A few of our innumerable critters

I often despise Texas for its backwoods politics, its heat and humidity, its terrible environmental record, its whore’s relationship with petroleum, and its destruction of habitat resulting in the extinction or endangerment of more plants and animals than you can shake a stick at.  But the flip side of that coin is that Texas

  • is second only to California in overall biodiversity.
  • has more bird, reptile and butterfly species than anywhere else in the U.S., and only California has more mammal and plant species.
  • hosts 99.9% of the eastern population of monarch butterflies on their autumnal and vernal migrations, and provides the nursery for spring’s first generation of these insects as they move north from Mexico and begin repopulating the area east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • ranks third in the nation for the number of species unique to the state.
  • has 126 vertebrate species found nowhere else on the planet (out of 1,245 total species).
  • has more wild cat species than anywhere else in North America.
  • has more bird species than anywhere else in North America, with more than 620 species and subspecies that overwinter, migrate, breed and nest, and/or reside in the state.
  • contains upwards of 30,000 insect species, though the total number is unknown since insects represent more than half the planet’s total biomass.
  • ranks fifth in the U.S. for the total number of amphibian species.
  • has 11 identifiably distinct ecological regions.
  • is home to more than 5,500 plant species, of which 426 occur nowhere else on the planet.
  • provides winter refuge for the world’s last remaining 100% wild migratory flock of whooping cranes, which also happens to be North America’s largest flock of this critically endangered species.
  • contains the only natural mixing ground for many eastern and western species that otherwise do not cross the Rocky Mountains.

Needless to say, one can ignore the many anthropocentric and anthropogenic shortcomings of this state when one considers the natural magic found within its borders.  So imagine what spell cloaked me as I waltzed through my photo collection and marveled at how I too often ignore the dance of many reptiles and amphibians who live so near.

Sure, I’ve posted plenty of anoles and geckos and alligators and snakes—though not as many as I’d like—but imagine my dismay at stumbling over a veritable horde of critters who make this a great place to live: the diverse group of toads and frogs and lizards filling every available ecological niche.

Consider this a sample of what lives here that I’ve never shown before.  And aren’t they a beautiful sampling of the goodies inhabiting the vast expanse of Texas…

A Rocky Mountain toad (a.k.a. western Woodhouse’s toad; Bufo woodhousii woodhousii) hiding in a shallow stream (20080727_10229)

A Rocky Mountain toad (a.k.a. western Woodhouse’s toad; Bufo woodhousii woodhousii) waiting patiently in a shallow stream.  Waiting for what?  For me to leave, of course!  It had been resting patiently on a rock until I meandered up and intruded upon its cloudy day.  Only then did it take a wee dip in the water so it could watch me.

A juvenile five-lined skink (a.k.a. blue-tailed skink or red-headed skink; Eumeces fasciatus) resting on landscape timbers (20080809_10588)

A juvenile five-lined skink (a.k.a. blue-tailed skink or red-headed skink; Eumeces fasciatus) emerged from its verdant cover so it could grab what little light a cloudy sky offered.  Resting atop old railroad ties that serve as landscape timbers, this young lizard never flinched and never reacted to my presence.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) hiding in the grass (20080921_12719)

No larger than my thumbnail, this northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) caught my attention not because it moved as I walked by, but rather because it seemed lacking in the green so virulent around its position.  I had to stop and look at what might be there.  Thankfully I did.  Thought I admit it vanished into the ground cover as soon as I snapped the first image.

A southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) sitting beneath some bushes (2009_04_16_015463)

I hate using flash for any picture.  Nevertheless, I had to so I could capture the visage of this southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) who hid in the dark recesses of brush along a creek’s edge.  Only by stumbling down the embankment could I even see it, and only by the light of the camera’s flash could it be photographed.  And once the flash went off, the frog disappeared further into thicket I couldn’t enter.

A Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) resting in the sun (2009_05_22_020678)

Beneath coniferous cover and beside some kind of storage tank I couldn’t recognize, this Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) scrambled into daylight just long enough to look at me, to evaluate my threat, to consider my disposition.  Once it felt certain I wasn’t hunting, it scampered along in pursuit of one of its brethren.

A ground skink (a.k.a. little brown skink; Scincella lateralis) huddled at the base of a tree (2009_07_06_026106)

Growing back its tail that no doubt served as a diversion so the lizard could escape from a predator, this ground skink (a.k.a. little brown skink; Scincella lateralis) huddled near the base of a tree one evening and was all but invisible in the waning light.  Passersby thought me insane as I stood in near darkness snapping photos of what seemed like nothing more interesting than tree roots.

A tiny baby toad perched on the edge of a sidewalk (2009_07_25_027794)

A little toad (unidentified) hopped upon the sidewalk as I walked by.  For scale, the distance from the toad’s position to the brown gravel below is about one inch/two centimeters.  Needless to say I oohed and aahed as I knelt nearby and looked at this minuscule life who seemed small enough to blow away in the next gentle breeze.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) resting in soft morning sunlight (2009_09_26_029186)

Another northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) froze atop a dead leaf so I wouldn’t see it.  Too late.  Thankfully this one played stoic while I stumbled about in the early morning light trying to find the best view.  Sunlight dappling through the dew-covered grass made for a perfect shot.

5 thoughts on “A few of our innumerable critters”

  1. The list of bragging rights for Texas flora and fauna is great! I agree with you about liking the Texas geography and wildlife much more than the type of Texan often standing in front of a TV camera.

    What a great set of herps! I mentioned on 10,000 birds the other day that it would be cool if we had a reptile & amphibian (herp) carnival. I very often find myself observing, photographing, and writing about them. Ted at Beetles in the Bush seconded the notion. I wonder…think we might kick the idea around a bit?

    1. “I agree with you about liking the Texas geography and wildlife much more than the type of Texan often standing in front of a TV camera.” ROFLMAO!!! What a great way to put it.

      I had fun doing the research on those bragging rights. Some of it I already knew and some of it I’d not see before, but none of it surprised me.

      I’m shocked there’s not a herp carnival somewhere. I think it’s a great idea. Hard to believe no one has thought of it before. Though I’ve historically been less than consistent with carnival participation, I keep trying to do better–so yes, I’d love to help get this one off the ground.

  2. Thanks for your beautiful pictures. I have had a lizard living in my peacoat all winter, and yesterday I found him cling to my window sheers. I guess he/she has decided it was spring. It is a Texas Spiny lizard very similar to the one pictured here. It will be going out to a shed that has lots of bugs and crevices.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Karen! And I appreciate the compliment. I’m glad you like the photos.

      I’m tickled at your lizard. Yes, it’s about time for them to stir. Good to hear you already have a good spot for it with plenty to eat and a bit of shelter.

  3. So here I am moving chairs & flower pots in my yard in
    Williamson County, TX and I see the most amazing reptile…its
    tiny, very tiny and snakelike, slithering quickly on its belly…no
    legs. And when the sunlight hits him he displays to me his shiny
    and luminous bronze skin. I’ve never seen anything like it!! As I
    move the pots it continues to invade me, but I need a photo. I go
    inside grab my iPhone but it’s too late. He has barricaded himself
    between the wall and the pot and I’ll have to move slyly to get a
    photo that’s not too dark. I capture one, but it does it no
    justice. I Google bronze reptiles and I eventually discover I just
    seen a little brown skink… Although I would much prefer little
    “bronze” skink…gorgeous.

Leave a Reply