The Mammals

Marmot (Marmota marmota). It digs deep tunnels in the high pastures and emits an alarm whistle to warn the others of danger. (Photo I. Fossa)

     In the Museum the mammals on show are those most commonly found in the local area; for reasons of space some of these are located in the dioramas on the top floor. The larger predators such as the bear and the lynx have only recently returned to these mountains and are not on show. In the ground floor display the group of insect-eaters includes small mammals whose pointed nose full of nerve terminals enhances their tactile abilities. Their teeth are pointed, their sight very limited, but their senses of smell and hearing are highly developed. One of these is the mole (Talpa europea) with very small, almost useless eyes; it lives underground feeling mostly on worms and its body and paws are well developed for digging. The fur of the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) has bcome spines for its defence, and when necessary it can roll up completely into a ball. The shrew (Sorex araneus) and similar species have red-coloured, pointed teeth, while the water shrew (Neomys Fodiens), the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens) and similar species have completely white teeth.
     The Chiropters include bats, which are mammals with a membrane which opens out for flight, stretched between the front limbs, fingers, body, back limbs and tail. They mainly eat insects and so are in danger of extinction due to the increased use of pesticides in agriculture. They hunt by emitting ultrasound which bounces off a passing insect like a moth so that the bat changes the direction and speed of its flight on the basis of the message it receives. The following bats have been observed locally: lesser horse-shoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrum equinum) with a horse-shoe shaped face, the noctule (Nyctalus noctula) which lives in attics and tree hollows and the grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus) which is easy to recognise by its big ears.
     Rodents are mammals whose jaws both have chisel-shaped, rootless, incisor teeth which grow continually. These teeth, apart from being essential for feeding, are also a defensive weapon and a useful tool for digging. These animals are mainly herbivorous, small to middle-sized and prolific. The squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), with the bushy tail it uses for bilance as it jumps, lives in trees like the fat dormouse (Myoxus glis), the nocturnal acrobat of the broad-leaved woodlands; the marmot (Marmota marmota) digs out tunnels in the high mountain grasslands. The smallest are the long-tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) which lives up to the upper limit of vegetation in competition with the field vole (Microtus agrestis) which is also active in winter.
     Carnivores include the fox (Vulpes vulpes), quite a common canine animal which is extremely adaptable, able to live in any environment from sea level to the mountains. The badger (Meles meles) shares the fox’s omnivorous dietary habitus and sometimes even its lair. The marten (Martes martes) is a Mustelid like the badger and is agile enough to catch squirrels in the trees. The ermine (Mustela erminea) is known for its snow-white winter coat which camouflages it in the snow. The pole-cat (Mustela putorius) has a terribile smell which it can use for defence, emitted by two glands near its anus. The wild cat (Felis silvestris) is an erratic feline which sometimes visits this area.

     Cloven-hoofed animals in the area are for example the red deer (Cervus elaphus) which live in the Cansiglio forest but are spreading rapidly throughout the Belluno region as are the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) which prefer grassland near the woods. The males of both species shed their horns which consist of velvet covered bone and are known as antlers. The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) is the uncontested king of the alpine pastures and, in this case, both sexes have unciform and permanent horns (bovid).
     Wild boar (Sus scrofa) are also on the increase; their skin is covered with long, stiff bristles and the males have big canine teeth.

Red deer (Cervus elaphus). Widespread, with an increasing population both on the Cansiglio plateau and in the whole Belluno region. (Photo F. Padovan)

The Morphology of Mammals
Mammals are vertebrates with a constant body temperature and which breast-feed their young. Their body is covered with fur which, besides keeping their body temperature constant by trapping air and so reducing heat loss, also plays a camouflaging role and is usually in tones of brown and grey. In wild boar the fur becomes bristly and in hedgehogs takes the form of spines.
Mammals’ skin contains sebaceous and sudoriparous glands, mammary glands and scent glands, used to mark their territory as for instance red and roe deer do.
     Their external body shape varies, depending on the life they lead, as do their teeth, in relation to their feeding habits.
Their pelvic and shoulder structures vary to suit the complex movement of their limbs and their type of life and movement – running, jumping and digging.
     The position of their eyes is very important for enabling them to take in their surroundings: the chamois, living in open spaces, needs a wide visual field and has eyes on the side of its head; the fox, as a predator, has its eyes further forward to enable it to evaluate distances. Hearing is usually highly developed and tactile sense is further helped by tactile hairs (“vibrisse”); the sense of smell is most highly developed in canines. Lastly it can be said that mammals are considered the most evolved vertebrates for their psychological capacity.