Picea glauca

I think I’ll forego the plants and mammals series I had planned, and instead share an occasional entry on the topic. Today’s photographs were taken near the same site as this photograph. I had returned to that area in early October to perhaps make similar photographs of the to-me intriguing palette of colours, but the leaves had not yet changed enough. While returning to the vehicle, I also decided to check an antler I noted the previous year in the nearby forest, and that’s when I stumbled upon this American red squirrel midden I had missed seeing before.

Despite frequenting a forest inhabited by American red squirrels when growing up, I don’t recall ever having encountered a squirrel midden before–if I had, certainly not one of this size. Constructed almost entirely of the cones and cone pieces of white spruce, this midden measured approximately 4m x 3m (13ft x 10ft), with a depth at the centre certainly exceeding 30cm (1ft.). It actually took me a minute or so to figure out the origin of this huge pile of cones (despite the obvious burrows), and I even recall looking up to see if the trees here were particularly laden with cones. Eventually, however, I was chided by the midden’s proprietor and the obvious was revealed to me.

As squirrels go, this one was relatively uninterested in scolding me for being nearby. Instead, it continued to gather more food for the winter. I had one opportunity to photograph the squirrel beside the midden, but it was too quick for me; the next chance to photograph the squirrel occurred a half-hour later, shared above with it showing off its cone-gathering skills.

Picea glauca, or white spruce, is native to northern North America, one of a only a few tree species native to every province and territory in Canada. Its range extends southwards into the northern USA (and is also found in Alaska). Other common names include Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, and cat spruce, the latter two names referring to the unpleasant odour often associated with the plants.

Rodent middens, when they include a diversity of plant species, are helpful for palaeoecologists to understand the changes in plant communities over time. A recent article: Diaz, FP. et al., 2011. Rodent middens reveal episodic, long-distance plant colonizations across the hyperarid Atacama Desert over the last 34,000 years. Journal of Biogeography. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02617.x .

And, using that as a segue from Jasper to the Atacama Desert, I also thought I’d share a link forwarded to me this weekend: (Nov. 15 edit: apparently the next link only works if you have a Google Account, but you can find the story online if you search for the article title) Desert in bloom: colors explode in Chile’s Atacama (additional photographs of the Atacama by Gerhard Hüdepohl).

Picea glauca
Picea glauca
Picea glauca

13 responses to “Picea glauca”

  1. Morris H. Brinkman

    Wanted to show a red tree-Squirrel, (my animal girl-friend, “Emily”) that was feeding me one of her stored peanuts from her underground storage bins. Here she is shoving an unshelled peanut directly into my mouth.
    Enjoy! 😉

  2. Christine Owens

    Wow! Good job catching that squirrel in such sharp focus. And thanks for the info on the “squirrel midden.” I had never heard of such a thing — now I can’t say that tomorrow! It reminds me of the pile of sunflower seed shells under our bird feeder in the back yard.

  3. Eric Simpson

    Being a bit more of a critter than a plant person, I wish you’d go ahead with the series, but I’ll take what I can get.-)
    When I was working on a jay study in Redwood N.P., I loved to watch the Doug squirrels methodically devouring Doug fir and Sitka spruce cones, but I never saw a midden larger than a foot or two across. The ginormous one in your picture almost reminds me more of some of the decades-old wood rat nests here in the coastal sage-scrub of SoCal.

  4. phillip

    …Wow Morris..!..behind and beside the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park SF..is a large squirrel population..very tame for peanuts..will put their little hand on yours for a nut..

  5. annie morgan

    Lovely little article

  6. Dahlia Balir

    “Midden” – that’s a new word for me!

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    talk about going out on a limb to get what you want
    the writeing on middens is interesting 34,000 years is long time
    the brown bears are back in florida run you right up a palm tree
    thank you daniel and company

  8. SandyinZ4

    Your pictures always please me and today was no exception. I too, had never heard of a ‘midden’. Now I have a new Scrabble word. I enjoy so much all the work you put in to keep this up and show us things we might otherwise never see.

  9. Harry Thomas

    I would second the wish for you to continue the animal and plants series. They are so much interconnected in nature that sometimes I don’t see one but for the other. Like this entry.

  10. Mirdza

    Here in New Orleans we have the interesting Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve which has many trails through this wetland preserve. From one of the trails, the Bayou Coquille Trail, one can see an Indian midden which is the site of a prehistoric Indan village marked with a mound of clams (coquilles), bones and other refuse from village life. This was the first time I had heard of the word “midden”.
    Thank you for the interesting photos and information about the squirrel and it’s midden.

  11. Eric Simpson

    Mirdza’s comment reminded me of the abalone shell midden I stumbled across one day while hiking along the north shore of Little Harbor on Santa Catalina Island, left by the Native Americans (Tongva tribe, a.k.a. Pimugnans) that had a village there until they were wiped out by disease in the 18th(?) Century.

  12. DPH Brownlee

    the red squirrels are the smallest I know, but they are big on personalities! great photo!

  13. D.Vargas

    I study plant-animal interactions so it is very fun to see postings such as the one above. I just visited the Big Island of Hawaii and was treated to a special tour of greenhouses at the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge horticulturist is raising and outplanting endangered shrub and tree species important to the endemic and threatend/endangered bird species such as the honeycreepers. If you forgo the plant/mammal series you may consider a plant/bird series, perhaps plant/bird associations in the Hawaiian archipalego :). These trees and birds have co-evolved over millenia and the extinction of many of these Hawaiian endemic bird species due to predation (rats, mongoose, feral cats), habitat loss (wild pig, goats, sheep), and disease (avian malaria), has also resulted in the loss of their associated tree species.

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