A fishing cat knew what he was doing as he wandered into the garden of Beth Shedd, a Wellesley resident and photographer. Shedd can make anyone look their best on camera, as you can see in these 11 seconds of glory for “Freddy” that she posted on social media this week (and allowed us to share).
This video is right up there with 2018’s “Otter vs. Eel” seen at Wellesley.
Fishing cats, or more accurately “fishing cats,” are known for being “slippers,” that’s the word everyone seems to use to describe this member of the weasel family. The only one I’ve ever seen in the wild slithered down Pond Road in Wellesley at sunrise a few years ago while I was jogging. I’m pretty sure I picked up my pace when I saw it.
Shedd said “this was our first personal close-up, but we’ve seen them under the bushes on the perimeter of our garden for years.”
Wellesley Animal Control Officer Jenny Smith says the only one she has seen in the town since she started her job in early 2021 was sadly hit by a car. “Other than that, it was only brought to my attention once, a resident heard one in his neighborhood,” Smith said.
Smith’s fun facts about the animals are that “they are active year-round and don’t hibernate. Their preferred habitat is mixed forest with dense canopy cover, as they tend to avoid traveling in large open areas. They typically use hollow logs, stone walls, tree cavities, and brush piles to rest. Fishermen are omnivores. Their main foods include small rodents, squirrels, rabbits, birds, eggs, fruit, porcupines, and carrion…Although they are skilled climbers, most of their hunting takes place on the ground.”
Lisa Moore, coordinator of environmental education, outreach and enforcement for the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission, calls them “one of the most misunderstood animals around here.”
He learned about them while working for Mass Audubon for the past 10 years, and has seen them in his garden on occasion. One of the fun facts about her is that fishermen can climb down a tree head first.
“Often called Fisher Cat, which is a misnomer,” says Moore. “They belong to the weasel family, they are not cats and they do not fish. This small mammal ranges in size from 4 to 16 pounds, with females being smaller than males. Males tend to be about three feet long and females about two feet long, with the tail making up a third of the body length in both sexes.
While I’ve bought into the idea that screaming fishermen are among the creatures that keep me awake at night, Moore says that screaming fishermen are a misconception. “The fishermen whistle, growl and laugh, but they don’t scream. The gray fox can also climb trees and the female’s call during mating sounds like a child or a woman screaming,” she says.
Mass Audubon says fishermen were reintroduced to New England in the 1950s to control porcupines.
Moore says, “I don’t know if they recovered or were reintroduced to manage the porcupine population that exploded when the fisherman declined. The porcupine can decimate a forest’s undergrowth and kill trees by nestling, eating the bark and under the bark of a tree around the entire trunk, killing the tree. Anglers are one of the few animals that actively hunt and eat porcupines. It really shows the importance of a balanced food chain or food web.”
The state agency MassWildlife encourages you not to “let fishermen intimidate you: don’t hesitate to scare or threaten fishermen with loud noises, bright lights, or spraying water from a hose.”
We are not sure if this last approach is a permitted use under water restrictions outside the city…