Over four decades have passed since the last definitive work on Ohio’s mammals. In 1981, “A Guide to the Mammals of Ohio” was released, with detailed accounts of 54 species of mammals. It was authored by University of Cincinnati mammologist Jack Gottschang.
Lots of changes have occurred in Ohio’s mammal populations in the intervening 41 years. Some species have become more common, and others rarer. New information has been learned about most species, and their ranges have been further elucidated. And advances in publishing techniques and photography allow for a much showier book about the hairy crowd.
“Mammals of Ohio” updates Gottschang’s book in a slick package peppered with excellent photographs and much new information. The authors are well-respected Ohio mammalogists John Harder (Ohio State University) and Guy Cameron (University of Cincinnati).
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‘Mammals’ outlines species in danger
The book’s cover is eye-grabbing, featuring a gray fox in mid-stride, shooting the photographer (Larry Master) an inquisitive look. This beautiful forest fox is an example of changes that have occurred since Gottschang’s book. He noted that gray fox were found in every county, and “extremely abundant” in some regions.
Not now. Harder and Cameron describe gray fox status as “low” in numbers throughout much of Ohio, and it is listed as a Species of Concern by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Other mammals with marked declines since 1981 include most Ohio bat species, primarily due to the introduction of a fungal disease referred to as white-nose syndrome.
The book chronicles species on the rise
On a positive note, black bears, bobcats and river otters — which were considered extirpated in 1981 — are recolonizing the state. As is the clever and charismatic coyote, a subject of much misinformation and misguided fear. Its account in “Mammals of Ohio” gives the real facts about these wily canids.
“Mammals of Ohio” includes an informative introductory section that includes information about mammal physiology, techniques used in their study, conservation, and a comprehensive checklist of Ohio species. In addition to numerous photographs, the book features delightful line drawings by Suellen Jacob.
Each Order (rodents, carnivores, bats etc.) is introduced with an informative overview that describes characteristics of the group, the number of species and families, and various interesting facts. Orders are broken down into families, these with a brief synopsis of its defining characters.
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Complex information made easy in ‘Mammals’
The meat of the book is the 55 species accounts. These are robust, stretching over several pages. The writing is clear, and the authors do a commendable job of simplifying sometimes complex information and presenting it in easily understandable terms.
Accounts feature a description of the species, and sections on distribution and abundance, habitat, diet, reproduction, mortality, behavior, and conservation. Excellent maps show distribution in Ohio, and the overall range.
Numerous nuggets are scattered throughout, such as the venomous bite of shrews, the behavior of our true hibernators (it isn’t just the woodchuck), and exactly how skunks employ their musk against threats — and what animals prey on them, anyway.
I highly recommend “Mammals of Ohio.” Anyone with an interest in mammals beyond Homo sapiens should enjoy this book. It’s a great way to learn the rest of the story about mammals such as chipmunks, opossums and squirrels that share your yard. It will also open eyes to species that most people probably don’t know about, such as least weasel, star-nosed mole and 13-lined ground squirrel.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.