ID animal we almost ran over, please

I’m visiting my sister in Massachusetts, right on the rte. 128 beltway. This morning about 10:30 we were driving down rte. 62 when a smallish mammal did one of those ‘assisted suicide’ attempts to cross the road right in front of us.

You know: mad dash from one side of the road to the center of the other lane, then freeze in place as you stare at the approaching car, look left, look right, repeat several times, then finally dash back across the road the long way to where you started rather than continuing on to the closer side. This one was fortunate: traffic was light, and we were able to slow almost to a stop, and it lived to startle another driver another day.

Now, sister and I are far from country folk, born and raised in suburbia. Which is where we were, actually, but suburbia in that area is getting a diversified wildlife population. They have the usual skunks and raccons, of course, but also deer stroll through at least a couple of times of week and coyotes have been spotted reliably on many occasions.

My sister thinks we saw a juvenile beaver. I was guessing a muskrat, mainly because I don’t think it was a beaver, and what else of that size/general appearance roams the not-so-wilds of suburban Boston?

Here’s the best description we could agree on: Our mystery guest was about 50% larger (in total body volume) than the grey squirrels that are usual here abouts. It seemed to have a rather chunky body with shortish legs – sort of scurried like a chipmunk vs. running like a cat or dog does. The fur was brown with reddish tones, no markings that either of us noticed. The tail was what really caught my eye. It was shortish – maybe 3-4" – and sort of stubby looking, and was quite definitely fur-covered. Not all brushy like a squirrel, but it had a sort of ‘plush’ appearance. My immediate thought was that the tail looked like the nice expensive sable brushes artists use, though tapering down longer that usual for a brush. Neither of us looked at the head long enough to give any reliable impression.

It absolutely wasn’t a squirrel (not red OR gray, both are common in the area), nor a chipmunk, nor an opposum. Nor rat (norwegian or domestic), mouse, vole or mole. Not a rabbit. Not someone’s escaped guinea pig nor hamster nor gerbil nor kangaroo rat. But what does that leave?

It was way, way smaller than a beaver, which is why Kathy is plumping for a ‘juvenile’ beaver. But: 1) although there are plenty of streams and ponds in this town, none of them are within a half mile of where we encountered the beast. Would a juvenile travel that far? Would it be out of the lodge at all at that size? 2) I’ve never seen a beaver’s tale up close, but my expectation is that a beaver’s tale is obviously flattened, and this one wasn’t. And aren’t beaver tales bare of fur, at least at the end?

OTOH, I’ve googled up some muskrat images, and while some of the pictures look darn close to what I saw, various encyclopedia entries called for ‘scaly’ tails, and as I said, this one was definitely covered in short but dense fur.

Sooooo. Does anyone have a guess at what other small mammal (most likely a rodent, though we didn’t get a good look at teeth) we might have nearly flattened this morning?

I’d say likely a groundhog.

I’m thinking you saw a groundhog, which explains the muskrat-like appearance, the confusion with a beaver, and so on. Another good pic is here. In both pics you can see the hairy tail that distinguishes them from muskrats.

Yep, woodchuck/groundhog, based on both physical description and habitat.

Aha! I do believe you all are right! I don’t know why that possibility didn’t occur to either of us. I mean, it makes sense ground hogs have to exist on days other than Feb 2. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
Thanks for the prompt answer! (And at 4am your time? Don’t you guys ever sleep?)

From the description, I was going to say woodchuck, as my BiL just shot one last week and my time seeing one. A question. Is a woodchuck the same as a groundhog? Or are they merely related?

Alternate names for the same animal, according to the sites I looked at. “Woodchuck” is more formal, “Groundhog” used more commonly, it seems.

http://enature.com/fieldguide/showSpeciesGS.asp?curGroupID=5&searchText=woodchuck&curPageNum=1&recnum=MA0116

It’s usually called a woodchuck in the west and a groundhog in the east, but it is a marmot. There are several species of marmots: http://enature.com/search/show_search_thumb.asp?sort=1&curGroupID=99&display=1&area=99&curPageNum=1&searchText=marmot

They’re in the squirrel family and all are rodents.

We’ve always called them woodchucks here too, though. Otherwise, how could you indulge in that delightful little tongue-twister?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

:wink:

Alternatively:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?

Maybe it was a Nutria?

Yeah, but when I was a tyke hangin’ out in da Bronx, we said “could,” and I’m faithfully reporting that. :stuck_out_tongue: Bottom line though is that anyone who calls them groundhogs is missing out! :wink:

If you were on the west coast I would have suggested the elusive Aplodontia:
http://dinets.travel.ru/arufa.htm

But they are pretty rare, and exlusively west coast critters.

Oh, and a nutria has a long scaley tail like a muskrat, not a furry little tail, so it couldn’t have been a nutria based on your description. Nutria aren’t native to NA, but there are plenty of feral nutria running around nowadays.

How much ground would a groundhog hog if a groundhog would hog ground?

How much mar would a marmot mot if a marmot would mot mar?

As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

A possible answer is here

The above, of course, assuming an ideal woodchuck in ideal conditions…

It is possible that it was one of Scylla’s" Evil Nazi groundhogs".
That would explain the bold street crossing.

The above calculations are only true for very large values of woodchuck :slight_smile:

And then, of course, they’re capybaras.