful.
Badgers live in an underground maze of burrows, chambers and tunnels with different entrances that have been dug either by itself or other badgers over time. These “setts,” as they are called, are home to six badgers on average and have been known to accommodate many generations of badgers. They are excellent housekeepers: they do not bring food into the burrows and do not use the bathroom there either. To prevent fleas and lice from accumulating, they routinely clean out their bedding, which may consist of grass, hay and whatever else they used to line their burrows, by carrying it out under their chin.
It is in these setts that the badger rears its young, which are born blind and with only a thin layer of fur. A mother will give birth to an average of two “cubs.” A mother badger is extremely protective of her young and will attack quite suddenly and loudly if she perceives a threat.
The badger is now an endangered species in British Columbia and it is imperative that we do what we can to ensure that there will be a healthy and self-sustaining population of them for years to come.
Canada is home to three types of bears – black bears (Ursus americanus & Ursus americanus kermodei), grizzly bears (Ursus horribilis) and polar bears (Ursus maritimus).
The most common type of bear in Canada is the black bear. On the west coast, their coats are typically black, although some can be cinnamon, brown or blond; in the interior of BC, they are usually brown.
Living in the extreme northwest section of the province is a small number of “glacier” bears, whose fur has a bluish hue.
The Kermode bear, or sometimes referred to as the “Sprit bear” is a subspecies of black bear and they are primarily found in the Central and North Coast regions of BC.
The grizzly bear is a massive animal, whose appearance can be identified by the distinct hump it has between its shoulders.
All three types of bears share some interesting characteristics. They will mark their territory by standing up on their hind legs and rubbing their backs against a tree. They have excellent sense of smell, sight and hearing. They can smell for miles around them, a feature which helps them to locate food or avoid threats. They use a number of different sounds to communicate with each other. They are very intelligent, have a sharp memory and grieve the loss of their loved ones. Cubs, for example, can moan and whimper for weeks if they are separated from their mother.
Classified as carnivores, bears actually eat a wide assortment of both plants and animals. Although fish and berries are a bear’s top favourite foods, it has been known to seek out newborn ungulates and other small animals in the spring, when they emerge from hibernation.
A bear will typically give birth to 2 cubs, but can have between 1 and 5 at a time. They are born in January or February while the mother is in hibernation. Weighing in only at 400 g, both blind and hairless, they nurse the entire time that the mother is hibernating. In spring, they achieve a weight of 3-5 kgs, and leave the den. For their first year, they stay with the mother, who teaches them all she knows and then by the end of their second spring, they go off on their own.
Bears are amazing animals and part of our incredible natural heritage. It is important to do everything we can to protect their safety as well as ours. By disposing of garbage properly in tightly sealed bins, we keep them from being attracted to residential areas and then, as is often the case, relocated or shot by conservation officers.
Beavers (Castor canadensis) can grow to about 32 kg in weight and between 74 – 90 cm in length. They are large dark brown rodents that are nimble and quick in water, but slow and clumsy on land. They owe their aquatic skills to a large scaly tail that resembles a paddle as it serves to propel them easily through the water and aids in steering. As well, their hind feet are quite large and webbed. A membrane that covers their eyes much like goggles would, protects them from debris and still allows them to see underwater. They can hold their breath for as long as 15 minutes. Special nose and ear valves seal out water. Lastly, their lips close behind their two front teeth to create a very efficient and airtight swimming machine.
Their two front teeth are highly suitable tools for all the chewing they do. Their incisors grow continually and are covered in a yellow coating containing iron that makes them very strong. As the upper and lower incisors are constantly grinding against each other, they are kept razor sharp.
Whether you find beavers in a river, stream, lake, marsh or pond, it will most likely have a muddy shore and bottom to facilitate all the tunneling and building that beavers need to do. This feature also enables them to anchor their winter food cache more easily – and ensures their sustenance during the winter months.
Beavers eat a variety of plants, grasses, leaves of shrubs, along with the bark and twigs of certain deciduous trees. They live in lodges that are constructed out of carefully woven together sticks and twigs. In the colder months, the entire structure is sealed with mud and grasses to create an impenetrable shield against typical predators like lynx, coyotes and wolves.
Beavers are monogamous and live in colonies that typically consist of the adults, the yearlings and the kits, as the newborn beavers are called. Their homes keep them isolated against the colder temperatures. They do not hibernate during the winter, but regularly swim from their lodge to their underwater food cache.
Beavers typically have between 2 – 4 youngsters. They are born covered in fur with their eyes open. They are fully functional and can swim and walk within a few moments of being born. They are nursed for a couple of months and start to eat solids between 4 – 14 days after birth. All members of the beaver colony help to look after the kits, even the males and the juveniles. As they do fall prey to mink, hawks and owls, it is just as well that they actually remain within the colony until their second year and increase their chances of survival on their own.
Beavers play an integral role in the biodiversity of the boreal forest. As a result of the architectural changes that the beavers make, more plants and animals thrive near the streams and ponds that the beavers make their homes in. New vegetation starts to grow in the riparian areas and attracts more insects both on land and in water. These in turn provide food for an increased population of songbirds. Waterfowl and rodents are drawn to the area along with amphibians and reptiles, rodents and ungulates. Before long, what was an impenetrable piece of dense forest is opened and transformed into an entire ecosystem unto itself. Whereas beavers became the official emblem of Canada in 1975 because of their historical significance in the fur trade, now they can be appreciated and respected for their ecological enhancement not just in British Columbia, but throughout Canada.
Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are about twice the size of an average house cat and are named after their bobbed tail, which is usually only about 16 cm in length. Their coats may be light-grey, or different shades of brown, some even reddish, depending on the region and the season. Almost all bobcats are spotted to some degree. They weigh from 4 – 18 kg and grow to between 48 and 125 cm. They live in the boreal forests and do not do well in deep snow. Bobcats can be found in southern regions across Canada into the United States and Mexico.
Bobcats are solitary animals; they only associate with each other during mating season. They are nocturnal as well, hunting shortly before dusk and then again just before dawn. They spend the bulk of the remaining hours sleeping in one of their dens; they have a few. There is a primary den that is usually located within a cave or rock crevice as well as lessor ones that are located in bushes or hollowed logs. Bobcats are very territorial, especially the females, who will not allow any overlap within their own individual range. Both their own scent and claw scrapes are used to establish clear boundaries.
Bobcats hunt squirrels, rodents, birds and occasionally deer, but their favourite prey are rabbits. Along with their exceptional hearing and vision, they are excellent climbers. Very often bobcats will use the element of surprise in getting their dinner, by lying in wait in a tree and then pouncing on their prey.
They are promiscuous during the mating season; both the females and the males have several partners. They only spend time together for the purpose of copulation and then carry on their separate ways. The mother will typically have 3 kittens, each weighing between 285 and 370 grams. The kittens open their eyes on the 10th day after their birth and nurse for about 2 months. The males are not involved in looking after the young and it is the female who will bring meat to sustain them. After she has weaned them, she will teach them all of her hunting techniques. By the time they are 8-months-old, they will head out on their own.
Bobcats are not just beautiful animals, but serve a valuable purpose in helping to keep the rodent population under control. Let’s do everything we can to ensure that they are protected.
The two living species of chinchilla are Chinchilla chinchilla (formerly known as Chinchilla brevicaudata) and Chinchilla lanigera. Chinchillas belong to the rodent family.
Historically, chinchillas lived in an area that included parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, but today, wild chinchillas are only found in Chile.
Chinchillas are known for their extremely soft, dense fur, and as a result, by the end of the 19th century, they were nearly hunted to extinction. Both species of wild chinchilla are currently listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species due to severe population loss. The sale and trade of wild chinchillas was restricted in 1975.
Today, chinchillas are still used by the fur industry, although they are bred and raised on fur-farms. Farmers also breed and sell domestic chinchillas for the pet trade.
On fur farms, chinchillas live in small wire cages and are killed by neck breaking or electrocution.
With short forelimbs and long, muscular hind legs, chinchillas look similar to rabbits, but their ears are shorter and rounder. Chinchillas have large dark eyes and bushy tails. They have four toes on each foot, and the thin claws on each toe are surrounded by stiff bristles.
Chinchillas enjoy bathing in fine dust which helps distribute the natural oils on their fur and keeps their fur soft and clean.
Chinchillas are typically 9 to 15 inches long, but the tail can add another 3 to 6 inches to their length. They generally weigh 1.1 to 1.8 lbs. They are are omnivores and enjoy grass, leaves, twigs and seeds, but they also like insects and eggs. Like all rodents, chinchilla’s teeth never stop growing, so constant chewing helps to keep their teeth to an appropriate length.
Cougars or “Mountain Lions” (Puma concolor) are very stealthy and elusive animals. Their fur is either light or reddish brown with light-coloured pale underparts. Males weigh between 60 and 100 kg and females between 35 and 60 kg. They have a small head and long black-tipped long tails that are roughly one third of their body weight.
Cougars are fierce hunters and can kill animals that are as much as four times their size. Their diet consists primarily of deer, but they also eat mice, grouse, beaver and hares. Cougars will often drag or carry their kill to a secluded area to feed. They will cache the leftovers and then return to them for their next meals.
Cougars have incredibly powerful hind legs that enable them to leap up 6 m or forward 12 m. They are also amazing sprinters and can achieve a speed of 56 km/hr. They prefer to remain out of sight, living mainly in the dark forests and rocky or mountainous areas within the lower third of the province.
Cougars can have from 1-6 and usually 2-3 kits, that are born with their eyes closed. At 3 months, they are weaned and taught how to hunt and climb. They remain with the mother for 15 months and then venture out on their own.
Cougars play an important predatory role in managing sick and weak animal populations.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) can be greyish black or reddish yellow. They have long pointy snouts and long bushy tails – often at first glance can resemble a domestic dog.
Weighing from 8 kg – 20 kg, coyotes are 1 metre to 1.35 metres in length. They can run up to 65 km/h and will hunt singly, in pairs or in packs. Typically, they will chase after and pounce on their prey. They mate for life and have an average of 5-7 pups that are born blind and helpless. After about 2-3 weeks, though, they already venture out of their den to play. Both parents are involved in taking care of the pups until they reach 6-9 months of age, when they usually set out on their own.
Coyotes are also known as the “song dog”. They are vocal animals and routinely communicate with other coyotes in their pack or in neighbouring packs.
Generally shy, coyotes are curious and social animals.
Ermines, Short-tailed Weasels or Stoats (Mustela erminea) as they are sometimes called, are the most common of the three members of the weasel family.
During the summer, their fur is a reddish-brown with white or cream neck and undersides. In the winter, they turn completely white, except for a black tip at the very end of their tail.
Males are 27 cm in length and 80 gr in weight; females are 24 cm long and weigh 54 grams. They are known to inhabit a variety of areas such as both coniferous and deciduous forests; meadows, fields and wetlands.
Their diet consists of mice, voles, squirrels and rabbits. When these are readily available, they will eat eggs, birds, fish and frogs. They are determined and efficient hunters. They can chase their prey through the smallest of openings and are known to tunnel right into the victim’s own burrow. Although, they hunt near bodies of water, they are not likely to go in. As they need to eat about 40% of their body weight each day, they will often cache their kills, in order to avoid going hungry at any time.
Ermines either sleep in the unused dens of rodents, re-using the old bedding that was left behind, or they will create their own in any number of crevices – either natural, such as a hollow log, or man-made, such as a haystack.
In a year they will have one litter of between 4 and 9 young. The babies are born with their eyes shut and only a skimpy layer of fur. The care of the young is entirely the mother’s responsibility. After about 8 weeks, they are almost fully grown and can move about freely.
Ermines are excellent at keeping the rodent population in control in their areas. Unfortunately, they are currently listed as “threatened’ under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
Fishers (Pekania pennanti) belong to the weasel family and have a long, slender body, short legs and a thick dark brown coat.
Males have an average weight of 4.8 kg and are 60 cm in length; females are smaller, weighing 2.6 kg and measuring 51 cm in length.
Fishers can be found throughout Canada’s boreal forests. The thick canopy of vegetation protects them from their enemies.
Their prey consists of snowshoe hares, squirrels, shrews, martens, berries, vegetation, fish and snakes.
Fishers are quite solitary and do not interact with each other except during mating season. A pair will produce one litter of 2-3 kits per year. The young will not open their eyes until they are between 7 and 8 weeks of age. The mother provides milk for them for 8-10 weeks, and then gradually solids. They are quite mobile at between 10 and 12 weeks and will follow the mother around to learn hunting and survival tactics. They may not disperse until they are about five-months-old.
Fur trapping and habitat destruction continue to put fisher populations at risk across Canada and much of the United States.
COOL FACT: The fisher is one of the only predators of the porcupine. They aim for the underside, where there are no quills.
Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) belong to the dog family. In British Columbia, the most common species is the Red Fox and as its name suggests, they are reddish with a white belly, chin and throat. Their legs are black, as are their feet and the backs of their ears. Their fur changes seasonally to grey or black or a blend of both.
Foxes are approximately 75 -150 cm long, including their very bushy tail and can weigh from 2.2 – 14 kg. They can be found throughout Canada and typically can be seen trotting from 6-13 km/h in a straight line along fence lines or forest edges.
Foxes range through plowed fields and near marshes as well. Their sharp vision, hearing and sense of smell and top running speed of 50 km/h enable them to hunt voles, mice, squirrels and rabbits efficiently. They supplement their diet with plants and berries.
Pairs sometimes split up during the winter months when prey is limited, but will partner up again in the spring to mate. They typically have two or more dens and will use abandoned burrows from other animals or create their own in hollowed logs, caves or other crannies.
Mothers will have an average of five kits and will move them from one den to another to protect them from predators. Kits gain their sight by the second week and are weaned after one month. By the time they are 3-months-old, they head out on their own.
In Canada, foxes are often sought-after for their fur. They are routinely trapped in the wild or raised in confinement on fur farms. According to Statistics Canada (2018), there are 27 fox farms in Canada.
Lynx (Lynx canadensis) look very similar to big house cats, except that they have pointy ears and a short black-tipped tail.
Their large puffy and fluffy feet function like snowshoes, enabling them to walk across soft deep snow without falling through.
Their fur changes colours seasonally and is typically tawny in the summer and greyish in the winter.
The average body weight of lynx is from 8-14 kg and the average length is from 80-120 cm, not including the 10-20 cm tail.
Lynx can be found in boreal forests across Canada. They are partial to dense old forests that provide significant undergrowth.
In the winter, their diet consists primarily of snowshoe hares and in the summer, voles, mice, grouse and squirrels are included.
Scarcity of the number of snowshoe rabbits plays a huge role in the health of the lynx. Starvation is not an uncommon cause of mortality. Also, the number of kittens that are born and their chances of survival is largely dependent on there being enough food in the area. Typically, lynx bear between 4 and 5 young. They are born blind and helpless but after 2 weeks, their eyes open. The mother is solely responsible for looking after them and starts feeding them solids when they are 6 weeks old. The kittens will stay with their mother for at least a year and sometimes as long as into next autumn before heading out on their own.
Marten (Martes americana) or sometimes referred to as the “pine marten” or “sable”, are small slender mammals that belong to the weasel family. They have wide heads, black eyes and rounded ears that resemble those of a cat. They are shy, clever and nocturnal.
Their fur may be blond to dark brown, with a lighter underside and head. Males measure from 50-70 cm, including the tail and weigh from .5-1.3 kg. Females are smaller, measuring 45-60 cm and weighing from .3-.85 kg.
Marten live throughout Canada, especially in forests where there are predominately mature conifers or trees.
Having a fast metabolism means that they must hunt all the time. Both their speed, agility and aggressive nature enables them to be very effective at snagging both small and medium-sized mammals such as mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, marmots and snowshoe hares. Eggs, birds and berries are also included in their diet, but not as often.
Marten will den in old stumps, hollow logs, rock piles and root formations.
They will produce between 1-5 kits. These develop quickly and are fully grown after 4-5 months, when they leave the den to start their own life.
Mink (Neovison vison) belong to the weasel family, just like ermines, fishers and martens and they all resemble each other.
Mink have long necks, a flattened head, black beady eyes and small rounded ears. Their fur is a solid shade of brown, except for their long bushy tail, which is darker. White patches appear on their nose, throat, chin and chest.
The male measures between 60-65 cm in length, including the tail and weighs from 1.2-1.5 kg. The female measures roughly 48-61 kg from head to tail and weighs from 1-1.3 kg.
Mink can be found across Canada. They are semi-aquatic and rarely venture far from rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands, where they hunt voles, mice, fish, frogs, chipmunks, muskrats, waterfowl, snakes and shorebirds. When they kill more than they can eat at one time, they will cache the remainder.
Mink have between 3-6 young that are born blind and with only a thin layer of fur. The mother raises them on her own. The kits open their eyes 25 days after birth and are weaned by 6-10 weeks. They then start hunting, but remain with the mother until the fall or early winter until about 6-7 months old, when they venture out on their own.
Mink are often sought-after for their fur. They are routinely trapped in the wild or raised in confinement on fur farms. According to Statistics Canada (2018), there were 98 mink farms in Canada.
Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are semi-aquatic rodents that are related to the vole, although they look like small beavers. They have a fairly broad head, with small eyes and ears. Growing over greyish underfur, is a shiny thick waterproof layer of brown fur with black guard hairs. Overall, muskrats appear brown.
Males measure 40-60 cm, including their long, thin and scaly tail and weigh from 1-2 kg. Females are somewhat smaller. Their hind feet are large with hair sides, while their front feet are much smaller. These they use for digging and gripping.
Muskrats are primarily omnivores, with 80% of their diet consisting of cattails. Other aquatic plants, shoots, roots, bulbs, bulrushes, horsetails, water lilies, grasses as well as cultivated crops like alfalfa and corn are also popular with them. When these become scarce, they will eat snails, clams, young birds and fish.
Muskrats will have litters of 6-7 kits. These are born blind and furless, but they develop quickly. By 2 weeks, their eyes are open and their coats are full. By 4 weeks, they are practically independent. They generally start venturing out on their own by the time they are 6-weeks-old.
- Muskrats can stay underwater for 15 minutes.
- Their lips close behind their teeth to prevent water from getting in to their mouths while they are carrying vegetation.
- They are named after the odor they create when they secrete a musky substance from two special glands whenever they want to communicate with other muskrats.
There are two types of otters, River Otters (Lontra canadensis) and Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris).
River otters are by far the most common. They look like large weasels, are roughly 1.4 m long and weigh between 5 and 10 kg. They have thick dark brown waterproof fur with lighter underparts, a long tail and strong webbed feet. They are found in rivers, streams and lakes.
As they are semi-aquatic, they rely on marine environments, but spend time on land as well, particularly along shorelines. Their diet consists primarily of fish, but includes crustaceans, amphibians, nestlings and small mammals.
River otters bear 2-4 young that are born in dens that are lined with vegetation. They are born blind, toothless and helpless. They nurse and sleep until are already weaned by the end of 2 weeks. They open their eyes at 1 month, roam from the den and begin to swim at 2 months. At 4 months, they can catch their own food. The pups will leave the den after about a year, when another litter is born.
Differences Between River Otters and Sea Otters:
- River Otters spend time in freshwater and on land. Sea Otters spend time in saltwater and rarely on land.
- A River Otter’s tail is roughly 2/3 the size of its head and body, a Sea Otter’s is shorter, measuring only about 1/3.
- River Otters do not swim on their backs, Sea Otters do. They groom, eat and swim on their backs.
- River Otters have multiple pups, whereas Sea Otters only have one.
Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), along with picas and hares, belong to the lagomorph family; since 1912, they are no longer classified as rodents.
There are 4 species of rabbits found throughout British Columbia, the White-tailed Jackrabbit, Nuttall’s Cottontail, the Snowshoe Hare and the European Rabbit.
The Nuttall’s Cottontail is one of the more common ones and has greyish brown fur with lighter underparts. Its ears are outlined in black. They are herbivores and eat grasses, leaves and clover. Cottontails live in warrens that consist of a network of tunnels and underground chambers.
A mother will have between 2-12 kits, depending on its age and health. The young are born blind, furless and totally dependent on the mother for 16-22 days, while they nurse. After about 1 month, they are independent. As small as they are, if you see one on their own that is fully furred, they’re not an orphan and their family is not far away. It is best to just let them be.
- A female is called a “doe,’ a male, a “buck” and a baby a “kit,” although everyone calls baby rabbits “bunnies.”
- Rabbits will do a “binky” when they are happy; they will jump up and flip around in the air.
- Although everyone thinks that rabbits would eat carrots all the time if they could, they do not eat many root vegetables, but prefer leaves and other vegetation.
- Rabbits’ ears can grow up to 10 cm. They rotate up to 260 degrees, help them stay cool in the summer and enable them to hear sounds up to 2 miles away.
- They keep themselves very clean and often lick their fur and paws, just like cats.
- When running across an open field, they will run in a zig-zag to confuse any potential predator.
- Female rabbits are usually larger than males.
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are found throughout Canada. Although they den in hollowed logs, trees, burrows and stumps in forests or near marshland, raccoons will establish themselves in just about any city – often finding suitable accommodations near or in residential buildings and homes.
A deck, roof, attic, overhang, chimney, porch or patio are all happy places for raccoons, where they then can cause some damage, if left undisturbed. For this reason, it is important to not encourage them onto one’s property by feeding them or leaving garbage accessible to them.
Raccoons have very dexterous forepaws that can practically open up a glass jar, so no container is safe from them, unless it is tightly sealed. This ability to adapt and settle in urban areas is further enhanced by their superior climbing skills which will enable them to scale fences, gates, posts, woodpiles, brick walls, roofs and climb any tree that can support their weight.
The average size of the male is 12 kg or 25 lb, but can reach as much as 20 kg or 45 lb. They grow to 18– 30 in or 46 – 76 lb. Females are about 25% smaller.
Raccoons eat everything, but relish bird eggs, insects, berries, clams and nuts. A mother will usually bear between 2 -5 kits, that are born both blind and deaf. They remain that way until they are 3 weeks old. They develop quickly though, and at 7 weeks are already able to leave the den. By 12 weeks they have been weaned and are able to scavenge their own food. They will spend the winter with their mother and then gradually disperse in the spring.
While not native to Canada, raccoon dogs deserve a mention.
Raccoon dogs are a member of the dog family native to eastern Asia. Confined to tiny cages on fur farms, extensive documentation has revealed these animals suffering and dying for their fur in intensive confinement operations in China and Finland.
While they do bear a superficial resemblance to North American raccoons, raccoon dogs belong exclusively to the Canidae (dog) family and are not related to the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.
In Canada, raccoon dog fur is deceptively labeled as ‘Asiatic raccoon’ or ‘raccoon’ in an attempt to make the product more marketable.
There are three types of seals in British Columbia: the Northern Fur Seal, the Northern Elephant Seal and the Harbour Seal.
Harbour Seals are by far the most common species of pinnipeds found in and around the coastal waters of British Columbia. Males measure 1.6 – 1.9 m in length and weigh about 120 kg. Females are smaller, averaging 1.4 m in length and weighing 100 kg. Their fur varies in colour and is either brown with light spots or vice versa. Their flippers are small and do not assist them with their movement on land, so that they need to do a little bounce to propel themselves forward. They eat many different types of fish including herring and smelt as well as crustaceans and shellfish. An adult male will need about 3-5 kg of food each day. Seals produce only one pup at a time, that can swim and dive at birth, but need time to develop these skills. The mother nurses her pup for up to 6 weeks and leaves after her reserves are exhausted, to support her own survival. Seals face a number of threats such as killer whales, fishermen, pollution, entanglement, bycatch, malnutrition and disease.
- Seals can hear 14 times better in water that on land, which enables them to keep track of their pups that sometimes go missing.
- Their eyes are protected by an oily substance that helps them to see in deep dark waters.
- They can use their whiskers to help them identify surfaces and objects.
- Once submerged, a seal’s heartbeat will slow to 90%, its blood flow will drop and it will be able to hold its breath for as long as 25 minutes.
- A mother will sometimes temporarily leave her pup onshore, while she goes off to forage. It is important to not disturb the pup, because she will return for it. On its own in the water, the pup is quite vulnerable.
Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) can be found across Canada.
They prefer open areas and the forest borders, but are very adaptable to urban areas, where they will make their homes in woodpiles, under porches or inside buildings.
Skunks are about the size of an average house cat and grow to 50-72 cm. Males weigh between 2 and 3.5 kg; females are about 10% smaller. They are opportunistic foragers and will eat a wide variety of food, including insects, rodents, frogs, small mammals, berries and plants.
A mother will bear 4-7 kits that are blind and mostly hairless for the first 3 weeks. After 6 weeks, they leave the den and join the mother in her nocturnal foraging. At 2 months they are weaned. They stay with her until the fall or throughout the winter.
- They are notorious for producing a strong musk spray when threatened. They will only do this if stomping their feet, shaking their tails, hissing and growling does not chase away the invader. Once they release the spray, it takes them a week to replenish it. During that time, they are particularly vulnerable.
- The musky odor is noticeable from as far away as ¾ km from where it was produced.
- Skunks eat bees and wasps and are known to attack beehives.
There are twenty-two species of squirrels in Canada: 6 are tree species, 2 flying squirrels and 16 are ground-dwelling. Squirrels can be found in every province and territory.
- Squirrels can locate food that is buried under a foot of snow.
- Although it was thought that squirrels rely only on their excellent sense of smell to locate their food caches, a recent university study suggests that they use spatial memory as well. The actually remember!
- A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing. It is no wonder they need to keep gnawing away at things!
- To escape predators, squirrels will run in a zig zag pattern.
- Squirrels have been known to pretend to cache food items to outsmart a potential thief that is watching and waiting nearby.
- Newborn squirrels are only 1 inch long.
- Sometimes they will dig up their food to check on it and then rebury it.
- About 25% of the time, they steal each other’s food.
- Their tails serve many purposes – for example, tree squirrels like the Eastern Grey Squirrel have bushy tails they use to help them balance in high places and as a rudder when jumping from branch to branch. Their tails are also used for warmth in winter and for signalling their mood to other squirrels.
- While preparing for hibernation, squirrels bury nuts and seeds and inevitably, some will be forgotten. and will germinate in the spring.
Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are the largest member of the weasel or Mustelidae family, although they look like small bears. Their fur is a rich brown and they have two yellowish stripes running down their body as well as light-coloured patches on their faces.
Wolverines measure about 82-130 cm in length, with males weighing about 12-18 kg and females 8-12 kg. They are found throughout British Columbia, but only in sparse numbers. They inhabit the Sub-Boreal, Interior and Boreal Plains, remaining within the most remote and inaccessible areas of forests and tundra.
They mostly eat meat, such as carrion, porcupine, snowshoe rabbits, beavers and mice, but will eat berries and plants as well. They are known to hunt by climbing a tree or boulder and jumping on an animal’s back. They also follow wolf packs to feed off the spoils of their kill.
Scavenging as they do, often provides them with a large meal of deer, caribou or moose. If they happen to have any leftovers, they will spray them with musk and bury them.
Mothers have between 2 and 5 young. They are nursed for 8-9 weeks and then are able to leave the den. If a mother senses that there is danger in the area, she will, one by one, move her kits to a safer den.
For their first winter, the young stay with the mother and learn all her survival and hunting tactics. Males will protect the den and the kits from other male wolverines as well as all predators. Come springtime, the kits usually disperse.
Wolves (Canis lupus) are distributed throughout a wide range of habitats in Canada including the mountains, forests, swamps and tundra.
They have yellow eyes and fur that is usually grey, but can also be black, brown or white. Males grow to 1.5 m in length and weigh between 30-50 kg; females are 20% smaller.
Although they resemble coyotes, they are larger, their snouts broader and their ears rounder. While running, a wolf will hold their tail straight out, whereas a coyote will keep theirs lowered.
Wolves are carnivores, and feed on large ungulates as well as small animals like beavers, hares, rodents and carrion. Whenever they have a surplus, it is cached.
Wolves are very social animals and travel in packs, that consist of an “alpha” male and female that breed and other wolves that hunt.
The mother will have a litter of 4-6 pups, that are born blind and deaf. After about 3 weeks, they can venture out of the den and are weaned at about 8 weeks. The mother stays with them, while the other wolves bring food for her and the pups. At 6-8 months, they are able to travel with the pack to hunt. After 2-3 years of age, they usually disperse and join other packs.
There is a high mortality rate among these pups – typically 50% – due to predation, illegal hunting, disease and malnutrition.
- Wolves are generally too afraid of humans to be in close proximity to them.
- “Lone wolves” live independently of wolf packs. They are usually females that have been chased away by the other members of the pack or they are young adults that are in search of a new pack to join. A single wolf will have difficulty hunting larger prey and may have to rely on smaller animals and carrion.