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Greene: Mystery Scat

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http://www.vpr.net/audio/programs/56/2013/01/GREE-011613.mp3

(Host) Climate change has many species of animals on the move. This winter, commentator Stephanie Greene, a writer who lives on the family farm in Windham County, has discovered that one of these newcomers may have visited her bee yard.

(Greene) It all started when I found an impressive pile of scat on top of my honey frames.

During the fall honey harvest, even the most assiduous human spinning a centrifuge can't get all the honey out of the combs. And since a single bee can expect to produce only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime, I think it's only fair they should be allowed the drippings left over from the honey harvest.

So, I'd left the honey comb frames out in the weather, uncovered, for the bees to clean - and some animal had obviously been trying to get at the remaining honey. Finally in frustration I guess, it had left this present sitting there on top of the frames. It was too weird not to document, so I took a picture and sent it to Rich Watkin, our local game warden.

We keep our beehives in an old tennis court to protect them from bears, so the visiting animal had to be on the small side. Watkin's verdict, on viewing the photo, was that it was either a fisher cat or a possum. I was stunned. Possums in Vermont? Fishers, those velociraptors in fur - eating honey?

Fishers I've seen around, but I've yet to see a possum at our altitude. In fact, it was hard to believe these marsupials could thrive in a Vermont winter with their bald tails and long ears.

Well,thrive might actually be too strong a word, says Bill Kilpatrick, UVM professor of biology, for possums endure frostbite pretty regularly, especially on their ears. And that hasn't seemed to slow their northward march. As Vermont becomes more suburban, apparently the quantity and quality of our garbage has inspired these carrion-loving omnivores to move north. This migration has been going on over the past 25 years or so. In 2000 there were even possum sightings in Montreal.

On the other hand, the fisher - second largest of the weasel family (after the river otter) - is native to Vermont. Like many other fur bearing animals in the northeast, they were all but wiped out by over-trapping in the early 20th century. Reintroduced in the 40's to control the burgeoning porcupine population, fishers have been thriving here ever since. They're subject to much demonizing and are often blamed for disappearing pets (unfairly, according to Watkin).

Fishers can be up to four feet long, are excellent climbers and swimmers, can jump seven feet, run 15 mph and have a truly blood curdling scream. It's a little hard to picture such a fearsome beast sitting down like Winnie the Pooh to enjoy honey, but Watkin assures me they're omnivorous.

So which was it, a possum or a fisher? Well, without getting too graphic, a close inspection of the mystery scat indicated my exasperated visitor was... a fisher with a sweet tooth.