Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/574

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

thus pile up a mound of loose sand, go down through it, leave the top perfectly smoothed over, and, with no supports save the sand itself, to so fill up the passageway above him as he went down that not the slightest mark should be left to indicate his pathway of retreat.

Even if you dig into and under one of these sand mounds you will find very little to betray the builder's whereabouts. It is seemingly all solid earth, and unless you know exactly when and where and how to dig you will probably give up the search in disgust, with your labor and your backache but no "salamander" hole for your pains. Indeed, the cunning of this little rodent in hiding his burrow is quite as conspicuous as his skill in digging it. "Strategy" is his strong point. If by any chance you come upon his burrow it is probably an old abandoned one that is closed up and leads nowhere. The chances are ten to one that his real burrow is rods if not furlongs away.

Provided you can find the last mound he has built and not more than four or five hours have elapsed since its completion, by digging diagonally to the right or left, at the distance of a foot or so, you will have a fair chance of encountering his burrow. He is probably near by, resting from the severe labors of the previous night. If you give him time to get his nap out and finish his job, your wiser plan will be to stop hunting and digging a little before you begin.

Why this little underground dweller should be called "salamander" is one of those mysteries of popular nomenclature which is seemingly inexplicable. There is certainly nothing in the habits or appearance of the animal to suggest the fabled fireproof batrachian. Like some other lovers of darkness, he has quite a number of aliases by which in various portions of the South and West he is known. "Gopher," "pouched rat," "hamster," and "muelos" are some of the titles by which he is locally known. "Salamander" appears to be the most generally accepted one.

This enterprising little rodent belongs to an ancient if not honorable family. By naturalists he is generally known as "pocket gopher," and is classed among the Geomyidæ. Some fifteen known species have been recognized, with possibly more to hear from, and with a habitat extending quite across the continent. The Florida species is probably Geomys tuza (Ord.), and though not as large as one or two others, is quite the peer of any of his cousins in enterprise and ability to look out for himself.

The illustration given is from what is probably the only photograph of a living "salamander" ever taken. Mr. Geomys is not a model "sitter." No unwilling candidate for the "rogues' gal-