Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies  [i.e., the Rock Hyrax of Israel  —  a lagomorph mammal with a lifestyle ecologically similar to that of the “rockchuck” (marmot) rodents of America’s western mountain states].   (Psalm 104:18)

Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

 Dr. James J. S. Johnson marmot-yellow-bellied-lowcrawling

What do we know, from the Holy Bible, about “marmots”, the herbivorous mammals we call “woodchucks” (or “groundhogs”) and “rockchucks”, other than that they were made on Day # 6, and that their ancestors were preserved during the global Flood by riding inside Noah’s Ark?

There is no specific mention in Holy Scripture, that designates the mammal family that we today call “marmots”, but the Scriptures do refer to rat-like rodents (‘achbarîm = “rats”) plaguing the idolatrous Philistines (see 1st Samuel chapters 5 & 6) —   plus another rodent (שָּׁפָן  = shaphan, the rock hyrax, less accurately known as “rock badger” or “coney”) that fills a marmot-like eco-niche in Israel:

 The rock hyraxes are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.  (Proverbs 30:26)

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the rock hyraxes. (Psalm 104:18)

Israel’s rock hyrax (שָּׁפָן) is categorized with other “lagomorph” mammals – like rabbits, hares, and pikas, —  as a creature that practice hindgut fermentation digestion (involving a reingestion process variously called “cæcotrophy”, “refection”, “cecophagy”, “coprophagia”, or reingesting “night feces”) —  yet these small lagomorphs do not have divided hooves:

 Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only have the hoof cloven: the camel, and the hare, and the rock hyrax, because they chew the cud [literally: they fetch up partially digested (“stirred”) food for re-chewing] but part not the hoof, they are unclean unto you.  (Deuteronomy 14:7). RockHyrax.on-rocks.png

These two Old Testament verses describe 3 important traits of the rock hyraxes — (1) physiologically, they practice hindgut fermentation “refection” (i.e., hindgut-facilitated re-digestion); (2) anatomically, they have undivided (i.e., un-split) hooves, and (3) ecologically, they make nests in rocky habitats. It is the third trait – making homes in rocky places – that is ecologically comparable to many “marmots” that inhabit rocky places outside of the Holy Land.[1]

However, as we shall see, some of the marmot family – groundhogs (a/k/a woodchucks or “whistle-pigs”) – are known to live in non-rocky habitats.

In fact, it is the groundhog (Marmota monax), under its nickname “woodchuck”, that gives rise to this tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could, if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

 Now, to introduce the “marmot” family, first consider that it is classified as a squirrel-like mammal (family Sciuridae), having many traits in common with various squirrel “cousins” (tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, etc.):

 SQUIRRELS:    Sciuridae    This [taxonomic] family includes a wide variety of [herbivorous] mammals. Marmots, woodchucks, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and tree squirrels all belong here.  They have 4 toes on front [feet], 5 on back [feet].  Tail is always covered with hair, [and] is sometimes bushy.  All are active during the daytime except the flying [i.e., gliding] squirrels, which come out only at night.  Marmots, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks all nest in burrows in the ground or beneath rocks or logs.  Tree squirrels and flying squirrels nest in trees.  Most of the ground-living species have a habit of sitting up “picket pin” fashion on their haunches.  This enables them to see over low vegetation and avert danger.  Ground squirrels and chipmunks have internal cheek pouches; most of them store food.

Quoting William H. Burt, A Field Guide to the Mammals, North America North of Mexico (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980; Peterson Field Guide Series), pages 90-91. In other words, marmots are a special category of large ground squirrels.


WOODCHUCK  (a/k/a Groundhog & Canada marmot —  Marmota monax)

This term is used to describe the “groundhog” – the smallest variety of marmot – that habituates the eastern half of the United States, as well as much of the boreal forest of Canada – as the range map [from Wikipedia] below shows.

Woodchuck.RangeMap-Wikipedia.png Canadian mammalogists have described the common Woodchuck as follows:

 The Woodchuck is our smallest marmot. It has brown dorsal fur grizzled with silver-grey, and a reddish-brown ventral pelage.  The head is dark brown with no white markings on the face; the fur on the sides of the neck does not contrast sharply in colour with the fur on the flanks and back.  The front legs are covered with reddish-brown hairs; the dorsal surface of the hind feet is dark brown to nearly black.  The short, nearly flat, bushy tail varies from dark brown to blackish.  …  The posterior pad on the sole of the hind foot is oval in shape.  …  [Ecologically speaking, it habituates] valley bottoms, lowlands and the lower slopes of the mountains, … [living in] open forests, recently cleared forests, agricultural fields, meadows, ravines associated with streams and rivers, road embankments, and campgrounds. In agricultural areas, Woodchuck burrows are most concentrated in edge habitats bordering fields and cleared areas.  Its elevational range in British Columbia is from 350 to 1,250 metres [i.e., ~1,150 feet to ~4,100 feet].

Quoting David W. Nagorsen, Rodents and Lagomorphs of British Columbia (Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum, 2005; volume #4 in the Mammals of British Columbia series), page 136-137.

Groundhogs can reproduce quickly, like other rodents. That is helpful for maintaining Groundhog populations, because they are potential prey to several carnivorous predators, including wild canines (wolf, fox, coyote, dog), wild felines (cougar, bobcat, lynx), bears, and even large birds of prey (e.g., eagles).  Survival requires eating on a regular basis, of course, and groundhogs  — being mostly herbivorous – eat grasses of many types, as well as other lawn/meadow ground cover (e.g., clover, dandelions, alfalfa), berries, and even some agricultural crops.  Not completely herbivorous, Groundhogs will sometimes eat insects (grasshoppers, insect larvae, etc.), even snails or nuts.

woodchuck-aka-groundhog-by-tree  Groundhog burrows often have two (or more – maybe 5 or 10!) openings, a main entrance and a “spy hole”, as well as tunnels to the various entrances (to escape predatory home invaders). These underground dens serve various functions – climate control during winter hibernation months, safe haven form hungry carnivores, and various aspects of active family life.  Groundhogs even dig themselves an outhouse-like “excrement chamber”, separate from the “nest” quarters of the burrow.  Tunnelings near the surface can be annoying to human homeowners and farmers, depending upon the “environmental impact” of the Groundhog’s diggings.

The Groundhog has his own seasonal holiday in America (“Groundhog Day”), called Grundsaudaag or Murmeltiertag in Pennsylvania Dutch/German, and called Jour de la Marmotte in Canadian French.

Traditionally this special day is celebrated on February 2nd of each year – and its purpose is to predict whether spring will “come early” or not, i.e., to indicate if springtime-like weather will arrive before the vernal (spring) equinox, after which day the daylight hours “grow” and the nighttime hours “shrink”. So how do we “know” when spring weather will arrive?  If it is a cloudy day on February 2nd – when the groundhog emerges from his hibernation den – the woodchuck cannot see his shadow. For some (unexplained) reason the cloud-cover-prevented shadow is supposed to herald spring weather before the vernal equinox.  Contrariwise, if February 2nd is a sunny day – in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – the den-emerging groundhog should see his shadow (due to sunlight being intense enough to cast shadows), forecasting the marmot’s retreat-back-into-the-burrow, symbolizing that more winter weather is coming (and that spring weather will be delayed for another 6 more weeks). Some have said that this predictive “test” is accurate from 3/4 to 9/10 of the time – but others say this is accurate only about 4/10 of the time.  Groundhogs, being apolitical creatures (so far as we can tell), have indicated no official position about the truth or falsity of any supposed “global warming” crisis. groundhogday-cartoon-pic

(Interestingly this tradition was the inspiration for a uniquely Texas “holiday”, “Armadillo Day”, but that’s another “story” not to be covered here!)

In regions west, i.e., mostly west of the Groundhog’s usual habitat regions, many of its “cousins” live in higher elevations, in or near ranges of the Rocky Mountains (or Cascade Mountains). Rockchuck-aka-Marmot.in-rocks.jpg ROCKCHUCK  (various western marmots of North America  —  Marmota species, including the Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), as well as its western “cousins, such as the Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata), the Olympic Marmot (Marmota olympus), and the Vancouver Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Unsurprisingly, the name “rockchuck” refers to the rodent’s observable habitat  —  this variety of marmot is found in America’s Great West, especially in (though not limited to) the rocky timberline elevations of America’s Rocky Mountains, where alpine meadow vegetation suffices for such herbivores.


Rockchucks are social creatures, living near one another, and the nickname “whistler” (or “whistle-pig”) refers to their practice of whistling alarm when danger approaches. The rockchuck prefers “flight” to “fight” – scurrying for cover inside a rocky hideaway, if a potential predator is perceived as too close.  Some rockchucks, however, have become accustomed to peaceful tourists — and may even approach humans in hope of food, such as a salty PAYDAY candy bar![2]

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT  (rockchuck mother and her nursing pups)

Of the western marmots the Yellow-bellied Marmot is the most populous. Its range stretches from as far south as the Sangre de Cristo Range (in New Mexico and Colorado) up into Canada.  Yellow-bellied Marmots reside as far east as parts of South Dakota and the western edge of Nebraska, and as far west as all but the coastal edge of Washington and Oregon, even inhabiting small edges of California. marmot-yellowbellied-rangemap

This variety of rockchuck lives near timberline in the western states of America, yet in Canada it lives at lower elevations (e.g., < 1300 meters in British Columbia).

HOARY MARMOT  (a/k/a “mountain whistler” — Marmota caligata)

Another variety of rockchuck is the Hoary Marmot, famous (as its name suggests) for its “senior citizen” hair color, i.e., its fur is dominated by silver-grey.  Hoary marmots tend to live in mountainous places  — but only in America’s northwest corner (i.e., Idaho, Montanan, and Washington), plus montane lands in western Canada and Alaska, north of that corner.  This is the “extra-large”-sized marmot. Marmot-on-rock.closeup.jpg

Perhaps this tongue-twister could be used for the Groundhog’s western cousins:

How much rock would a rockchuck rock, if a rockchuck could rock rock?

But marmots don’t “rock” rocks!  However, being rodents, with ever-growing front teeth, rockchucks might use a somewhat-flat rock as the equivalent of an emery board – to file down his teeth! Maybe doing so provides access to rock-borne minerals that the marmot needs.  Anyway, marmot teeth should be respected, especially by mountain hikers who take naps at timberline.   ><> JJSJ


[1] Notice that the Rock Hyrax of Israel is a lagomorph that behaves, ecologically speaking, like the rodents that we call marmots (i.e., rockchucks and woodchucks). This illustrates how animal ecology does not slavishly follow taxonomy.

 Biomes … have animals which occupy particular roles within the ecosystem, tapping particular environmental resources.  These may differ very considerably in their taxonomy from one part of the world to another, but are nevertheless ‘ecological equivalents’.  For example, the South American pampas is grazed by the guanaco [a camel-like mammal], which is the [ecological] equivalent to the Australian kangaroo [a marsupial mammal], the Asiatic ass [an equid mammal] and the North American bison [a bovine mammal] in that it is a relatively large, fast-moving herbivorous animal living in herds.

Quoting Peter D. Moore, “The World’s Biomes”, in The Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox Books, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 40.  However, another possibility is that the Hebrew noun SHAPHAN refers to the pika (perhaps the Collared Pika), which is a lagomorph that looks a lot like a squirrel or chipmunk. Pikas are known to have lived in the rocky highlands just south of the Black Sea (in present-day eastern Turkey), which was and still is part of the economic-cultural “world” of the Israelites. Remains of a Collared Pika (Ochotona rufescens) have been found in an Eagle Owl pellet, in a mountainous part of Turkey, supporting the plausibility of the SHAPHAN being a pika. See Stanislav Čermák et al., “Notes on the Genus OCHOTONA in the Middle East (Lagomorpha: Ochotoniae)”, LYNX (Prahah), n.s., 37:51-66 (2006), reporting new pika finds in both eastern Turkey and Iran, indicating a fairly wide range for the montane lagomorph.  [Immediately preceding insight regarding the Collared Pika possibility was added 12-31-AD2016 & 1-10-AD2017.]

[2] Many years ago this author was hiking up Horn Peak (in the Colorado portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost sub-range of the Rocky Mountains). Horn Peak’s elevation is listed as 13,450 feet (4100 meters), slightly above Little Horn Peak (elevation: 13,143 feet/4006 meters).  On a group hike I tired above Little Horn Peak but below the summit of Horn Peak.  Thoroughly exhausted – crawl, rest, crawl, rest, crawl, rest, rest some more – I lay down on the ground for a shut-eye/nap, covering my face with a sweaty (and therefore salty) cloth handkerchief, to avoid getting my face sun-burned while I dozed.  (Having told other hikers what I was doing, as they continued to ascend to the summit, I requested that I be awakened by them on their return trek, as I expected them to return to where I was on their descent, later.  After sleeping for an unknown amount of time I was awakened by someone removing the white handkerchief form my face – it was the up-close face of a Yellow-bellied Marmot!  (I screamed: “What are you doing?” – forgetting that marmots don’t speak English.)  I was rattled!  I had scared the marmot (who perhaps was attracted to the salt on my sweaty handkerchief), but only momentarily.  The marmot gingerly wandered back closer to me, looking at me expectantly – apparently other hikers had given snack food to this marmot, and he was expecting me to do the same.  All that I had remaining, then, of my trail snacks, was a PAYDAY candy bar – a treat composed of peanuts, caramel, and salt – which he gulped down instantly!



Geography Matters, Illustrated by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats, and Old Testament Warfare

Geography Matters, Illustrated  by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats,   and  Old  Testament  Warfare

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And the wild beasts of the field are mine.  (Psalm 50:11b).

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats. (Psalm 104:18a)

pronghorn-coming-fast.closeup-turning mountain-goat.pair-high-up

Geography matters. Consequently, so does the ability to master the challenges of specific geography. When carnivores are hunting for food, which is worth more, to a fleeing herbivore, speed or agility?   It depends upon the geography involved. That is like asking: which was needed more, in Old Testament warfare, infantry or cavalry?

To answer these questions, consider the difference between infantry and cavalry, during Old Testament times, then compare that difference to the relative traits of two North American mammals, the pronghorn and the mountain goat.

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

Battle Chariot  (Old Testament times)


In his insightful summary of Bible battles, Stephen Leston provides a geography-related comparison of the ancient Hebrews’ infantry and cavalry:

Because Judah’s army had to defend their mountains, a contingent of foot soldiers was nonnegotiable. Elsewhere in Judah, valleys and plains demanded the use of chariots—the war vehicle of choice during this time in history [i.e., the time of the divided kingdoms in Israel, after Solomon’s reign and before the Babylonian Captivity].

[Quoting Stephen Leston, ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BIBLE BATTLES (Barbour Books, 2014, at page 165, emphasis added.]


Think of it—chariots (during Old Testament times) were virtually worthless in the jagged and jumbled terrain of the Judean foothills. Imagine trying to drive a chariot up or down or across a mountainside mixed with bumpy rocks and boulders, loose gravel and felsenmeer, erratic cracks and crevices, gaping potholes and drop-offs! Militarily speaking, the irregular topography of mountain slopes requires infantry—foot soldiers—uniquely equipped for versatile mobility.

Yet the opposite was true (during Old Testament times) of the flat plains and valleys of Israel (Isaiah 22:7). Horse-drawn chariots can outrun and outmaneuver warriors on foot. In open fields, fast-wheeled mobility of chariots can out-charge infantry offensively, and can defensively evade any onrush of soldiers on foot.

In short, foot soldiers were essential for mountainous warfare, because infantry have all-terrain agility that horse-drawn chariots lack. Likewise, chariots are advantageous in the flat plains, because cavalry have superhuman speed that surpasses even the fastest of foot soldiers.

This same contrast is illustrated in the mammals of America’s West:  pronghorns race across the open prairies, to escape predators (like cougars or coyotes), while mountain goats prance up and down mountain slopes, evading carnivore predators, with physical agility that pronghorns lack.    In short, God loves variety in both animals and geography, so He has fitted different kinds of animals to fill different kinds of geographical niches.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight. … Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. … Marmots make a modest living above timberline in the windblown and mostly cold arctic or alpine tundra. Sponges use filter-feeding to acquire underwater food in coral reefs. … Salmon (and steelhead trout) begin life in freshwater streams, survive a shocking salinity change as they migrate to oceanic saltwater, and then brave a reverse version of salinity shock as they return to their native freshwater streams to reproduce.… Some ecological conditions might work for a world inhabited by just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet  —   so He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of lifeform kinds.

[Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42(3):10-12 (March 2013), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity , emphasis added.] This point is easily illustrated by pronghorns and mountain goats, different herbivores that survive (and thrive) on the terrains of very different habitats.



Recently I asked a friend to recall the beauty of the prairies. Part of his reply included mention of pronghorns:

What I love about the prairie:

The wind — intermittent here in Alabama, a near-constant on the prairie, whether in Texas heat or North Dakota cold, but always refreshing. I don’t care how hot the air is so long as it isn’t stuffy.

The grass — wheat, alfalfa, small grain, or just grass — the way it blows in the wind and looks like the rising and falling of the ocean waves.

The corn — the opposite of wheat and small grains, the way it stands full inside the fence-lines and looks like the farm has truly been blessed by God’s bounty.

The pronghorns — the sight of a herd of pronghorns running through grassy prairies is truly magnificent.

The endless views — panoramas that extend as far as the eye can see, and make one feel truly free.

[Quoting Dr. John Eidsmoe, email of August 14th AD2016, emphasis added.] Notice what Dr. Eidsmoe portrays as the memorable behavior of prairie pronghorns: “running through grassy prairies”.  Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana)—often called the American “antelope”(1)—are famous for their cross-country running, “in plain view”.


Since the prairies are wide open spaces, with few places to hide from carnivorous predators (such as coyotes, wolves, or cougars), the speed of the pronghorn when fleeing, is a must for pronghorns to survive and thrive on the plains.

Pronghorns are the fleetest of North American mammals and can attain speeds of 60 miles (96 km) per hour. Their enlarged heart and windpipes virtually pour oxygen into their blood and muscles, allowing them to sustain speeds of 45 miles (72 km) per hour [long enough to discourage pursuing carnivore predators]. They can cross the length of a football field [of 300 feet] in 10 strides and 3.5 seconds [!].

[Quoting Mark Elbroch & Kurt Rinehart, PETERSON REFERENCE GUIDE TO BEHAVIOR OF NORTH AMERICAN ANIMALS (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), page 231.]

Another physical feature, that helps the pronghorn’s cross-country running ability, is its feet – its two toes are long, pointed, and cushioned, equipping the hooves to serve as shock absorbers, when the pronghorn flees chasing carnivores.


Pronghorn bodies are also well-equipped for life on mid-continent plains, as heartland prairies experience extremes of cold and hot, which temperature range is tolerated by the pronghorn physiology—retaining heat when it’s cold, and radiating heat when it’s hot:

Pronghorn are especially designed for life on the open plains. … Since their body hair is hollow and can be lifted or flattened at will, pronghorn are able to adjust to temperature extremes. Standing their hair erect allows air to cool their skin, whereas laying their hair down flat retains heat.

[Quoting John Hergenrather, Tom Vail, Mike Oard, & Dennis Bokovoy, YOUR GUIDE TO YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARKS (Master Books, 2012), page 138. See also, accord, , “Pronghorn”, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF MAMMALS, volume II, K – Z (National Geographic, 1981; Philip B. Silcott, general editor), page 468.]

Whether grazing in well-watered grasses or semi-arid scrubland, pronghorns are committed to living in the open, in “plain view” (pardon the pun). Having no nest or den, they rest in the open grassland (or scrubland), making no attempt to escape heavy rainfall, even giving birth right out in the open, with only some tall grasses or shrubs for privacy! [Stan Tekiela, MAMMALS OF COLORADO FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2007), page 303.]


Due to the pronghorn’s superior speed, pronghorns are rarely overtaken by cougars or wolves or other four-legged carnivores.(2)    Thus, the prairie cougar’s challenge, when stalking a herd of pronghorns, is comparable to a foot soldier trying to chase down horse-drawn chariots!

Mountain Goat in Rocky Mountain

Mountain Goat    (Rocky Mountains)


Unlike the speed-racing pronghorns, mountain goats (of the Rockies) are famous for their agile footwork, miraculously maintaining their balance, up and down and across rock-strewn terrains of precarious mountain slopes.

Mountain Goats in Danger in Mountain

It is this fancy footwork (integrated with the total agility of their narrow-profiled bodies) that enables the mountain goat to routinely elude hungry carnivores, such as mountain lions.

Consider, first, the agility of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), the sure-hoofed bovid that habituates the heights of North America’s Rocky Mountains and Cascade Range.(3)

“For those of us who admit to some fear of heights, the Mountain Goat is an animal to be admired … This shaggy animal, its back hunched in a manner somewhat suggestive of a Bison, is a master at negotiating the steepest of precipices. Mountain Goats are truly alpine creatures. They commonly rest on high-elevation snowfields and find most of their food among the plants of alpine meadows. Their hooves are structured to [optimize] balance and grip; the outer hoof is strongly reinforced and the bottom is lined with rubbery material, making the whole structure rather like a good hiking boot. These animals nonchalantly cross dizzying ledges, sometimes even at a trot.”(4)

A female mountain goat with two babies on a rock mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana.

In fact, the high-altitude dexterity of the mountain goat is so phenomenal that it routinely spends most of its time on precipitous terrain steeper than a 40 degree angle, and sometimes at pitches steeper than 60 degrees[!], especially during winter. Furthermore, the leg bones of the mountain goat are engineered to maximize a functional mix of precision balancing (such as perching all four hooves on a small spot), front-forward pulling power, propulsion leverage and maneuverability (for running and jumping), and stability (due to a low center of gravity) against tipping over.(5)

“A mountain goat climbs with three-point suspension. … Lifting one limb at a time [it] frequently pauses to assess the situation, tests the footing, and if needed turns back and selects a different route. Slow, sure consistency allows life on rock steeper than the angle of repose. Because they are most likely the ones to find themselves in a tight spot, kids do most of the go-for-broke climbing. Although a kid might take four or five missteps per year, it salvages the situation almost every time.”(5)

Thus, the mountain goats are aptly designed for moving on rocky slopes. Mountain goats are instinctively careful, and they apply their characteristic agility, as they test their environment.

Agile Mountain Goat Jumping across River

But without the right physical traits for maintaining balance on rugged rocks—traits which God installed on Day 6 of Creation Week—mountain goats could not thrive, as they do, upon the harsh talus slopes and felsenmeer of their high-elevation habitat.

“The [mountain goat hoofprint] track’s squarish imprint is created by the hoof’s spreading tips. The sides of the toes consist of hard keratin, like that of a horse hoof. Each foot’s two wraparound toenails are used to catch and hold on to cracks and tiny knobs. … The front edge of the hoof tapers to a point, which digs into dirt or packed snow when [it] is going uphill. In contrast to a horse’s concave hoof, which causes the animal to walk on the rim of its toenail, a [mountain] goat’s hoof has a flexible central pad that protrudes beyond the nail. The pad’s rough texture provides [skid-resistant] friction on smooth rock or ice yet is pliant enough to impress itself into irregularities on a stone. Four hooves X 2 toes per hoof = 8 gripping soles per animal. As [mountain] goats descend a slope the toes spread widely, adjusting tension to fine-tune the grip. … This feature makes them more likely to catch onto something. It also divides the downward force of the weight on the hoof so that some of the animal’s total weight is directed sideways. Because there is less net force on each downward [pressure] line, the foot is less likely to slide. Think of it as the fanning out of downward forces over numerous points of friction.”(5)

In a word, BALANCE. God purposefully designed high-elevation mountain goats for balance, because living life among high alpine rocks is a high-risk lifestyle.

[Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “Balancing High Risks: Mountain Climbing and the First Amendment”, posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2016/06/10/balancing-high-risks-mountain-climbing-and-the-first-amendment/ .]

Mountain Goat Kids Juming ©TMLee

Mountain Goat   kids jumping   © T M Lee

So, when carnivores are hunting for food, which is worth more, to a fleeing herbivore, speed or agility?

If fleeing to precarious precipices of inaccessible rock-cliffs, agility is what is needed – and God gave that trait to the mountain goats of the Rockies.   However, if fleeing across the wide open flatland of the grassy plains, speed is what is needed –and God gave that trait to the prairie pronghorns.

Geography matters. That’s true in human warfare. And it’s also true in the beautifully diversified world of animal habitats, because God loves variety. Accordingly, God programmed His many and multifarious creatures with diversified traits to match – and to “fill” – His geographically diverse earth.   If we have eyes to see it, God’s glory is displayed all around us, even in Earth’s geography and in the creatures God has made to fill it.

><> JJSJ       profjjsj@verizon.net  /  profjjsj@aol.com

Mountain Goats on Rocky Hill


 (1) Pronghorns, although often called “antelope”, grow horns differently from both bovid antelope (“true” antelopes) and cervids (the deer family). Pronghorns are compared to (yet not the same as) bovid antelope, cervids, and goats. See Mark Elbroch & Kurt Rinehart, PETERSON REFERENCE GUIDE TO BEHAVIOR OF NORTH AMERICAN ANIMALS (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), pages 231-237. Elbroch & Rinehart observe: “Perhaps the most distinctive physical attribute of pronghorns, which places them [taxonomically] somewhere between cervids [i.e., deer] and bovids [i.e., bovine-like mammals], is their horns. Like bovids, their horns increase in size each year and are attached to the skull by bony, spikelike extensions projecting up from the head. Unlike bovids, and more like cervids (which shed their antlers annually), pronghorns shed their horn sheaths each year. The bony projection on the skull remains, but the tough sheath that forms the horn is pushed off by the growth of the new one beneath.” [Ibid., page 231.]   See also, accord, John Hergenrather, Tom Vail, Mike Oard, & Dennis Bokovoy, YOUR GUIDE TO YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARKS (Master Books, 2012), page 138, saying: “Pronghorn, often mistakenly called antelope, have horns made of keratin like cattle, but shed their ‘prolonged’ horns like deer, placing them in a unique category between the cattle and deer kind”.

(2) In crisis circumstances, involving maternal protection, the hunted may turn into the hunter! To see photographs of a bold mother pronghorn, chasing a coyote away from her fawns, see  http://www.yellowstonen.com/Resources/25%20pronghorn%20chasing%20coyote%202.jpg? .

(3) The rope-like “backbone” ridge chain of North America’s West is called the Western Cordillera. Included in its geographic system are the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range, the primary high-elevation range of most North American mountain goats. See George Constanz, ICE, FIRE, AND NUTCRACKERS:  A ROCKY MOUNTAIN ECOLOGY (University of Utah Press, 2014), page 215.

(4) John Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO ROCKY MOUNTIAN AND SOUTHWEST FORESTS (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), pages 235-236.  As illustrated in Job 39:1, Israel’s mountain goat is named for how this bearded climber masters its rocky alpine habitat:  ya‘alê-sâla‘  literally means “ascenders of cliff-rock”.  See also Psalm 104:18a.

(5) Constanz, ROCKY MONTAIN ECOLOGY, pages 224-226, with quotes from pages 225-226.pronghorn-herd.open-prairie