Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monarch butterfly - Danaus plexippus

Another in what might be called the "Minnesota State Symbol" series of sketches. The Monarch Butterfly.

The orange and black monarch can be found throughout Minnesota. The monarch is the "Minnesota State Insect" (not the mosquito, as many t-shirts and bumper stickers would lead you to believe).

There are a couple amazing things about monarchs. First of all, they are left alone by predators because they are poisonous. In the catepillar stage, the monarch eats only poisonous milkweed. This makes its tissues poisonous for predators as well. The monarch is so effective at detering predators that it has an immitator, the Viceroy Butterfly, which has nearly identical markings and coloring. The Viceroy itself is not poisonous, but nobody messes with it either.

Another amazing fact about the monarch is its incredibly long migration. Monarchs that you see fluttering around in Minnesota will spend winters in the same wintering grounds just west of Mexico City. Tens of millions of monarch butterflies make this trip every year. The individual butterflies, however, do not make the trip back. The monarch is a "generational" migratory insect. The butterflies that fly to Mexico will breed and die in the spring. The NEXT generation of butterflies that are born around Texas and other southern states will be the ones that actually make it back to Minnesota the following year.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel - Spermophilus tridecemlineatus

Minnesota is often called the "Gopher State". The mascot and team name of the University of Minnesota is the "Golden Gophers." Strange thing is, these references aren't really to a gopher at all, but to a Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel, which, in fact is more closely related to a chipmunk.

The gopher, or "Pocket Gopher" is a much more unattractive beast, with large digging teeth on the outside of its lips, long claws and external pouches on either side of its mouth. The Ground Squirrel, on the other hand, is a much more presentable (albeit odd) sports team symbol. It is more on this side of "cute" than the real gopher.

The Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel lives in the plains and grasses of western Minnesota and is easily identified by the pattern of "stars and stripes" that go down its back. It can often be seen standing upright in ditches and fields, scanning the horizon for predators.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Walleye - Sander vitreus vitreus

For a number of years in the 1990's, I lived with a bunch of guys in a house behind Tavern on Grand, a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. They were famous for their walleye sandwiches. Well, that was their claim to fame anyway.

Those sandwiches WERE pretty damn good.

The walleye is the Minnesota State Fish. (Hmm... seem to be on a "state animal" theme over the last couple posts.)

The walleye gets its name from its milky eyes. The eyes look this way because they reflect light due to a special membrane. This special membrane in their eyes also allows them to see very well in the dark. They are deep swimming fish, and so have a lower light environment than other game fish.

The walleye is closely related to the "zander," another fish in the pikeperch family. The zander, while tasting the same, is a cheaper, more plentiful fish imported from Europe. As revealed in a local news expose a few years ago, some some restaurants illegally advertise "walleye," when, in fact, they are serving zander.

Common Loon - Gavia immer

The Common Loon or "Great Northern Diver" is the Minnesota State Bird. It is easily recognized by its distinctive coloring, white stripes and flecks on black plumage as well as its long, black bill. It is larger than a duck, but smaller than a goose, averaging around 10 lbs in weight.

Minnesota has so many loons because it has so many lakes. Loons, built to dive, are more at home on water than on land. Unlike most birds, they have solid bones, not hollow bones. This extra weight allows them to dive deeply into lakes, up to 250 feet, but also makes it harder for them to fly. Its commonly know that loons only inhabit larger lakes because they require so much take off space to achieve flight. The loon has to run up to 500 feet across the water, madly flapping it wings, until it can finally take off.

Another distinctive feature of the loon is its red eyes. This coloring helps them see better while underwater. The catch most of their prey (suckers, perch, panfish and other small fish), while diving. They can stay underwater hunting up to 5 minutes at time.

Loons have four sounds they make, a tremolo, a hoot, a yodel and a wail. The wail is the soon most commonly associated with loons. It is a long, hollow mournful sound that lasts several seconds.

Because their primary home is on the water, loons have few natural enemies. Young loons might be attacked by large fish, eagles or hawks; but once a loon achieves adulthood, it is relative safe from predators. Loons live to be up to 30 years old.

Humans are the biggest risk to loons. Speedboats have been known to accidentally run down loon parents and young. Mercury and lead poisoning is also a serious problem, and the Minnesota DNR monitors loon populations for these substances.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Gas Fireplace

We built an addition to the house and put in a little gas fireplace. It heats up the porch nicely.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Saruman the White

A departure from the regular animal sketches for a moment. This is Saruman the White, sketched from an action figure. Without question, the Lord of the Rings trilogy are my favorite movies... and in my top ten for favorite books of all time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Muskrat - Ondatra zibethicus

The Muskrat is found throughout Minnesota and is one of the primary species trapped in this state for their valuable fur. The are the largest rodent living in Minnesota and can be up to 4 pounds.

They are named "muskrat" because of the musky smell they give off, from two scent glands located near their tail. It uses this musk to mark its territory.

Muskrats live in extensive burrows next to watery areas and the entrances/exits are typically the best places to trap them. One of their favorite foods are cattails and so this is another indication of muskrat habitation. Like all rodents, muskrats are prolific. Females have two or three litters a year, each with 6 to 8 young.

The muskrat's fur is so prized because it is very warm. They have two layers of hair in their fur, longer, water repelling hairs and short, dense, thick fur closer to their skin. Because their fur was so prized, they were introduced to Europe in the earlier 20th century, and since that time have spread throughout Europe, Russia and Asia.


My parents have a sweet tempered little dog named Wanda. She wandered into their yard one day, after an obvious hard number of days (weeks?) living on the road. They cleaned her up and fed her and she quickly settled into the house as if she'd always been a part of the family. That was more than ten years ago.

Wanda is in her mid-teens now, so she's in the winter of her years. with all of the corresponding health issues. Each year, my parents think it will be her last, but she just keeps plugging along.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gray (Timber) Wolf - Canis Lupis

The Gray Wolf or Timber Wolf is a pack animal, closely related to our household canine companions. Like dogs, they are very social animals and are dedicated to their pack. A pack is typically 6 to 10 wolves, with an "alpha" male and female that have exclusive breeding rights.

Wolves require a lot of space to live. Their hunting territory can cover up to 100 square miles. They are constantly on the move, marking territory. Wolf pack boundaries butt up against each other, rarely overlapping. A non-pack member that crosses into another pack's territory risks being killed.

The large terriroties of wolves often have them brushing against human civilizations. Recently, the wolf has become a more popular, sympathetic creature, but historically, wolves have been hunted aggressively by man, to the point of endangering the species. Wolves have been perceived as threats to livestock, wild game and man alone in the wild. When viewed objectively, however, the impact of the wolf on livestock and wild game, is minimal. As an example, approximately 10-20 deer are killed each year per each adult wolf. Assumming 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, that means 60,000 deer year-long are killed by wolves. This pales in comparison to the 200,000+ deer harvested by hunters in Minnesota during the two week hunting season.

In a related note, wolf populations are directly tied to deer populations. As the White-tail Deer population continues to explode, there will be increased wolf populations.

As for wolves being a direct danger to humans, it is a popular literature device and little else. There are no documented cases of (non-rabid) wolves preying upon humans in North America within the last century. Humans are simply not perceived by the wolf as being prey.

For more information on wolves, see:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Benny Looking Out the Door

Benny is our mixed breed Shepard/Retriever. He recently was banned from the kitchen (because his nails scratched the new wood floor) and he's having a tough time dealing with it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raccoon - Procyon lotor

A raccoon face.. a combination of circles and triangles.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Striped Skunk - Mephitis mephitis

Skunks are really hard to draw. They have all that black fur going in every direction, which I really don't know what to do with. And they don't have clearly defined facial or body features. They are just these big blobs of fur. So the end result seems to be a bunch of pencil lines going in every direction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eastern Gray Squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis #2

I like how this guy kind of eases out of the white space in a subtle way. It's something I'll have to experiment a little more with.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Sylvilagus Floridanus

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is native to Minnesota and most of the northern and eastern United States. It is an abundant animal and is usually found in areas bordering woods and open fields. One of the reasons the cottontail is so abundant is because it is able to mate and bear multiple young several times a year. The female cottontail can have four litters of young a year, each litter with up to 9 babies; although litters typically have 4 or 5 bunnies.

So each female rabbit can easily produce 20-25 young rabbits every year. Those young rabbits are able to mate when they are just 3 months old. This illustrates why predators are so vital in the food chain. Without heavy and consistent predation on cottontail rabbits, we'd quickly be overrun!

In the summertime, the cottontail eats green grasses and clover. In wintertime it eats bark, buds and twigs. It prefers to be in the open, where it can use its excellent hearing and sight to spot predators before it is spotted itself.  It will typically freeze if it spots a predator, because its speckled brown coat blends in well background leaves, grass and dirt.

If it is spotted by a predator, the Eastern Cottontail will dart off in a zig-zag pattern.  This makes it difficult for a predator to follow its scent trail.  If in a high speed, close pursuit chase, the rabbit can execute these zip-zag movements quickly and leap 10-15 feet at a time.  If captured, its final defense is a high pitched squeal which can confuse its captor or startle it into releasing the rabbit.

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

The American Red Squirrel should not be confused with the Eurasian Red Squirrel. The Eurasian Red Squirrel is native to Europe and Great Britain and is currently getting being pushed out of its normal habitat by the invading American Gray Squirrel. It is believed that over the whole of the UK, there are 140,000 Eurasian Red Squirrels left, with most of those being in Scotland. The Eurasian Red Squirrel is simply not able to compete with its larger cousin, who is able to digest more food types and has higher reproduction rates. In North America, however, the red and gray squirrels have a more harmonious balance.

The American Red Squirrel is one of two squirrels in the "pine squirrel" family (genus genus Tamiasciurus) and can be found all over North America. The other pine squirrel, the Douglas Squirrel, is found mainly on the pacific coast of the United States, in the forested areas of Oregon and California. The American Red Squirrel is active primarily during the day. Red Squirrels are larger than chipmunks but smaller than gray squirrels.

Red Squirrels are known as "grainivores," meaning that the primarily survive on eating small seeds. Pine seeds (specifically seeds from White Spruce pine cones) account for up to half of the Red Squirrel's diet, but they will also eat sunflower and bird seeds, flowers, berries, mushrooms and willow leaves. The Red Squirrel will store accumulated pine cones in a central cache (which is will defend vigorously) and as it eats the seeds from cones, the pine cone scales will accumulate below the tree in a pile called a "midden". So if you have ever been walking in the woods and come upon a sudden pile of pine cone scales (these piles can be up to three feet in diameter), look above you. You are likely to spot a Red Squirrel's eating location.

Most red squirrels make their nests out of grass in the branches of spruce trees. There are a few red squirrel species who live in burrows underground. All red squirrels are extremely territorial and will aggressively chase any intruder from their area. For this reason, the competition for territory amongst red squirrels is fierce. Without a territory and the dedicated food sources it provides, the red squirrel cannot survive their first winter. For this reason (along with predation) red squirrels have an extremely high mortality rate. Only 22% of red squirrels survive past their first winter. If the red squirrel can make it that far, then it is likely they will live to be two or three years of age. The oldest a red squirrel can live to be is eight years of age, but this is extremely rare.

American Red Squirrels have a variety of predators to worry about, the fox, hawk and owl being primary among them. For this reason red squirrels are extremely skittish and have evolved lightning fast reflexes.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Red Fox - Vulpes vulpes (2)

A Red Fox leaping. When these canines spot a mouse or vole, they'll leap straight up in the air and pounce on top of their prey like a cat.

For awhile a couple years ago, we had a fox make a run through our back yard, every day around 4:00 pm. I haven't seen it at all this year. I hope he's OK. Maybe he just his switched hunting patrol route.

Friday, January 11, 2008

American Toad (Bufo americanus)

The American Toad is the most common toad in North America, so chances are, if you see a toad, it is the American.

The American Toad grows to be two to three inches long and can be found in and around wetlands in the spring (during mating season) and just about everywhere else during summer and fall. During mating season, the male toad does a mating call early in the morning and throughout the day. Each mating call last up to thirty seconds.

When people hear chirping sounds in marshes, they may assume it is crickets. But if it is spring, it is more likely a toad.

Most American Toads are "Eastern American Toads". There is, however, a subspecies of toad known as the "Dwarf American Toad" that lives in Oklahoma and Arkansas. This subspecies is, of course, smaller than the Eastern variety, and so doesn't grow much larger than two inches long.

The American Toad lays its eggs in two strings and the young hatch in one or two weeks. Toad tadpoles are easily recognized as different from frog tadpoles because they have skinny tails in relation to the rest of their bodies. Toad tadpoles grow to adulthood in around 40 days. Until that time, they must stay in water. After reaching adulthood, they primarily stay away from water, except for the return during mating seasons.

The toad eats insects, worms, grubs and snails. The American Toad's primary defense is staying out of sight. In addition, while it is not poisonous (as some exotic toad/frog species are) the skin on its back tastes extremely bitter. Therefore many predators, such as raccoons, will simply flip the toad over and eat the underside of the toad, leaving the back of the toad untouched.

In the wintertime, toads bury themselves in soil to get below the frost-line. They do this in easily dug, sandy soils and will dig as deep as needed to avoid frost. The colder the winter, the deeper the toad will dig.

A commonly-told myth about toads is that you can get warts from them. Warts on toad skins are a natural formation, not a virus or disease that can be communicated to others.

Wolf Spider - Lycosidae

Although it might look terrifying up close (to some), the Wolf Spider is harmless to humans. If harassed or handled ungently, it may bite, but this will only result in minor irritation or itching for most people. It is, however, an effective hunter which relies on good eyesight to run down its prey. Perhaps because of this style of hunting, rather than the typical web-based capture for spiders, it is known as the "Wolf Spider".

The Wolf Spider is difficult to classify into specific genera and species, simply because there are so many of them. All of the hundreds of species of "Wolf Spider" though, all fall under the family of "Lycosidae" The largest of Wolf Spiders is approximately an inch (body length) and most are a quarter to a half inch in length.

All Wolf Spiders have eight eyes arranged into three rows, the middle row containing two very large eyes. Their eyes are exceptionally good (for spiders) at seeing objects up to eight inches away. Their eyes reflect light well and it is possible to spot them at night by shining a flashlight and looking for the tiny reflected light on their eyes.

Camouflage is the Wolf Spider's only defense from predators, and so they are typically mottled brown and black in color, to better blend into their surroundings.

Wolf spiders live by the thousands in leafy, grassy and woodsy areas. Some Wolf Spiders will dig a small burrow and defend it, others are completely free-roaming. While they are beneficial to humans because they keep insect populations down, including crop insects, they are sometimes seen as a pest. This is especially true in fall, when they may attempt to enter warm houses before the onset of winter.

Wolf Spiders are unique in that they carry their egg sacs instead of leaving them secured on a branch or twig. After hatching, the young climb up on the mother's back, where they will remain for almost a month. This makes level of infant care makes Wolf Spiders unique in the spider world.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wood Frog - Rana sylvatica

The Wood Frog is a mostly brown little frog about two or three inches long. It's often the first frog heard calling for mates in the spring.

The Wood Frog lives in forests and brush not far from wetlands, lakeshores, ponds, etc. It is known to travel a considerable distance from its watery breeding grounds.

The Wood Frog is one of the most widely scattered amphibian in North America. Its range extends far into Canada, even as far north as the Arctic Circle.

One of the most amazing facts about the Wood Frog is that it survives over winter, in spite of being frozen solid. The Wood Frog will spend winter under a small cover of leaves or debris. World-wide, there are only a few species of vertebrates that can survive winter with tissues freezing in this way. It enables the Wood Frog to inhabit many northern areas and also range farther from bodies of water than other frogs.

Another amazing fact about the Wood Frog is that it can mature from egg to small frog in less than 50 days. For this reason, many classrooms use Wood Frogs as teaching subjects so students can observe the growth of the frog in a relative short period of time.

Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Less cartoonish and "sketchy" than my last sketch of a possum. That one was also in full "faked death" mode.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Chipmunk - Taimus straitus

A second post of a chipmunk. Check out the first one as well.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Deer Mouse - Peromyscus maniculatus (2)

A second post of a deer mouse. Interesting to see here, what I hope is an improvement in my technique, since the last mouse sketch I did in October.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

The Canadian Goose (or Canada Goose) is seen throughout Minnesota. It is easily identified by its black head and white "chinstrap." It will grow to 12-14 lbs. Canadian Geese can live to be up to 24 years old.

Canadian Geese like to be in shallow areas near water. Wetlands, parks and even golf courses provide ideal grounds for them to live and raise their young. They live on grasses, seeds or grains such as corn and wheat.

Canadian Geese have become very successful at living on the borders of human habitation. However, they can be quite aggressive towards any creature (including humans) when defending their territory or their young.

Because of their noise, aggressive tendencies and the large amount of goose poop they leave in public areas, the Canadian Goose is commonly seen as a nuisance bird.

Charlie the Horse

This year, we went to downtown White Bear Lake and took a carriage ride behind Charlie the Horse. The kids really liked it when Charlie stopped to take a pee for about five minutes. Afterwards, we all stopped by the Chocolate Spoon for coffee and hot chocolate.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

The Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is native to North America and can be found all over Minnesota. There are very few predators that will harass the skunk, due to its obnoxious odor. Only the Great Horned Owl is known to prey on skunks regardless of their chemical defenses. This is mainly due to the owl's weak, almost non-existent, sense of smell.

Of course, the skunk is mostly known for its ability to squirt a horrific odorous, sulfur-based spray through anal scent glands. They are extremely accurate with this squirt and can spray an attacker up to 15 feet away. The spray can also cause temporary blindness.

The skunk is omnivorous and will feed on insects, mice, eggs, seeds, berries and human trash. It typically feeds at dusk or early morning. The skunk dens under buildings or in burrows, drain pipes, hollow logs, etc. The male skunk typically dens by itself, while several female skunks may den together. Skunks do not hibernate.

Skunks are intelligent and, perhaps because they are so seldom attacked by other animals; they are unusually good natured. In spite of their gentleness, they can be deadly because of their proclivity to carry rabies.

Rabies is more common in the striped skunk than any other Minnesota animal.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Northern River Otter (Lutra canadensis)

The Northern River Otter is native to Canada and the United States. It is a highly curious, playful and social animal, often seen playing, rolling, wrestling and sliding near rivers and streams.

The River Otter can grow to be up to 30 lbs and 3 1/2 feet long. Its muscular tail, used for swimming, accounts for nearly half that length. The River Otter is highly adapted to living in an aquatic environment.

The River Otter has webbed toes and a dense fur coat that works extremely well at retaining body heat in water. The otter's nostrils block off airways when swimming.

The River Otter uses scent to communicate with other otters, marking the perimeter of its territory using a combination of musk and urine. This is called "sprainting."

The River Otter primarily eats fish, but will also eat insects, frogs, crustaceans and even small mammals. Some River Otters live in marine environments (along coast lines), which leads them to be confused with Sea Otters. But the River Otter can be identified by its slightly narrower head and different behaviors. For instance, the Sea Otter will consume meals on its belly while floating. The River Otter, on the other hand, will always bring its food ashore to eat.

Whitetail Deer - Fawn (Odocoileus virginianus)

Whitetail deer give birth to one, sometimes two fawns. On rare ocassions, females will have three fawns at a time. Fawns are typically 6 to 8 lbs. at birth. The birth usually happens in mid to late spring, with the doe having carried the young fawn in pregnancy since the late fall breeding period the previous year.

Young fawns have reddish fur patterned with white spots. These spots help hide them from predators. The first few weeks of a young fawn's life is its most perilous and they have a high mortality rate. Young fawns are adept at remaining absolutely still in low brush or grass, as remaining unseen is their only defense against the variety of predators that hunt them.

Fawns lose these spots their first summer and will grow to be 50 to 70 pounds by their first winter. When deer populations are down, females are even sometimes ready to breed within their first year.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Whitetail Deer Skull

Another skull, this one of a whitetail deer.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wolf Skull

Basic anatomy is one of the most important parts of accurate drawings. I could probably spend months sketching skulls and bones and it would greatly benefit me. Unfortunately, I lack the patience and commitment for that.