Tag Archives: the wildlife journalist

Strange backyard creatures of America

Most of mammals we see where I live Southeast Texas would be considered of the common garden variety.

Whitetail deer, raccoons, opossums and squirrels are the most frequently seen creatures that thrive in our woodlands, prairies, marshes and urban areas.

In fact, these animals are common sightings throughout North America

There are however some really strange mammals in the region that are very rarely seen by human eyes and yet they can live in suburban backyards.

Take the eastern mole for example.

These burrowing mammals have tiny eyes but they cannot see and spend almost all of their time underground.

Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

According to the Mammals of Texas, “…moles feed largely on earthworms and grubs, although beetles, spiders, centipedes, insect larvae and pupae, and vegetable matter may also be eaten. In captivity, they have consumed mice, small birds, and ground beef.

“The average daily food consumption is about 32 percent of the body weight of the animal, although a mole can consume more than 66 percent of its body weight in 18 hours. Active prey is killed by crushing it against the sides of the burrow with the front feet or by piling loose earth on the victim and biting it while thus held. Captive moles kill earthworms by biting them rapidly in several places, often nearly cutting the worm in two.”

The saliva of males contains a type of toxin that paralyzes worms and insects. And if that is not weird enough, they can move as quickly backwards as they can forwards.

If the mole isn’t odd enough for you than let me introduce you to the shrew.

These mouse-sized insectivores are arguably the most voracious predators on the planet and East Texas has two varieties: the southern short-tailed shrew and the least shrew.

According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, shrews have an extremely high metabolic rate. This rapid conversion of food to energy requires that these animals consume up to their own body weight in food every day.

“The highly social and gregarious least shrew often cooperates in building burrows or nests, which are sometimes shared with other least shrews during the nesting and wintering seasons. The species uses the runways and burrows of moles, voles and other small mammals but will make its own runways in soft, loose soil. Tunnels under the snow provide protection from wind and intense cold, allowing least shrews to remain active all winter.

Least shrews rely mainly on their senses of touch and smell. Sight and hearing are not well developed.

The least shrew only lives a short time, usually a little over a year.

God created many amazing creatures and although the big ones get most of the media attention, those on the small side are just as interesting.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Manta Ray found just off TX beach (Video)

Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.

Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.

According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.

“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies.  The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”

“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.”

Chester Moore, Jr.