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New Snake Species for Russ Pitman Park

By Eric Duran, Staff Naturalist

On Tuesday, May 7, 2019 during a light rain, I went out flipping logs to add a couple of species to the previous day’s bio-blitz, and found quite a surprise… a Brahminy Blindsnake (Indotyphlops brahminensis).

These non-native (introduced) snakes are not only extremely rare in Texas, but are only recently known from a few records in Harris County. It was an exciting find! Also known as the “Flowerpot snake,” it is believed that they spread around the tropical and semi-tropical areas of the world through in the loose soil of flowerpots. They are originally from somewhere around the coastal areas of East Africa and South and SE Asia, along the Indian Ocean.

Every wild specimen that has ever been collected or observed has been found to be female. They seem to reproduce asexually through a process called parthenogenesis, in which they lay eggs (or give birth, we’re not actually sure) to identical copies of the mother, each baby a clone of a clone. They live in leaf litter, loose soil, and under rocks and logs. Their diet consists mainly of ants, ant eggs and larvae, and termites.

Blindsnakes are very thin and small, and have barely functioning eyes housed under translucent or even opaque eye scales (eyes are not generally important, if you spend most of your time under cover or underground). They have a depressed lower jaw that helps it keep dirt out of its mouth while it’s burrowing. As with other species of burrowing snake, they do not have wide belly scales for moving across the ground efficiently.

Upon finding this snake for the first time at the Nature Center, we had to make sure that it wasn’t one of the native species. In Texas, we have 3 native species of blindsnake, the Texas blindsnake being the closest native species to Harris County (occurring here only sporadically). Our closest native blind snake can be pinkish-brown to dark brown, and the Brahminy can be dark black to dark brown… so we couldn’t just use coloration to determine the species of our little friend. A couple of us got to do some real herpetology, and dig into the Texas snake books. The Brahminy has up to 20 rows of mid-dorsal scales, while the native species has only up to 14. Also, the vent (back opening) and the tail tip are whitish on the Brahminy. A little macro-photography helped us to zoom in on these characteristics, and determine confidently that we had what we thought we had.

This was an exiting find for the naturalists on staff, and added another species to our park snake list; along with Rough Earth Snake, Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, Eastern Hognose Snake, Texas Ratsnake, Diamondback Watersnake, Broad-banded Watersnake, and Yellowbelly Watersnake (which we only recently found living near the Cypress Pond at the South end of the park).

Let us know if you photograph any snakes in our park, or if you have seen any cool snakes in your own yard!

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SNAIL INVASION!

This past April 13th, during our Spring Fling Festival, an unwelcome discovery was made. One of our volunteers was dip-netting in the pond with kids, as part of a pond study, and discovered a live Apple Snail in the Cypress Pond (along with a few bright pink egg masses).

Apple Snails are a non-native invasive species of  freshwater snail from South America. They are very common in the pet/aquarium trade as a display species. When some people want to break down their aquaria, they dump unwanted pets into local water bodies, like bayous, creeks, lakes, and ponds. Because of this, Apple Snails have become a part of aquatic eco-systems across the South, especially in Houston and Florida. They can be rather harmful to eco-systems where they have been introduced, eating up much of the native water plants.

We immediately sprung into action, and have been attempting to physically remove them from the Cypress Pond, as well as hunting down their egg masses and destroying them. Apple Snails lay their eggs in clusters above the water line, on emergent vegetation, so they are fairly easy to find (also they are a very bright pink). So far, we have removed 3 live snails from the pond, and destroyed around 12 egg masses. The snails now live comfortably in a volunteer’s aquarium.

We continue to check back at the pond every day. Thankfully, it’s a small pond, and easy to manage.  In other larger eco-systems where they are released, they are very difficult to manage for. We’ll keep you updated on our efforts to remove this invasive species from our park.

Eric Duran

Staff Naturalist

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Heather Sullivan Brings New Mindfulness Classes to Center

We’re pleased to announce a new “Mindfulness in Nature” class series being offered by Heather Sullivan at the Nature Discovery Center this spring. Practicing mindfulness in nature allows you to focus your awareness on the present moment, your thoughts and feelings, and your environment, and can help you reduce the stress that comes from leading a hectic life.

Heather, a trained Mindfulness Educator, is passionate about teaching kids and adults the tools to cope with stress and develop a more mindful approach to life in order to nurture a positive state of mind. She currently teaches a mindfulness class at Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary and is working with schools in Spring Branch ISD to teach mindfulness to teachers.

Heather’s Mindfulness in Nature series here in Russ Pitman Park will start on Friday, April 26 and will run for 4 weeks as a pilot program. Classes will start at 12:30 pm and will last for about an hour. You are welcome to sign up for individual dates or for the whole series.

Learn more and register online here.

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March 2019 Wired to Nature

Duran, E. (3/2019) Look! Up in the sky! Our spring bird migration has begun.  Essentials, p. 15

Wired to Nature is the Nature Discovery Center’s regular column in Essentials, a monthly magazine published by InstantNewsNetwork that covers the Bellaire and West University communities. Essentials may be read online at https://current.essentialsmagazines.com/

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New Small Mammal Added to our Menagerie

Our new male Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec at the nature Discovery Center.

We’re super excited to announce a new addition to our menagerie of live animals at the Center, a super adorable male Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec. Our little guy doesn’t have a name yet and we are open to suggestions! You can leave a comment here or look out for a Facebook Live video later this week and add your name ideas to the comments then. Note that he isn’t quite ready for visitors, but we’ll be sure to tell you when he is! 🙂

Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec (Echinops telfairi)

Tenrecs are found on the island of Madagascar. Though they look and act very much like hedgehogs, they are actually not closely related to them. They are nocturnal, wandering the night in search of insects, worms, and other small invertebrates. If bothered, they will roll into a ball, exposing only their pointy spines. Tenrecs are good climbers, and will make their dens in tree cavities, as well as in and under logs. They mark their territories and communicate by scent marking objects.

Many thanks to Charity Tutt (https://www.facebook.com/charity.tutt) for placing this sweet rescue animal with us!

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Center Seeks Head Counselor for Summer Science Camp

We are looking for a Head Counselor for our Summer Science Day Camp for children (ages 5 to 11). Our camp runs weekly from June 4 to August 20th, and is Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5:30. You may apply for the job even if you cannot commit to all camp weeks. (We may have two Head Counselors during the summer.)

The Head Counselor helps the camp teacher manage camper behavior and engagement in camp activities and helps guide volunteer teen counselors (age 13 to 17). The teacher and campers may need help with crafts, hikes, snacks, play time and clean up. The teacher will be in charge of the camp curriculum, but the Head Counselor will be in charge of all the activities for our after care program from 3:30 to 5:30. This job responsibility includes coming up with group games, supervising nature play and Discovery Room visits, and more.

 

Head Counselor requirements:

Some experience at a camp or school for children.
Ability to delegate to other counselors.
Willingness and ability to create activities for aftercare.
Patience, energetic and upbeat attitude, leadership skills, and ability to multitask.

Head Counselor Pay: $10 per hour

To apply for this position: submit a cover letter and resume to the attention of Anne Eisner, Program Coordinator at Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle, Bellaire, Texas 77401. Applications will be reviewed as they are received starting today. Please submit your application by May 1, 2018.

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