Canada is an immense country, with almost ten million square kilometers, it is the second largest country in the world and is home to well-known and charismatic species, brown, polar and black bears, the immense moose and the emblematic animal of Canadians, the famous beaver. But what not many know is that in all the territory of the country of the maple there are five mammals that are not found anywhere else in the world, these are the five endemic mammals of Canada.
In the Atlantic provinces lives a small animal that is characterized for being a controller of the populations of spiders and centipedes, but mainly of the larvae of beetles and flies. Much of the hunting of this small animal takes place in the cracks of the rocks present in the habitat occupied by the Sorex gaspensis or better known as the Long Tailed Shrew or Gaspé’s Shrew.
According to information from the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center, Gaspé’s Shrew lives exclusively on the Gaspé Peninsula in southeastern Quebec, north-central and western New Brunswick, and on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in moss-covered rocky areas and leafy soils of deciduous forests between 290 and 400 meters above sea level.
Another of the five endemic mammals of Canada is precisely another shrew, the Sorex maritimensis or Maritime Shrew. It is supremely difficult to see a sea shrew and also belongs to the fauna located in the so-called Atlantic Provinces of Canada.
It lives exclusively in the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and because of the scarce data available on this little shrew, Don Stewart, PhD, professor of biology at Acadia University, is currently conducting a study to collect data on the habitat preferences of two shrews in particular, one of them, the Maritime, which despite its name, prefers, as far as has been determined, wetlands and marshes, swamps and wet grasslands.
The concern with this other endemic animal of Canada is that in the summer and warmer months of spring and autumn, its habitat becomes more vulnerable to flooding and when the temperature drops, but not enough to generate snow, the shrew is exposed to the cold, as it usually takes refuge under the snow deposited in the areas where it lives.
As part of Professor Stewart’s research, hundreds of traps will be installed where the shrews will be trapped and after the excrement is removed and sent to Acadia University in Nova Scotia for feeding analysis, it will be released back into the wild.
The third in the short list of the five endemic mammals of Canada is the Richardson’s Necklace Lemming (Dicrostonyx richardsoni) a small rodent that got its name from the Scottish naturalist and surgeon John Richardson, who dedicated himself to explore the north of Canada, especially the arctic.
This animal inhabits the west of the Hudson Bay in the tundra of the center-north of Canada, where the vegetation is shrubby and there is a scarce presence of trees so its main food in the summer is grass, reeds and other type of green vegetation when the sun heats up these frozen lands. In winter, their diet is restricted to small sprigs of poplar, willows and winter birches.
But these small rodents of barely 13 centimeters long on average and a small tail of one centimeter more, must take special care with the specialized predators in these latitudes, the arctic foxes, the snowy owls and some mustélids that live there.
The females have litters of four to eight young and can reproduce two or three times each year in nests that they make in burrows dug in the permafrost. Precisely to dig in this hard frozen soil they require enlarged digging claws on their front legs that develop when they leave their brown, summer coat and wear the white winter suit.
The second largest rodent in North America, after the beaver, is the Vancouver Island Marmot, Marmota vancouverensis, cousins of the squirrels, they greatly exceed them in size and are of terrestrial habits and inhabit the highest areas of the mountains on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
This rodent is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, as Critically Endangered, and although this may seem bad news, it is positive if we consider that by 2003 only 30 specimens of this species remained on the planet, without the action of conservationists, this species would surely be extinct.
Thanks to a program of captive breeding and subsequent repopulation, its population has increased to between 300 and 500 specimens that are settled in the mountains of the center and south of the island.
They are easy to differentiate from other marmots because of their thick dark brown coat that contrasts with white spots on their nose and chin, sometimes on their forehead and chest. They are also characterized by strong muscles in their chest and shoulders that allow them to dig tunnels and burrows so they can shelter from predators, hibernate and give birth to their young.
As for their size, an adult groundhog can measure 65 to 70 centimeters between its nose and its thick tail, but it is another thing to talk about the body weight of these large rodents. By the time they finish hibernating in late April and early May, they may have lost about one-third of their body weight from the approximately 7.5 kilograms at the beginning of their deep sleep stage.
Something surprising about the Vancouver Groundhog is that it manages to slow down its heart when it is hibernating to the amazing figure of three to four beats per minute, contrasting with the 110 to 200 beats when it is active.
Towards the northeast of Hudson Bay, in the Labrador Peninsula, lives another of the five endemic mammals of Canada, not to lose the habit, is another rodent, this time much smaller than the Vancouver Groundhog. The Ungava collared lemming, Dicrostonyx hudsonius, is only 16 centimeters long, barely three more than its cousin the Richardson collared lemming mentioned above.
This small endemic animal of the provinces of Quebec and New Found Land and Labrador, lives in colonies that suffer a variation in the number of its individuals in lapses of time that vary between two and five years. They can go from a population density of 140 specimens per acre to only one specimen.
They are considered reproductive machines, since they reach sexual maturity a month after being born and the gestation barely lasts from 22 to 26 days. They can have litters of up to seven individuals, five being the common number of offspring per birth during the long reproduction season that goes from March to September.
As a curious fact, the presence of these little animals is known from the discovery of remains of specimens dating from the end of the last ice age even in the Ottawa Valley, far south of their current distribution.
These are the five mammals endemic to Canada, five animals found only in the northernmost country in the Americas.
Periodista ambiental y de conservación colombiano, actualmente residente en Canadá.