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¬°Feliz jueves, amigos! Today is National IPA Day, National Work Like A Dog Day, and National Underwear Day, which means you have an excuse to drink a beer for breakfast and then go chase a frisbee in your underwear. [What a frisbee is doing in your underwear, I don't really want to know.] 

It's also National Oyster Day, so...well...I got nothing for that.

It occurs to me that I've never addressed the [lack of] reasoning behind the Random Thursday posts, and I'm certain that you've noticed that oversight but have had the grace not to mention it.

I first began the series in 2006, smack dab in the middle of the Golden Years of Blogging. My inspiration was the inestimable Blackie Sherrod, one of the greatest sportswriters ever to bang out a deadline-beating column on a vintage Corona whilst swigging a Schlitz and chewing a White Owl stogie. [OK, I made all that stuff up except the "greatest" part.] He worked for a number of Texas Metroplex newspapers over his career, and his Sunday column featured a section entitled "Scattershooting" in which he weighed in on -- you guessed it -- a series of random topics. 

When I first purloined borrowed the idea, I actually went so far as to use Sherrod's trademark intro: "Scattershooting while wondering..." After a while, I decided I wasn't doing his legacy any favors so I stopped using the phrase.
Oh, btw, don't go looking for those initial posts from 2006; they never made it into the redesigned version of the Gazette that you have before you today, following a temporary hiatus in which I questioned the very meaning of life and/or blogging. But, trust me...they were real and they were spectacular.
Sherrod died in 2016 (here's a good obit column), but his papers have a permanent archive in the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. You can still order a collection of his columns via Amazon in a book entitled, appropriately enough, Scattershooting.

Anyway, these Random Thursday columns are sort of a tribute to Blackie Sherrod, and in fact they closely resemble his offerings in all but a couple of ways: quality and brevity.

I think I may have noted this before, but during the summer months we have to check under the cushions of our deck chairs before sitting on them, lest we squish the little tree frogs who have claimed those spots for their daytime naps.

They're understandably annoyed on those occasions where we exercise our rights of eminent domain and rudely urge them to seek other quarters. Sometimes they flee the area completely, but occasionally they just reposition themselves and plot revenge.

I uploaded the following photo to Facebook a couple of days ago because I found it amusing. A tiny frog -- not much bigger than my thumbnail -- took umbrage at my intrusion, and while it moved out of the way, I caught it peeking up at me, no doubt memorizing my face for future mayhem.

Photo - tree frog hiding under a lounge chair

One of the local newspapers sponsors a "first bluebonnet of the year" photo contest, but as far as I know, no one has a "last bluebonnet of the year" competition. If they did, Debbie and I might win, as we spotted this one on July 27th, weeks after we thought the last of these wildflowers had gone to that Big Nursery In The Sky. This one was growing next to the cart path by the Ram Rock golf course #11 fairway. It lasted a couple of more days before it, too, crossed the Rainbow Bridge, or whatever the equivalent is for plants.

Seriously, though, it's just really unusual to spot a bluebonnet in these parts this late in the season.

Photo - Bluebonnet

We're fortunate to live in a very scenic part of Texas, and in a beautiful neighborhood called Pecan Creek, so-named not only because of the eponymous creek that runs through it, but also because of the huge heritage pecan trees that line much of the main street.

If you'd like to see some of what I'm talking about, I sent my new drone up about a hundred feet or so and took a photo from our backyard. The water in the distance -- about two miles as the crow flies -- is Lake LBJ. Our neighborhood is in the lower middle of the photo. If you know what you're looking at, you can spot four eighteen hole golf courses in this picture.

Of course, it's not always this green in August, but we've been blessed with abundant rainfall this summer. Believe me when I say we're not taking it for granted.

Click on the photo to see a much larger image (opens in a new tab or window).

Aerial photo of a portion of Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Last, but by no means least, if you're a dog or cat owner in Texas, or any other location where snakes are present, you should have a plan in place for dealing with the remote possibility of a venomous bite. Here's an excellent resource for that plan (PDF). Your go-to veterinarian should know the best practices for diagnosing and treating snake bites, but there's a lot to be said for being able to reality-test what they tell you to do.

If you're a Facebook user, I also highly recommend joining the National Veterinary Snakebite Support group, as you can quickly tap into the collective wisdom of veterinarians who are skilled in the treatment of pets that have been bitten...or even just are suspected of having been bitten (it's not always an obvious thing).
Howdy, y'all! Today is National Intern Day and also National Chili Dog and National Chicken Wing Day, so we've sent the Gazette's army of interns out for a junk food scavenger hunt. Fingers crossed that tomorrow is National Antacid Day.

Boy, there's a lot going on nowadays in the Wonderful World of Nature, so let's just dive right in. (Notice how I worked in a reference to the Summer Olympics? Take that, interns!)

Our garage has been a focal point for a couple of observations. First, a yellow garden spider has set up shop on a shrub right outside one of the garage windows. I've watched it grow into a pretty big specimen.

Photo - Yellow garden spider showing the web's stabilimentum
That thick zig-zag is the stabilimentum.

The spider itself is not my focus today (although it does creep me out a bit), but the topic of these spiders' stabilimenta is pretty fascinating. It's one of the mysteries of nature, in that we don't really know for sure what its purpose is. Some think it's to warn away birds who might inadvertently destroy the web by flying into it; others think it's to attract prey, or simply to strengthen the web. I found this college student's essay to be a great discussion of the alternatives.

Speaking of mysteries, I've recently noticed a virtual absence of insects inside the garage, and while this is a welcome development, I can't help wondering what's causing it. That mystery was solved a few days ago.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard resting atop our treadmill
Even lizards need rest after a hard treadmill workout.

This is a Texas spiny lizard, and alert Gazette readers will recall that they have been the focus of a number of previous posts.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard resting atop our treadmill
Better -- and cheaper -- than an exterminator

I'm pretty sure that this good-sized lizard is responsible for keeping the garage relatively bug-free. There are only two downsides. The first is when I forget that he's around and turn on the light early in the morning just in time to spot him out of the corner of my eye running across the floor. And the second is...poop. I think you know what I mean.

Speaking of lizards -- and mysteries --Debbie spotted a tiny one on our front porch wall. 

Photo - Juvenile prairie lizard on the wall of our house
The doorbell is just over 2" in diameter.

Here's a closer look:

Photo - Juvenile prairie lizard on the wall of our house
Regardless of species, it was pretty chill about getting photographed.

When I first looked from a distance, I thought it was a baby anole, but immediately dismissed this idea when I got closer. Then, I figured it was a juvenile Texas spiny lizard, but the scales on the head didn't look right. I posted a photo on the Texas Reptile and Amphibian Identification Facebook page, and received several conflicting species suggestions, but the one from the most knowledgeable person was that this is a juvenile prairie lizard

That's highly interesting to me, because I've not seen one around here before. I've submitted this sighting to iNaturalist where I'm sure I'll get a definitive answer.

Switching gears, let's move on to the insect world, where once again Debbie called me over to see a grasshopper moving slowly up our sliding glass door. It was a perfect pose for a picture.

Photo - Underside of a grasshopper on a window
If you think there's something vaguely familiar here, you're not alone.

Now, we could go into a detailed discussion of the various parts of the typical grasshopper underbelly, but we all have better things to do. Still, if your curiosity remains (or appears) after your next margarita, you can visit this page, courtesy of the University of Wyoming, whose high jump team's mascot is...OK, I'm just kidding. Probably. Who knows, really? Anyway, we'll save the boring scientific and accurate stuff, because this is what I immediately saw:

Photo - Underside of a grasshopper on a window with a Photoshopped Groucho Marx disguise
"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception." -- GM

I thought about submitting this to iNaturalist but they'd probably cancel my account.

Oh, hey...we haven't checked in on the local amphibian population yet, and this next one is a doozy (I'm pretty sure I heard Groucho Marx say that once.). And, again, we can thank Debbie for it:

Photo - Gray tree frog sitting atop a bell pepper
Pepper hopper topper

This is a gray tree frog who needs to take a remedial botany course because this bell pepper plant is not now and never will be a tree. I'm also going to think twice about eating any of our peppers now.

Last year, we routinely found tree frogs under our deck chaise lounger cushions every summer morning. But when they didn't reappear this year, we feared that the Great Texas Snowpocalypse last February might have wiped them out. Fortunately, they're apparently tougher than that, and they're back under the cushions as well as on our produce.

Now, last but not least, we'll wrap things up with some mammals, and I get the credit for this sighting (which, to be honest, is nothing special, considering that you can't swing a rutabaga around here without hitting one of these guys):

Photo - White-tail deer buck, doe, and fawn lying in the grass
Olan Mills would be proud.

Every evening around 5:30 or 6:00, whitetail deer gather in the vacant lot next to our house to browse. It may be the same group, with a few variations, but there's usually several does, one or two fawns, and a buck may or may not grace them with his presence.

If you look closely, you'll see that the buck still has its velvet antlers. Here's a good source of information about deer velvet (that's not focused on its dubious uses in medicine). [This website also contains some photos and descriptions of the process of shedding the velvet and if you have a weak stomach, you might want to skip over that.]

Incidentally, browsing is different than grazing, and different species of herbivores will usually do one or the other, but not both. The distinction is important, because that's why our local lawns are safe from deer. Anytime you see a deer apparently grazing in a lawn, it's really looking for acorns or leafy weeds
Happy Friday, folks! We've got a lot of ground to cover today so try to keep up. (Just kidding. If you're here for the pictures, there's plenty; if you're a former Playboy reader and have just stopped by for the articles, there're a few things for you, as well, but none of it requires your rapt attention.)

First, please join me in congratulating the 80th guest at the Fire Ant Armadillo Lodge:

Photo - armadillo being released from trap
He's a little camera shy.

Armadillo Ochenta -- as he prefers to be called -- won a fabulous prize of an extended vacation in an undisclosed location somewhere between Austin and San Angelo. Enjoy, #80, and feel free not to visit again!

We've recently had a number of interesting visitors besides #80. Yesterday afternoon Debbie glanced toward the back patio and exclaimed "what's that?!" I followed her pointing finger and saw that she wasn't looking outside at all, but rather at the track of our sliding glass door. This little fellow was attempting, and failing, to look inconspicuous.

I grabbed him, carefully trying not to break his tail, and he responded to my gentle grasp with a gaping maw that informed me that he was ready and able to inflict significant mayhem on anyone and anything within snapping distance. He, too, was released on his own recognizance to one of our flowerbeds.

Photo - green anole in my hand
Anole in hand is the same as in a bush, only more comical.

And,'s not a snake. It's a green anole. So cool your jets.

Not all our visitors are as harmless or comical. I watched this one stroll around the grounds until he felt at home.*

Animation of redheaded centipede
I count only twenty-one pairs of legs. So, more arthropodic braggadocio.

This is a Giant Redheaded centipede, aka a Texas Redheaded centipede (not to be confused with the Texas Red Headed Stranger). This one was about six or seven inches long (I tried unsuccessfully to get it to stand still for an exact measurement; it had a bad case of jimmy legs). 

Centipedes are horrifying to look at and, yes, they are slightly venomous. But they do fill an ecological niche by eating other insects and even snakes. That's all well and good as long as they stay outside. Unfortunately, they don't always respect our boundaries.

Let's shift gears to something a little more cuddly. Alert Gazette readers will recall that we are regularly visited by tree frogs. In fact, almost every morning we find two of them hidden beneath the cushions of the chaise loungers on the back deck, and they spend the day there. And every evening, they leave to do whatever nocturnal amphibians do when the sun goes down.

Occasionally, though, we'll find them in different spots -- invariably cool and shady spots -- during the day. Here's one that was resting in the foliage of a potted bell pepper plant on the deck.

Photo - tree frog amongst pepper plant leaves
Move along. I'm not the droid you're looking for.

But enough of the Animalia kingdom; let's talk fungi.

I was roaming around the adjacent vacant lot, wearing snake boots and carrying a weedeater, much to the bafflement of the golfers across the fence, and came upon this scene:

Photo - plants growing on top of fungus growing on a dead tree trunk
A pyramid scheme of life

I realize this isn't all that interesting at first glance...and possibly not at second or third glance. But work with me here. There's a big, dead, partially rotted tree stump lodged in the ground. And on that stump is a tree fungus (bottom center in the photo), somehow finding nourishment in that woody corpse. But -- and here's what I found rather fascinating -- in the center of that fungus there are green leafy plants taking root. I don't know what kind of plants they are, but wouldn't it be cool if they're baby trees? Talk about the circle of life.

Well, I can see you don't share my enthusiasm for symbiotic relationships among flora living and dead. That's fine. But what about a mushroom that looks like a flower? Is that more to your liking?

Of course, anything worth posting is worth Photoshopping, and while this mushroom has an interesting shape, I feel it's a bit lacking in the coloring department. So, I've "helped" it along. Drag that vertical yellow bar to the left to see what I mean.

Photo - mushroom that looks like a flower 'Photo - Photoshopped mushroom that looks like a flower
Drag that yellow line. You know you want to.

Up next: some raccoon photos, and perhaps a beaver video. Stay tuned!

*Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Feel free to hum the song from which this lyrical phrase comes.
I was on our front walkway this morning and noticed what I thought was a really skinny earthworm inching its way across the pavers. Upon closer inspection, I decided it wasn't an earthworm but I had no clue as to what it was. Its distinguishing feature was a flat, paddle-like head with what appeared to be eyes. I know we have worm snakes in this area, although I've never seen one. This didn't look like a snake, but, again, my experience with them is non-existent.

I decided to gently nudge its tail to see its reaction...and to my surprise, it stuck to my finger. I was so shocked that I flung it across the yard where it disappeared in the grass, thereby ensuring I would not be able to identify it.

However, as I continued to inspect the walkway I found several others. I took some photos, then googled "long slender worms with flat heads" and was able to quickly identify the creature as a land planarian, most likely a Bipalium kewense -- and also referred to as a hammerhead flatworm -- which, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website, is the most frequently found flatworm species in Texas.

They're not pretty critters.

Photo - Land Planarian

They also don't behave in a civilized manner, at least from my perspective, as they prey on earthworms, and not in a delicate fashion: they essentially grab the worm via the sticky mucus that coats their body and begin to digest the living worm. In fairness, they also prey on slugs, so they have at least one redeeming quality. 

Land planarians are not native to the US, having arrived here in some fashion from Southeast Asia many years ago.

Here's a better look at the head, and some interesting (also gross) facts about its anatomy via this website:
The head is usually shaped like a half-moon or arrowhead. There may even be eyespots present but the land planarian does not have actual eyes. Its mouth is located mid-way down the body (on its lower or ventral side) and its mouth also serves as its anus.

Photo - Land Planarian

We don't have a slug problem around here, and we do have a lot of beneficial earthworms, so destruction of the flatworms is a net benefit. However, they are apparently hard to kill. You can chop them up, but the pieces will each regenerate into a new worm. (Flatworms in general are like that, you know.) The recommended method of sending them across the Worm Rainbow Bridge is to spray them with orange oil; furniture polish will suffice.

We did find one source that recommended dropping them into hot water to instantly kill them. I tried that approach, and the flatworm contracted to a fraction of its original size. The photo below is a closeup on the head of the dead flatworm, which I think is lying on its back. I'm guessing that the white splotch further down is that dual-purpose orifice mentioned above.

Photo - Land Planarian

Neither Debbie nor I have ever seen one of these creatures before -- and we're both quite interested in and observant of our natural surroundings -- and so we wondered why they were now appearing in semi-abundance. The recent heavy rainfall might have brought them out of hiding, but more likely they emerged from something we did ourselves.

Yesterday, we (and by "we" I mean Debbie) put down 400 pounds of "Texas Native Enriched Top Soil" in our courtyard which is mere feet away from where the flatworms appeared. We had purchased the topsoil earlier in the day from Home Depot. This is a suspicious "coincidence." The company that manufacturers (can you manufacture dirt?) is based in Cedar Park, TX, about an hour away, but there's no indication on the bag where the soil originates from. Anyway, be advised of the possibility that you might be getting more than just top soil. One of the previously linked websites suggests heat sterilizing any soil brought in from outside, but that is not exactly an elegant solution.

We disposed of four or five more flatworms, and no more appeared so we hope we nipped the invasion in the bud. And we now know more about flatworms than we ever hoped to.

Photo - Empty plastic bag which contained the topsoil
This is a bag that the topsoil was packaged in.

Something in the half acre vacant lot next door to ours caught my eye a couple of days ago. lt turned out to be a really pretty and unusual mushroom...toadstool...ground-dwelling fungus. I'm not a mycologist and I have no skill whatsoever in identifying these organisms, but I do find them fascinating.

We've had a very mild and rainy spring, and the decaying leaves seem to provide an ideal breeding ground for the fungi. I took a few photos for your perusal, and converted the backgrounds to black and white to highlight the subjects.

Photo - Mushroom Photo - Mushroom Photo - Mushroom Photo - Mushroom Photo - Mushroom

The last one is my favorite, as I've never seen one like it before. If you can identify it, feel free to do so in the comments.

Sometimes your intended photographic subject takes second place to a surprise when you look closer at the photo...

Photo - Mushroom and tiny frog

These tiny frogs -- no bigger than my thumbnail -- have proliferated in our yard and the surrounding lots. I fully expect that they'll eventually attract certain types of predators (if they haven't already)...such as...

Photo - Shed snake skin

This remnant -- the result of a snake's ecdysis -- wasn't actually in the neighboring lot. We ran across it, literally, on a street just to the north of our neighborhood while out for a morning workout. There's no way of knowing the species of snake, but the most prevalent variety around here is a variation of the non-venomous rat snake.

Back to the ongoing mystery is how a coil of barbed wire (or, as we say round here, "bob war") came to rest on the broken stub of an oak tree. The city of Horseshoe Bay was developed from ranch land, so I assume that this is a decades-old relic from that enterprise. In any case, I like seeing it there as a reminder of times when things weren't quite as civilized...and also of the importance of keeping one's tetanus vaccine current.

Photo - Coil of barbed wire on a tree

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't solicit your sympathy for our pollen plight. This time of year, I spend at least thirty minutes almost every day using the leaf blower to clean off our driveways, sidewalk, and patios. And, occasionally, when I don't go to that trouble, I still find it therapeutic to use a broom to clear a path (or landing strip) for our bicycle.

Photo - Pathway through the pollen from our garage to the street

I hope you're able to get out and do some urban/suburban exploration of your own during this time of enforced non-busyness. There are fascinating details in the world, both natural and manmade.

November 22, 2014 3:48 PM | Posted in: ,

We enjoyed on-and-off rain showers all day, and one consequence besides making the trees happy was the appearance of this guy. Or girl. Who knows?

Anyway, it was on our back porch and seemed to be begging me to take its picture. So I did. Snails can be very persuasive.


In case you're wondering, the snail didn't climb onto that bougainvillea bloom of its own accord. Yes, that's right; I blatantly manipulated nature for my own sordid photographic purposes. Life is cruel like that.

On the other hand, no snails were harmed (if you don't count hurt pride) in the making of these photos.

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