The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 22, 2013

Early breeding makes life easier for some wildlife

CAMERON — In nature, timing is everything.  Most animals give birth in the spring just as new sources of food become abundant. But for many species, the mating season begins much sooner.

Male white-tailed deer, for example, are already shadowing groups of does. Occasional brief chases foretell the escapades to follow in October and November. But when the rut begins, does are only fertile for 24 hours every 28 days. Bad weather or too much human activity can disrupt deer behavior, so some does can miss a chance or two to breed and extend the rut into early February. The still spotted fawn I saw last week, for example, is the offspring of a doe that bred late, perhaps in December or even January. Deer pregnancies average about 200 days, so fall mating is essential to insure that fawns drop with sufficient time to mature by the following autumn.

Black bears breed in June and early July, when food is abundant. Though embryos form in early summer, they do not implant on the uterine wall until the sow enters hibernation. This enables sows to acquire vast amounts of fat to get through winter without devoting much energy to developing cubs.

And even after fetal development begins, it proceeds slowly with minimal stress on the mother. Black bear cubs weigh just six to 12 ounces at birth in January. Most bear cub growth occurs after birth. Cubs open their eyes at about four weeks, and leave the den with their mother when about three months old.   

Fishers, river otters, and long-tailed and short-tailed weasels take this strategy of  “delayed implantation” to extremes. These members of the weasel family mate in March or April, but do not give birth until about 10 months later. When the embryos finally implant in late winter, the actual pregnancy last only four to six weeks. This breeding strategy is particularly adaptive for predators because there are usually plenty of prey available for nursing mothers. And when the young leave the den, young prey are abundant so learning to hunt is less difficult.

Avoiding the costs of reproduction during the most energetically demanding times of the year is not restricted to mammals. Many insects and other invertebrates mate in late summer and overwinter as eggs, larvae, or pupae. Longer, warmer spring days trigger the development of these life stages and life cycles continue without the burden of reproductive behavior. Wooly bear caterpillars, for example, overwinter in its familiar larval caterpillar stage, and tomato hornworms drop to the ground and burrow beneath the surface where they overwinter underground as pupae.

Even some familiar fish spawn in the fall to avoid breeding in the spring.

The brook trout story begins with fall’s shorter days and colder water temperatures. These environmental cues trigger hormonal changes in the brook trout that inhabit cold, clear waterways. Males get colorful and their lower jaws grow and turn upward. Females transform into egg-making machines for the fall spawn.

Along the shores of beaver ponds, small rivers and even the tiniest spring-fed mountain streams, females choose clean gravelly spawning sites. The water must be between 40 and 55 degrees F. And most importantly, there must be an upwelling of ground water directly beneath the nest or at least a current to carry away silt and sediments.

While the females build nests, the males establish a dominance hierarchy based on size and aggression.The largest male usually wins breeding rights.

When the female releases her eggs, the male fertilizes them. As the milky cloud settles into the nest, the spawn is complete.

The male leaves immediately, perhaps to search for another mate. The female completes the nest by using her fins to shovel a load of clean gravel atop the fertilized eggs. The eggs are now hidden, safe and ready for a winter of dormancy. The sediment-free nest keeps the eggs well oxygenated during the winter months. The eggs hatch in early March.

Brown trout also spawn in the fall when water temperature dip into the upper 40s.

— Contact Dr. Shalaway via e-mail at, or at 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

Text Only
  • Some books for the rest of summer

    Stretching out in a hammock with a good book is a great way to relax on a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.

    July 27, 2014

  • Creating a week to remember

    After my traveling shoes were placed neatly beside the door, it was time to spend some much needed time around home.

    July 27, 2014

  • There are some changes on the way

    Hunters who have found themselves driving out of their way to check in a deer, turkey, or bear will no longer have to waste the time or gas starting in 2015. 

    July 27, 2014

  • The cure for the summertime blues: Go camping

    In case you haven’t noticed we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 26, 2014

  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
AP Video
13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp