TOPEKA (KSNT) – Biologists working for the Kansas Department and Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) made some surprising discoveries in a recent survey, including a furry killing machine with an eerie call.

KDWP spokeswoman Nadia Marji said in a press release that members of a Terrestrial Survey Crew were conducting work in south-central Kansas in the Red Hills on various amphibian, reptile and small mammal communities in the area. Dry conditions allowed the biologists to record the presence of two small mammal species with unique qualities during the survey: the grasshopper mouse and the spotted ground squirrel.

Both species have interesting characteristics that make them unique compared to other rodents, according to Mark VanScoyoc, Biodiversity Survey Coordinator with the KDWP. The spotted ground squirrel is among the smallest species of squirrels found in the U.S. and likes to burrow beneath the earth. Their extensive tunnels are used to store food gathered from above for hibernation later on.

VanScoyoc said the grasshopper mouse is regularly found in the Red Hills area. Don’t let its cute exterior fool you, as it is separated from other mice due to its carnivorous nature: these mice dine on insects, worms, spiders, centipedes, snakes and scorpions along with other mice. They also have a habit of emitting high-pitched barking sounds or howls, giving it the nickname of the wolf mouse or werewolf mouse. On top of these unique qualities, the mouse is also immune to various venoms used by some of the creatures it hunts and usually comes out at night.

“It will stalk its prey much like other predators and will even defend its territory by “howling” like a small wolf; it really does howl at the moon,” VanScoyoc said.

Other species found during the survey included:

  • Eastern hognose snake
  • Longnose snake
  • New Mexican thread snake
  • Checkered garter snake
  • Lesser earless lizard

VanScoyoc said of those species found during the survey, several are considered to be in need of conservation efforts. The checkered garter snake and the New Mexico threadsnake are both threatened species in Kansas, just one step below being endangered, and are only found along the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Both snake species were the primary reason why the survey took place in the Red Hills.

VanScoyoc said these surveys are an important part of the KDWP’s mission to understand where Kansas’ native species stand and what their habitat conditions area. These surveys can present big challenges to biologists as some of the species being surveyed might be hard to find due to their quick nature or burrowing habits.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kansas wildlife and species that are struggling, VanScoyoc said you can go to the KDWP’s website. There, you can find out more information on threatened and endangered species, species in need of conservation and species of greatest conservation need.

KDWP biologists regularly conduct surveys in Kansas to keep track of native and invasive species. Past surveys have also yielded rarely seen species such as one undertaken in a Kansas cave system in April.