Readers always have questions for outdoors writer Len Lisenbee, and this week, they're getting some answers

The other day I was out walking our Lab ‘Chaser’ on a long leash when I spotted a woodchuck. 

It was lying motionless on its belly, flattened out in the hope it would not be spotted by the big fat man walking the stupid black dog. Since it was lying in freshly mowed grass, there was little chance I wouldn’t spot that critter.

Unfortunately, Chaser spotted it too. And he did what Labs and other dogs have been doing for many years when they spot a groundhog. He wanted to play with this strange new toy.

After I regained my feet and put my shoulder back in the socket, I took the stupid dog back in the house and decided to work on the column for this week. And, since my mood was a little sour, and since I had a stack of e-mails with questions from readers, I elected to combine the two and reduce the pending pile at least a little.

The first question on the top of the pile caught my attention: “Is it true that squirrels cannot carry the rabies virus?  

That is a myth, but it is unlikely to cause any substantial harm if it is not eradicated by some noted outdoor writer such as myself. The truth is that all mammals, including all species of squirrels, are capable of carrying the rabies virus.  

However, squirrels have almost never been found to be infected with the rabies virus. More importantly, they also have not been known to cause rabies in humans within the United States. Bites from a squirrel are not considered by doctors and experts to be a risk for rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in an unusual manner, and rabies is widespread in the area at the time.

Why this is so can be attributed to the natural instincts of squirrels. There are few animals in our eastern woodlands that are more curious than a grey or red squirrel. These critters want to know everything that is going on in their neighborhood, regardless of what it might be.  

They will carefully observe the activities of predators, sometimes with a big dose of loud scolding in the form of nonstop chattering, and at other times with complete silence and no movement.

Squirrels are also extremely cautious. They do not feel the need to get too close to any other woodland critters (except other squirrels) to further satisfy their curiosity. That’s why, if they should see a dopey-acting or sick raccoon, fox or coyote, they won’t get too close to it.  

Therefore, they will not become infected with any disease it might be carrying.

Well now, with that first question out of the way, the rest should be a snap, right?  

Nope! Another reader wanted to know if ostriches “really did bury their heads in the sand, and if so, why?”

Ostriches? I can’t even hit a cock pheasant flushing 25 yards away, and this young lady is talking about very fast and wild birds of the 300-pound variety?

The answer is yes and no.It may look like an ostrich’s head is “buried,” but the illusion is because the bird’s head is in a hole (from a distance). The reality is that the bird is either turning eggs in a nesting depression or it is seeking water. 

They do not hope to hide from or ignore danger by doing so. They will only lower their heads for short periods, and only when they are assured there is no danger in the neighborhood.

An ostrich’s eggs need to be turned two or three times each day. The male does this chore while the females feed or rest nearby. He does it to insure that no surface of the shell is overheated by the harsh spring sun.

The other reason for digging a hole is water. Over the eons, ostriches have learned that soil just a few inches under the surface holds moisture. And they have figured out that, if they stick their heads into that moist sand and inhale they can obtain enough water to sustain them in the arid climate they call home sweet home.

Scientists who have studied this activity postulate that the inhaled moisture condenses within the first six to eight inches of their long throat, which is why it is not unusual to see these birds swallow several times after raising their heads.

Well now, ostrich habits may be interesting for a few, but some of my 63 semi-regular readers are easily bored. Therefore I must look for a far more interesting topic on which to display my naturalistic talents.

“Why are earthworms the ‘go to’ bait for almost any species of fish? After all, they are not normally found living in ponds and streams, are they?”

Living in ponds and streams, no. But being found in ponds and streams, definitely a big yes.  

Countless worms of all species are washed into flowing or impounded water by virtually every rain storm, and fish have naturally learned to smell around for these tasty morsels.

By the way, did you know that a common species of earthworm in Australia can grow up to 15 feet in length. Sort of puts our nightcrawlers to shame, doesn’t it?  

And the largest earthworm on record is a species found in South Africa. They average around 18 to 20 feet long, and the longest one measured 22 feet. I wonder if they eat bass?

And there is one more “important” fact every reader should memorize. Baby robins eat around 15 feet worth of earthworms every day before they leave the nest.  

I can only wonder: What kind of person would want to do that kind of research?

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet. net.