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) 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) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.