Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rough Earth Snake

Rough Earth Snake, Virginia striatula
The Rough Earth Snake is a small, slender snake reaching between 18-25 cm (7-10 in) with keeled scales and a pointed snout. Found throughout most of the southeastern United States, these snakes prefer leaf litter and soil where they hunt earthworms almost exclusively. Unlike the majority of squamate reptiles, the rough earth snake is viviparous, or live-bearing, birthing up to ten young in the summer. There is also sexual dimorphism in this species where females are longer, heavier, and have shorter tails than males.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

American Green Tree Frog

American Green Tree Frog, Hyla cinerea
The American Green Tree Frog, unrelated to the Australian Green Tree Frog, is a common find along the central and southeastern United States. These frogs prefer habitats such as ponds, lakes, marshes, and streams with plenty of floating vegetation and a more open forest canopy. Contrary to the name, the dorsal color can vary from bright green to reddish brown. The white or yellow lateral striping is not present in all individuals, and the stripe on the lip may be absent. As with other arboreal hylids, there are toepads present to aid in climbing. The green tree frog has a loud, constant call that is often compared to barking or nasal-like honking.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


First instar Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus
Most juvenile arthropods experience stages between molting known as instars, or stadiums. It is a period of rapid growth after molting and before the hardening of the new cuticle. While mass changes during an instar, sclerotized parts change in size only during a molt. The number of instars varies for each arthropod, and in some species, between individuals. Many assassin bugs, for example, have five instars where the immature nymphs resemble adults, but are wingless. Although instars vary per species, energy is critical in this stage for adequate growth to reach the adult form.

Previous Assassin Bug Posts: [1][2][3]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides
The Tawny Frogmouth is often confused for an owl, but truly belongs to the Caprimulgiformes order which includes nightjars, nighthawks, and potoos. A nocturnal insectivore, the tawny frogmouth can be found throughout most of Australia down through Tasmania. They live in almost any habitat with the exception of dense rainforests and treeless deserts. The common name frogmouth comes from their wide, frog-like mouth which is triangular and hooked. Although they average a length of 44 cm (17.3 in), like many of the smaller caprimulgiform birds, they do enter a shallow state of torpor in winter during the coldest part of the night. While quite abundant, the tawny frogmouth is often a victim of car accidents as it chases insects drawn to the beam of headlights.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Common Potoo

Common Potoo(s), Nyctibius griseus griseus
The Common Potoo, or Grey Potoo, is a neotropical bird of the nightjar family found throughout most of South America. As with many of the members of the Caprimulgiformes, these nocturnal insectivores are sometimes confused for owls. While there has been debate as to the classification of this order, there are some similar characteristics such as a wide gaping mouth and roosting spot preference.

Excellent camouflage of mother and juvenile common potoo.
Camouflage plays an important role in the survival of this species where during the day they look like simple tree branching. The common potoo has a large range, but population trends show a decrease likely from habitat destruction. The vast range, nocturnal habits, and limited research within the region has left much to still be discovered about this particular species and its proposed subspecies.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Autumn Sage

Autumn (Greg's) Sage, Salvia greggii
Autumn Sage, also known as Greg's Sage, is a perennial, semi-evergreen, shrub native to Texas and Mexico. Although not winter hardy, this plant is otherwise adaptable to a variety of conditions and soils. The genus Salvia is the true name for sages, and as expected, Autumn Sage has aromatic leaves.

While I've already covered Autumn Sage, it is truly a beautiful plant. There is also the matter of me realizing that my original intended post for today had a perfect match elsewhere. In other words, next week will be another theme week!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina
The common snapping turtle is one of two mostly carnivorous species of snapping turtle found within Texas. Not to be confused with the alligator snapping turtle, the common snapping turtle has a smooth flat shell that appears proportionally smaller compared to the rest of its body. The carapace can reach up to 50 cm (20 in) by adulthood and they may weigh close to 16 kg (35 lbs). The snapping turtle is known for its powerful, hard beak which contains rough edges to tear food. As a mostly aquatic species, their diet is mainly composed of fish, insects, frogs, snakes, other turtles, crayfish, birds, and anything else obtainable.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus
The Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, is an iconic bird of both folklore and media. Found throughout the south and southwestern United States down into Mexico, the roadrunner is most often associated with the desert, but can be found in savannah, open woodlands, and similar habitats. The roadrunner prefers to walk or run rather than fly, and can reach running speeds of up to 30 km/h (18.6 mph).

These birds are known for being opportunistic eaters, preying on birds at feeders, in bird banding nets, or bird boxes. They will eat what they can catch including venomous snakes and scorpions, in addition to cactus, hummingbirds, eggs, and anything else available. Due to their impressive diet, and false belief of being the cause of the declining quail population, the greater roadrunner was one of the last bird species given state protection in Texas. The US Migratory Bird Act has protected this native species at a national level.

This was camera phone photography, but I hope to get a better photograph with a real camera. If/when I do, I'll have a follow-up post on the greater roadrunner.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Western Cottonmouth

Western Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma
The Western Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma, also known as a Water Moccasin, is a semi-aquatic, venomous snake found throughout the southeastern United States up through most of Texas. Unlike the more recognizable and venomous Copperhead, the cottonmouth is easily confused for other snakes such as the Texas Rat Snake, Yellow-bellied Racer, and Yellow-bellied Water Snake. As with any snake, there is variation especially in the juveniles. As with any venomous snake, there are precautions to take and reasons to leave them be and let them live.

While any wild snake should be left as is, there are a number of ways to determine whether or not the snake is harmless. As a pit viper, the cottonmouth has facial pits and, like some but not all vipers, elliptical eye pupils. The pupil will be hard to see without risk of a bite, and will be more round at night, but another characteristic is the eye "mask" marking. The cottonmouth is also known for its stout, thick-body and for holding its head above water, it's body floating unlike other water snakes. Although many will say that a venomous snake has a triangular head, it is important to know that a number of snakes, including the Texas Rat Snake, can flare their head to look triangular. Using a similar technique, while a harmless water snake may not be venomous, it may be as aggressive, if not more so, than a cottonmouth.

Preferring water and a diet of fish, cottonmouths are much less likely to be seen around suburban areas than the copperhead. Even so, always take precautions during snake season: using a flashlight at night, looking before you reach, and removing brush piles (perfect homes) from near the house. With any snake, they are best left alone. A snake may be venomous, but remember they are only following the food. Without them, your house would be covered with hantavirus-filled mouse and rat droppings.

Here in most of Texas snake season has returned. I already ran into a cottonmouth yesterday (I left him be, he left me be). Cold weather may slow them down, but it's time for the snakes to come out of hibernation to eat. Remember: snakes are misunderstood friends, not enemies. Don't bother them and they won't bother you. When in doubt, walk the other way.