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June 2, 2008 | 1 Comment

We've received a generous amount of listener mail asking what a grommet — the animal variety — looks like. Here's the scoop from our resident biology expert.

Mr. Keillor,
A few weeks ago, you did an ad about Pete's Exotic Pet Store, in which they advertised supplies for several exotic animals, including "large grommets." In a story about Fred Newman, he mentioned he had a grommet. Now, I've looked everywhere about this creature, with the only result turning up items about metal or plastic rings often used on sails of boats. Now I ask you: what in God's name is a grommet? I eagerly anticipate your input.

Grace G.
Skaneateles, NY

Hi, love your show...but have a question re. the May 3 show. Fred Newman mentioned having a pet "grommet". I looked in and could only find the usual meaning, like the grommet that goes on an electrical cord. What the heck kind of animal was he talking about?

Vickie J.
Battle Creek, MI

The grommet, (Grommet irregularis) is a medium-sized semi-aquatic nocturnal mammal renowned both for its shy, humorous antics and also its ferocious temper when provoked. Ancient cousin to the common weasel, the grommet is now the only living member of the subfamily Rodentia furioso.

Grommets live primarily in low-lying peat bogs and other wetland areas in the Northern Midwest where they make elaborate tunnels underneath riverbeds that can sometimes divert waterways and cause irrigation problems for farmers. Originally introduced from Nicaragua to hunt smaller rodents, the grommet quickly multiplied out of control and became a nuisance species. Grommets were hunted extensively in the early 1990s, until, near extinction, they received protected status from the Department of Fisheries and Wetland Management, and, while rare, are now making a slow but steady comeback. Grommets are spotted most commonly at dawn and dusk, burrowing under riverbeds and swimming short distances to collect their two preferred foods: cattails and garbage.

Grommets have poor eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell, but make up for this with a keen sense of intuition and foreboding. When startled they emit a piercing shriek which disorients predators long enough for them to make a quick getaway with their muscular legs and webbed feet.

Grommets mate primarily in the dead of winter, when there is less competition. Male grommets have a strong mating drive and are strongly territorial, but also very forgetful, and so the females are often left to raise litters by themselves. As a result, the female grommet is particularly ferocious and resourceful, and will mate only when she feels like it.

Native Americans worshiped the grommet as an animal god that could burrow into the deepest mud for no reason at all and emerge and pretend that nothing happened. Their Indian name for the grommet is loosely translated as "the one who disappears and unexpectedly reappears."

Hunting grommets for their pelts is a serious offense and comes with a $2,000 fine and 40 hours of community service.

1 Comment

Thank You! I too sought whether grommets were for real and had nearly dashed off a Post to the Host when nothing could be found. While we're on the subject of nature's wonders- is Mr. Keillor et al familiar with the Woebegong shark? Its a awkard, if not unbecoming, creature who lives quietly in flat, sandy shallow waters almost out of place in Australia. Despite its taxonomic classification, it seems hardly shark-like, being rather unsocial yet seemingly quite above average. Would love to hear Fred Newman give voice to such an interesting creature...

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