Thursday, January 30, 2014


Shark off the waters of Belize.
The earliest shark ancestor so far discovered can be traced to the Ordovician Period over 450 million years ago. During this time, there was a vast marine diversity, but little diversity on land. While different from modern sharks, the ancestor was still a high-speed predator with sharp teeth.

Fossilized Shark Tooth
As one of the fiercest marine predators, sharks also harbor a disproportionate amount of fear. Of the number of total confirmed shark attacks recorded for centuries, less than a fifth have been fatal. There are greater dangers in the seas such as rip currents and jellyfish, and while jellyfish are deadly, the number of deaths they cause have likely been seriously underestimated due to lack of confirmed deaths. Still, it is far easier to fear a large, sharp-toothed predator rather than a tiny insect no matter the fatality rate.

This post is in response to the recent culling of sharks off the Western Australia coast. The policy states that it is to reduce the risk of shark bites and fatalities. Unfortunately, all this will create are unstable populations in species, which could easily led to a sudden collapse and extinction as was seen in passenger pigeons a century ago. All have their place in their world including large carnivores such as sharks. They help keep populations in check, and if removed, the effects ripple down the food chain until the whole system becomes unbalanced. As with everything else, they have a place and purpose in our environment.

The Google+ post I did mentioning sharks, but with different wording is here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Weathered Roots

Weathered roots along the Bear Lake Trail of the Rocky Mountains.
A bit short on time today, and I forgot to plan ahead. So for today, a simple picture. During the Colorado trip, we came across some beautiful examples of what time and weather will do if you wait long enough.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Carpenter Ants

Black Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus
Carpenter ants are found primarily in wooded areas outdoors. The most commonly known, and largest of the fourteen species in Texas, is the black carpenter ants. Winged reproductive carpenter ants are often confused for wing termites, but can be distinguished by vein wings, elbowed antennae, and a narrow waist between the thorax and abdomen. The size of a single species of carpenter ant can vary drastically from a winged queen ant of about 25 mm (1 in) to a worker of about 5 mm (3/16 in). Once the colony is old enough and large enough, winged ants develop in the nest during summer and leave the following spring and summer. A new nest is made as the winged individuals mate, the male dies, and the female finds a suitable nesting site, removes her wings, and lays up to twenty eggs. As they prefer to nest in dead wood, they are often considered to be a home pest.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor
The Tufted Titmouse is a small bird with a loud voice. They are methodical foragers, often flocking with chickadees, nuthatches, and other feeder birds. While they will eat seed and berries, the majority of their diet consists of a wide variety of invertebrates. The tufted titmouse can be found year-round throughout the eastern and southern portions of the United States.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata
Yellow-rumped Warblers, Setophaga coronata (formerly Dendroica coronata), can be found throughout North America at various times of the year. These migratory birds fly south during the winter and north up through Canada and Alaska during the summer. Their common name comes from the bright yellow rump of both males and females. There are two recognized subspecies: Audubon's Warbler and Myrtle Warbler. They can be found in a variety of habitats including deciduous and coniferous forest, brushy thickets, mixed woodlands, bogs, dunes, and parks. Yellow-rumped Warblers are monogamous and may raise two broods each season. While they mainly forage for insects, they consume nuts and berries in autumn. They are the only warbler able to digest waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles allowing migration further north.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Leaf-footed Bug

Leaf-footed bug on car windshield.
Although very similar in appearance to some assassin bugs, leaf-footed bugs are of the family Coreidae, also sometimes known as squash bugs. They feed off a wide variety of developing fruits and may be considered pests in some areas. Leaf-footed bugs are most often seen between summer and fall in a wide variety of habitats from forests to fields.

Leaf-footed Bug, Acanthocephala sp.
Similar to their stink bug cousins, a leaf-footed bug emits a distinctive odor to ward of a potential predator. These pheromones may be used as an alarm systems and some species have different pheromone alarms. Other species within the Coreidae family exhibit parental care of the eggs, not only to prevent predation, but also to reduce parasitism.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Red and Grey Fox

Wild Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes
Although red foxes and grey foxes are sometimes confused, they are of a completely different genus. Similar to the red fox, grey foxes occupy most of North America, but with a range extending further south and hardly into Canada. While they prefer forest type environments, grey foxes are also opportunistic much like red foxes, preferring meat but eating whatever is in abundance. They also mate during the winter, having litters of up to seven pups.

Legally Rescued* Grey Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Despite their similarities, there are distinct differences between red and grey foxes. A grey fox is an ample climber and one of the only climbers of the canine family. They often den in tree hollows as high as 10 meters (32 feet) up. When escaping pursuit, their preference is to climb out of reach or hide rather than run like their red fox cousin. Unlike the red fox, a grey fox has a distinctive black line running the tail length and no white tip. While they have reddish-brown patches of fur and a white chin, the grey fox lacks the black stockings often seen on a red fox.

* The above grey fox resides at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary after legal rescue and transfer by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It is on display under the education display permit EDU-0609-114 from Texas Parks and Wildlife. It is illegal to hold any native wildlife in the state of Texas (or native bird in the United States) without a proper permit.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Red Fox

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes
The most widely distributed carnivore in the world, the red fox may or may not be native to the United States. While the Europeans brought the red fox into the southeast around 1750, there may have been a few scattered populations already in the far north of the continent who later interbred. While the origins are unclear, there are currently 10 recognized subspecies spanning most of North America. They live in a wide range of habitats from deserts to the barren arctic.

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes
While meat composes of the majority of the diet of a red fox, it changes with the season. Fruits, nuts, and insects are common during seasons of abundance. They will also eat grasses and carrion. During the winter, they will either dig a den or use an abandoned burrow. There are often at least two openings, with more than one den found to have up to nineteen openings. It is also during this time foxes meet to mate, producing one litter per year during the spring of up to seventeen pups.