Recently in Wildlife - Turtles & Lizards Category

¡Hola, amigos¡ ¿Qué pasa? Hoy es el día nacional de guacamole, y es la hora a celebrar. (It's also Mexico's Independence Day. Coincidence? I think not.)

We've got a lot of territory to cover, so let's lean into it (as "they" say in H.R.).

I'm sure most of you are itching to know what's going on with the garden spider I introduced a week or so ago. As you may recall, said spider wasn't exactly batting a thousand when it came to closing the deal on a meal, so to speak. But I suppose it was getting by...until a couple of days ago, when I noticed that it and pretty much all evidence of its web were no longer haunting gracing our garage window. So, unless it packed its bags and moved somewhere the property values are more reasonable, I have to assume that it discovered the hard way that there's always someone bigger and meaner than you. [Cue Bad Bad Leroy Brown mood music]

Of course, I have no idea what that bigger someone was, but I have my suspicions.

T-rex staring down our garden spider

On a sorta semi pseudo-related note, as long as we're updating some local wildlife reports, our Texas spiny lizard is still hanging out in the garage, eating bugs and spiders -- don't think? Nah...surely not... -- and pooping everywhere, and while it may be my imagination, I think it's getting accustomed to my presence. At least it's not diving under the treadmill the instant I come into the garage.

If that's the case, it may be because I finally wised up and set out a paper plate which I fill with water almost every morning. I'm not that wise in the ways of lizards but I figured that it wouldn't hurt to put out some water just in case it wasn't getting sufficiently hydrated from food sources. I did wonder, though, if my efforts were being recognized by the target of my largesse. 

That question was put to rest a couple of days ago when I watched the lizard creep slowly from under the treadmill and make its way to the edge of the paper plate where it proceeded to drink some that morning's refreshment. 

As is my wont, I determined to capture some photographic evidence of this phenomenon, so I set up a GoPro camera aimed at the dish, and configured to take a photo every 30 seconds. Each morning, I would refill the plate with water, and turn on the camera, letting it do its thing for a couple of hours. I would then return and scroll through the images on the camera (is it obvious that I'm retired?), looking for the affirmation that I hadn't imagined what I thought I saw. And for several days, it did appear that it had been an illusion, a cruel joke foisted on me by an uncaring Mother Nature and/or a decaying brain.

But this morning's efforts erased all doubt. I finally caught the little guy/gal in the act, and here's the proof:

Animated GIF: Texas spiny lizard drinking water
You can lead a lizard to water, and sometimes it will drink.

Let's talk about music for a minute, shall we? First, here are the last ten songs that iTunes shuffled onto my phone this morning:

  • Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu -- Pink Martini (thanks, Sam!)
  • Too Much Stuff -- Delbert McClinton
  • All the Pretty Colors -- Sturgill Simpson
  • Never Kill Another Man -- The Steve Miller Band
  • Eleanor Rigby -- Joshua Bell & Frankie Moreno
  • I'll Fly Away -- Gary Chapman & Wynonna [not Ryder]
  • Paranoid -- Black Sabbath (how did that get on there?!)
  • Dance Electric -- Pointer Sisters (how did that get on there?!)
  • Same Kind of Crazy -- Delbert McClinton (hmm...I sense a trend)
  • Love is Gonna Gotcha -- Lucy Woodward
Pretty interesting, huh? And, guess what they all have in common, other than being comprised of 1s and 0s which are magically converted into sound waves? Uh...well...nothing, actually. So, never mind.

I have, within the past two days, purchased two new albums, which I now recommend for your consideration. The first is alluded to in the list above...the album name is Hang On Little Tomato by Pink Martini, and the songs on this 2004 album are almost as eclectic as the list of music I provided above. The group consists of a dozen musicians, and they've performed songs in 25 different languages (not all at the same time...I'm guessing) in a wide variety of styles. My pal Sam played the title track of the album for me on Monday, and it features a wonderfully accessible clarinet solo, and I'm a sucker for clarinet solos that make me foolishly think that, yes, I could do that. (Reality inevitably harshes my mellow.) I immediately downloaded the entire album.

Then, yesterday, I purchased Sturgill Simpson's new album, The Ballad of Dood and Juanita, released last month. I've previously confessed to being a Sturgill fan, and this album generally reinforces my fandom. It's mostly bluegrass/Americana/throwback country in genre, with one great exception -- a Latin-style number called Juanita and featuring Willie Nelson on guitar. [Some have expressed  astonishment/disappointment that Willie doesn't sing on the track, but his unique guitar phrasing is unmistakeable.] The album is short -- less than 30 minutes of music -- and designed to be listened to straight through, even if most of the tracks stand up well by themselves. 

If it sounds like I'm damning the album with faint praise, it's only because there's not a lot of meat on the bones. Three of the ten tracks are a minute or less in length, and one song is sort of a remixed epilogue of the introduction. OTOH, Simpson is a skilled storyteller and if you approach the album with that in mind, you'll be rewarded for your time.

We might as well wrap this up with more music. Here's one of the songs I think I'd like to have played at my funeral.

I changed my mind (not about the funeral song, but about how to end this post). Here's a tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf. Sorta makes you look forward to Christmas, huh? [There's more where this came from over on my Instagram page. Hint, hint.]

Photo - Gree tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf

OK, now we're finished. Go eat some guac.
This is the time of year when turtles start trekking across the countryside in search of the perfect spot in which to start a family. In other words, they dig a nest and lay eggs. I've covered this phenomenon before here on the Gazette, but it seems that Nature throws a curve ball just when you least expect it.

About a week ago, I noticed a large turtle in the vacant lot adjacent to our house. That lot has been the site of many turtle nests through the years, and I immediately recognized the drill.

The female turtle digs a hole with her hind legs, creates mud in a process which we'll leave to your imagination, lays eggs and positions them (a euphemism for "cramming them down into the mud") with her hind feet.

Photo - Turtle in nesting position
This is either a river cooter or a mud turtle. I confess my ignorance.

Once she's finished depositing the eggs -- a process that can take an hour or more -- she covers the nest and attempts to restore the ground to its original state, again using her back legs. This process of concealment is remarkably effective.

Photo - The concealed nest
I placed a length of PVC pipe close to the nest so that I could locate it again.
That's how well the turtle's restoration works.

Unfortunately for the turtles, the surface concealment doesn't protect the nest from predators who rely on their sense of smell for detection of food sources. The eggs often fall prey to raccoons and armadillos. In fact, there was a disturbed nest a few yards away littered with shards of egg shells, evidence of a recent raid.

Those predators are efficient hunters. My pal Scott, who lives a mile or two away, told me that he observed a red-eared slider laying eggs a few weeks ago. He intended to try to protect the nest, but wasn't able to do so immediately. That same evening, the nest was raided and the eggs consumed. So, the lesson to be learned is that immediate protection is important.

The suggested method for protecting a nest is to put a wire cage over it...something that will prevent predators from digging it up, but will still allow the hatchlings to escape three or four months down the road. I'm planning to do that, but in the meantime, I've covered the nest with a couple of boards weighted with glass blocks.

Photo - Covered nest
A drone's eye view of the covered nest.

The story doesn't end there, however. An hour or so later I noticed the turtle moving back toward the creek behind our house, where she presumably resides when she's not laying eggs. I walked over to get one last photo to complete the documentation, and that's when a delightfully surprising scene began. For once, I had the presence of mind to start recording, and here's the resulting video.

The two young armadillos appear to be the remaining pair of quadruplets that I introduced a few weeks ago. This is not the first time we've seen a pair of youngsters foraging in this same area during daylight hours, and it could be that all four of them are still around and we're just seeing them in pairs.

In any event, it was very cool to witness the interaction between the two species. Forget Alien vs. Predator; I rather see Turtle vs. Armadillo any day.
Hey, y' it hot where you live? This is the time of year where we resurrect General Sheridan's quote about preferring to live in Hell and rent out Texas, which makes a lot of sense until you wonder just who, exactly, would be willing to rent Texas during August?

Alert Gazette readers will recall that a couple of months ago Debbie and I watched a Texas spiny lizard dig a nest in our front courtyard, lay eggs, and then cover the nest. Well, we're at the front end of the normal range of time in which those eggs should be hatching, but I have to admit that I'm not too optimistic about the prospects for having tiny lizardlings frolicking about.

I set up a trail camera on a tripod and pointed it at where the nest is located, under the assumption that when (if?) the little guys dig their way out, the movement will result in the camera recording both videos and still photos of the action. The camera is set up to capture the date, time, and ambient temperature at the time images are captured, and as you can see below, we're dealing with some rather extreme environmental variables:

Comparison of temperatures - 87 degrees around noon vs 132 degrees 3 hours later

I realize that the camera's readings are much hotter than the actual air temperature, but I also believe that the bare dirt is absorbing a significant amount of heat for a few hours each day. I doubt that the temperatures a few inches underground, where the eggs are resting, reach anywhere close to 130º+, but even twenty degrees cooler might still be too hot.

I did find this article about incubating lizard eggs and it confirms that desert-dwelling lizard eggs will hatch in higher temperatures, which seems obvious, but its reference to "92 [degrees] or higher" is not altogether reassuring. 

As an aside, the article does describe the phenomenon whereby the sex of the hatchlings of some species varies with the temperatures in which they're incubated. For a leopard gecko, a range of 80 to 86 degrees will result in mostly females, while temperatures between 86 and 92 gives mostly males. But it gets really interesting here: if incubated at 92 to 94 you will get females that have bad tempers and are infertile. These are called hot females. [You can insert your own joke here if you're brave enough.]

So, I guess I'll give things another week or so and see how they play out. I suppose bad-tempered lizard babies are better than none at all. I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell the difference.

Speaking of Texas spiny lizards, take a look at this photo and raise your hand when you see it.

Texas spiny lizard well-camouflaged on a tree

Those lizards are amazingly well-adapted to camouflage themselves on the rough bark of oak, pecan, and cedar elm trees. In fact, you could go so far to say that they are veritable masters of disguise, which is evident when this photo is enlarged.

Texas spiny lizard wearing false mustache and glasses
One late afternoon last week, Debbie was looking out a dining room window and spotted a strange sight in the courtyard. She called me over to have a look, and for the next couple of hours, we watched a fascinating process unfold.

Alert Gazette readers will recall the previous post in which I described, by word and by photograph, the behaviors of the three most common species of lizards around our house. I mentioned the Texas spiny lizard only in passing - I didn't have a relevant photo to share - commenting only that it is skittish and secretive. So, we felt privileged to witness the scene taking place in the courtyard: a female of that species digging a nest, laying eggs, and then covering and leaving them to hatch.

Naturally, I took photos of the process. I must apologize in advance for the poor quality of most of them. Some were taken at a very odd angle through the window, and some are just the product of an old camera and an older photographer. But I think you'll be able to discern all the subjects, and I hope you'll share our wonder at seeing something that's rarely witnessed by humans.

What first caught Debbie's eye was the half-buried lizard busy excavating a hole. We initially thought she was perhaps digging for insects to eat, but the hole seemed too big for that.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard digging a nest

While I was trying to get photos, Debbie was busy finding out more about the nesting habits of the lizard. She found this very informative website which seemed to confirm that what we were watching was indeed a nest building exercise. (The photos are better, too...but more limited in scope than what follows.) That article describes the preferred site for a nest as being one with fairly dry, loose soil, good sun exposure, which also happens to be a perfect description of our courtyard in every respect.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard female backed into nest

Once the hole was several inches deep, the female backed into it. At that point, sensing that things were about to get real, I crept out into the courtyard and tried to get some pictures without disturbing her. I was successful in the latter; the results of the former are fairly sad.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard laying eggs
Photo - Texas spiny lizard eggs

In the top photo, you can just make out a couple of eggs in the nest. That's a far cry from the eight to 30 mentioned in the article, but perhaps the others were buried before I got the photo. Or maybe she's just an underachiever. The bottom photo is a little clearer. They do resemble bird eggs, so perhaps that theory linking birds and dinosaurs in the evolutionary chain isn't farfetched at all.

Once the eggs were deposited, the lizard got busy covering them...and I do mean busy! In fact, for the next hour she devoted herself to restoring the ground over the eggs to its original state. This behavior is common among reptiles, and I've documented it for turtles a couple of times previously.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard hiding the nest

The nest hiding process went something like this. She would back partway into the hole, then use her front feet to send loose soil backwards. That loose soil was then flung into the hole by her back feet. She would periodically pause in these efforts to turn around and push the fill dirt with her snout to compact it. This sequence was repeated countless times until the nest was completely covered and undetectable to the casual observer.

Animated GIF of lizard covering up nest
"Our" spiny lizard busily hiding her nest

Midway through the process, things took an unexpected and captivating turn, as a six-lined racerunner entered the scene. At first, it came within a few feet of the spiny lizard and then headed off, but then it turned around as if curious and actually made contact with the female. Here are a couple more photos of the encounter. Again, my apologies for the photography; these were taken through the dining room window with the camera at a very uncomfortable angle.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard encounters a six-lined racerunner
Photo - Texas spiny lizard encounters a six-lined racerunner

We feared that we were about to witness one or both of the following: an attempt by the racerunner to dig into the nest, and a fight to the death between the two lizard species. In reality, neither occurred. The racerunner really did just seem curious, and the spiny lizard, while cautious and protective, didn't act belligerent toward the racerunner. After a bit of scrambling around, the racerunner disappeared under the flagstone, which presumably covered its lair.
After this brief encounter, the spiny lizard continued hiding the nest, and about two hours later, apparently satisfied with her efforts, disappeared. Her job was finished; she will not return to the nest (spiny lizards are typically arboreal; they blend in perfectly with tree bark), and if all goes well, the eggs will hatch within about 45 days.
Update (06/16/2020): After I posted this I realized that I had forgotten to mention a rather fascinating -- and surprising -- behavior on the part of the lizard. When she was about 3/4 finished with the coverup process, I went out into the courtyard to take some photos. I tried to move slowly and quietly so as not to disturb her, but she bolted away from the nest and out of sight on the porch. We figured that the camouflage effort was finished and would have to suffice.

But, much to our surprise, after I went back in the house, she returned to the nest and continued to scrape dirt and rocks back over the nest until it was finished. The primal urge to protect her eggs is strong and apparently irresistible, even though she'll have nothing to do with them once that task is finished. Put another way...she takes pride in her work, but has a pretty narrow definition of the scope of that work.
Here's how the nesting area looked following her camouflaging efforts. 

Photo - Texas spiny lizard's hidden nest

Debbie and I will, of course, monitor the situation over the next six weeks and, assuming nothing obviously untoward happens, I plan to place a GoPro camera on a tripod to take timelapse photos of what we hope will be the emergence of at least a couple of brand spanking new Texas spiny lizards.
Fake MPAA rating for this post warning you about its provocative content

I don't know whether it's because we've been stuck at home more this year, but I've noticed more evidence than ever before that spring in our neighborhood is a matter of life and death...and I'm not talking about COVID-19 at all.

If the Circle of Life was unrolled and laid flat in a trend line, we've spotted examples of the significant points along that line. To wit...

In the beginning

We have three species of lizards living in our neighborhood: the six-lined racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus) , the green anole (Anolis carolinensis) and its less-plentiful cousin, the brown anole, and the Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus). The three each have unique "personalities" and behaviors -- the racerunners are like inquisitive two-year-olds around kitchen drawers, the anoles (at least the males) are pugnacious and territorial, and the TSLs are skittish and secretive. But they all have one thing in common: a strong desire to make little lizards. And, for some reason, our courtyard seems to be the preferred make-out location.

Photo - Anoles mating
Photo - Six-lined racerunners mating

Both the anole (top photo) and racerunner (bottom) females will lay eggs that will hatch in less than two months.

By the way, I'm not sure why it is, but a noticeable percentage of the lizard population around here are missing parts of their tails, as you may have noticed with the female anole and the male racerunner. Fortunately, they'll both regenerate those tails.

New life...or not

So, after making whoopee, the next point along the Great Trend Line of Life (GTLL) is -- can you guess? -- babies...assuming everything goes according to plan. When it does, it's very cool. I've written at length about the new family of hawks next door, but not all the life stories end that happily.

About a year ago, I documented the nesting and egg-laying behavior of a river cooter, and the predation of that nest by an armadillo. I assumed this was a rather isolated event, but this spring I've found four such ravaged nests just in the vacant lot adjacent to ours. Here's an example, with the background faded to highlight the destroyed eggshells.

Photo - Turtle nest attacked and eggs devoured

The hole at the top of the photo is where the eggs were originally buried; the white slivers are all that remain of the leathery eggs.

Fortunately, nature has a way of compensating for these destructive events via the sheer number of nests that are built and eggs laid, and our populations of red eared sliders and river cooters seems quite healthy. And so we occasionally get treated to scenes like the one below (excuse the poor long-distance phone photography) of a tiny turtle sunning itself atop a big one. Are they related? Who knows? But they both appear content.

Photo - Tiny turtle on top of big turtle

Life is a gift, if you can keep it

But, of course, life can be a zero sum game in the world of nature. The food chain is pretty immutable; eaters get eaten, and sometimes bad decisions are fatal.

As an example of the latter, here's a hummingbird who kamikazied into one of our windows. I'm sure that everyone with a feeder has seen this happen at some point in the past, and it's always tragic.

Deceased hummingbird

Life seems to be particularly nasty, brutish, and short if you're an insect (you're not, by the way, so don't worry). For example, you might encounter an assassin bug. When that happens, the prognosis is grim. Just ask the May beetle in the following photo (but don't expect an answer).

Photo - Assassin bug sucking the life out of a beetle

This pair was on our back porch. If you look closely, you'll see the assassin bug's proboscis inserted into the belly of the beetle, whose life is slowly being drained. We don't mourn this passing because the beetle is a pest, like much of the assassin bug's other prey, so the bug may be ugly (and it is capable of giving a human a nasty little puncture if handled) but it's a beneficial guest in a garden or yard.

The assassin bug is also tenacious. As I attempted to photograph this behavior, it tried to back away from my presence...but it never let go of its prey. You've got to admire someone (or something) that's willing to fight for its dinner.

Another occupant of the "death point" on the GTLL is the moth shown below...or at least, what's left of it.

Photo - Cope's gray tree frog eating a moth

We've noticed that tree frogs have taken to hiding beneath the cushions of the chaise lounges on our deck, in obvious defiance of the dangers of being squished. So, we've started looking under the cushions to help them avoid any embarrassing flattening. Early one morning, I pulled a cushion back and uncovered this Cope's gray tree frog (Dryophytes chrysoscelis) in the middle of a tasty breakfast of moth.

So, in this version of the zero sum game, the moth's life energy is converted into the frog's ability to continue waking us up in the middle of the night by singing its unique arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody outside our bedroom window.

By the way, there are actually two almost identical species of gray tree frogs, and they can be distinguished pretty much only by their calls. Both have that bright orange or gold stripe on each back leg that you can see in the photo. I'm guessing that this one is a Cope's gray tree frog, but that's only because the Wikipedia photos look similar. And, really, from the moth's perspective, it's not important.

So, there you have it -- the amazing and intriguing and disturbing facets of natural life in the Fire Ant neighborhood. If there's a silver lining in the COVID cloud, it's the [forced] opportunity to slow down and observe more closely what's going on around us.

I leave you with one last tree frog photo. You'll have to guess what happened to him/her/it.

Photo - Cope's gray tree frog
This is the second in a possibly endless series of posts about the fascinating details of nature in our figurative Texas Hill Country back yard. Part 1 is here.

I hope your weather has been as nice as ours over the past few days. Cool mornings and warm afternoons mean that we get to spend a lot of time outdoors, and there's been a lot of interesting flora and fauna to observe (and photograph). With your permission, here's what we've observed.

The turtles that inhabit the creek behind our house are a skittish lot, and tend to dive out of sight at the slightest provocation. So it was a rare pleasure to stand at the back fence and watch this one. This is about as mellow as you'll ever see a turtle get (I'm pretty sure it wasn't dead).

Photo - Turtle floating in creek
Find someone who loves you like this turtle loves floating in a creek.

The stream that runs behind our house is called Pecan Creek, and a couple hundred yards downstream from our place another, smaller creek joins it. I don't know if it has an official name but on Google Maps it's called Dry Branch. Anyway, it runs through a golf course fairway on its way to Pecan Creek, and a small dam creates a small pond on either side of a bridge. Debbie and I run and walk across this bridge on a regular basis and we've been monitoring the activities of a family of Egyptian geese that have taken up residence in these ponds.

When we first noticed them, there was a pair of adults, and two downy goslings sticking close to mom. The next time we passed by, several days later, we were saddened to see only one baby...and the third time, only the adults were out and about. We assumed the worst. But, last Friday we walked across the bridge and were delighted to see that one of the goslings had survived and was growing rapidly. I'm unsure of the goose family dynamic once the progeny mature. For all I know, they go away for a while and they returned to live in their parents' basement and play video games. But it's cool to see them hanging out now.

Photo - Egyptian geese - two adults and a juvenile
Dad keeps watch while mom and kid go grocery shopping.

Speaking of birds -- and downy hatchlings and nestlings in particular -- remember the hawks nesting in the tree next to our house? The wind finally died down enough for me to launch my little drone in an attempt to check on the nest.

Now, you need to understand a few things about this process. While I control most of the flight functions via a set of joysticks on a controller connected wirelessly to the drone, I monitor the video/photo stream via my iPhone. The small size of the phone screen plus the fact that I'm usually flying in bright sunlight means that I can't really make out the details of what the drone is videoing or photographing. So, my technique is to shoot everything everywhere and hope that I get something worth looking at. Sometimes, I get lucky.

Photo - Hawk nestlings
The female hawk is at the upper left, mostly obscured by the tree's foliage.

Photo - Hawk nestlings
Here's a closer look at the nestlings.

I'm no expert, but the baby hawks surely can't be more than a few days old.

Let's shift gears from the avian world to the domain of the reptiles. It's not such a great leap if you believe the scientists in Jurassic Park: birds evolved from dinosaurs, and lizards are nothing but tiny dinos.

I've often featured anoles on these pages, so there's nothing really new to report. I just liked these close-up photos. The first one you see is a male Carolina anole, and if you'll drag the yellow line to the left, you'll see a female of the same species (the zig-zag pattern on the back is the tell).

Photo - Male Carolina anole 'Photo - Female Carolina anole

The female lizard was on an acanthus leaf in our courtyard. I later looked out the window and noticed that she had something in her mouth.

Photo - Female anole
What the heck is she holding in her mouth? Wait...what? Eww...

Alert Gazette readers will recall that I recently wrote about the anole's molting process. What I didn't report on is the tendency of the lizards to eat their own shed skin, which is apparently nutritious, in a gross reptilian fashion. If you look closely at the preceding photo, you can see that she is molting the skin on her head (face?), and the piece she has in her mouth could be the skin that circled her eyes. I'm just guessing here, and she didn't actually end up eating whatever it is, but it makes an interesting, if somewhat unsettling, possibility.

In closing, and as long as we're in the reptile kingdom, here's a photo of a Texas spiny lizard that was sunning itself on our deck. The coloration on this one is a little unusual, as they normally have very distinct dark bands down their back.

Photo - Texas spiny lizard
Perhaps we're not that far removed from
Jurassic Park after all.

That's it for this this edition of Neighborhood Nature. Check back tomorrow as we focus on the insect world, with a couple of floral photos thrown in for variety.
I was on our deck before breakfast yesterday and noticed an anole on the railing. This is not an unusual occurrence; we're practically overrun with them. But there was something different about this one. I got closer and immediately recognized what was going on: the lizard was in the process of molting, and had pieces of shed skin clinging to its head.

All reptiles go through a similar process as they grow. Snakes shed their entire skins at one time. Turtles and alligators shed their plates and scales, respectively, one at a time. Lizards molt their skin a section or piece at a time.

They're a little lethargic when they're molting and I was able to get within a few inches of this one before it tired of my company and jumped off the deck into the liriope below. I thought no more about it (other than regretting that I didn't have a camera with me) and went inside for breakfast.

Later, about midway through breakfast, something on the deck caught my eye. I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a lizard was eating something. This time, I did have my phone handy.

Photo - two anoles
It was hard to make out exactly what was going on from a distance.

I got a little closer, and the situation was clarified. Two anoles -- one brown and one green -- were fighting, and one had gained a definite advantage.

Photo - two anoles
The green anole had the brown one gripped by the throat.

Green or Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) and brown or Bahaman anoles (Anolis sagrei) are separate species. The former is native to the US; the latter is not, but has gained a fairly wide foothold in the States over the years. And, apparently, they don't get along well with each other. But, it's not really a racial thing...male anoles are quite territorial and they will aggressively defend their domain against every perceived interloper. In this case, El Verde apparently got the jump on El Café.

I got closer...

Photo - two anoles
The green one looked familiar.

Since anoles can change color, one might wonder if these are both of the same species. The greenies can turn a shade of brown, but the brown ones never turn green...only different shades of brown. I also suspect (it's just a guess, however) that during stressful times like this, their "natural" colors persist. Whether that's true or not, if you look closely at the back of the neck of the brown one, you'll see the dorsal flap which is an indication that this is indeed a different species from the green one.

From this vantage point, I could see that El Café was still breathing, albeit very slowly. El Verde acknowledged my presence by dragging his adversary a few inches, but he was loathe to release him.

Photo - two anoles
El Verde was molting...note the loose skin patches on his head.

The green anole was the same one I saw earlier on the deck railing. His territoriality trumped his lethargy as he assertively defended his borders (one wonders how they might be laid out).

Now, I have no great issues with the life-and-death realities of nature, but I kinda like the idea of having two competing species hanging around the premises. Since the brown one was still alive, I took matters into my own index finger and gently flicked the tail of El Verde. He relaxed his Jaws of Death, and to my surprise, both lizards sprang away, in opposite directions of course. El Café showed no apparent residual deleterious effects, living, I suppose, to fight another day.

I imagine them smack-talking to each other across the deck, perhaps in voices reminiscent of Inigo Montoya: until we meet again, mi amigo, enjoy your life, as it will be shorter than you wish.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted something in the adjacent vacant lot that looked out of place. It was a turtle -- a Texas river cooter (Pseudemys texana) to be precise -- in the process of creating a "nest" in which to deposit eggs. Being the insensitive-and-nosy jerk I am, I immediately set up a couple of cameras on tripods to record the process. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that this isn't my first turtle-egg-laying rodeo.)

While I didn't catch the mother-to-be at the very beginning of her quest, she was early in the process and I was able to video and photograph it through the very end, and it took a couple of hours (and a few swap-outs to recharge batteries). 

The nest building process is fascinating to me. The turtle had picked out a seemingly random location about a seventy-five yards from the creek where she resided. Using only her back legs, she dug a hole at least nine inches deep. The soil was completely dry when she started, but somehow during the process she emitted enough water to create a muddy environment before laying the eggs. When the laying process started, after each egg was deposited, she pushed it down into the hole with a hind leg. That action seemed to be rude and rough, but the leathery shells weren't damaged, nor were their contents (I assume).

I didn't hang around to observe the entire two hours, but I did check back in time to watch the actual egg-laying, and I counted at least eleven eggs. 

Photo - Turtle laying egg
Turtle egg being deposited in new nest

Once all eggs were deposited, she reversed the initial process. Again, using only her hind legs, the turtle pulled dirt and plant material back over the nest, and arranged it so that it was completely unobtrusive, even to a close visual inspection.
By the way, turtles get no respect when it comes to baby animal names. "Hatchling" is about as generic as it gets. I think they deserve better, so I propose something like "turtleini." Or "turtle tot." Or "turtlette."

OK, maybe we'll just stick with "hatchling."
Photo - Camouflaged turtle nest
Would you have known there were a dozen turtle eggs hidden beneath this patch of ground?

It was gratifying to think that we might be able to observe the hatchlings in three-to-four months.

Or not.

As it turns out, Mother Nature is often cruel and capricious. A mere day later, I walked past the nest and it resembled a miniature bomb crater. What was indiscernible to the human eye was apparently easily discovered by one of the several species of predators that live around the creek. I counted at least eight eggs in various states of consumption (and one still whole but obviously damaged). The only remaining question was: which varmint was to blame?

Photo - Ravaged turtle nest
The ravaged nest, circled in blue; egg remains are circled in yellow

I theorized that whatever had attacked the nest was likely to return at least one more time, so I pointed my game camera toward that general vicinity. Sure enough, the answer appeared when I downloaded the contents of the SD card onto my computer the next morning...and that answer was a bit shocking to me. Here's a screen capture from the short video captured by the camera:

Photo - Armadillo digging in turtle nest
Yes, it's an armadillo, digging back into the remains of the nest.

If an armadillo would have been at the bottom of your list of potential turtle egg eaters, join the club. But, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (a website for which the armadillo should be the centerfold, IMHO), the species is omnivorous to an extent I never considered. I'll save you a click and give you this excerpt from the ICWDM website:

The eating habits of armadillos

(Parenthetically, [Ed. -- This is redundant since it's already enclosed by parentheses.] this behavior received additional confirmation a few days ago when I found an armadillo in a raccoon trap baited with cat food.)

So, in the end, the river cooter's diligent efforts will likely come to naught, although it may be possible that a couple of the first eggs were deep enough to escape the marauding mammal. Such is life in the wild kingdom we call our neighborhood.

The following video is a condensed compilation of the footage I gathered over the duration of the events described above. If you have 8 1/2 minutes to burn and find moving pictures more interesting than my rambling text, feel free to check it out.

TurtleMLB and I were walking to the mailbox this morning when we spotted a big turtle in the shade of a tree about 25 feet from the street (and about that same distance from the creek that I presume is its home).
It wasn't moving, which was odd, so we walked over to investigate. It withdrew partway into its shell, but made no attempt to get back to the water.

We're not turtle experts, but the way the back half of the turtle was positioned in a shallow muddy depression seemed to indicate some nesting behavior.


We watched it for a couple of minutes, and not observing anything of apparent consequence, we continued our stroll to the mailbox and then back home.

After about an hour, we decided to check on la tortuga -- which we tentatively identified as a red-eared slider --  to see if we could make any more sense out of its behavior. I took a video camera just in case there was anything worth recording, and we were rewarded with this:

In case you're wondering, I did indeed feel a [admittedly illogical] twinge of privacy-violating guilt in videoing at such close quarters.

If you watched carefully, you saw two eggs being deposited into the muddy hole that passes for a turtle nest. According to the Wikipedia article linked above, this species will lay 2-30 eggs at one time (which is quite a span). The eggs take between two and four months to hatch, and the youngsters will not enter the water until almost three weeks after hatching. That would seem to be when they are most vulnerable to predators.

We debated putting up some kind of cage around the nest to prevent any disturbance but ultimately decided to let nature take its course. We're not lacking for turtles in the creek, and I'm not really interested in monitoring a nest until next fall to make sure that any hatchlings can get out of whatever cage we might build to keep predators from getting in.

In addition, when we returned for one last check, the turtle was gone and so was the "nest." Well, not gone gone, but good luck figuring out where it is. That mama turtle is a camouflage master.

Turtle Nest
Can you spot the nest?

As I've often observed on these pages, the world of nature never ceases to astonish and amaze.

Baby Horny Toad
August 7, 2010 9:05 PM | Posted in: ,

As I've noted before, horny toads seem to be making a comeback, at least in our neck of the woods. Here's further evidence - a baby lizard, one of the smallest I've ever seen. I didn't actually see this one, though, as Debbie came across it while walking this evening with a friend. That's Debbie's finger in the photo. This little guy is barely bigger than the ants it lives on!

Photo - Tiny horned lizard

Debbie and I went for a walk around the ponds this morning after breakfast, and as usual, encountered some interesting animals.

The geese are still hanging around. They were inexplicably strolling through the vacant lot across from our house (I saw one of them nip at some of the weed seed heads), and when they saw us walking down the street, headed our way and paralleled our course. Here's a short snippet of video I took with my phone.

They continued to walk in roughly the same direction we were headed, but they crossed the street, back and forth, inspecting who-knows-what. Some of our neighbors had congregated on a front porch and they watching the geese with great interest. One of them had a chihuahua on a long leash, and he was quite attentive, straining at the leash to get a closer look...until, that is, the geese turned toward him, at which point he quickly retreated to his master, content to switch to remote monitoring mode. We had a laugh at his expense, but I observed that it would be like us confronting a T-Rex, given the size difference between the small dog and the large goose. I didn't blame him a bit.

It took us about ten minutes to round the south pond - pausing to speak to a cottontail rabbit who thought he was hiding in plain sight just off the sidewalk - and by the time we got to the opposite side, the geese had made their way along the pond and we watched them waddle down the bank and back into the water. I suppose they were getting in their morning constitutional, as were we.

Heading toward the north pond, we spotted something in the middle of the sidewalk about 20 feet ahead. It was a horny toad. I wondered why we always seemed to see them on the walkway, and we soon got our answer. He was resting in the path where an abundance of ants were busily crossing the concrete, and it was a veritable movable feast from his perspective. We watched as he pounced on several ants who had the bad judgment to wander into his sphere of ingestion. He didn't seem to be willing to chase any of them down, content to let them come to him, but we did see him miss one ant, eat another that was close behind, then whirl around and consume the one that almost got away. Unfortunately, the scene took place too far away to capture on my phone's camera.

Rounding the north pond and heading home, we roused the usual jackrabbit contingent. They like the tall grass brought out by the summer's rainfall, but you can usually spot the black tips of their ears sticking up over the ground cover. Those guys are built for speed, and they're as shy as the geese are bold.
Several people have asked whether we've spotted any horned lizards this year, and we're happy to reply with an emphatic "yes." We've sighted them on almost every walk or bike ride, and seen them from the car driving through the neighborhood. I wouldn't say that we're overrun with the little rascals, but they definitely seem more numerous than in seasons past.

Yesterday, I glanced out my office window and spotted this one on our flowerbed's brick border. By the time I grabbed the camera and got outside, he was lounging against a stand of Mexican feathergrass, apparently striking an intentional pose.

Photo - Horned lizard or horny toad

I understand that the lizard's dwindling numbers is attributed to increased use of pesticides, encroachment on habitat by human development, and the severe drought conditions that have thankfully eased this year. It's good to see them back.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Wildlife - Turtles & Lizards category.

Wildlife - Trapping is the previous category.

Archives Index