Woody The Woodchuck, The Okie From Muskogee
As a pre-med student I was privileged to be a part of a study on fear induced bardycardia of the Marmota monax, better known as a woodchuck.
Our first challenge was to catch one. We had to travel to Muskogee, Oklahoma. We placed our cages under brush on the incline to the railroad tracks that followed along side the Verdigress River. This is a noted hangout for woodchucks. They are considered a nuisance because they chop down small trees and brush that clog up the river.
We hid behind the brush far enough away he wouldn’t spot us. After two months we finally had a taker. He walked into the cage and started nibbling on the nuts. In the rush, to secure the cage door, my foot crashed through his den and I fractured my ankle .But, we proudly took our little Okie from Muskogee home with us.
Our goal was to surgically implant a wax encapsulated transmitter into his chest. Determining the correct amount of ether was very nerve wracking. He was not the most cooperative patient we had ever had. We certainly didn’t want to give him enough to kill him nor did we want him to be in pain or combative as we performed surgery.
Whew!... surgery was successful. We hadn’t killed him and we were spared the trauma of going to catch another little Okie. It was exciting to have our own bionic woodchuck. We were instructed to turn him loose in the lab and let him adjust to his new surroundings. We recorded his responses to rest, fear, joy, and relationship to humans and other animals by documenting his heart rate, heart rhythm, and temperature as he recovered from his surgical implant. .
Over the next two years of experiments and documentation Woody and the pre-ed team established a friendship. He was no longer afraid of us in spite all the situations we put him in.
Our last responsibility was to take Woody to a one mile island in the middle of Lake Tenkiller,
Oklahoma. We set up camp and dug a modified woodchuck den in the smaller tent. The larger tent housed all of the equipment. Woody was kept in a cage the first day.
The morning of the second day his cage was set over his homemade den and secured so he would have to tunnel his way out. By the morning of the third day he was gone. The little rascal had dug through his den, to the top and to the left, which allowed him to escape through the night..
The search was on, he still had the transmitter in his chest We had the radios that would alert
us when we were within 500 feet of him. FOUND. Now, we could proceed with our testing. First we released a dog on the island who crossed Woody’s path. Our equipment documented all his vitals no matter where he went on the island.
The Marmota monax is said to be a mammal. Mammals heart rate increase when they are frightened. But, guess what Woody’s didn’t. The poor little fellow experienced a snake being put in his den. His heart rate dropped very low (bradycardia) because he was extremely frightened. Woody survived the experience but we were unnerved because we couldn’t find the snake. Later in the week we exposed him to noisy boats and a pack of dogs. Each time his heart rate decreased. The results remained the same the whole week we followed him around..
We rushed back to our campsite to record our findings. We also had to organize the mountains of paper from the physiograph. We wrote until we had writer’s cramps telling our story.
The smell of our food drew Woody to where we were congregated. His pulse remained steady because he considered us his friends..
While laying in my sleeping bag my mind drifted to the past. I was totally amazed how the writings on cave walls, inscriptions on rocks, ancient manuscripts, and preserved master pieces of information had such an affect us today. The benefit to man, through the conquest of knowledge, had brought us to where we are today.
Our two year study was honored by being published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Our Professor, Dr. Norbert Smith, and team were honored at the State Science Fair.
Our team had mixed emotions when it was time to take our Little Okie back to Muskogee. We watched him scamper off to join his friends and share his adventure.
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