About Texas Wild

Hello all and welcome to my first attempt at blogging. I am currently an associate professor of wildlife biology at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU or WT) and have been an avid wildlife watcher and outdoors enthuiast my whole life. I grew up in Florida and loved all the water. I remember getting off the bus in elementary school and rushing home to put on cut-offs and my creek shoes. I would head to Gee Creek and wade up stream catching snakes, turtles, and anything else I could get my hands on. Later, one of my favorite places to explore was the area where Gee Creek and several other streams emptied into Lake Jessup. Jessup has always been known for its large alligator population and it was larger when I explored it than it is currently (421 alligators per linear mile of shoreline according to a 2012 article in the Orlando Sentinal). Despite the large number of large alligators observed, I never felt threatened (except when I tried to touch a basking 8-footer on the tail -- he opened his eyes and raised his head when I was about a foot from touching him. We both quickly agreed this was a bad idea and I backed away and left him in his sunny spot on my trail out of the swamp). I loved this area for many reasons but especially for the fact that once you crossed the wide slough created by the creeks, you found a world devoid of people and a taste of old Florida. Following high school, I enlisted as an infantryman in the Army. I served from 1986-1990 and was stationed in Georgia for Basic and Advanced Infantry Training and Airborne School. The first 5 times I ever left the eastern time zone I landed by parachute at a drop zone in Alabama. For that matter, I had only been in a large plane one time prior to airborne school and that was my flight from Tampa to Atlanta for Basic Training. Out of my first 6 flights in large airplanes, I only landed with the plane 1 time. Following the Army, I enrolled at Kansas State University where I received my B.S. in wildlife biology. I followed this with a Masters in Biology where my research focused on swift foxes in western Kansas, and a Ph.D. where I studied factors that influenced the spatial and temporal variation in abundance of short-tailed shrews (one of only a few venomous mammals). In addition to going to school in Kansas, I learned to love the prairie there and spent a lot of time traveling around the state exploring. My next stop was Wooster Ohio where I worked for a year as a visiting assistant professor. There were great students there and despite my preconceived notions, Ohio was quite nice. I still miss the amphibian migrations that occur during the first warm rains in spring. I then was offered the job at WTAMU where I have been since 2002. WTAMU is located in the panhandle of Texas in the city of Canyon (just south of Amarillo). At about 3,500' in elevation, Canyon sits atop the southern High Plains and can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter (blizzards, etc.). I have been fortunate to travel to most of Texas and to almost all of the states in the US. My reason for starting this blog is to share with you the wonderful wildlife we have in the panhandle, the state, and our own country. I believe that through knowledge comes appreciation and hope to do my best to share my knowledge and enthuiasm for all things wild! By the way, this is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

A rat you might even find attractive: Hispid Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus)

The hispid cotton rat gets its name from the grizzled appearance of its pelage which is a mix of dark brown and black hairs with lighter brown or grey hairs.  The cotton rat is a smallish rat with males rarely reaching a 1/2 pound and these rodents are generally not going to be found in barns or buildings like the exotic Norway rat.  Their diet is composed largely of plant matter and they are generally a grassland species.  They can be found throughout Texas and the southeast US from Kansas east and south to the Carolinas and Florida.

Sticky situation – porcupine quill close up

close-up image of a porcupine quill

Porcupine quill close-up – why you don’t want to get stuck

Not that most people need encouragement to keep a safe distance from a porcupine but if you tangle with these passive critters they are protected by modified hairs or quills.  These quills cover most of the body but are especially concentrated on the porcupine’s back and tail.  Porcupines cannot shot their quills but will swat at potential predators with their tail.  The quills easily pull out of the porcupine once they embed into a potential predator because of the barbs you see visible in the photo above.

Up close and personal with the Pallid Bat: Texas Wild Style

The pallid bat is local commonly along the escarpment and canyon lands of the Texas Panhandle and most of western Texas.  These bats are crevice roosting bats that use echolocation for means of feeding and navigation. “Pallid” refers to the blond coloration of this bat.  These large-eared bats are known for taking prey off the ground or out of the air. Prey for this species is composed largely of invertebrates and includes large and dangerous items such as scorpions and centipedes.

Climbing Corpses-Our first competition

Texas Wild just submitted our first film for competition on Vimeo. We would love for you to check out our submission at http://www.vimeo.com/groups/WILDtoINSPIRE. It is titled Climbing Corpses. Let us know what you think!

The Texas Brown Tarantula

The Texas Brown Tarantula is one of Texas Wilds favorite arachnids to film and is probably a common sight for people who live in Texas and throughout the south due the species abundance.  It is also become a staple in the pet trade due to its docile nature but despite this, many people find this animals to be in the least: displeasing.
Tarantulas may be found in variety of habitats, ranging from grassy prairie to rocky canyon terrain. Males are commonly seen roaming about in late August searching for a female. They inhabit burrows which they lined with webbing, and with a little patience, soft hands and some luck, a tarantula can be coerced out of its burrow with the allure of false prey.  These large creatures are very docile and will not readily retaliate when disturbed. In fact the most common defensive displays exhibited by these brown giants is a brisk run away or a gentle walk. One of the  more intense displays to detour predation is the rearing up of the forelegs to reveal its fangs. When this rouse fails the tarantula will use its rear legs to release urticating hairs that in some cases causes irritation. Signs of this defensive behavior are balding or thinning of hairs on the abdomen.  The gentle giants can reached sizes exceeding 3 inches through as series of molts. As the tarantula grows, it sheds it exoskeleton, remaining motionless for a prolong period of time as its new exoskeleton hardens. Serious damage even death can result if the tarantula is disturbed during this period.  Texas brown tarantulas feed on invertebrates and occasionally small rodents. In turn the tarantula can quickly find itself being feed on. Tarantula hawks are a well known species of wasp that utilize tarantulas for their offspring.  A tarantula hawk will sting a tarantula, place it inside a nest where it will then lay an egg upon the tarantula. Once this is done, the tarantula hawk larvae will bore into the tarantula slowly eating it alive over the course of its maturation.

Texas Wild goes batty

This past weekend Texas Wild made their way down to Quitaque to mist net for bats at Clarity Tunnel. Thought the trip didn’t quite go the way we planned,  forgetting keys and sick crew members, we still persevered!  Due to the lack of keys, the mist net location was moved into Caprock Canyon, more specifically a river bed just below our camp site, where we netted two species of bat, the Pallid and Canyon.  As per usual standard operating procedure we camp without a tent and enjoyed a night filled with bats, a mesquite fire and heavy heavy dew…. we hope you enjoy this short video giving you a brief view into a night well spent!

Texas Wild Gives Thanks

It’s hard to believe that with such a heavy work load, I manage everything on my plate. I am proud to say that I, alongside Professor Raymond Matlack, was asked to present at this month’s Student Service Division breakfast —— to showcase our work with Texas Wild. It was a bigger turn out than I expected – with welcoming personalities adding up to an overall delightful experience.  To be asked to be a part of an event like that for our university is in my book, BIG, very BIG.  Most people don’t know or forget that I am still an undergrad, just someone who has worked themselves to the bone (as well as Raymond Matlack) to have something to call my own. To be recognized alongside Raymond Matlack, a WT professor is something I cannot let go unnoticed. It is a rarity to be recognized by an organization such as that one, let along asked to present as a student.  I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to Linda Washington and the Student Service Division who not only welcome me but gave me their morning.  Working with Ray has been an indescribable experience one I do not under appreciate or take for granted.  I recently had a young lady come up to me at WT and speak with me about Texas Wild’s on goings and the presentation we gave. I was dumbfounded and flattered to be approached by   anyone who recognizes our work and follows our doings.  Special thanks to all of you for supporting and aiding Ray and I along our way.

Thank you,

Texas Wild.

Traveling Breakfast Show

Texas Wild is taking the show on the road again. This time we’re traveling across campus to present at the breakfast meeting of the Student Affairs Division. Thanks to Linda Washington for the invite. It doesn’t take much to get TW to share our excitement about wildlife but you certainly had us at free breakfast.