Saturday, September 15, 2012

Huckleberries and Mountain Beavers

On Thursday one of my fellow grad students, Joyce, graciously took me out to her top secret huckleberry picking location/research site. Her dissertation is on the modern and ancient use of huckleberry patches in the Cascades.

We had an amazing day that still felt like summer. We picked huckleberries for five hours straight. There were some fantastic patches of the regular huckleberries as well as red huckleberries (cherry berries) and blue berries. I learned some really cool things from Joyce about plants in that area. I also learned about the existence of mountain beavers - I had never heard of them before! They're an ancient rodent that only lives in the Cascades and Sierras. They are pretty unique little critters and they're actually not really very closely related to the North American beaver. It appears that their ancestors split around 80 million years ago.

Mountain beavers live in burrows and we saw bunches of them in the huckleberry patches. The mountain beavers require a lot of water anywhere they live because they can't produce concentrated urine (I'm not exactly sure why or what that means other than that they need ample moisture). The lake bed at Joyce's research site always seems to be dry, but the presence of mountain beavers suggests that there actually must be a decent amount of water somewhere nearby underground. And that might explain why the huckleberries are so abundant in this one area, but not in other areas nearby. Pretty cool!

Joyce at her research site (I doubt anyone would be able to figure out where this is!)

Black huckleberry, red huckleberry, and blueberry

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