By Tracy Winters, OSU Extension Education, 4-H Youth Development, Gallia County
Close your eyes and think of your favorite animal. Was it a mammal? Mammals are one of the most diverse animal classes in the world. They can be found on all seven continents, living in almost every available habitat on Earth! They swim the deepest seas, climb the highest mountains, live entirely underground, swing from the treetops, fly and even drive a car! Well, one mammal can drive a car, that’s right – humans are mammals, too! So, what makes a mammal a mammal?
To be a card-carrying member of the mammal class there are three things you must have:
- Hair or Hair Follicles – All mammals have hair on some part of their bodies for at least some point in their life span. Some are covered in thick fur; others may only have a few facial hairs, and some have specialized hair follicles like whiskers or quills.
- Mammary Glands – All female mammals have specialized glands, called mammary glands that produce milk for nursing their young.
- Middle Ear Bones – All mammals have three middle ear bones commonly called the Malleus, Incus, and the Stapes. These bones transmit sound from vibration on the eardrum.
Activity: Expedition Mammal Quest
Gather your supplies to view and document mammals:
- Digital camera or cell phone for pictures
- Mammal Journal – this can be a simple notebook for taking notes, drawing descriptions, etc.
- Colored pencils, crayons, or markers for notes or drawing
- Backpack to carry field supplies
- Local mammal field guide or a field guide app on your cell phone
- Optional Binoculars
Then select a field trip location, like your backyard, local park, state forest, or even farm are all great location for your expedition! Then do a little research on local mammals in your area, such as field guides, internet, or talk to park rangers. There are also a lot of great apps available for researching mammals, such as Mammal Mapper.
Having the right gear is important for your outside expedition, be prepared:
- Wear closed-toed shoes with good traction like hiking boots
- Wear insect repellent and avoid perfumes or body lotions that may attract biting insects
- Wear long sleeves and pants (dress for the weather) you can tuck your pants into your socks to avoid ticks getting on your skin
- Carry a light backpack with supplies, a bottle of water, a light snack, and a small first aid kit
- Know how to identify local poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poisonous snakes in the area/state you are visiting
During your expedition, look for and draw or record signs or sighting of mammals in your journal and with digital pictures. Keeping records is important, because you may want to compare your findings with new expeditions or revisit locations at different times of the year. Having journals and pictures will help you learn more about the mammals around you. Remember to:
- Be sure to look for: tracks (especially around water sources), scat (animal dung), scratching on trees, signs of dens, areas where mammals may have slept, animal bones, fur, places where mammals may have been eating like chewed twigs, nutshells, etc
- The best chance to see mammals is early morning (dawn) and late evening (dusk)
- Staying quiet is important, sometimes just sitting quietly will allow you to see more animals than moving around
Peer-reviewed by: Margo Long, OSU Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Marion County