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The Missing Lynx

Steve, troweling out the misinformationJoann and I spent three hours in the Department of Natural Resource’s (the DNR’s) Minnesota Wildlife exhibit yesterday. This was our second year volunteering in the “wildlife wing.” That’s right, we spent three hours on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon in an even hotter and more humid building, and we didn’t even get paid to do it. But we did get to wear snappy-looking blue DNR vests, show off the prestigious Minnesota Master Naturalist nametags we worked so hard to earn, and enjoyed talking with the steady parade of visitors. I learned a few things.

Many of the visitors walked through the exhibit, I believe, not so much out of curiosity as for the chance to get out of the sun and cool down. They may have been disappointed.

A stuffed pine marten clings to a fake spruce tree near the north entrance to the exhibit (nearby, two spruce grouse pose in the shade of a fake pine tree). For the second year in a row, I spent a lot of time answering questions about this marten. It’s an American marten, but it’s commonly known as a pine marten around here. Most state fair visitors have never seen one in the wild. Nor have I. Under ideal conditions, however, I can point out a deceased, taxidermist-prepared marten to the general public. Because of its superficial resemblance to the ferret, many of the teenage girls who passed through seemed to think that the marten might make a good household pet. It would not.

It seems that men are at least twice as likely as women to hazard a wild-ass guess as to the identity of an unfamiliar animal. And they are at least four times less likely than women to ask an “authority figure” in a snappy blue vest for a little help. Most men who walked in the door accompanied by women and/or children pointed out the bobcat, but about half of them called it a lynx.

Alas, there is no lynx in the exhibit, and it definitely would not be worth killing and stuffing one just so state fair goers might have a chance to see it. The specimens on display are not “harvested” by the DNR; many are failed rescues or animals killed illegally. Someday, I suppose, a lynx will “turn up” in one way or another and the DNR will add it to this collection.

Kids are fascinated by owls. In an exhibit that features a black bear, a wolf, a badger (I didn’t call it a wolverine this year), an eagle, and dozens of other animals, I wouldn’t have guessed that for the youngest attendees, nothing matches an owl for excitement. But it’s true. The large great gray owl near the one entrance was usually the first animal noticed by kids. The great horned, northern hawk, boreal, and saw-whet owls provide a nice assortment. Several adults asked, “Do you have a barred owl?,” and a few misidentified the great gray as a barred. It seems the barred owl (one of two large owls that are regularly seen in the Twin Cities metro area) has a following. A couple of enthusiastic visitors even attempted to imitate its “Who-who … who cooks for you?” call.

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