This is my sixth summer living in beautiful coastal Georgia, and I recently read about an alligator biting the arm off a swimmer in Florida, noticed an armadillo in our yard one night and drove past a very large dead snake (the only good type in my opinion).
With a bit of a shock, I realized that I have “gone native,” as these occurrences no longer seem strange and exotic to me.
I remember when I first moved to the southeastern United States that the new animals and strange creatures I heard about and saw with my own eyes seemed terrifyingly different and threatening. I really felt (with apologies to “The Wizard of Oz”) “Lesley, I’ve a feeling we’re not in England anymore!” I even longed for some of the rather boring wild animals I had grown up with, although I did not miss the climate in which they flourish.
Most Americans do not realize that the most northern part of the British Isles — for example, Inverness in Scotland — is on a similar latitude (57 degrees north) to Juneau, Alaska (58 degrees north). This is why it is daylight in midsummer from around 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., but drops to a depressing 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during December in Scotland and Alaska. The relatively warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift (Gulf Stream) are responsible for moderating the climate of Western Europe so that winters are less cold than would otherwise be expected at those latitudes. Without the warm Gulf Stream, the United Kingdom and much of the rest of Europe would be as cold as Canada and Alaska.
So what kind of mammals thrive in the mild but wet British climate but rarely are found in this part of the USA? Here are some common ones:
• Badger — According to www.naturemappingfoundation.org, a badger is a brown fur-covered mammal with short legs, a low profile and a pointy head. It has short ears and a short, furry tail. There are eight different species of badger, a word that is said to derive from the French “bêcheur,” meaning “digger.” American badgers are found primarily in the Great Plains and Mountain States, but are a different subspecies to the European badger. Interestingly, the American badger is very solitary animal, whereas its European counterpart is highly sociable. Badgers are believed to have been
present in the British Isles for 300,000 to 400,000 years.
• Hedgehog — According to www.hedgehogcentral.com, wild hedgehogs are not native to the USA, although they are becoming increasingly common as pets in some parts of the country. They are illegal in Georgia because if they escape, they could wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Hedgehogs are part of the shrew family and, despite their looks, are not related to the similarly spiky porcupine, which can be found in the northern U.S. and Canada. Hedgehogs are tiny, usually weighing between 1-2 pounds, compared to porcupines, which weigh closer to 20 pounds on average. Of course, the most famous hedgehog is “Sonic the Hedgehog” of video-game and cartoon fame.
Having grown up around these modest, boring little British creatures, imagine how different some of our common, coastal Georgia wild animals were to my English sensibilities. For instance:
• Skunk — While a few escaped pet skunks (really!) have been found in the U.K., they are not native to the British Isles. I certainly never saw one during the years I lived there except on American cartoons or shows. The skunk is one of the most widely recognized and common small mammals found throughout the USA and is known for its striping (usually black and white) and the use of anal scent glands as its primary defense mechanism.
• Armadillo — These amazing, comedic animals originated in South America and, surprisingly, are mammals related to sloths and anteaters. Believe it or not, there is a website devoted to these odd creatures (www.armadillo-online.org), explaining that all have shells made of bone that covers their backs. Most also have bony rings or plates that protect their tails. They have been slowly but surely moving through Central America into Texas and continuing northward. Their ultimate destination seems to be my yard, where they seem determined to dig holes.
Despite this little journey exploring a few of God’s strange creatures, Walt Disney summed it up well: “There’s nothing funnier than the human animal.”
God bless America!
Email Francis at email@example.com or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.