Life at the center

Wildlife Wednesday: Native Bees of Houston

Wildlife Wednesday: Native Bees of Houston

When most people think about bees, they think about honeybees, a species of bee that was introduced to the U.S. from Europe. Its one of the most numerous bees in the area, and if you have flowers in your garden, you’re likely to see many of them. However, honeybees aren’t the only bees that pollinate flowers around Houston. There are many more species of bees beyond honeybees, and many overlooked species of native bee that visit Houston gardens. Here, we’ll look at a few species of these native bees.

Eastern Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica), pictured above, as the name would suggest, nest by chewing holes into dead wood on branches, logs, and sometimes the wood in human made structures. Here in the park, we’ve noticed them burrowing into picnic tables, the picnic pavilions, and the border pieces on the outside of the house. Though this may be vexing, they rarely cause serious damage to structures. Unlike, honeybees, they’re not truly eusocial (colonial) bees, but live in loosely knit groups, in which there is a dominant female. Unlike “queen bees” though, the dominant females are not the only reproducing females in their group. Some carpenter bees, like the Southern Carpenter Bee (Xylopcopa micans), pictured left, are considered “solitary bees”, living in only in mating pairs.

While carpenter bees are large round bees, they are not bumble bees, which are in a different family. You can tell the difference by looking at the abdomen, which is bare on carpenter bees (look left) and furry on bumble bees (look down and to the right).

American Bumblebees (Bombus pennsylvanicus) are wide ranging fat fuzzy bees that can be seen flying slowly from flower to flower. Like carpenter bees, they are often too large to fit into some flowers to feed on nectar, and will “nectar rob”, chewing into the base of the flower to get at the nectar, without coming into contact with the pollen. Regardless of this occasional behavior, bumblebees are important and numerous pollinators for a wide variety of native flowering plants. The American Bumblebee is colonial, often excavating burrows in the ground and under logs and rocks, but have a more variable and changing social structure than that of honeybees.

The American Bumblebee, like many species of bumblebee, is declining in numbers, due to habitat loss and overuse of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids.

Metallic Green Bees (Agapostemon spp.), with their shiny green exoskeletons, are rather conspicuous when they visit a flower. Some are completely green, while others are green in the front with a yellow striped abdomen. They are in the Sweat Bee family, Halictidae, so named for their habit of occasionally landing on humans and drinking their sweat, which can be a welcome source of salts and other nutrients for bees (some butterflies, flies, and small beetles do this as well). Metallic Green Bees live communally in underground burrows. Each mating pair has its own separate burrow, where they raise their young, but the burrows are all close together, which helps with defense against predators and parasites.

Sweat bees, which are generally small bees, are important pollinators for smaller flowers, which larger bees may ignore.

Thanks for joining us this week, to learn more about some of our native bees. If you don’t find these animals in your own garden, take a trip out to the nature center sometime, and visit our native wildflower gardens or our Pocket Prairie.

See you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

~ Many species of our native bees are in trouble, because of development and overuse of pesticides. You can help by planting native and wildlife friendly flowers, leaving some space for ground nesting bees, and not using neonicotinoid pesticides.

To find out more about how you can help bees, visit: https://xerces.org/bumblebees and https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/yourhelp.html

photographs: Eastern Carpenter Bee by Daniel Schwen | Wikipedia; Southern Carpenter Bee by Bob Peterson | Wikipedia; American Bumblebee by Diana Terry Hibbits | EOL; Metallic Green Bee by Jon Sullivan | Wikipedia

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Wildlife Wednesday: Houston Area Salamanders

Wildlife Wednesday: Houston Area Salamanders

Salamanders are an underappreciated and overlooked group of amphibians. That’s because they often lead secretive lives underground, down in the mud, and underwater. As with frogs, salamanders undergo metamorphosis, in which their shell-less eggs are laid in a wet location (often in a pond), they go through an aquatic larval stage (the tadpole stage), and then become air-breathing adults. Also like frogs, they have semi-permeable skin that allows water to pass in and out, so they can dry out easily, but can also drink through their skin. Some adult salamanders “breathe” or respire using lungs, while others use gills, and a group called the “lungless salamanders” breathe through their skin and the lining of their mouths.

Though they are seldom seen around Houston, there are several species of salamander found in the area. Here’s a survey of 3 of the more common species.

The Central Newt (Nothophthalmus viridescens louisanensis) is a small aquatic salamander that lives in still freshwater habitats. They actually have 4 life stages:  1. The eggs are laid on vegetation in the water.  2. The gilled tadpoles/larvae stay in the water while they develop. 3. After a number of months, the larvae change into a reddish orange terrestrial stage called an “eft”. They live in forested habitats for 1 – 3 years like this. 4. Eventually, they change to their adult yellow-olive brown coloration, and go back into a pond to live out their adult lives in the water. The Eastern newts of North America (which this is a subspecies of) are the only salamanders which go through this terrestrial eft stage, though some newts in other parts of the world are terrestrial as adults. As with all salamanders, Central Newts are carnivorous, eating a wide variety of small invertebrates.

The large 3-Toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma tridactylum) doesn’t even look like a salamander! You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a eel. They are long bodied (up to almost 4 ft), aquatic, and their 4 tiny limbs are so small, that you’d only see them upon close inspection. They are highly carnivorous, eating a wide variety of fish, other amphibians, reptiles, and large invertebrates. Though salamanders are basically tooth-less, amphiumas have a sharp bony ridge in their mouths, which they use for defense and predation. Also unlike other salamanders, they are known to emit a squeaky bark noise, when molested.

Another fully aquatic eel-like salamander is the Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia), which grow to about 18 inches in length. They have 2 tiny front legs, no back legs, and a flattened paddle-like tail. Sirens are easily identified by their feathery gray and red external gills, which extend from the sides of the head. Much like the amphiuma, they are very carnivorous and can deliver a painful and bloody bite. However, instead of a sharp bony ridge, they have a sharp horny beak-like structure. Also similar to amphiumas, they have extremely smooth slimy skin. Both sirens and amphiumas are believed to guard their eggs in mud nests under the water or in burrows next to their ponds, lakes, and bayous.

Thanks for exploring a few of the local salamander species with us this week. While you may not encounter any wild salamanders in our park, many of our larger and wilder Houston area parks and nature centers offer chances to find these 3 species. And if you’ve never seen a live salamander up close, we invite you to visit the Nature Discovery Center some time, and get to know Sherman, our friendly Barred Tiger Salamander.

See you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

photos: Adult newt – Psyon | Wikimedia; Newt eft – Corey Raimond | Flickr; Amphiuma – Ashley Tubbs | Flickr; Siren – Andrew Hoffman and Zeke Franco on Flickr

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Wildlife Wednesday: Denizens of the Pond

Wildlife Wednesday: Denizens of the Pond

One of the park improvements that was put in this past Spring is the new larger Cypress Pond, at the South end of the park, near the playground. This larger pond, along with the new deck, gives us all kinds of opportunities to teach kids about aquatic ecosystems through dip-netting and observation. The larger size, with a greater variety of native aquatic plants, is bound to attract all manner of aquatic creatures, many which have not been seen in the park before. Today, we’ll have a look at some of the aquatic and semi-aquatic insects that we have already encountered in our new pond.

The Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis) is an unmistakable dragonfly. The bright red males (above photo) are often seen sunning on perches or patrolling the shoreline, looking for prey, chasing away rivals, or looking for females. The females (left) are less colorful, but are gorgeous as well, with a golden brown coloration and a cream colored stripe down the back. Both are large active dragonflies, found near water, though the females are often found in fields away from water as well, being less territorial than the males. Neon Skimmers feed on other flying insects of various kinds. The females can often be seen leading males around in a complicated fast paced courtship ritual dance/chase, at the edges of ponds and streams. As with all dragonflies, they lay their eggs in the water, and the young, called nymphs, are aquatic, and emerge as adults months later.

The Giant Predaceous Diving Beetle (Cybister fimbreolatus) is rather large, for an aquatic beetle at least, growing up to 3 1/2 cm in length. With large hind legs, modified for swimming, they can be seen traveling up and down in the water column, searching for prey. These large shiny dark green beetles may feed on other aquatic insects, tadpoles, and even small fish, like minnows. This is just one of a few species of diving beetles found in the pond, some of them jet black, and some of them brightly colored with golden sunburst patterns on a dark background. Though they are mainly aquatic, they may sometimes be found flying from one location to another, away from water.

Sometimes called “Toe-biters”, Giant Waterbugs (Lethocerus americanus) grow up to 6 cm in length. As their names suggest, they may deliver a nasty and painful bite with their large proboscis. They usually use this tube-like mouth part to inject venom into prey (usually other aquatic insects, tadpoles, and small fish). They then suck out the liquifying insides! As with the diving beetles, there are actually several species of large water bugs in the pond, all of which are excellent swimmers, but can fly from one body of water to another. They’re all very well camouflaged, being various shades of brown and green.

The next time you’re out in the park on a walk, stop by the Cypress Pond, next to the South End playground, and see if you can find any of these insects  (or some we haven’t yet seen ourselves).

Thanks for joining us, and see you soon!

Eric Duran, Staff Naturalist

Photographs: Male Skimmer by Steve Berardi | Wikimedia; Female Skimmer by Bill Carrell | INaturalist; Diving Beetle by Monikah Schuschu | Flickr; Water Bug by David Hoover | Flickr

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Wildlife Wednesday: Lost Animals of the Coastal Prairie

Wildlife Wednesday: Lost Animals of the Coastal Prairie

There was a time, before European settlement of this part of Texas, when the area in and around the nature center would have been tall grass prairie as far as you looked. Most tall trees would have occurred on a few raised areas or along the banks of bayous. Today, 99% of this ecosystem is gone, and along with it, many of the animals that once inhabited this region. Though you may know that large herds of American Bison once roamed this area, and that morning bird song would have been deafeningly loud, you may not know about some of the predators that once prowled the tall grasses of our Coastal Prairies. Today, we’ll have a look at 4 lost species.

While most people think of Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) as creatures of Central and South American rainforests, these medium sized predators actually inhabit a variety of habitats, including deserts and grasslands, and once roamed our prairies. Today we have an extremely small population of possibly around 50 in the Southern tip of Texas, but they once ranged up the Texas coast all the way to Easternmost Louisiana. These spotted cats were driven to extinction in the state through overhunting and destruction of habitat, but have been reestablished in in the Lower Rio Grande Valley through conservation efforts by landowners, environmental groups, and government agencies, like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are another rainforest cat that is actually more variable than many people realize, and may live in a variety of ecosystems, beyond just rainforest. Like ocelots, jaguars once ranged our prairies and bottomland hardwood forests along the gulf coastal part of the state to the Eastern edge of Louisiana. Jaguars were killed off in Texas in the early 1900s, and have not returned to the state since, but they are slowly reestablishing themselves in Southern Arizona. These large powerful predators need a lot of land to roam in, and like ocelots, need to be able to roam back and forth across the border with Mexico, in order to maintain viable hunting grounds and territories.

Louisiana Black Bears (Ursus americanus luteolus) used to range all through East Texas and down the Gulf Coast to Northern Mexico. By the early 1900s, this subspecies of the Black Bear had been made extinct in the state of Texas through overhunting and destruction of habitat. Over the last few decades, conservation and reintroduction efforts in Louisiana have increased the numbers of these endangered bears, and they are slowly reappearing in East Texas forests. We have also recently seen Mexican Black Bears reintroducing themselves into West Texas, in and around the Big Bend area.

Though we are accustomed to seeing coyotes in this part of Texas, historically, they ranged much further to the West of us, and our native wild dog in this region of Texas was the Red Wolf (Canis rufus). These critically endangered predators were not only hunted to extinction in the state of Texas, but are almost functionally extinct in the wild, only living in parts of the Southeastern U.S. with help from conservation organizations and government agencies. It is not clear that this species will be able to escape total extinction in the wild, as they still face extreme pressure from poaching and habitat degradation in the few areas in which they still occur outside of zoos and assurance colonies.

While its a bit sad to think about, its important to know what we’ve lost, and what we could have again, if we wanted to reestablish our native ecosystems to a more historically natural state. Well, I hope you enjoyed our brief look at a few species we once had roaming the land that the Nature Center now occupies.

Thanks for joining us, and see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

photographs via: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Jesse McCarty | Flickr CC

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Wildlife Wednesday: The Other Arachnids

Wildlife Wednesday: The Other Arachnids

Spiders aren’t the only arachnids! To honor the 2nd week of Ms. Jenny’s Spider themed Summer Science Camp, this week we’re going to look at 3 other arachnids that are found in the area. Arachnids are arthropods, invertebrate animals that have exoskeletons made of chitin and multiple jointed legs.They’re on every continent, and tend to be terrestrial, though there are several species of spider and mite that live in freshwater aquatic ecosystems. They are never found in the ocean. Here’s a look at 3 non-spider arachnids that are found in and around this part of Texas.

One of the most commonly encountered non-spider arachnids in this part of the state is the Striped Bark Scorpion (Centrutoides vittatus). This is a small scorpion, growing to only about 2.75 inches in total length. They may deliver a painful sting, though the venom is not usually injurious to humans, beyond the obvious pain and discomfort. As with all other scorpions, this species is carnivorous, seizing their prey with front pinching claws, and injecting the prey with venom from the tail stinger. They then spit out digestive juices onto the prey, and suck up the dissolving body of the prey. Maybe a bit gross, but its what they do!

Velvet Mites (family Trombiidae) are exceptionally small arachnids, a little bit larger than the size of a period at the end of this sentence. They are very easy to identify, with their tiny bright red furry bodies. They’re seen in a wide variety of ecosystems, crawling over vegetation, rocks, and picnic tables. These mites are active and voracious predators, hunting down a wide variety of tiny invertebrates.

The 3rd animal we’ll look at this week is from a much lesser known group of arachnids called the “whip scorpions”, and here in the U.S. we call them Vinegaroons (Mastigoproctus giganteus). These large chunky arachnids may grow up to 3 inches long (6 inches if you count the whip tail). They’re named for the practice of squirting a vinegar-like substance from from their “tail”, which they use to deter predators and disable prey. As with other arachnids, they are predatory on a wide variety of other invertebrates. Though we do get them rarely in this part of Texas, they are far more common in the arid regions of South and West Texas.

Now, in our park, you’ll only see spiders and mites, but make sure to keep an eye out for spiders, whip scorpions, scorpions, and velvet mites, when you’re out and about at nature centers, state parks, and national wildlife refuges around the Houston area. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Thanks for joining us, and see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Photographs: Top photo – Charles&Clint | Flickr; Scorpions – Douglas Mills | Flickr; Velvet Mite – Chris Fifield Smith | Flickr; Vinegaroon – Acrocynus | Wikimedia

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Wildlife Wednesday: Spiders of the NDC

Wildlife Wednesday: Spiders of the Nature Discovery Center

To celebrate Ms. Jenny’s arachnid themed Summer Science Camp this week, I thought we should dedicate this week’s WW to common spiders of the Nature Center. Spiders are arachnids, along with scorpions, daddy-long-legs, Camel Spiders, and Whip Scorpions (amongst others). Spiders have 2 body sections (the abdomen and the cephalothorax), 8 legs, 2 front arms called pedipalps, and usually have 8 eyes. All spiders are predatory, and use venom to subdue and digest their prey, though none of the species in our park are seriously venomous enough to harm people.

The Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis) is one of the most commonly seen spiders here, especially under rocks and logs. They are free roaming spiders, and do not inhabit webs. They’re often encountered this time of year carrying an egg sac, or carrying around dozens of babies on their backs. These large brown spiders are often mistaken for tarantulas, but they’re not quite as hairy, and not quite as large. Though the venom isn’t medically injurious to humans, it is painful, so you should avoid handling this spider.

Orchard Orbweavers (Leucage venusta) are commonly found hanging out on webs found on bushes, trees, and other low vegetation all throughout the park. As with other orbweavers, the female constructs a typical orbweb, but also constructs other protective silk web structures around the main web, making it a little more complex than many other orbweaver webs. The males are much smaller, and hang out around the edges of the web, venturing in occasionally to steal food and mate with the female (if they’re able to avoid getting killed and eaten by the female). This little spider is easily identified by the bright orange spots that appear on the bottom of the abdomens of older females.

A really awesome spider, found only in the Cypress Pond at the South End of the park, is the Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton), which is known for running across the surface of the water. These large leggy water walkers prey on a wide variety of aquatic creatures, like:  minnows, tadpoles, aquatic insects, and even other spiders!

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at common and fascinating spiders at the Nature Discovery Center, and that you get a chance to go out look for them in the park sometime.

Thanks for joining us, see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Photographs: Top image – Wolf spider face by Thomas Shahan (Wikimedia); Wolf Spider by John Flannery (Flickr); Orchard Orbweaver by Kaldari (Wikimedia); Fishing Spider by Stephen Little (Flickr)

 

 

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The Nature Discovery Center is “Just Right”

We are so pleased to be able to share this visitor letter with you and we hope that, in your own way, you find the Nature Discovery Center to be “Just right!”


Just Right

Gretchen is 3 years old. Our first trip to the Nature Discovery Center began at the playground. We meandered through what must have seemed to her like a magical forest right out of a favorite children’s book. The path invited her to explore the wooded area with lizards, frogs, dragonflies, and butterflies. There were quiet places to sit, and we saw birds, as well as the beloved bunnies. The path areas are not manicured or forced into landscaping, but instead they are tenderly tended to allow the plants, trees, and animals to be themselves. Gretchen was encouraged by her environment to touch and examine the wooded area and become part of nature.

The park is about the discovery of nature AND the nature of discovery.

The “magic forest” path opens to an old house that looks as though a kindly crone might be in residence. Once inside this old home, young children are at home. Every room feels like it could belong to the child, because indeed, they do belong to the children. Drawers with specimens to touch, prod, and caress are worn with age and sticky fingers. Children are invited to linger and learn in a room with child size furniture and books. And in addition, there is a whole ocean room that invites children to play hide and seek while matching names to sea creatures.

Gretchen opened drawers and carefully poked and petted fur, animal skeletons, and all manner of “stuff.” The room is set up to allow children to follow their own curiosity and learning timeline. Having a setting that is unhurried and filled with unlimited possibilities is a treasure. And everything is touchable!

Matthew is 6 years old. His trip to the Nature Discovery Center coincided with a birthday party that was ending. While the parents gathered and cleaned, Matthew made a new friend and the two boys romped up and down the stairs and played in the ocean room. Two little pirates sailed the seven seas of their imaginations. The same rooms in which Gretchen had quietly opened drawers and looked at books became an adventure playground to the little boys. The house and discovery rooms are built for multiple experiences.

My grandchildren live in Blacksburg, Virginia. I have memberships to the major museums in Houston, but they asked frequently if we’re going back to the house with the drawers this summer. Of course we are! Of all the museums and parks in Houston, the Nature Discovery Center is like “Goldilocks:” not too big, not too small, but just right. The home invites touch and play, sticky fingers and all. Children are part of the ocean and woods and open fields. The walk on the path, into the house, and up the stairs is, for a young child, a walk of wonder and excitement mixed with comfort.

Everything about the Nature Discovery Center is “just right.”

~ a local Grandparent


Please donate to our midyear appeal to help us help families like this Grandma’s, and like your own, continue to connect with nature.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Recent Butterfly Sightings at the Nature Center

Wildlife Wednesday: Recent Butterfly Sightings at the Nature Center

Springtime is a great time to see butterflies at the Nature Discovery Center. You may see one fluttering through the forest, visiting our wildflower gardens around the Henshaw House, or flitting from flower to flower in the Pocket Prairie. In this week’s Wildlife Wednesday, we’ll have a look at few species of butterfly that have appeared over the last few weeks.

Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae, above photo) are one of our most common butterflies in the park. Not actually related to other fritillaries, these butterflies are actually a kind of longwing or Heliconian butterfly. While the adults will feed on nectar from a variety of flower species, the larvae (caterpillars) will only feed on passionvines (Passiflora spp., Left photo). Passionvine leaves are toxic, and in turn the caterpillars are toxic, as are the adults. The bright orange and black coloration acts as a warning. Gulf Fritillaries have a wingspan of about 3.5 inches.

Another common species of butterfly in this park is the large black Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus), which can often be seen flying in an undulating manner through the forested sections of the park, but is really common all over. These large black butterflies have a 4 inch wingspan, and often fly close to the ground. The larvae feed on plants in the Laurel family, like Sweetbay, Red Bay, Spicebush, and non-native Camphor trees.

A butterfly that is not so common in the park, but that recently made an appearance is the gorgeous little Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus). We saw one feeding on white clover flowers near the Pocket Prairie a few days ago. These blue and brown butterflies have long projections on the hindwings, which look like 2 tails. They lay their eggs, and the larvae feed on plants in the legume family, like wild peas, wisteria, beans, and various others.

Thanks for joining us for another Wildlife Wednesday! Come out to the park soon, and see if you can spot some of these butterflies in the wild.

See you soon,

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

photos: Gulf Fritillary and Passionflower by Eric Duran; Spicebush swallowtail by Greg Hume | Flickr; Long-tailed Skipper by John Flannery | Flickr

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Wildlife Wednesday: Common Turtles of the Nature Center

Wildlife Wednesday: Common Turtles of the Nature Center

Welcome to the 3rd and final look at common reptiles of the Nature Discovery Center. This week, we review the turtles that are found here in the park. It’s a little misleading to talk about the “three most common turtles of the park”, because, while there are many turtle species found around the Houston area, we only have three species of turtle found in the park.

The Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene triunguis) is our most common species of turtle, and is therefore the one you’re most likely to see. As with most box turtle species, they’re terrestrial, and tend to be associated with forested and semi-forested habitats. They are rather omnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of mushrooms, berries, flowers, insects and other small invertebrates. Also like other box turtles, their lower shell (the plastron) is hinged, which allows them to pull inside their shell and then close it up tightly. Three-toed Box Turtles usually have a caramel colored shell, which may have darker markings as well, and the males will will have various colorful markings around the face and legs. Males are larger and have reddish eyes, and the females have yellowish eyes.

Look for these turtles walking through all sections of the park.

Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata) also occur in the park, but much less frequently. These terrestrial turtles are associated more with open grassland habitats. They are omnivorous, but tend to eat more insects and small animals than other species of box turtle. They have been known to hang around cow and bison patties, and feed on the dung beetles that are attracted to them. Ornate box turtles, and indeed most North American box turtles, are inedible to humans and some other animals, because they feed on toxic mushrooms, which turns their flesh toxic (for us). Ornate box turtles have dark shells with yellowish rays on each scute (sections of the shell). The larger males often have bright olive colored heads and bright red eyes.

As far as we can tell, there is only one ornate box turtle currently in the park, and its randomly seen through the summer, walking near open areas of the parks

Just a note: With most species of terrestrial turtles, the males grow to be larger, and with most species of aquatic turtles, the females grow to be larger.

The only species of aquatic turtle that lives in our park is the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), which is also one of the most commonly encountered aquatic turtles in the Houston area. This is one of the “basking turtles”, aquatic turtles in the family Emydidae that are often seen basking in the sunshine on pond banks, rocks, and logs. Sliders are ominvorous turtles, but start out their lives as primarily carnivorous, and shift to a more plant based diet as they grow older. Despite the name, the red marks on the sides of their heads do not correspond exactly with the location of the ears. While the shells of the juveniles may be elaborately marked with yellow and green lines, the patterns fade away (eventually to black or dark gray), as they mature. Older individuals may even lose all markings and become totally black (a color condition called “advanced melanism”).

Look for baby red-ears in our Cypress Pond at the South end of the park.

Well thanks for joining us for another Wildlife Wednesday, we hope you get a chance to get out into the park soon and encounter some of our fascinating native turtles.

See you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Photographs: Three-toed Box Turtles by Eric Duran; Ornate Box Turtle by Andrew Dubois | Flickr; Red-eared Slider by Allan Hack | Flickr

*For any of you who are reptile enthusiasts, and perhaps confused or vexed by some our taxonomy choices, in most cases, we go by the 2016 4th Edition of the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America by Powell, Conant, and Collins.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Common Snakes of the Discovery Center

Wildlife Wednesday: Common Snakes of the Discovery Center

Last Week, we started our 3 week look at the common reptiles of the Nature Discovery Center. This week, we’re looking at the only 3 species of snake that have been seen in the park with any regularity.

The Rough Earth Snake (Haldea or Virginia striulata) is the most commonly encountered snake at the Nature Center. This small small all-brown snake only reaches a length of up to 10 inches, and only larger older females reach that length. Earth snakes are fossorial (spending most of their time underground), and are found under leaf litter, logs, and rocks. They are often found in home gardens. Earth snakes feed mainly on earthworms, but also take other small soft-bodied invertebrates.

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus orarius) are easily recognizable, with long black and yellow stripes. They have thin bodies, and reach a maximum length of up to ~20 inches. They prefer to live near bodies of fresh water, like lakes, ponds, and small streams. Ribbon snakes are live bearing, like vipers and non-venomous water snakes. They eat a wide variety of things; such as small fish, frogs and salamanders, small reptiles, and earthworms.

The Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platyrhinos) is one of the few creatures that can eat toads (with their toxic skin). Hognoses are (mildly) rear-fanged venomous, and use those fangs in the rear of their mouths to pop the toads which they eat (toads inflate themselves with air to keep from being swallowed). These snakes are known for spreading their hoods, like a small cobra, and hissing loudly when threatened. If that doesn’t drive away a potential predator, they flip over and play dead (even letting their tongue hang out and emitting a foul death like odor).

Thanks for joining us for another Wildlife Wednesday. Come back next week for another look at the park’s reptiles. Come out to the park sometime soon, and see if you can find some of these commons snakes.

See you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

 

Photographs: Earth Snake by Kyle Weiring | Wikipedia; Earth Snake by Eric Duran; Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake by TheWanderingHerpetologist | Flickr; Eastern Hognose by Peter Paplanus | Flickr; Hognose by Marvin Smith | Flickr

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