Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Taming of a Shrew

The lightly falling snow obscures the hills off toward the northeast and the next town giving the impression of heavy fog. The Pooch is focused on an animal under the snow.  The fur on his back is covered with a dusting of snow.

I'm fixing a breakfast which involves several steps so I can gaze out the kitchen window and watch the activity under the bird feeder.

His intent gaze is broken on occasion when a bird larger than a chickadee or junco lands on the feeder.  A mourning dove, for example, finds him paws up against the pipe looking at up the morsel of poultry.  The mourning dove is a ground feeder and will not land with the gray tabby underneath.

First course in an extended breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal.  To combat the cholesterol in  the Amish eggs I consume, I forgo my distaste for cereal of any kind.  I alternate toppings of brown sugar and honey or dried cranberries depending upon my mood.  I watch the cat snowplow in deep snow hoping to catch the varmint tunneling beneath.  He alternates his technique with burrowing and a long paw reach which appears to me as a choreographed snow dance.  He works the animal in a circle, confusing the thing from its original purpose-a meal of sunflower seed.

I'm perplexed when I see the dark, furry shape emerge from its snow tunnel and scamper across the crust of snow.  The Pooch treats it as if it were a snake.  He jumps at it, paws at it delicately and avoids it scrupulously as if if were poisonous.  This cannot be a mouse.  Mice and birds are quickly consumed.

My guess is that the creature below the bird feeder is either a mole, shrew or vole.  The answer is on the inter net.Once I read the Wikipedia article on shrews I understand the cat's reluctance.

Some species of shrews are venomous.  The venom is contained within the grooves of their sharp spike-like teeth. The contents of the teeth of an American short tailed shrew are sufficient to kill 200 mice.One chemical obtained from the shrew venom is considered useful in treating blood pressure disorders, neuro-muscular conditions and migraines.  The saliva of the Northern Short-tailed Shrew contains the peptide soricidin which is used to treat ovarian cancer. Along with bats and toothed whales, some species of shrews use echolocation ( sonar).  Shrews hold 10% of their body mass in their brain which is the highest body to brain mass of any animal, including humans. 

This a smart cat.  The shrew merges from the snow tunnel and races across the snow like banshee.  The cat leaps after it.  Then the shrew tunnels back into the deep snow.  The interplay continues while I place the cast iron skillet in the oven to bake my tortilla egg pie at 400 degrees. The shrew seems to be pissed off, struggling and writhing on top of the snow once again.  Aroused from its winter torpor with a simple plan to fuel a metabolic rate as high as that of a chickadee which involves eating  up to 80% of its body weight per day or suffer through a body mass reduction from 30 to 60%, the shrew lies still atop the snow.  

The cat senses trouble brewing.  The thrill of a live toy has worn off. There's no promise of a meal.  He races toward the mouse and veers off at the last moment, leaping over the snow bank onto the sidewalk between the privet hedge and the house.  

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