The thorn-filled plains of South Texas are the epitome of biodiversity. From the gorgeous green jay to the massive indigo snake the region is a wildlife haven.
As a veteran bowhunter (who wishes to remain anonymous) climbed into a stand overlooking a drying creek bottom he wondered if the big whitetail buck he had been pursuing would reveal itself this evening.
It is after all what drew him here and with the wind blowing into his face and away from what he thought was the buck’s bedding area, everything was perfect.
There was one small glitch.
He did however get to the stand a late and he would only have about an hour before dark to make it happen.
That’s “ok” he figured as these are the minutes when the wild lands come alive.
Then he heard it.
A high-pitched bellowing scream that echoed throughout the bottoms.
As his adrenaline production went into overload, he pondered what might be making the sound and why it was coming his direction. The screams got louder and louder, so he readied an arrow just incase.
Suddenly from out of the underbrush walked a large monkey. With a pinkish-red face and gray body it walked along the edge of the treeline before eventually disappearing into the shadows.
It was a shocking sight for sure. How did a monkey end up in South Texas?
Well, at at least it was not the monster he had pictured in his imagination.
There exists an area in the South Texas Plains where a population of Japanese macaques live and they have a long, bizarre story.
National Geographic covered them in a documentary. Watch this clip to the get the basics.
One of our readers M. Odom snapped this photo of one of the monkeys on his deer lease near Dilley, TX so we had to share.
Have you ever seen a monkey in Texas? If so we would love to see the photos. Send to email@example.com. If you would like to subscribe to this blog to keep up with these kinds of stories enter your email address in the form to the top right of this page.
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That is the poem I grew up with mom taught me to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from our local mimic, the Louisiana milk snake.
With a nervous system attacking venom like that of their cobra cousins, the coral snake is without question one of if not the deadliest snake bites in America (mojave rattler is the other contender).
However, a recent study has discovered something that might get the striped serpent an edge.
This study shows the venom of the Texas coral snake in particular has ability to cause severe pain. The following is from an article at ucsf.edu…
The venom contains a toxic mixture of chemicals that includes two special proteins that join together, glom tightly onto tiny detectors on human nerve endings and don’t let go. These detectors normally sense acid burns, and after the snake bites, the victim’s brain receives unrelenting signals of an acid-like burn.
“Bites from this snake are associated with really intense, unremitting pain,” said David Julius, PhD, the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine at UCSF, who led the research. “This work helps to explains why and gives us new tools for examining how our brains perceive pain.”
But don’t break out the machetes to start slaughtering coral snakes.
There is also research that suggest certain subspecies venom can help treat epilepsy as well as breast cancer. We’ll have more on that soon but for now here is the article about the research on the Texas coral snake.
And although these snakes don’t rattle or show a white mouth to warn you, consider the toxins they can inject a big “Don’t Tread On Me!” declaration.
With their burnt orange coat and white spots they not only blend with the forest floor but shine as one of nature’s true beauties.
This fawn was hidden on the edge of a briar tangle at a Ducks Unlimited waterfowl preserve in North Dakota. As its mother watched from a distance, I snapped a quick photo and then left so neither mom or baby would feel threatened.
This was in stark contrast to the lifeless fawn I found on the edge of a high line on the southern tip of Newton County, TX.
It had been dead awhile but there was no broken neck or eaten ribcage typical of coyote or bobcat predation. What killed it remains unclear.
A much greater mystery is the huge increase in fawn deaths nation-wide.
According to Kip Adams, wildlife biologist with the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), a significant decline in fawn survival has occurred in the last 15 years.
“Overall, fawn recruitment rates have declined from an average of 0.81 fawns/doe in the U.S. in 2000 to 0.58 fawns/doe in 2015. That’s significant,” he said.
As of 2015, the Northeast U.S. averaged 0.48 fawns/doe, the Southeast averaged 0.50 fawns/doe, and the Midwest averaged 0.82 fawns/doe.
“I believe the main cause is increased predation on fawns,” Adams said.
“Deer herds with high fawn recruitment rates are very resilient to severe weather, disease outbreaks, and over-harvest. This provides a nice buffer in deer management programs. Significantly reduced fawn recruitment rates remove this buffer and make deer herds more vulnerable to the above factors.”
There are more than 30 million whitetails in North America.
This is not an issue where a species is becoming endangered, threatened or even in any kind of major decline. Deer herds are chiefly managed for hunting and it can even be argued that increased predation is a natural response to burgeoning deer herds and should be welcomed.
But there is more.
Penn State biologists are wrapping up a three year study that involves fitting fawns with radio collars.
Research Duane Dieffenbach provided this information on one of Penn State’s study areas.
Five of the fawns captured were found dead with no visible cause (even after necropsy). Some lacked milk in the rumen, while others did not but the real reason why a seemingly healthy dead fawn found its way to the necropsy table is unknown.
This year when the field crew checked on one fawn whose collar was in mortality mode, they found it alive but unable to move. When they checked on the fawn the next day it had died. The necropsy found milk in its stomach but no obvious cause of death. PGC vet, Dr. Justin Brown, collected tissue samples for examination but we do not have a confirmed cause of death at this time.
Bottom line, lots of fawns (about a third of all mortalities) die from causes other than predation
What are these causes? They can run the gamut from pneumonia to screwworms but some are questioning whether the introduction of GMO agriculture has had an impact.
A North American Whitetail article digs deep into the potential impact of GMO crops on whitetails. You can read it here.
The takeout of the article for this writer was anecdotes from Judy Hoy of Montana who does wildlife rehabilitation.
“As a game warden, my husband retrieved many accident-killed big-game animals, primarily white-tailed deer, from roadsides and yards, and I examined the carcasses prior to disposal. I also cared for newborn wild ruminants. Thus, we examined hundreds of white-tailed deer prior to and after 1995.
“We observed that, beginning in spring of 1995 and continuing through 2014, many individuals of white-tailed deer fawns were born with one or more birth defects consistent with mineral deficiencies and thyroid hormone disruption. In 1996, I began documenting the bite, the size of the deer and the size of the male genitalia with measurements and photos. I also found the sex ratio on the white-tailed deer skewed highly in favor of males at around 60M/40F, especially between 1995 and 2002.”
There is much more to the story which I highly recommend reading but it certainly paints an interesting picture since the 1990s there have been millions of acres planted with GMO seeds and their use only continues to increase. The impact of GMOs on rats and mice in laboratories is truly frightening.
Once again whitetail declines are superficial when looked at through the prism of history and the fact that even the states with the lowest whitetail numbers are vastly above what they were 50 years ago.
But there is no question something is different out there.
Something is changing the dynamic of fawn recruitment and it is happening on a large scale.
For now let’s say the fawns in America’s woodlands could be like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Their disappearance could be a signal of something bigger on the horizon.
We have created a continuing dialogue with universities, the QDMA and state agencies to look deeper and will report as we find out.
Fawns are starting to hit the ground in parts of the country right now. Making it past spring has always been a challenge due to the harsh nature of life in the woods but now it seems something or some things are making it downright difficult for Bambi to lose his spots.
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The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.
Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.
I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.
In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.
It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.
The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me close to the river. The view was stunning and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.
An hour later I found myself a few hundred yards above this location.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.
Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.
I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.
Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.
After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.
Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.
Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.
Texas is a prime example.
Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.
In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit.
A similar yet less documented return is happening in East Texas where black bears from Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are crossing the state line. Most of these are subadult males searching out mates and in most cases they are striking out.
We did however verify at least one denning mother in Newton County dating back several years.
These are Ursus americans luteolus, the Louisiana black bear, an animal designated as a threatened species since 1992 under the Endangered Species Act but recently moved off of that list due to reported population increases.
Texans haven’t seen bears on a regular basis in more than a century so educating the public will be a big task for all who consider themselves fans of this iconic American animal.
Consider me one .
Over the years I have written dozens of articles and broadcast many radio programs promoting bear restoration in Texas. Working to a great extent in the hunting and fishing industry I have found this position slightly controversial at times but by and large most people have been very supportive.
You see when people learn to understand bears they respect them and when they respect them they do not mind sharing the woods with them.
Bears represent wildness and this writer will never forget the wildness I felt looking over the picturesque landscape in northern California and seeing that huge, stunning bear.
That’s the kind of encounter that leads me into the woods and will continue to do so. Let’s hope there are many more opportunities to encounter bears throughout America and even in my home state.
Their return has already begun. Let’s do what we can to help them along.
Chester Moore, Jr.
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CONROE—Looking for something to do this Earth Day?
Want to know more about the reptiles in your backyard?
Curious about the uses of reptile venom in medicine and research to fight cancer, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, diabetes, and so much more?
Or just want to get out of the house and have a little fun with the family?
Come out to The Texas Venom Experience at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on April 22, 2017.
9055 Airport Rd
Conroe, TX 77303
The event will take place from 10 am-8pm with music, games, crafts to make and to purchase, product and gift sales booths, live animal interactions, live reptile demonstration, talks, presentations, animal and other educational displays, and fun for the entire family.
The Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center will be on hand from 10-3 with a variety of creatures and educational materials. We believe in and support this cause and look forward to being a part of this great event. Come by and say “hi” to me and the Zoo Crue. (Chester Moore)
The mottled duck has always had a soft spot in my heart.
They are a native duck of the Gulf Coast and always symbolized the brackish-intermediate wetland I love so much.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Southeast Texas they were a common sight of my youth and then sometime in my twenties they started to dwindle.
Now there are restrictive bag limits for hunters and much study of this beautiful but under appreciated waterfowl. The waterfowl conservation community has spent much time studying these species in the last 10 years and while looking over various studies one particular tidbit caught my attention.
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began outfitting mottled ducks with transmitters to track their movements in the mid 2000s. And according to refuge officials there have been some surprising results.
The results indicate that mottled ducks, which normally avoid open water, have begun spending extended time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suspect habitat loss and saltwater intrusion, both a result of coastal development, may be forcing the ducks out of their wetland habitats. Coastal research in other regions shows similar trends, indicating the problem may be more than just local.
The idea of a puddle duck like the mottled duck in the open waters of the Gulf seems strange indeed but the fact is there is still much to learn about this species but this study goes to show why it is important to learn about wildlife habitat and movements.
Without that knowledge managing species is impossible and with the continual growing pressure on our wildlife resources, good management is more important than ever.
Jaguars captured on game cameras in New Mexico and Arizona have captured a fair amount of media attention over the last decade.
A majestic species generally affiliated with the Amazon, jaguars are highly adaptable cats that fare just as well in desert mountain regions as they do as they do in dense rainforest.
The idea of jaguars crossing into the American Southwest seems odd for those with little understanding of the species which brings us to the first of five points never mentioned in media coverage.
Jaguar Range: The historical range of jaguars goes all the way into western Louisiana and bleeds over into California to the West. As you can see looking at this map by cat research specialists Panthera (not to be confused with defunct metal band Pantera), that range has decreased dramatically.
Rivers No Barrier: The jaguar is a water-loving cat and is arguably more comfortable in the water than even the tiger which has been portrayed as the world’s top water-loving large cat. Jaguars have been encountered swimming large stretches of the Amazon River and are regularly documented feeding on caimans (a type of crocodilian) in the water with a bite to skull nonetheless!Jaguars are “Black Panthers”: The term “black panther” is thrown around indiscriminately and in my 25 years as a wildlife journalist I have found most Americans relate it to black cougars. The problem is black cougars most likely do not exist or at least have not been proven to exist. There is however an American cat that produces black offspring and that is the jaguar. The condition is called “melanism” and it is not uncommon in jaguars. The large black cats seen in zoos, on television programs, etc. are other melanistic jaguars or leopards which can also have melanistic offspring.Size Matters: Jaguars are the world’s third largest cat behind the tiger and lion. Their size varies greatly throughout their range with the largest specimens living in parts of Brazil averaging 220 pounds. The largest on record was a male that weighed 326 pounds with an empty stomach. That is about the size of an average Bengal tiger.Texas Sightings: Over the last decade I have gathered several alleged jaguar sightings from Texas along the Rio Grande River region and into the Trans-Pecos. These sightings are under investigation but unlike New Mexico and Arizona there are no official trail camera programs attempting to study any possible movements into Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a huge area and is vastly uninhabited so it is possible there are jaguars touching Texas soil no one has seen.In terms of anecdotal evidence, I have two specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they were most likely telling the truth.We will be doing numerous articles on jaguars this year and always appreciate reader feedback.For now check out this great clip from the World Wildlife Fund of a melanistic jaguar crossing the Amazon.
A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.
As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.
Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.
There is something on the other end but it is not moving.
“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.
The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.
“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”
“Nice catch bud!”
But the jar was not empty.
“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.
“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.
He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.
Octopus in the Gulf?
The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.
These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.
“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day, but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef. You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals. One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.
Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.
“It was a feisty thing,” she said.
“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”
Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.
Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.
The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.
Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.
The common octopus has around 130 million. A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.
The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.
And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.
Chester Moore, Jr.
Cutting-edge wildlife writings and investigations.