Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 25 – Mink + Otter

Chapter 25

Mink and Otter

The bank of the Smiling Pool was a lovely place to hold a learning session at just after sun-up. Everybody who could get there was on hand, and there were several who had not been before. One of these was Grandfather Frog, who was sitting on his big, green, lily pad. Another was Jerry Muskrat, whose house was out in the Smiling Pool. Spotty the Turtle was also there and Longlegs the Heron too. You see, they hadn’t come to the learning sessions the learning session came to them, for that is where they live or spend most of their time.

“Good morning, Jerry Muskrat,” said Mother Nature pleasantly, as Jerry’s brown head appeared in the Smiling Pool. “Have you seen anything of Billy Mink or Little Joe Otter?”

“Little Joe went down to the Big River last night,” replied Jerry Muskrat. “I don’t know when he is coming back, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him any minute. Billy Mink was here last evening and said he was going up the Laughing Brook fishing. He is likely to be back any time. One never can tell when that fellow will appear. He comes and goes continually. I don’t believe he can keep still five minutes.”

“Who can’t keep still for five minutes?” a new voice jumped in and there was Billy Mink himself just climbing out on the Big Rock.

“Jerry was speaking of you,” replied Mother Nature. “This will be a good chance for you to show him that he is mistaken. I want you to stay here for a while and to stay right on the Big Rock. I may want to ask you a few questions.”

Just then Billy Mink dove into the Smiling Pool, and a second later his brown head popped out of the water and in his mouth was a fat fish. He scrambled back on the Big Rock and looked at Mother Nature as he laid the fish down.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he mumbled. “I saw that fish and dove for him. I hope you will forgive me, Mother Nature. I just can’t sit still for long.”

As Billy Mink sat there on the Big Rock for a moment eating his fish everyone had a good look at him. One glance would tell anyone that he was a cousin of Shadow the Weasel. He was much larger than Shadow and of the same general shape being long and slender. His coat was a beautiful dark brown, darkest on the back. His chin was white. His tail was round, covered with fairly long hair which was so dark as to be almost black. His face was like that of Shadow the Weasel. His legs were rather short. As he sat eating that fish, his back was arched.

Mink – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Mother Nature waited until he had finished his feast. “Now then, Billy,” she said, “Which do you like best, night or day?”

“It doesn’t make any particular difference to me,” replied Billy. “I just sleep when I feel like it, whether it be night or day, and then when I wake up I can hunt. It all depends on how I feel.”

“When you go hunting, what do you hunt?” asked Mother Nature.

Billy grinned. “Anything that promises a good meal,” he said. “I’m not very particular. A fat Mouse, a tender young Rabbit, a Chipmunk, a Frog, Tadpoles, Chickens, eggs, birds, fish; whatever happens to be easiest to get suits me. I am rather fond of fish, and that’s one reason that I live along the Laughing Brook and around the Smiling Pool. I do like a change, and so often I go hunting in the Green Forest. Sometimes I go up to Farmer Brown’s for a Chicken. In the spring I hunt for nests of birds on the ground. In winter, if Peter Rabbit should happen along here when I was hungry, I might be tempted to sample Peter.” Billy blinked his bright eyes as Peter shivered.

“And if Jerry Muskrat were not my friend, I am afraid I might be tempted to sample him too,” continued Billy Mink.

“Oh Pooh!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “You wouldn’t dare tackle Jerry Muskrat.”

“Wouldn’t I?” replied Billy. “Just ask Jerry how he feels about it.”

One look at Jerry’s face showed everybody that Jerry, big as he was, was afraid of Billy Mink. “And how do you hunt when you are on land?” asked Mother Nature.

“I hunt with my eyes, nose and ears,” replied Billy. “There may be folks with better ears than I’ve got, although I don’t know who they are. I wouldn’t swap noses with anybody. As for my eyes, well, they are plenty good enough for me.”

“In other words, you hunt very much as does your cousin, Shadow the Weasel,” said Mother Nature.

Billy nodded. “I suppose we are similar at that,” he said.

“You all saw how Billy catches fish,” said Mother Nature. “Now, Billy, if you would swim over to the farther bank and show us how you run.”

Billy slipped into the water and swam for a distance and then popped just his head out. When he reached the edge of the pond he climbed up on the bank and started along it. He went by a series of bounds, his back arched sharply between each leap. Then he disappeared before their very eyes, only to reappear as suddenly as he had gone. So quick were his movements that it was impossible for them to keep their eyes on him. It seemed sometimes as though he must have vanished into the air. Of course he didn’t. He was simply showing them his wonderful ability to take advantage of every little stick, stone and bush.

“Billy is a great traveler,” said Mother Nature. “He really loves to travel up and down the Laughing Brook, even for long distances. Being so slender he can slip under all kinds of places and into all sorts of holes. Quick as he is on land, he is not so quick as his Cousin Shadow the Weasel; and good swimmer as he is, he isn’t so good as his bigger cousin, Little Joe Otter. However, being equally at home on land and in water, he has an advantage over his cousins. Mrs. Mink makes her home nest in a hole in the bank or under an old stump or under a pile of driftwood, and you may be sure it is well hidden. There the babies are born, and they stay with their mother all summer. Incidentally, Billy can climb too.”

“Now, I wish Little Joe Otter were here. I had hoped he would be,” said Mother Nature looking all around.

“Here he comes now,” cried Jerry Muskrat. “I rather expected he would be back.” Jerry pointed towards where the Laughing Brook left the Smiling Pool on its way to the Big River. A brown head was moving rapidly towards them. There was no mistaking that head. It could belong to no one other than Little Joe Otter. Straight on to the Big Rock he came, and climbed up. He was big, being one of the largest members of his family. He was more than three feet long. No one looking at him could mistake him for anyone other than a member of the Weasel family. His legs were short, very short for the length of his body. His tail was fairly long and broad. His coat was a rich brown all over, and a little lighter underneath than on the back.”

“What’s going on over here?” asked Little Joe Otter, his eyes bright with interest.

“We are holding a learning session here today,” explained Mother Nature. “And we were just hoping that you would appear. Would you hold up one of your feet and spread the toes, Little Joe for all to see?”

Otter – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Little Joe Otter did with a puzzled look on his face. “Well I’ll be!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “His toes are webbed like those of Paddy the Beaver!”

“Ah yes,” said Little Joe, “I never could swim the way I do if they weren’t webbed.”

“Can you swim better than Paddy the Beaver?” asked Peter.

“I should say I can. If I didn’t, I guess I would go hungry most of the time,” replied Little Joe.

“Why should you go hungry? Paddy doesn’t,” replied Peter.

“Paddy doesn’t live on fish,” replied Little Joe. “I do and that’s the difference.”

“Might you show us how you can swim?” suggested Mother Nature.

Little Joe slipped into the water. The Smiling Pool was very still and the four-legged folks sitting on the bank could look right down and see nearly to the bottom. They saw Little Joe as he entered the water and then saw little more than a brown streak. A second later his head popped out on the other side of the Smiling Pool.

“Phew, I’m glad I’m not a fish!” exclaimed Peter and everybody laughed.

“ Like Billy Mink, Little Joe is a great traveler,” Mother Nature continued, “especially up and down the Laughing Brook and the Big River. Sometimes he travels over land, although he is so heavy and his legs are so short that traveling on land is slow work. When he does cross from one stream or pond to another, he always picks out the smoothest going. Sometimes in winter he travels quite a bit. Then when he comes to a smooth hill, he slides down it on his stomach. By the way, Little Joe, haven’t you a slippery slide somewhere around here?”

Little Joe nodded. “I’ve got one down the Laughing Brook where the bank is steep,” said he. “Mrs. Otter and I and our children slide every day!”

“What do you mean by a slippery slide?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel, who was sitting in the Big Hickory-tree which grew on the bank of the Smiling Pool.

Mother Nature smiled. “Little Joe Otter and his family are quite fond of play,” she said. “One of their ways of playing is to make a slippery slide where the bank is steep and the water deep. In winter it is made of snow and in summer it is made of mud. There they slide down, splash into the water, then climb up the bank and do it all over again. In winter they make their slippery slide where the water doesn’t freeze.”

“I suppose that means that Little Joe doesn’t sleep in winter as Johnny Chuck does,” said Peter.

“Oh no, I should say not,” exclaimed Little Joe. “I like the winter, too. I have such a warm coat that I never get cold. There are always places where the water doesn’t freeze. I can swim for long distances under ice and so I can always get plenty of food.”

“Do you eat anything other than fish?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Oh, sometimes,” replied Little Joe. “Once in a while I like a little fresh meat for a change, and sometimes when fish are scarce I eat Frogs, but I prefer fish, especially Salmon and Trout.”

“How many babies do you have at a time?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel.

“Usually one to three,” replied Little Joe, “and only one family a year. They are born in my comfortable house, which is a burrow in the bank. There Mrs. Otter makes a large, soft nest of leaves and grass. And now I think I will go on up the Laughing Brook as Mrs. Otter is waiting for me there.”

  1. Perhaps you live in a climate where there is snow to make a winter slippery slide just like Little Joe Otter. Have you ever thought to make a mud slide in the summer like him too? Try a little research with your family to see what otter slippery slides look like and then see if you can recreate your own version for some summer P.L.A.Y.!
  2. Have you seen a mink walk on land? Can you arch your back “between leaps” like Billy Mink? Or how about leap AND hide as he does? Where are you best suited for travel – on land or in the water?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 24 – Weasel

Chapter 24


Every one was on hand for the learning session the next morning, despite the fear that the mere mention of Shadow the Weasel had brought about in all except Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porcupine. You see, everyone felt they must be there so that they might learn all they possibly could about one they so feared. It might help them to escape should they discover Shadow hunting them sometime.

“Striped Chipmunk,” said Mother Nature, “Would you be willing to share something about Shadow the Weasel?”

“He is the one predator I fear more than any other,” declared Striped Chipmunk, “because he is the one who can go wherever I can. Any hole I can get into he can. I’ve seen him just twice in my life, and I hope I may never see him again.”

“What did he look like?” asked Mother Nature.

“Like a snake on legs,” said Striped Chipmunk. “Anyway, that is what he made me think of, because his body was so long and slim and he twisted and turned so easily. He was about as long as Chatterer the Red Squirrel and looked longer because of his slim body and long neck. He was brown above and white below. His front feet were white, and his hind feet rather whitish. His short, round tail was black at the end. Somehow his small head and sharp face made me think of a Snake.”

Weasel – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“I saw him once, and he wasn’t brown at all,” interrupted Jumper the Hare. “He was all white, every bit of him except the end of his tail which was black.”

“Striped Chipmunk is quite right and so are you,” said Mother Nature. “Striped Chipmunk saw him in the summer and you saw him in the winter. He changes his coat according to the season, just as you do yourself, Jumper.”

“Oh, I see” said Jumper.

“What was he doing when you saw him?” asked Mother Nature, turning to Striped Chipmunk.

“Hunting,” replied Striped Chipmunk, and shivered. “He was hunting me. He had found my tracks where I had been gathering beechnuts, and he was following them with his nose just the way Bowser the Hound follows Reddy Fox. I nearly died of fright when I saw him.”

“You are lucky to be alive,” declared Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“I know it,” replied Striped Chipmunk and shivered again. “I know it. I guess I wouldn’t be if Reddy Fox hadn’t happened along just then and frightened Shadow away. I’ve actually had a kindlier feeling for Reddy Fox ever since.”

“I never ran harder in my life than the time I saw him,” spoke up Jumper the Hare. “He was hunting me just the same way, running with his nose in the snow and following every twist and turn I had made. Only for that black-tipped tail did I see him before it was too late.”

“The idea of a big fellow like you running from such a little fellow as my Cousin Shadow, what a thought!” added Jimmy Skunk to the conversation.

“I may be ever so much bigger, however he is so quick I wouldn’t stand the least chance in the world,” said Jumper the Hare. “When I suspect Shadow is about, I go somewhere else, the farther the better. If I could climb a tree like Chatterer, it would be different.”

“Actually no it wouldn’t,” interrupted Chatterer. “That fellow can climb almost as well as I can. The only thing that saved me from him once was the fact that I could make a long jump from one tree to another and he couldn’t. He had found a hole in a certain tree where I was living, and it was just luck that I wasn’t at home when he called. I was just returning when he popped out. I ran for my life.”

“Has he any predators?” asked Peter Rabbit to Mother Nature.

“Oh, yes,” replied Mother Nature. “Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote, Hooty the Owl and various members of the Hawk family have to be watched for by him. Although they do not worry him much. You see he moves so quickly, dodging out of sight in a flash, that whoever catches him must be quick indeed. Then, too, he is almost always close to good cover. He delights in old stone walls, stone piles, brush-grown fences, piles of rubbish and barns and old buildings, the places that Mice delight in. In such places there is always a hole to dart into in time of danger. He hunts whenever he feels like it, be it day or night, and often covers considerable ground, though nothing to compare with his big, brown, water-loving cousin, Billy Mink. It is because of his wonderful ability to disappear in an instant that he is called Shadow.”

“Shadow is known as the Common Weasel, Short-tailed Weasel, Brown Weasel, and Ermine, and is found all over the forested parts of the northern part of the country. Most Weasels are alike in habits. When running they bound over the ground much as Peter Rabbit does.”

“Now tomorrow we will meet on the bank of the Smiling Pool.”

  1. If you were to think of a “furry snake” is a weasel what comes to mind or a different image?
  2. Who do you think we will meet at the Smiling Pool in Chapter 25 when the four-legged folks gather again? Who lives around or in a pond? How many critters can you name?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 23 – Badger + Wolverine

Chapter 23

Badger and Wolverine

“Well, Peter,” said Mother Nature, “did you visit Digger the Badger yesterday?”

“Oh yes,” replied Peter, “I visited him, although I didn’t find out too much. It took me a long time to find him. He has more holes than anybody I ever knew, and I couldn’t tell which one is his home. When I did find him, he gave me a terrible scare. I didn’t see him until I was right on top of him, and if I hadn’t jumped, and jumped quickly, I guess I wouldn’t be here this morning. He was lying flat down in the grass and he was so very flat that I just didn’t see him. I told him that I wanted to know all about him and his ways and he didn’t say much.”

“I sat around awhile and watched him, although he mostly took a sun bath. He certainly is an odd looking fellow to be a member of the Weasel family. There’s nothing about him that looks like a Weasel, that I could see. Of course, he isn’t as broad as he is long, although he looks almost as if when he is lying flat down and that long hair of his is spread out on both sides. He has a silvery gray and silky looking coat. It seems to be parted right down the middle of his back. His tail is rather short, stout, and hairy. As for his head, each cheek is a bar of black. The back part of each ear is black, and he has rather a sharp nose. He has a broad white stripe from his nose right straight back over his head. Somehow when he is walking he makes me think of a little, flattened-out Bear with very short legs. And such claws as he has on his front feet! I don’t know any one with such big strong claws for his size. I guess that must be because he is such a digger.”

Badger – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“That’s a very good guess, Peter,” said Mother Nature. “Has any one here ever seen him dig?”

“I did once,” replied Peter. “I happened to be over near where he lives when Farmer Brown’s boy came along and surprised Digger some distance from one of his holes. Digger didn’t try to get to one of those holes; he simply began to dig. My gracious, how the sand did fly! He was out of sight in the ground before Farmer Brown’s boy could get to him. Johnny Chuck is pretty good at digging, and yet he simply isn’t in the same class with Digger the Badger. No one is that I know of, unless it is Miner the Mole. I guess this is all I know about him, excepting that he is a great fighter. Once I saw him go after a dog almost twice his size. I never heard such hissing and snarling and growling. He wouldn’t tell me anything about how he lives though.”

“Thank you, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, “That’s as much as I expected you would be able to find out. Just to add a bit more, his home is here and on the great plains and in the flat, open country of the Middle West and Far West, where Gophers and Ground Squirrels and Prairie Dogs live. They furnish him with the greater part of his food. All of them are good diggers, however they don’t stand any chance when he sets his attention on digging them out. His teeth are sharp and strong and he is afraid of no one of his own size. His skin is very tough and he is further protected by his long hair.”

“Digger spends most of his time under ground during daylight, seldom coming out except for a sun bath. As soon as jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed for the night, Digger appears and travels about in search of a dinner. His legs are so short and he is so stout and heavy that he travels slowly. He makes up for this with his digging speed. He doesn’t expect to catch anyone on the surface, unless he happens to surprise a Meadow Mouse within jumping distance. Instead he goes hunting for the holes of Ground Squirrels and other burrowers, and when he finds one promptly digs. He eats Grasshoppers, Beetles, small Snakes, and other small animals. It was well for you, Peter, that you jumped when you did, for I suspect that Digger would have enjoyed a Rabbit dinner.”

“In winter Digger sleeps as Johnny Chuck does, coming out soon after the snow disappears in the spring. Then Mr. and Mrs. Badger have two to five babies late in the spring or early in the summer. They are born under ground in a nest of grass. Mr. and Mrs. Badger are quite satisfied to live by themselves and be left alone. They are rarely seen in the daytime, although they are probably out more often than you would suppose. Peter has told how he nearly stepped on Digger before seeing him. It is Digger’s wise habit to lie perfectly still until he is sure he has been seen, so people often pass him without seeing him at all, or if they see him they take him for a stone.”

“While Digger the Badger is a lover of the open country and doesn’t like the Green Forest at all he has a cousin who is found only in the Green Forest and usually very deep in the Green Forest at that. This is the Wolverine, the largest member of the family. None of you have seen him, because he lives mostly in the great forests of the North beyond here.”

“Wolverine has several other names. He is called ‘Carcajou’ in the Far North, and out in the Far West is often called ‘Skunkbear.’ The latter name probably is given him because in shape and color he looks a good deal as though he might be half Skunk and half Bear. He is about three feet long with a tail six inches long, and is thickset and heavy. His legs are short and very stout. His hair, including that on the tail, is long and shaggy. It is blackish-brown, becoming grayish on the upper part of his head and cheeks. His feet are black. When he walks he puts his feet flat on the ground as a Bear does.”

Wolverine – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Being so short of leg and heavy of body, he is slow in his movements. What he lacks in this respect he makes up in strength and cunning. Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote are clever, and so too is Wolverine. His strength is so great that often he will tear his way into the cabins of hunters while they are absent and then eat or destroy all their food. His appetite is tremendous. What he cannot eat or take away, he covers with musk and buries it so that no other animal will touch it.”

“Mrs. Wolverine has two or three babies in the spring. They live in a cave, and if a cave cannot be found, they use a hole in the ground which Mrs. Wolverine digs. It is usually well hidden. Wolverine will eat any kind of flesh and seems not to care whether it be freshly killed or so old that it is decayed.”

“I think this will do for today. Tomorrow we will take up another branch of the family, some members of which all of you know. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good plan to have Shadow the Weasel here.”

Such a look of dismay swept over the faces of all those little four-legged folks, with the exception of Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky. “If–if–if you please, I don’t think I’ll come tomorrow morning,” said Danny Meadow Mouse.

“I–I–I think I shall be too busy at home and will have to miss that session,” said Striped Chipmunk.

Mother Nature smiled. “Don’t worry, little folks,” she said. “You ought to know that if I had Shadow here I wouldn’t let him hurt any one of you. Although I am afraid if he were here you would pay no attention to me, so I promise you that Shadow will not be anywhere near.”

  1. What purpose do you think the white stripe serves on a Badger? Why do you think it goes from nose to tail vs. side stripes? Why is it symmetrical on their face?
  2. If the Wolverine looks like a “half skunk + half bear”, what other animals can you think of that look like “half of this + half of that”?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 22 – Skunks

Chapter 22


Just as Mother Nature asked who they should learn about next, Happy Jack Squirrel spied some one coming down the Lone Little Path. “Look who’s coming!” cried Happy Jack.

Everybody turned to look down the Lone Little Path. There, ambling along in the most matter-of-fact and unconcerned way, came a certain four-legged friend who was dressed all in black and white.

“Hello, Jimmy Skunk,” shouted Chatterer the Red Squirrel. “What are you doing over here in the Green Forest?” Jimmy Skunk looked up and grinned. It was a slow, good-natured grin. “Hello, everybody,” he said. “I thought I would just amble over here and see what you are all up to gathering together. Have any of you seen any fat Beetles around here?”

“Has anyone seen a Fat Beetle?” asks Jimmy Skunk.

Just then Jimmy noticed Mother Nature. “Please excuse me, Mother Nature,” he said, “I don’t mean to interrupt.”

Mother Nature smiled. The fact is, Mother Nature is rather fond of Jimmy Skunk. “You aren’t interrupting,” she said. “The fact is, we have just ended the learning session about Flitter the Bat and his relatives, and were trying to decide who to focus our attention on next. I think you came along at just the right time. You belong to a large and rather important order, one that all these little folks here ought to know about. How many cousins have you, Jimmy?”

Jimmy Skunk looked a little surprised at the question. He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Let me see,” he said, “I have several close cousins in the Skunk branch of the family, although I’m guessing you want to know who my cousins are outside of the Skunk branch. They are Shadow the Weasel, Billy Mink, and Little Joe Otter. These are the only ones I can think of now.”

“How about Digger the Badger?” asked Mother Nature.

A look of surprise swept over Jimmy Skunk’s face. “Digger the Badger!” he exclaimed. “Digger the Badger can’t be a cousin of mine!”

“Digger the Badger is just as much a cousin of yours as is Shadow the Weasel,” Mother Nature confirmed. “You are members of the same order and it is a rather large order. It is called the Car-niv-o-ra, which means ‘flesh-eating.’ You are a member of the Marten or Weasel family, and that family is called the ‘Mus-tel-i-dae.’ Digger the Badger is also a member of that family. That means that you two are cousins. You and Digger and the Wolverine all belong to the stout-bodied branch of the family. Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Shadow the Weasel, Pekan the Fisher and Spite the Marten belong to its slim-bodied branch. And all are members of the same family despite the difference in looks, and thus, of course, are cousins. Seeing that you are here, Jimmy, I think we will find out just how much these little folks know about you.”

“Peter Rabbit, could you tell us what you know about Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.

“Well, I do know one thing about him,” declared Peter, “and that is he is the most independent fellow in the world. He isn’t afraid of anybody. I saw Buster Bear actually step out of his way the other day.”

Jimmy Skunk grinned. “Buster always treats me very politely,” said Jimmy.

“I have noticed that everybody does, even Farmer Brown’s boy,” added Happy Jack Squirrel.

“It is easy enough to be independent when everybody is afraid of you,” sputtered Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“And just why is everybody afraid of Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.

Skunk illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“They are afraid of that little scent spray he carries,” spoke up Peter Rabbit. “I wish I had one just like it.”

Mother Nature shook her head. “It wouldn’t do, Peter, to trust you with a scented spray the likes of Jimmy Skunk’s,” she said. “I am afraid there would be trouble in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadow all the time as I suspect that you would drive everybody else away. Jimmy never uses that little scent spray unless he is in real danger or thinks he is. Usually he is pretty sure that he is before he uses it. I’ll venture to say that not one of you has seen Jimmy use his scent spray.”

Peter looked at Jumper the Hare. Jumper looked at Chatterer. Chatterer looked at Happy Jack. Happy Jack looked at Danny Meadow Mouse. Danny looked at Striped Chipmunk. Striped looked at Johnny Chuck. Johnny looked at Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then they all looked at Mother Nature and shook their heads. “I thought as much,” she said. “Jimmy is wonderfully well suited for using the scented spray for defense only as needed. He never misuses it. And since everybody knows he has it, nobody interferes with him. Now, Peter, what more do you know about Jimmy?”

“He is good-natured,” said Peter, and grinned at Jimmy.

Jimmy grinned back. “Thank you, Peter,” he said.

“He is one of the best-natured people I know,” continued Peter. “He also eats Beetles and grubs and Grasshoppers and Crickets and insects of all sorts. I am told that he eats eggs when he can find them.”

Jimmy also noted “I might as well add to the list that a Mouse is rather to my liking, young birds, and I also enjoy a Frog now and then, or a Lizard, or a fish.”

“Is that all you know about Jimmy?” asked Mother Nature of Peter.

“I guess it is,” replied Peter, “excepting that he lives in a hole in the ground, and I seldom see him out in winter. I rather think he sleeps all winter, the same as Johnny Chuck does.”

“I do sleep a lot during the winter,” said Jimmy, “however I don’t go into winter quarters until well after the snow comes, and I don’t sleep the way Johnny Chuck does. Sometimes I go out in winter and hunt around a little.”

“Do you dig your house?” asked Mother Nature.

Jimmy shook his head. “Not when I can help myself,” he said. “It is too much work. If I have to I do, although I would much rather use one of Johnny Chuck’s old houses. His houses suit me first rate.”

“I want you all to look at Jimmy very closely,” said Mother Nature. “You will notice that he is about the size of Black Shadow, the Cat from Farmer Brown’s, and that his coat is black with broad white stripes. However, not all Skunks are marked alike. I dare say that no two of Jimmy’s children would be exactly alike. I suspect that one or more might be all black, with perhaps a little bit of white on the tail. Notice that Jimmy’s front feet have long, sharp claws. He uses these to dig out grubs and insects in the ground, and for pulling over sticks and stones in his search for beetles. Also notice that he places his feet on the ground very much as does Buster Bear. That big, bushy tail of his is for the purpose of warning folks. Jimmy never shoots that scent spray without first giving warning. When that tail of his begins to go up in the air, wise people watch out.”

“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Jimmy Skunk and his family do a great deal of harm. The truth is, they do a great deal of good. Once in a while they will make the mistake of stealing Chickens or eggs. They make up for all they take in this way by the pests they destroy. Jimmy and Mrs. Skunk have a large family each year, usually from six to ten. Mrs. Skunk usually is living by herself when the babies are born and when they are big enough to walk their father rejoins the family, and you may see them hunting together for Grasshoppers or Beetles. Often the whole family remains together all winter, not breaking up until spring. Jimmy is very neat and takes the best of care of his handsome coat. He isn’t afraid of water and can swim if it is necessary. He does most of his hunting at night and sleeping during the day.”

“Jimmy has cousins in nearly all parts of this great country. Way down in the Southwest is one called the Hog-nosed Skunk, one of the largest of the family. He gets his name because of the shape of his nose and the fact that he roots in the ground the same as a hog. He is also called the Badger Skunk because of the big claws on his front feet and the fact that he is a great digger. His fur is not so fine as that of Jimmy Skunk, and is rather coarse and harsh. He is even more of an insect eater than is Jimmy.”

Spotted Skunk illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“The smallest of Jimmy’s own cousins is the Little Spotted Skunk. He is only about half as big as Jimmy, and his coat, instead of being striped with white like Jimmy’s, is covered with irregular white lines and spots. He lives in the southern half of the country and in his habits is much like Jimmy, although he is much livelier. Occasionally he climbs low trees. Like Jimmy he eats almost anything he can find. And it goes without saying that, like Jimmy, he carries a little scent spray too. By the way, Jimmy, what do you do when you are angry? Can you show us?”

Jimmy began to growl, an odd-sounding little growl, and at the same time stamped the ground with his front feet. Mother Nature laughed. “When you see Jimmy do that,” she said, “it is best to pretend you don’t see him and keep out of his way.”

“Hasn’t Jimmy any predators at all?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“That depends on how hungry some folks get,” replied Mother Nature. “Hooty the Owl doesn’t seem to mind Jimmy’s little scent spray, however this is the only one I can think of who doesn’t. Some of the bigger animals might take him if they were starving, although even then I think they would think twice.”

“Now, who knows where Digger the Badger is living?” asked Mother Nature.

“I do,” replied Peter Rabbit. “He is living out on the Green Meadows over near the Old Pasture.”

“All right, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, “suppose you run over and pay him a visit and tomorrow morning you can tell us all about it.”

  1. Can you think of any other “famous” skunk characters in books or movies? If so, how often is the scent spray brought up as the primary thing to know about skunks? Could you write a story about a skunk and focus on something other than the scent spray? What might you write about?
  2. Why hadn’t any of the four-legged friends seen Jimmy Skunk use his scent spray? Have you ever seen a skunk spray? Or have you ever smelled the spray? Did you know the scent can be detected for half a mile away? Write or draw about your skunk scent experience in your nature journal.
  3. *Have you ever seen skunk tracks? The skunk takes short steps and goes slowly so that it makes a double track with the imprints being very close together. The foot makes a longer track than that of the cat and walks upon both palms and heels as well as toes.
  4. *How big is a skunk? How does a skunk benefit a farmer? Do skunks make any vocal noises?
  5. Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more information and a photo of a skunk.

Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 21 – Bats

Chapter 21


In the dusk of early evening, as Peter Rabbit sat trying to make up his mind whether to spend the night at home in the dear Old Briar-patch with Mrs. Rabbit or go over to the Green Forest in search of an adventure, a very fine, squeaky voice came right out of the air above him startling him for just a moment.

“Better stay at home, Peter Rabbit. Better stay at home tonight,” said the squeaky voice.

“Well hello, Flitter!” exclaimed Peter, as he stared up at a little dark form darting this way and twisting that way, now up, now down, almost brushing Peter’s head and then flying so high he could hardly be seen. “Why should I stay at home?”

“Because I saw Old Man Coyote sneaking along the edge of the Green Forest, and Reddy Fox is hunting on the Green Meadows, and Hooty the Owl is on watch in the Old Orchard,” replied Flitter the Red Bat or otherwise known as Tree Bat. “Of course it is no business of mine what you do, Peter Rabbit, however if I were in your place I certainly would stay at home. Good Gracious! I’m ever so glad I can go where I please when I please. You ought to fly, Peter. You really ought to fly. There is nothing like it.”

“Oh how I wish I could,” sighed Peter.

“So long for now, I must be on my way,” squeaked Flitter, and darted away in the direction of Farmer Brown’s house. Peter wisely decided that the dear Old Briar-patch was the best place for him that night, so he remained at home, to the joy of Mrs. Rabbit, and spent the night eating, dozing and wondering how it would feel to be able to fly like Flitter the Tree Bat.

Flitter was still on his mind when he started for the learning session the next morning, and by the time he got there he was bubbling over with curiosity and questions. He could hardly wait to get started. Mother Nature noticed how fidgety he was.

“What have you on your mind, Peter?” she asked.

“Didn’t you tell us that the Shrew family and the Mole family are the only families, in this country, in the order of insect-eaters? asked Peter.

“I certainly did,” was Mother Nature’s prompt reply.

“Doesn’t Flitter the Tree Bat live on insects too?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature nodded. “Why yes he does,” she said. “In fact he lives altogether on insects.”

“Then why isn’t he a member of that order?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature smiled, for she was pleased that Peter had thought of this. “That question does you credit, Peter,” she said. “The reason is that he and his relatives are so very different from other animals that they have been placed in an order of their own. It is called the Chi-rop-ter-a, which means wing-handed. How many of you know Flitter the Bat?”

“I’ve seen him often,” declared Jumper the Hare.

“So have I,” said Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Each of the others said the same thing. There wasn’t one who hadn’t watched and envied Flitter darting about in the air at dusk in the early evening or as the shadows were stealing away in the early morning. Mother Nature smiled.

Tree Bat or Red Bat illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Seeing him isn’t the same as knowing him,” she said. “Who is there who knows more about him and his ways beyond that he flies at night and catches insects in the air?”

She waited a minute or two and yet no one spoke. The fact is there was not one who really knew anything about Flitter. “I suspect none of you has seen Flitter, excepting in the air, and then he moves so rapidly that there is no chance to get a good look at him. I think this is just the time and place for you to really make the acquaintance of Flitter the Red Bat,” she said.

She stepped over to a bush and parted the leaves. Hanging from a twig was what appeared at first glance to be a rumpled, reddish-brown dead leaf. She touched it lightly. At once it came to life, stirring uneasily.

“You have some callers, a few of your friends who want to get really acquainted with you. Suppose you wake up for a few minutes,” explained Mother Nature pleasantly.

Flitter yawned once or twice sleepily, shook himself, then grinned down at the wondering faces of his friends crowded about just under him. “Hello, folks,” he said in that thin, squeaky voice of his.

The sunlight fell full on him, and yet he seemed not to mind it in the least. In fact, he appeared to enjoy its warmth. He was hanging by his toes, head down, his wings folded. He was about four inches long, and his body was much like that of a Mouse. His fur was fine and thick, a beautiful orange-red. For his size his ears were large. Instead of the long head and sharp nose of the Mouse family, Flitter had a rather round head and blunt nose. Almost at once Peter Rabbit made a discovery. It was that Flitter possessed a pair of bright, little, snapping eyes and didn’t seem in the least bothered by the bright light.

“Where did that saying ‘blind as a Bat’ ever come from?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature laughed. “Goodness knows; I don’t,” she said. “There is nothing blind about Flitter. He sleeps through the day and does his hunting in the dusk of evening or early morning, and if he is disturbed and has to fly during the day, he has no trouble in seeing. Flitter, stretch out one of your wings so that everybody can see it.”

Flitter stretched out one of his wings. Everybody gasped, for it was the first time any of them ever had seen one of those wings near enough to know just what it was like. Flitter’s arm was long, especially from his elbow to his hand. And the surprising thing was the length of his three fingers. Each finger appeared to be about as long as the whole arm. From his shoulder a thin, rubbery skin was stretched to the ends of the long fingers, then across to the ankle of his hind foot on that side, and from there across to the tip of his tail. A little short thumb with a long, curved claw stuck up free from the edge of the wing.

“Now you can see just why he is called wing-handed,” explained Mother Nature, as Flitter folded the wing. In a minute he began to clean it. Everybody laughed, for it was funny to watch him. He would take the skin of the wing in his mouth and pull and stretch it as if it were rubber. He washed it with his tiny tongue. Then he washed his fur. You see, Flitter is very neat. With the little claw of his thumb he scratched his head and combed his hair. All the time he remained hanging head down, clinging to the twig with his toes.

“Where is Mrs. Flitter?” asked Mother Nature.

“Actually I don’t know,” replied Flitter, beginning on the other wing. “She’s quite equal to looking after herself, so I don’t worry about her.”

” I’ll show you,” said Mother Nature.

She stepped over to the very next tree, parted the leaves, and there, sure enough, hung Mrs. Tree Bat fast asleep. And clinging to her were three of the funniest babies in all the Great World! All were asleep, and Mother Nature didn’t awaken them. As for Flitter, he seemed to take not the slightest interest in his family, but went right on washing up.

“Flitter the Bat is one of the best known of the whole family in this country,” said Mother Nature, as they left Flitter to resume his nap. He is found from the East to the Far West, from ocean to ocean. Like the birds, he migrates when cold weather comes, returning in the early summer. Although, like all Bats, he sleeps all day as a rule, he doesn’t mind the sunlight, as you have just seen for yourselves. Sometimes on dull, dark days he doesn’t wait for evening and will fly in the afternoon. Usually he is the first of the Bat family to appear in the evening, often coming out while it is still light enough to show the color of his red coat. No other member of his family has a coat of this color.

“Some people call him the Red Bat and some say the Tree Bat. After seeing him hanging over there I think you can guess why. He rarely goes to a cave for his daytime sleep, as most of his relatives do, and instead hangs by his toes from a twig of a tree or bush, frequently not far from the ground, just as he is right now.”

“As all of you who have watched him know, Flitter is a swift flier. This is because his wings are long and narrow. They are made for speed. Few if any birds can equal them in the air because of their wonderful ability to twist and turn. They are masters of the art of flying. Moreover, they make no sound with their wings, something which only the Owls among birds can boast of.”

“You all saw the three babies clinging to Mrs. Tree Bat. Most Bats have two babies at a time, occasionally only one, however the Tree Bat and his larger cousin, the Hoary Bat, have three or four. Mrs. Tree Bat carries her babies about with her until they are quite big. When they are too large to be carried she leaves them hanging in a tree while she hunts for her meals.”

Brown Bat illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Flitter has many cousins. One of these is the Little Brown Bat, one of the smallest members of the family and found all over the country. He is brown all over. He is sometimes called the Cave Bat, because whenever a cave is to be found he sleeps there. Sometimes great numbers of these little Bats are found crowded together in a big cave. When there is no cave handy, a barn or hollow tree is used. Often he will creep behind the closed blinds of a house to spend the day.”

“Very like this little fellow in color is his cousin the Big Brown Bat, called the House Bat and the Carolina Bat. He is especially fond of the homes of humans. He is a little bigger than the Tree Bat. While the latter is one of the first Bats to appear in the evening, the former is one of the last, coming out only when it is quite dark. He also found all over the country.”

“The Silvery Bat is of nearly the same size and in many places is more common than any of the cousins. The fur is dark brown or black with white tips, especially in the young. From this it gets its name. One of the largest and handsomest of the Bat cousins, and one of the rarest is the Hoary Bat. His fur is a mixture of dark and light brown tipped with white. His wings are very long and narrow and he is one of the most wonderful of all fliers. He is a lover of the Green Forest and does his hunting high above the tree-tops, making his appearance late in the evening. Like the Tree Bat he spends the hours of daylight hanging in a tree.”

“Down in the Southeast is a member of the family with ears so big that he is called the Big-eared Bat. He is a little chap, smaller than Little Brown Bat, and his ears are half as long his head and body together. For his size he has the biggest ears of any animal in all this great country.”

“All members of the Bat family typically seek water as the first thing they do when they start out at dusk before hunting insects. They all live on insects and for this reason they are helpful to humans (not harmful). They especially eat great numbers of mosquitoes. Now who shall we learn about next?”

Following the prompts below draw, doodle, write, ponder, paint, color, and creatively capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!

  1. Have you ever spent time outdoors on a summer evening at dusk to watch the bats swoop in and eat insects? Try it!
  2. Imagine what it would feel like to hang from your feet while you sleep in a tree. Now create a drawing or write about this experience!
  3. Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more photos, information, and extended learning opportunities about bats.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 20 – Moles

Chapter 20


Scampering along on his way Peter Rabbit stubbed his toes. Yes indeed, Peter stubbed his toes on a little ridge where the surface of the ground had been raised a trifle since Peter had passed that way the day before.

Peter chuckled. “Now isn’t that funny?” he said to know one in particular because he was quite alone. Then he answered himself. “It certainly is,” he said. “Here I am on my way to learn something about Miner the Mole, and I trip over one of the little odd ridges he is forever making. It wasn’t here yesterday, so that means that he is at work right around here now. Well hello, I thought so!”

Peter had been looking along that little ridge and had discovered that it ended only a short distance from him. Now as he looked at it again, he saw the flat surface of the ground at the end of the ridge rising up as if being pushed from beneath, and the little ridge became longer. Peter understood perfectly. Out of sight beneath the surface Miner the Mole was at work. He was digging a tunnel, and that ridge was simply the roof to that tunnel. It was so near the surface of the ground that Miner simply pushed up the loose soil as he bored his way along, and this made the little ridge over which Peter had stumbled.

Peter watched a few minutes, then turned and scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, towards the Green Forest to gather with Mother Nature and the group of four-legged folks for another learning session. When he arrived he was a bit out of breath for having made haste to get there on time.

“Well, Peter,” she said . “Did you have a narrow escape on your way here? Or have you found something in your travels?”

Peter shook his head. “No,” he replied. “No, I didn’t have a narrow escape, however I did discover something.”

“What is it you discovered?” asked Mother Nature.

“That the very one we are to learn about today is only a little way from here this very minute. Miner the Mole is at work in the Green Meadow and close to the edge of the Green Forest,” Peter said eagerly. “I thought perhaps you would want to see his work in action.”

“Have this morning’s session right there where we can see his work would be grand,” Mother Nature agreed. “That sounds just fine, Peter,” Mother Nature said with a smile. “We will go over there at once. It is always better to see things in action whenever possible than to merely hear about them.”

So Peter led the way to where he had stumbled over that little ridge. It was longer than when he had left it and grew even as the others crowded about to look as the earth was pushed up. Mother Nature stooped and made a little hole in that ridge. Then she put her lips close to it and asked Miner to come out. She spoke softly and pleasantly so as to coax Miner from the hole she had made.

Almost at once a long, sharp nose was poked out of the little hole she had made, and a squeaky voice asked fretfully, “Do I have to come way out?”

“Yes please,” replied Mother Nature. “I want some of your friends and neighbors to get a good look at you, and they certainly can’t do that with only that sharp nose of yours to be seen. Now scramble out here if you please and no one will hurt you. I will keep you only for a few minutes. Then you can go back to your digging.”

Mole illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

While the others gathered in a little circle close about that hole there scrambled into view one of the oddest little fellows in all the Great World. Few of them had ever seen him close up before. He was a stout little fellow with the softest, thickest, gray coat imaginable. He was about six inches long and had a funny, short, pinkish-white, naked tail that at once reminded Peter of an angleworm.

His head seemed to be set directly on his shoulders, so that there was no neck worth mentioning. His nose was long and sharp and extended far beyond his mouth. Neither ears nor eyes were to be seen.

Striped Chipmunk at once wanted to know how Miner could see. “He doesn’t see as you do,” replied Mother Nature. “He has very small eyes, tiny things, which you might find if you should part the fur around them, and they are of use only to distinguish light from darkness. Miner hasn’t the least idea what any of you look like. You see, he spends his life under ground and of course has no use for eyes there. They would only be a nuisance, for the dirt would be continually getting in them if they were any larger than they are or were not protected as they are. If you should feel of Miner’s nose you would find it hard. That is because he uses it to bore with in the earth. And, just notice those hands of his!”

At once everybody looked at Miner’s hands. No one ever had seen such hands before. The arms were short and looked very strong. The hands also were rather short, however what they lacked in length they made up in width and they were armed with long, stout claws. The odd thing about them was the way he held them. He held them turned out. His hind feet were not much different from the hind feet of the Mouse family.

Miner was plainly uncomfortable. He wriggled about uneasily and it was very clear that he was there only because Mother Nature had asked him nicely to be there, and that the one thing he wanted most was to get back into his beloved ground. Mother Nature saw this and so she picked him up and placed him on the ground where there was no opening near.

“Now, Miner,” she said, “your friends and neighbors have had a good look at you, and I know just how uncomfortable you feel. There is only one thing more I’ll ask of you. It is that you will show us how you can dig. Johnny Chuck thinks he is a pretty good digger. Just show him what you can do.”

Miner didn’t wait to be told twice. The instant Mother Nature stopped speaking he began to push and bore into the earth with his sharp nose. One of those great, spadelike hands was slipped up past his face and the claws driven in beside his nose. Then it was swept back and the loosened earth with it. The other hand was used in the same way. It was quite plain to everybody why they were turned out in the way they were. There was nothing slow about the way Miner used that boring nose and those shoveling hands. Peter Rabbit had hardly time for half a dozen long breaths before Miner the Mole had disappeared.

“That was some digging!” exclaimed Peter.

“Never again as long as I live will I boast of my digging,” declared Johnny Chuck admiringly. From the point where Miner had entered the ground a little ridge was being pushed up, and they watched it grow surprisingly fast as the little worker under the sod pushed his tunnel along in the direction of his old tunnels. It was clear that he was in a hurry to get back to where he could work in peace.

“What an odd life,” exclaimed Happy Jack Squirrel. “I should think it would be awful living in the dark that way all the time and it couldn’t be much fun.”

“You forget that he cannot see as you can, and so he prefers the dark,” replied Mother Nature. “As for fun, he gets that in his work. He is called Miner because he lives in the ground and is always tunneling.

“What does he eat, the roots of plants?” asked Jumper the Hare.

Mother Nature shook her head. “A lot of people do think that,” she said, “and often Miner is charged with destroying growing crops, eating seed corn, etc. That is because his tunnels are found running along the rows of plants. The fact is Miner has simply been hunting for grubs and worms around the roots of those plants. He hasn’t touched the plants at all. I suspect that Danny Meadow Mouse or one of his cousins could explain who ate the seed corn and the young plants. They are rather fond of using Miner’s tunnels when he isn’t about.”

“The only harm Miner does is sometimes he tunnels so close to garden plants that he lets air in around the tender roots and they dry out,” continued Mother Nature. “His food consists mostly of worms, grubs and insects, and he has to have a great many to keep him alive. That is why he is so active. Those tunnels of his which seem to be without any plan are made in his search for food. He is especially fond of angleworms.”

“When you see his ridges you may know that his food is close to the surface. When in dry or cold weather the worms go deep in the ground, Miner follows and then there is no trace of his tunnels on the surface.”

“Night and day are all the same to him. He works and sleeps when he chooses. In winter he tunnels below the frost line. You all noticed how dense his fur is. That is so the sand cannot work down in it. His home is a snug nest of grass or leaves in a little chamber under the ground in which several tunnels offer easy means of escape in case of sudden danger.”

“Has Miner any near relatives?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Several,” replied Mother Nature. “All are much alike in habits. One who lives a little farther north is called Brewer’s Mole or the Hairy-tailed Mole. His tail is a little longer than Miner’s and is covered with fine hair. The largest member of the family is the Oregon Mole of the Northwest. His coat is very dark and his fur extremely fine. His ways are much the same as those of Miner whom you have just met, excepting that when he is tunneling deep in the ground he pushes the earth to the surface after the manner of Grubby Gopher, and his mounds become a nuisance to farmers. When he is tunneling just under the surface he makes ridges exactly like these of his eastern cousin.”

Star-nosed Mole illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“The most interesting member of the Mole family is the Star-nosed Mole. He looks much like Miner with the exception of his nose and tail. His nose has a fringe of little fleshy points, twenty-two of them, like a many-pointed star. From this he gets his name. His tail is a little longer than Miner’s and is hairy. During the late fall and winter this becomes much enlarged.”

“This funny little fellow with the star-like nose is especially fond of moist places, swamps, damp meadows, and the banks of streams. He is not at all afraid of the water and is a good swimmer. Sometimes he may be seen swimming under the ice in winter. He is seldom found where the earth is dry. For that matter, none of the family are found in those sections where there are long, dry periods and the earth becomes baked and hard.”

“The fur of Miner and his cousins will lay in either direction, which keeps it smooth no matter whether the wearer is going forward or backward. Otherwise it would be badly mussed up most of the time.”

“Remember that the Shrews and the Moles both belong to the order of Insectivora, meaning eaters of insects, and are the only two families in that order.”

Following the prompts below draw, doodle, write, ponder, paint, color, and creatively capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!

  1. This chapter talks about shrews and moles. Have you heard of a vole? What is the difference between a vole and a mole? They are often confused by folks. Use Chapter 15 along with a little research to discover the mystery of which animal is actually called a vole. Bonus Nature Note: Moles with an “M” eat Meat and Voles with a “V” eat vegetation.
  2. Take a closer look at images of a Star-nosed Mole focusing on the fabulous nose. Now draw a new version of a mouse, mole or shrew and add one or two special features and explain what their uses would be specific to that animal.
  3. Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more photos and information on moles.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 19 – Shrews

Chapter 19


“Of course Mother Nature knows and yet just the same it is hard for me not to believe that Teeny Weeny is a member of the Mouse family,” said Happy Jack Squirrel to Peter Rabbit, as they scampered along to the next learning session on the edge of the woodlands. “I never have had a real good look at him, just glimpses of him many times and always thought he was a little Mouse with a short tail. It is hard to believe that he isn’t.”

“I hope Mother Nature will put him where we can get a good look at him,” replied Peter. “Perhaps when you really see him he won’t look so much like a Mouse.”

When all had arrived Mother Nature began the morning session at once. “You have learned about all the families in the order of Rodents,” she said, “so now we will take up another and much smaller order called Insectivora. I wonder if any of you can guess what that means.”

“It sounds,” said Peter Rabbit, “as if it must have something to do with insects.”

“That is a very good guess, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at him. “It does have to do with insects. The members of this order live largely on insects and worms, and the name Insectivora means insect-eating. There are two families in this order, the Shrew family and the Mole family.”

“Then Teeny Weeny the Shrew and Miner the Mole must be related,” Peter quickly spoke-up.

“Right again, Peter,” was Mother Nature’s reply. “The Shrews and the Moles are related in the same way that you and Happy Jack Squirrel are related.”

“And isn’t Teeny Weeny the Shrew related to the Mice at all?” asked Happy Jack.

“Not at all,” said Mother Nature. “Many people think he is and often he is called Shrew Mouse, however this just isn’t so.”

All this time the eyes of every one had been searching this way, that way, every way, for Teeny Weeny the Shrew, for Mother Nature had promised to try to have him there that morning. However, he was not to be seen. Now and then a leaf on the ground close by Mother Nature’s feet moved, and yet the Merry Little Breezes were always stirring up fallen leaves, and so no one paid any attention to these.

Mother Nature understood the disappointment in the faces before her and her eyes began to twinkle. “Yesterday I told you that I would try to have Teeny Weeny the Shrew here,” she said. A leaf moved. Stooping quickly she picked it up. “And here he is,” she finished.

Sure enough where a second before the dead brown leaf had been was a tiny little fellow, so tiny that that leaf had covered him completely, and it wasn’t a very big leaf. It was Teeny Weeny the Shrew, also called the Common Shrew, the Long-tailed Shrew, one of the smallest animals in all the Great World. He started to dart under another leaf and Mother Nature stopped him. “Sit still please,” she requested. “You have nothing to fear. I want everybody to have a good look at you, for it is high time these neighbors of yours get to know you. I know just how nervous and uncomfortable you are and I’ll keep you only a few minutes. Now everybody take a good look at Teeny Weeny the Shrew.”

Teeny Weeny the Shrew illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

What they saw was a mite of a fellow less than four inches long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, and of this total length the tail was almost half. He was slender, had short legs and mouse-like feet. His coat was brownish above and grayish beneath, and the fur was very fine and soft.

The oddest thing about Teeny Weeny the Shrew was his long, pointed head ending in a long nose. No Mouse has a head like it. The edges of the ears could be seen above the fur, and the eyes were so tiny that Peter Rabbit thought he hadn’t any and said so.

Mother Nature laughed. “Yes, he has eyes, Peter,” she said. “Look closely and you will see them. They are barely there as they are only used to tell daylight from darkness. Teeny Weeny the Shrew depends on his nose chiefly. He has a very wonderful little nose, flexible and very sensitive. Of course, with such poor eyes he prefers the dark when there are fewer predators abroad.”

All this time Teeny Weeny the Shrew had been growing more and more uneasy. Mother Nature saw and understood. Now she told him that he might go. Hardly were the words out of her mouth when he vanished, darting under some dead leaves. Hidden by them he made his way to an old log and was seen no more.

“Doesn’t he eat anything other than insects and worms?” asked Striped Chipmunk.

“Yes,” replied Mother Nature. “He is very fond of flesh, and if he finds the body of a bird or animal that has been killed he will tear it to pieces. He is so little and so active that he has to have a great deal of food and probably eats his own weight in food every day. Of course, that means he must do a great deal of hunting, which he does.”

“He makes tiny little paths under the fallen leaves and in swampy place he makes little tunnels through the moss. He is especially fond of old rotted stumps and logs and brush piles, for in such places he can find grubs and insects. At the same time he is well hidden. He is active by day and night, although in the daytime takes pains to keep out of the light. He prefers damp to dry places. In winter he tunnels about under the snow. In summer he uses the tunnels and runways of Meadow Mice and others when he can. He eats seeds and other vegetable food when he cannot find insects or flesh.”

“How about his predators?” asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“He has plenty,” replied Mother Nature, “although he is not so much hunted as the members of the Mouse family. This is because he has a strong, unpleasant scent which makes him a poor meal for those at all particular about their food. Some of the Hawks and Owls appear not to mind this, and these are his worst predators.”

“Has he any near relatives?” asked Jumper the Hare.

Short-tailed Shrew illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertees

“Several,” was Mother Nature’s prompt response. “The Short-tailed Shrew, also called Mole Shrew, is the best known. He is found everywhere, in forests, old pastures and along grassy banks, and seldom far from water. He prefers moist ground. He is much larger and thicker than Teeny Weeny the Shrew and has a shorter tail. People often mistake him for Miner the Mole, because of the thick, fine fur which is much like Miner’s and his habit of tunneling about just beneath the surface, however if they would look at his forefeet they would know the difference. They are small and like the feet of the Mouse family, not at all like Miner’s big shovels. Moreover, he is smaller than Miner, and his tunnels are seldom in the earth rather just under the leaves and grass.”

“His food is much the same as that of Teeny Weeny the Shrew preferring worms, insects, flesh when he can get it, and seeds. He is fond of beechnuts. He makes a soft, comfortable nest under a log or in a stump or in the ground and has from four to six babies at a time. Teeny Weeny the Shrew sometimes has as many as ten. The senses of smell and hearing are very keen for him and make up for the lack of sight. His eyes, like those of other Shrews, are probably of use only in distinguishing light from darkness. His coat is dark brownish-gray.”

“Another of the Shrew family is the Marsh Shrew, also called Water Shrew and Black-and white Shrew. He is longer than either of the others and, as you have guessed, is a lover of water. He is a good swimmer and gets much of his food in the water feeding on water Beetles and grubs and perhaps Tadpoles and Minnows. Now who among you knows Miner the Mole?”

“I do. That is, I have seen him,” replied Peter Rabbit.

“Very well, Peter, tomorrow morning we will see how much you know about Miner,” replied Mother Nature.

Short-tailed Srew discovered in the meadow near to the forest and brook.

  1. Can you tell the difference between a mouse and a shrew? Have you ever confused the two? Do you have an outdoor cat that tends to bring these home? Which ones typically – mice or shrews?
  2. How often are mice characters in the stories you read vs. how often do you have characters that are shrews? What are some of your favorite mouse characters? Do you have any favorite shrew characters? Example: the main character Ralph S. Mouse in the Mouse and the Motorcycle series by Beverly Cleary.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 18 – Pocket Mice + House Mouse

Chapter 18

Pocket Mice + House Mouse

“Pockets are very handy things for little people who are thrifty and who live largely on small seeds. Without pockets in which to carry the seeds, I am afraid some of them would never be able to store up enough food for winter,” began Mother Nature, as soon as everybody had gathered the next morning.

Striped Chipmunk spoke up, “I wouldn’t be able to do my work without my pockets.”

Mother Nature smiled. “You certainly do make good use of yours,” she said. “And there are others who have even greater need of pockets, and among them are the Pocket Mice. Of course, it is because of their pockets that they are called Pocket Mice. All of these pretty little fellows live in the dry parts of the Far West and Southwest in the same region where Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat lives. They are close neighbors and relatives of his.”

“The Silky Pocket Mouse is one of the smallest animals in all the Great World, so small that Whitefoot the Wood Mouse is a giant compared to him. He weighs less than an ounce and is a dear little fellow. His back and sides are yellow, and beneath he is white. He has quite long hind legs and a long tail, and these show at once that he is a jumper. In each cheek is a pocket opening from the outside, and these pockets are lined with hair. He is called Silky Pocket Mouse because of the fineness and softness of his coat. He has some larger cousins, one of them being a little bigger than Nibbler the House Mouse. Neighbors and close relatives are the Spiny Pocket Mice.”

“Do they have spines like Prickly Porky?” asked Peter Rabbit.

Mother Nature laughed. “I don’t wonder you ask,” she said. “No they haven’t any spines at all. Their fur isn’t as fine as that of the Silky Pocket Mouse, and it has long coarse hairs almost like bristles all through it, and from these they get their name. The smallest of the Spiny Pocket Mice is about the size of Nibbler the House Mouse and the largest is twice as big. They are more slender than their Silky cousins, and their tails are longer in proportion to their size and have little tufts of hair at the ends. Of course, they have pockets in their cheeks too.”

“In habits all the Pocket Mice are much alike. They make burrows in the ground, often throwing up a little mound with several entrances which lead to a central passageway connecting with the bedroom and storerooms. By day the entrances are closed with earth from inside, for the Mice are active only at night. Sometimes the burrows are hidden under bushes, and sometimes they are right out in the open. Living as they do in a hot, dry country, the Pocket Mice have learned to get along without drinking water. Their food consists mainly of a variety of small seeds.”

Grasshopper – A crunchy dinner for a Grasshopper Mouse

“Another Mouse of the West looks almost enough like Whitefoot to be a member of his branch of the family. He has a beautiful yellowish-brown coat and white waistcoat, and his feet are white. His tail is short in comparison with Whitefoot’s and instead of being slim is quite thick. His fur is like velvet. He is called the Grasshopper Mouse.”

“Is that because he eats Grasshoppers?” asked Peter Rabbit at once.

“You’ve guessed it,” laughed Mother Nature. “He is very, very fond of Grasshoppers and Crickets. He eats many kinds of insects such as Moths, Flies, Beetles, in addition to Lizards, Frogs and Scorpions. Because of his fondness for the latter he is called the Scorpion Mouse in some sections. He is fond of meat when he can get it. He also eats seeds of many kinds. He is found all over the West from well up in the North to the hot dry regions of the Southwest. When he cannot find a convenient empty burrow of some other animal, he digs a home for himself and there raises several families each year. In the early evening he often utters a fine, shrill, whistling call note.”

“Another little member of the Mouse family found clear across the country is the Harvest Mouse. He is never bigger than Nibbler the House Mouse and often is much smaller. In fact, he is one of the smallest of the entire family. In appearance he is much like Nibbler, although his coat is browner and there are fine hairs on his tail. He loves grassy, weedy or brushy places.”

“His food is chiefly seeds of weeds, small wild fruits and parts of wild plants. The most interesting thing about this little Mouse is the way he builds his home. Sometimes he uses a hole in a tree or post and sometimes a deserted birds’ nest, and more frequently he builds a nest for himself–a little round ball of grass and other vegetable matter. This is placed in thick grass or weeds close to the ground or in bushes or low trees several feet from the ground.”

“They are well-built little houses and have one or more little doorways on the under side when they are in bushes or trees. Inside is a warm, soft bed made of milkweed or cattail down, the very nicest kind of a bed for the babies. No one has a neater home than the Harvest Mouse. He is quite as much at home in bushes and low trees as Happy Jack Squirrel is in bigger trees. His long tail comes in very handy then, for he often wraps it around a twig to make his footing more secure.”

“Now this is all about the native Mice and . . . what is it, Peter?”

“You’ve forgotten Nibbler the House Mouse,” replied Peter.

“Ah well, as I was saying, this is all about our native Mice; that is, the Mice who belong to this country. And now we come to Nibbler the House Mouse, who, just like the Brown Rat, is not originally from here.”

“Have any of you seen Nibbler?” asked Mother Nature.

“I have,” replied Danny Meadow Mouse. “Once I was carried to Farmer Brown’s barn in a shock of corn and I found Nibbler living in the barn.”

House Mouse illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“It is a wonder he wasn’t living in Farmer Brown’s house,” said Mother Nature. “Probably other members of his family were. He is perfectly at home in any building put up by a human, just as is the Brown Rat. Because of his small size he can go where the Brown Rat cannot. He delights to scamper about between the walls. Being a true Rodent he is forever gnawing holes in the corners of rooms and opening on to pantry shelves so that he may steal food. He eats all sorts of food. In barns and henhouses he gets into the grain bins and steals a great deal of grain. It is largely because of the Brown Rat and Nibbler the House Mouse that humans keep Cats about to chase them away.”

“Nibbler is slender and graceful, with a long, hairless tail and ears of good size. He is very timid, ready to dart into his hole at the least sound. He raises from four to nine babies at a time and several sets of them in a year.”

“If Mr. and Mrs. House Mouse are living in a house, their nest is made of scraps of paper, cloth, wool and other soft things taken from the people who live in the house. In getting this material they often do great damage. If they are living in a barn, they make their nest of hay and any soft material they can find.”

“While Nibbler prefers to live in or close to the homes of humans, he sometimes is driven out and then takes to the fields, especially in summer. There he lives in all sorts of hiding places, and isn’t at all particular what the place is, if it promises safety and food can be obtained close by.”

“This finishes the sessions on the order of Rodents, the animals related by reason of having teeth for the purpose of gnawing. I suspect these are the only ones in whom you take any interest. Am I right?”

“Umm,” answered Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel, “there are ever so many other people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows we want to know more about than we now know. Isn’t that so?” Happy Jack turned to the others and every one nodded, even Prickly Porky.

“Actually there is one little fellow living right near here who looks to me as if he must be a member of the Mouse family, and yet he isn’t like any of the Mice you have told us about,” continued Happy Jack. “He is so small he can hide under a leaf. I’m sure he must be a Mouse.”

“You mean Teeny Weeny the Shrew,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at Happy Jack. “He isn’t a Mouse. He isn’t even a Rodent. I’ll try to have him here tomorrow morning and we will see what we can find out about him and his relatives.”

*The past few chapters on mice are dedicated in loving memory to “Button” who lives on in this painting by my daughter on her whimsical goat barn.

  1. Why would a mouse eat a grasshopper? Did you know many humans eat grasshoppers around the world? If you’re curious take a look at what nutrition is in a grasshopper and other bugs (hint: protein and so much more!). Just for fun you might also like to look up “chocolate grasshoppers or crickets” and give them a try!
  2. If a house mouse is not from the United States, where did they originally come from and how did they get across the ocean?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 17 – More Mice

Chapter 17

More Mice

With Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, Danny Meadow Mouse and Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse attending the learning sessions, the Mouse family was well represented, and when they began the next morning there was still another present. It was Piney the Pine Mouse. Whitefoot, who knew him, had brought him along.

“I thought you wouldn’t mind if Piney came,” explained Whitefoot.

“I’m glad he has come,” replied Mother Nature. “It is much better to see a thing than merely to be told about it, and now you have a chance to see for yourselves the differences between two cousins very closely related, Danny Meadow Mouse and Piney the Pine Mouse. What difference do you see, Happy Jack Squirrel?”

“Piney is a little smaller than Danny, though he is much the same shape,” was his prompt reply.

“True,” said Mother Nature. “Now, Striped Chipmunk, what difference do you see?”

“The fur of Piney’s coat is shorter, finer and has more of a shine. Then, too, it is more of a reddish-brown than Danny’s,” replied Striped Chipmunk.

“And what do you say, Peter Rabbit?” asked Mother Nature.

“Piney has a shorter tail,” declared Peter, and everybody laughed.

“Trust you to look at his tail first,” said Mother Nature. “These are the chief differences as far as looks are concerned. Their habits differ in about the same degree. As you all know, Danny cuts little paths through the grass. Piney doesn’t do this, instead he makes little tunnels just under the surface of the ground very much as Miner the Mole does. He isn’t fond of the open Green Meadows or of damp places as Danny is, rather he likes best the edge of the Green Forest and brushy places. He is very much at home in a poorly kept orchard where the weeds are allowed to grow and in young orchards he does a great deal of damage by cutting off the roots of young trees and stripping off the bark as high up as he can reach. Would you please tell us, Piney, how and where you make your home?”

Home of Piney the Pine Mouse at the edge of the Green Forest and brushy places.

Piney hesitated a little and then he ventured to say “I make my home under ground. I dig a nice little bedroom with several entrances from my tunnels, and in it I make a fine nest of soft grass. Close by I dig one or more rooms in which to store my food, and these usually are bigger than my bedroom. When I get one filled with food I close it up by filling the entrance with earth.”

“What do you put in your storerooms?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Short pieces of grass and pieces of roots of different kinds,” replied Piney. “I am very fond of tender roots and the bark of trees and bushes.”

Gardens are great for a tunneling mouse.

“And he dearly loves to get in a garden where he can tunnel along a row of potatoes or other root crops,” added Mother Nature. “Striped Chipmunk mentioned his reddish-brown coat. There is another cousin with a coat so red that he is called the Red-backed Mouse. He is about the size of Danny Meadow Mouse with larger ears and a longer tail.”

“This little fellow is a lover of the Green Forest, and he is quite as active by day as by night. He is pretty, especially when he sits up to eat, holding his food in his paws as does Happy Jack Squirrel. He makes his home in a burrow, the entrance to which is under an old stump, a rock or the root of a tree. His nest is of soft grass or moss. Sometimes he makes it in a hollow log or stump instead of digging a bedroom under ground. He is thrifty and lays up a supply of food in underground rooms, hollow logs and similar places. He eats seeds, small fruits, roots and various plants.”

Old stump entrance for a home of a Red-backed mouse.

“There is still another little Redcoat in the family, and he is especially interesting because while he is related to Danny Meadow Mouse he lives almost all in trees. He is called the Rufous Tree Mouse. Rufous means reddish-brown, and he gets that name because of the color of his coat. He lives in the great forests of the Far West, where the trees are so big and tall that the biggest tree you have ever seen would look small beside them. And it is in those great trees that the Rufous Tree Mouse lives.”

“Just why he took to living in trees no one knows, for he belongs to that branch of the family known as Ground Mice. However he does live in trees and he is quite as much at home in them as any Squirrel.”

Chatterer the Red Squirrel was interested right away. “Does he build a nest in a tree like a Squirrel?” he asked.

“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature, “and often it is a most remarkable nest. In some sections he places it only in big trees, sometimes a hundred feet from the ground. In other sections it is placed in small trees and only a few feet above the ground. The high nests often are old deserted nests of Squirrels enlarged and built over. Some of them are very large indeed and have been added to year after year.”

“One of these big nests will have several bedrooms and little passages running all through it. It appears that Mrs. Tree Mouse usually has one of these big nests to herself, Rufous having a small nest of his own out on one of the branches. The big nest is close up against the trunk of the tree where several branches meet.”

“Does Rufous travel from one tree to another, or does he live in just one tree?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel.

“Wherever branches of one tree touch those of another, and you know in a thick forest this is frequently the case, he travels about freely if he wants to. However those trees are so big that I suspect he spends most of his time in the one in which his home is,” replied Mother Nature. “And if a predator appears in his home tree, he makes his escape by jumping from one tree to another, just as you would do.”

“What I want to know is where he gets his food if he spends all his time up in the trees,” spoke up Danny Meadow Mouse.

Mother Nature smiled. “Where should he get it other than up where he lives?” she asked. “Rufous never has to worry about food. It is all around him. You see he lives mostly on the thick parts of the needles, which you know are the leaves, of fir and spruce trees, and on the bark of tender twigs. So you see he is more of a tree dweller than any of the Squirrel family. While Rufous has the general shape of Danny and his relatives, he has quite a long tail. Now I guess this will do for the nearest relatives of Danny Meadow Mouse.”

“He certainly has a lot of them,” remarked Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then he added a little wistfully, “Of course, in a way they are all cousins of mine, although I wish I had some a little more closely related.”

“You have,” replied Mother Nature, and Whitefoot pricked up his big ears. “One of them Bigear the Rock Mouse, who lives out in the mountains of the Far West. He is as fond of the rocks as Rufous is of the trees. Sometimes he lives in brush heaps and in brushy country, although he prefers rocks, and that is why he is known as the Rock Mouse.”

“He is maybe a trifle bigger than you, Whitefoot, and he is dressed much like you with a yellowish-brown coat and white waistcoat. He has just such a long tail covered with hair its whole length. And you should see his ears. He has the largest ears of any member of the whole family. That is why he is called Bigear. He likes best to be out at night and often only comes out on dull days. He eats seeds and small nuts and is especially fond of juniper seeds. He always lays up a supply of food for winter. Often he is found very high up on the mountains.

“Another of your cousins, Whitefoot, lives along the seashore of the East down in the Sunny South. He is called the Beach Mouse. In general appearance he is much like you, having the same shape, long tail and big ears, although he is a little smaller and his coat varies. When he lives back from the shore, in fields where the soil is dark, his upper coat is dark grayish-brown, and when he lives on the white sands of the seashore it is very light. His home is in short burrows in the ground.”

“Now have we covered enough about the Mouse family?”

“Wait, you haven’t told us about Nibbler the House Mouse yet. And you said you would,” Peter Rabbit said with a pout.

“And when we were learning about Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat you said he was most closely related to the Pocket Mice. What about them?” said Johnny Chuck.

Mother Nature laughed. “Alright, I can see that you want to know all there is to know,” she said. “Be on hand tomorrow morning. I guess we can finish up with the Mouse family then and with them the order of Rodents to which all of you belong.”

  1. Have you been on the look out for rodents, specifically mice, in your neck-of-the-woods? Or field? Or backyard? Or barn? Or even a rock wall? Are there signs of their homes? Nesting materials or tracks or seed stashes?
  2. Do you have any predators of mice around or near your home? An outdoor barn cat perhaps? Or owls or hawks? Who else might be eating the mice in your area?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 16 – Brown Lemming + Jumping Mouse

Chapter 16

Brown Lemming + Jumping Mouse

Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and Danny Meadow Mouse had become so interested that they decided they couldn’t afford to miss the next session with Mother Nature. Neither did either of them feel like making the long journey to their home and back again. So Whitefoot found a hole in a stump near by and decided to camp out there for a few days. Danny decided to do the same thing in a comfortable place under a pile of brush not far away. So the next morning both were on hand when the learning session began.

“I told you yesterday that I would tell you about some of Danny’s cousins,” said Mother Nature just as Chatterer the Red Squirrel came hurrying up, quite out of breath, to join the group. “Way up in the Far North are two of Danny’s cousins more closely related to him than to any other members of the Mouse family. Yet, strange to say, they are not called Mice at all, rather Lemmings. However, they do belong to the Mouse family.”

“Bandy the Banded Lemming is interesting because he is the one member of the entire family who changes the color of his coat. In summer he wears beautiful shades of reddish brown and gray and in the winter his coat is all white. He is also called the Hudson Bay Lemming.”

“Bandy’s tail is so very short it hardly shows beyond his long fur. He is about Danny’s size, and a little stouter and stockier, and his long fur makes him appear even thicker-bodied than he really is. He has very short legs, and his ears are so small that they are quite hidden in the fur around them, so that he appears to have no ears at all.”

Brown Lemming illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“In that same far northern country is a close relative called the Brown Lemming. He is very much like Bandy save that he is all brown and does not change his coat in winter. Both have the same general habits, and these are much like the habits of Danny Meadow Mouse. They make short burrows in the ground leading to snug, warm nests of grass and moss. In winter they make little tunnels in every direction under the snow, with now and then an opening to the surface.”

“There are many more Brown Lemmings than Banded Lemmings, and their little paths run everywhere through the grass and moss. In that country there is a great deal of moss. It covers the ground just as grass does here. And the most interesting thing about these Lemmings is the way they migrate. To migrate is to move from one part of the country to another. You know most of the birds migrate to the Sunny South every autumn and back every spring.”

“Once in a while it happens that food becomes very scarce where the Lemmings are. Then very many of them get together, just as migrating birds form great flocks, and start on a long journey in search of a place where there is plenty of food. They form a great army and push ahead, regardless of everything. They swim wide rivers and even lakes which may lie in their way. Of course, they eat everything eatable in their path.”

“My!” exclaimed Danny Meadow Mouse, “I’m glad I don’t live in a place where I might have to make such long journeys. I don’t envy those cousins up there in the Far North a bit. I’m perfectly satisfied to live right on the Green Meadows.”

“Right you are Danny, you are well suited for where you live” said Mother Nature. “By the way, Danny, I suppose you are acquainted with Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse, who also is rather fond of the Green Meadows. I ought to have sent word to him to be here this morning.”

Hardly were the words out of Mother Nature’s mouth when something landed in the leaves almost at her feet and right in the middle of their session. Instantly Danny Meadow Mouse scurried under a pile of dead leaves. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse darted into a knothole in the log on which he had been sitting. Jumper the Hare dodged behind a little hemlock tree. Peter Rabbit bolted for a hollow log. Striped Chipmunk vanished in a hole under an old stump. Johnny Chuck backed up against the trunk of a tree and made ready to fight. Only Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Prickly Porky the Porcupine, who were sitting in trees, kept their places. You see they felt quite safe.

As soon as all those who had run had reached places of safety, they peeped out to see what had frightened them so. Mother Nature was smiling down at a little fellow just about the size of Whitefoot, and yet they had a much longer tail. It was Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse.

“Well, well, well,” exclaimed Mother Nature. “I was just speaking of you and wishing I had you here. How did you happen to come this way? And what do you mean by scaring these fine four-legged folks?” she said with her eyes twinkling. Nimbleheels saw this and knew that she was only having good fun with him.

Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Before Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse could reply Johnny Chuck began to chuckle. The chuckle became a laugh, and soon Johnny was laughing so hard he had to hold his sides. Now, as you know, laughter is catching. In a minute or so everybody was laughing, and no one other than Johnny Chuck knew what the joke was. At last Peter Rabbit stopped laughing long enough to ask Johnny what he was laughing about.

“I’m laughing at the very idea that such a wee thing could give us all such a fright,” replied Johnny Chuck. Then they all laughed some more.

When they were through laughing Nimbleheels answered Mother Nature’s questions. He explained that he had heard about the learning sessions, as by this time almost everyone in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows had. By chance he learned that Danny Meadow Mouse was attending. He thought that if it was a good thing for Danny it would be a good thing for him, so he had come.

“Just as I was almost here I heard a twig snap behind me, or thought I did, and I jumped so as to get here and be safe. I didn’t suppose anyone would be frightened by little old me,” he explained.

“It was some jump!” exclaimed Jumper the Hare admiringly. “He went right over my head, and I was sitting straight up!”

“It isn’t much of a jump to go over your head,” replied Nimbleheels. “You ought to see me when I really try to jump. I wasn’t half trying when I landed here. I’m sorry I frightened all of you so. It gives me an odd feeling just to think that I should be able to frighten anybody. If you please, Mother Nature, am I in time for today’s session?”

“Yes, actually, you are,” replied Mother Nature. “Hop up on that log beside your Cousin Whitefoot, where all can see you.”

Wood Mouse illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Nimbleheels hopped up beside Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, and as the two little cousins sat side by side they were not unlike in general appearance. The coat of Nimbleheels was a dull yellowish, darker on the back than on the sides. Like Whitefoot he was white underneath. His ears were much smaller than those of Whitefoot. However, the greatest differences between the two were in their hind legs and tails.

The hind legs and feet of Nimbleheels were long, similar to those of Peter Rabbit. From just a glance at them any one would know that he was a born jumper and a good one. Whitefoot possessed a long tail versus the tail of Nimbleheels was much longer, slim and tapering.

“There,” said Mother Nature, “is the greatest jumper for his size among all the animals in this great country. When I say this, I mean the greatest ground jumper. Remember when I told you what wonderful jumps Jack Rabbit can make, and if he could jump as high and far for his size as Nimbleheels can jump for his size, the longest jump Jack has ever made would seem nothing more than a hop.”

“By the way, both Nimbleheels and Whitefoot have small pockets in their cheeks,” said Mother Nature. “Would you please tell us where you live, Nimbleheels.”

“I live among the weeds along the edge of the Green Meadows,” replied Nimbleheels, “though sometimes I go way out in the Green Meadows. I do like being amongst the weeds best because they are tall and keep me well hidden, and also because they furnish me with plenty to eat. You see, I live largely on seeds, though I am also fond of berries and small nuts, especially beechnuts. Some of my family prefer the Green Forest, especially if there is a Laughing Brook or pond in it. Personally I prefer, as I said before, the edge of the Green Meadows.”

“Do you make your home under the ground?” asked Striped Chipmunk.

“For winter, yes,” replied Nimbleheels. “In the summer I sometimes put my nest just a few inches under ground, or often I hide it under a piece of bark or in a thick clump of grass, just as Danny Meadow Mouse often does his. In the fall I dig a deep burrow, deep enough to be beyond the reach of Jack Frost, and in a nice little bedroom down there I sleep the winter away. I have little storerooms down there too, in which I put seeds, berries and nuts. Then when I do wake up I have plenty to eat.”

“I might add,” said Mother Nature, “that when he goes to sleep for the winter he curls up in a little ball with his long tail wrapped around him, and in his bed of soft grass he sleeps very sound indeed. Like Johnny Chuck he gets very fat before going to sleep. Now, Nimbleheels, please do show us how you can jump.”

Nimbleheels hopped down from the log on which he had been sitting and at once shot into the air in such a high, long, beautiful jump that everybody exclaimed. This way and that way he went in great leaps. It was truly wonderful.

“That long tail is what balances him,” explained Mother Nature. “If he should lose it he would simply turn over and over and never know where or how he was going to land. His jumping is done only in times of danger. When he is not alarmed he runs about on the ground like the rest of the Mouse family.”

This is all for now. Tomorrow I will tell you still more about the Mouse family. Have a good day everyone!” said Mother Nature as she went on her merry way.

  1. Have you ever heard of lemmings? Have you heard of their behavior to follow one another in large groups? This is caused by mass migration, or moving from one place to another, when they are in search of food. Sometimes when humans follow one another right behind the other someone will remark “you look like lemmings”.
  2. Mother Nature compares the Jumping Mouse to the Jack Rabbit in terms of how high and long he can jump. How high and how long can you jump? How can you measure it? How high and long can your family members jump? Talk it over and see if you can come up with a way to measure in your backyard or on the sidewalk. Then research the measurement of a Jumping Mouse and a Jack Rabbit to see in comparison (even though they are both much smaller than you!)

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