When I was a kid, I loved reading Happy Hollisters and Hardy Boys mystery novels, and as an adult I liked mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald. I also loved the old Sherlock Holmes movies on TV.
I became an outdoors writer, not a detective, but it’s still fun to run across a good mystery now and then — or in this case, two mysteries.
It started when I got a call last weekend from Harry Wells of Amite County about a strange yellowjacket nest. Then, on Monday, I received a note from Darrell Coon of McComb about a strange wildcat.
On Tuesday morning I rendezvoused with Wells, 79, at Thompson Baptist Church in Amite County. It was a clear, crisp morning, 31 or 32 degrees — which would prove significant.
We drove down the road to the home of his cousin (who’s shy and didn’t want to be named in the newspaper). We went over to a propane tank beside the house with a wide, foot-deep hole beside it. At the bottom of the hole was a solid mass of yellowjackets.
The cousin had been mowing the grass a week prior when she saw the hole, which hadn’t been there before. She also saw yellowjackets coming out of it.
Yellowjackets typically nest in underground burrows with a small hole providing access. Something had reamed this one wide open.
Actually, it wasn’t too hard of a mystery to solve.
“An armadillo would be the only thing that could dig in there without getting stung,” Wells said.
Churned-up areas around the hole also bore signs of an armadillo’s pointed snout.
Armadillos eat insects and are prodigious diggers. Wells recalled as a boy going coon hunting with Sam Marsalis and finding one halfway down a hole.
“I grabbed it by the tail, but he did this,” Wells said, simulating digging in with front feet. “There wasn’t any pulling him out.”
The yellowjackets had been lying dormant from the cold all this time, but as the temperature increased, we noticed wings beginning to flutter. I quickly snapped some photos and we backed away.
Yellowjackets can put the hurt on anyone, but especially Wells, who’s allergic.
“Three of them would put me in the bed for three days,” said Wells, who planned to douse the nest with diesel fuel that night and cover it with dirt.
Oversized Mystery cat
Later that morning I drove out to the home of Darrell Coon, 82, on Highway 44 East, McComb. An unusually large, wild-looking cat had been run over near his driveway, and Coon took it home and put it in the freezer. Now it lay across the tailgate of a truck.
Actually, I had already solved this mystery — or my wife had.
Coon’s son David had emailed me photos of the cat, which stretched 35 inches from nose to tail. It had thick grayish fur, a large frame, a pug nose and a long, bushy tail.
There are several varieties of wildcat in North America, including bobcat, lynx, cougar, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, margay and oncilla.
This one looked a bit like a bobcat except for the long tail. It clearly wasn’t any of the other cats. The lynx lives in the far north, and the rest are found in Central America.
So what was it?
I described it to Angelyn and she instantly replied, “Maine Coon Cat.”
Her best friend used to have one as a pet.
A Maine Coon Cat is a breed of domestic cat known for its size, which can reach four feet from tip to tip. While they come in various colors, plenty look exactly like the gray one Coon had found.
Yep, Mr. Coon found a Coon Cat.
“I started seeing them three years ago,” he said. “I saw a baby out in the grass by my pond. I was sitting on my four-wheeler. He ran like a coon. His tail hangs down like a lion tail. When he looks at you he looks like a bobcat.
“The first one I saw stood 18 inches tall. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He found this one Sunday run over in front of his driveway. A mouse lay about a foot from its nose, so apparently the cat had just caught breakfast.
“This is a young sow, never had any babies. You can tell by her stomach,” Coon said.
As he talked, his pet cat walked by, also brindle gray, and you could tell the difference in size instantly. The coon cat is a larger order entirely.
Evidently someone in the neighborhood had one or more Maine Coon Cats for pets and they went feral.
“I’m probably going to have that thing mounted because it’s unusual,” Coon said.