Range: Only breeds in the US and northern Mexico. On the east coast, the species occurs from southern New Jersey to Florida, in the central states it ranges from northern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, in the west it occurs in southern California, southern Nevada, most of Arizona and parts of New Mexico. The wintering range is surprisingly extensive, from southern Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil. Migrates north and south on a broad front, with some crossing Gulf of Mexico while others of the species travel overland.
Conservation Status: Numbers have declined sharply along the lower Colorado River and in a few other localities. Still remains common and widespread in other areas.
Population Threats: In areas where populations have declined it has been due to the rapid conversion of riverside forest to agriculture and other uses.
Diet: Feeds mostly on insects, but will rely on some berries and small fruits at times. Diet in summer is mainly insects. It is often noted feeding on bees and wasps, but also eats many beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. Eats some spiders.
Did You Know?
- Adult male summer tanagers are the only completely red birds in North America. First year males (pictured) can be patchy yellow and red. Females and immature males are bright yellow-green—yellower on the head and underparts and slightly greener on the back and wings. The bill is pale in both genders and all ages.
- For such a brightly-colored bird, summer tanagers can be hard to see within the foliage of leafy green trees. They tend to stay fairly high in the forest canopy, where they either move slowly along tree branches to glean food, or sit still and then dart out to catch flying insects in midair.
- During their breeding season in North America, summer tanagers feed primarily on adult bees and wasps which they capture on the wing and then beat senseless against a perch before consuming or feeding to their young. This species also consumes other insects and adds fruits to its diet in migration and during winter.
- Sometimes common but never abundant, most summer tanagers arrive in Texas as migrants between late March and mid-May. Some remain to breed from late March to mid-July. Southbound migration occurs between mid-August and late October. They overwinter in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
Question Mark Butterfly
Range: Southern Canada and all of the eastern United States, west to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, south to southern Arizona and Mexico. It is also reported in central Mexico and the Caribbean.
Conservation Status: Populations of this butterfly are considered to be secure globally, although it may be quite rare in parts of its range, especially at the periphery. This species is especially common in Ohio, Kentucky and eastern Indiana.
Population Threats: No specific threats have been identified for this species.
Diet: Adult question marks take fluids from soil, rotting fruit, feces, and carrion. They seldom, if ever, take nectar. Caterpillars feed on the leaves of host plants, which include nettle, false nettle, elms, hackberry, and Japanese hops.
Did You Know?
- The question mark is an angular-shaped orange butterfly that is rather common in the Austin area. The name refers to tiny silver marks on the underside of the hindwing which usually look like a dot and a parenthesis mark.
- All butterflies go through a process of “complete metamorphosis.” To grow into an adult, each butterfly passes through four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (cocoon) and adult. Once it metamorphoses into an adult, an individual butterfly reproduces and then remains as it is until it dies.
- Somewhat unusual for butterflies, the question mark overwinters in the adult form. Most other species in temperate climates overwinter as pupae.
- The colors of the tops of this butterfly species’ wings vary depending upon the season into which the individual question mark had metamorphosed into an adult. In the summer form, this butterfly’s forewings are orange with black spots, while the hind wings are mostly black. The winter form of the species lacks the black hind wings and edges, being browner overall.
- Adult question marks do not feed at flowers, but instead prefer sap and fruit. They often rest in grassy areas near trees, where their closed wings and unusual profile make them almost disappear. The undersides of the wings can vary from heavily marked to almost completely light brown, and aid in making the butterfly look like a dried leaf.
- The question mark is not the only butterfly in Texas that is named for a punctuation mark. The upper forewing of the question mark has extra black dash not present in the smaller, and closely-related, eastern comma.
Range: This species resides in eastern North America (from southern Mexico and western Guatemala through the US to extreme southern Canada). Populations of bobwhite subspecies also exist on islands in the Caribbean.
Conservation Status: Considered near-threatened, the northern bobwhite has disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and has declined seriously even in more southern areas—especially the southeastern US. The “Masked Bobwhite” subspecies is extinct in Arizona and endangered in Mexico.
Population Threats: The causes for the decline in bobwhites are not easily understood. At the northern edge of range many may be killed by unusually harsh winters, but a myriad of both direct and indirect factors are involved in the species’ widespread disappearance. At the core of the threats to this species is the loss of quail habitat which, in Texas, is significant. The conversion of prairies, savanna, shrubland and woodlands to commercial and residential uses, cropland cultivation, and overgrazing have all greatly decreased the amount of lands viewed as sustainable for bobwhites.
Diet: The northern bobwhite is a seed-eater, and prefers to consume seeds found on forbs and grasses during the fall and winter months. They also eat green vegetation, mast (seeds and fruit from shrubs), and insects (such as grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, ants, termites, and spiders throughout the spring and summer months) which aid in meeting the female’s nutritional needs during the breeding season.
Did You Know?
- The northern bobwhite is one of the best known and most studied of Texas birds. Because it has considerable aesthetic appeal, and is a game bird of high economic value, there is much interest in its conservation and management.
- This is an eight-inch long, chunky, ground-dwelling bird. Both sexes have slight crests at the top of their heads. The male has a white chin and a white supercilium (a stripe that runs from the base of the bill above the eye to the back of its head). In females (pictured) these areas are buff, almost amber, in color.
- The bobwhite gets its name from its whistled “bob-WHITE!” call.
- The average lifespan of a northern bobwhite is short– about six months– and the annual mortality can be as high as 80%. Under ideal conditions, bobwhites can survive up to five years in the wild. The oldest on record was 6 years, 5 months old.
- Bobwhites make up for their short lifespans with prolific breeding abilities. Under good conditions, a bobwhite pair can produce 2 or 3 broods, totaling 25 offspring or more in a single breeding season. Since survivability is significantly influenced by weather conditions during any particular year, bobwhite abundance can vary greatly annually.
Range: The brown recluse spider is found throughout the south central and midwestern United States, from eastern Texas to western Georgia and north to southern Illinois.
Conservation Status: Not yet evaluated. Given the brown recluse’s success in human-occupied habitats, its numbers are probably increasing.
Population Threats: There are no immediate threats identified for this species’ population.
Diet: The brown recluse’s prey consists of a variety of arthropods, including ants and other spiders.
Did You Know?
- This spider is venomous and can harm people. While most bites from this species result in only localized redness and heal without serious complications, the venom of the brown recluse can, on rare occasions, cause serious reactions.
- Large numbers of brown recluse spiders are sometimes found in close proximity to people without their ever getting bitten.
- Stretching over an area slightly larger than the diameter of a quarter, the brown recluse is sometimes referred to as the violin or fiddleback spider because of the violin-shaped marking on its back. It has only six eyes (rather than the more common eight seen in other spiders), which is a more reliable means of identifying the species.
- This species seems to benefit from living in human-altered surroundings and prefers dry conditions. They frequent buildings and outbuildings and are particularly likely to occupy areas that have remained undisturbed for lengthy periods of time– especially in boxes, among papers, and behind pictures and furniture. Most brown recluses found in the wild will be under rocks, especially in bluff outcrops, with a few under bark or in logs.
- The female brown recluse lays her eggs in a silken cocoon, which may contain hundreds of eggs. She may carry this cocoon or attach it to a web, plant or wall surface. The eggs hatch in approximately two weeks. The spiderlings usually remain in the egg sac for a few more weeks and then stay with their mother for several molts before dispersing. They feed on prey provided by the mother during this time.
Red Harvester Ant
Range: From eastern Louisiana and Arkansas west to central Arizona and Nevada, south into Mexico.
Conservation Status: Not assessed at this time.
Population Threats: Over the years, this species’ numbers have been declining. This can be attributed to competition for food with the invasive red imported fire ant and the Argentine ant. Their decline of the red harvester ant has affected many native species, especially those for which it is a chief source of food, such as the Texas horned lizard.
Diet: Harvester ants mostly feed on the “bread” that they make by chewing up grass seeds. The bread is placed in areas within their nest called “granaries,” where it is stored for year-round food. Harvester ants may also scavenge dead insects.
Did You Know?
- Twenty two species of harvester ants inhabit the United States, with most occurring in the west. The red to dark brown worker harvester ants, which are 1/4 to 1/2-inch long, are often sold as inhabitants of ant farms. They are commonly mistaken for invasive fire ants, but are larger and have square heads.
- The entrance to a red harvester ant colony is readily identified by the bare soil surface surrounding it. The ants actively work to remove plants from the area, which can be more than ten feet in diameter. This helps prevent plant roots from disrupting the subterranean tunnels. The nest can be 20 feet deep.
- The worker harvester ant can bite and inflict a sting more painful than most species in its range. It is generally reluctant to do so, but medical consequences to the victim may result.
- This species is the primary food of the Texas horned lizard in part or all of the lizard’s range. The horned lizards have adapted ways to survive the ants’ stinging attacks.
- Harvester ant colonies grow in number for the first five years, and then level off at around 10,000 ants. Some colonies grow to twice that number.
- There is only one queen during the entire life of the colony, which most often survives 15-20 years. Once the queen dies, the production of male workers stops and the colony collapses.
- Harvester ants are beneficial insects. They derive nutrients from the seeds they harvest, but also aid in seed dispersal.
Texas Blind Snake
Range: The Texas blind snake’s range includes southern Oklahoma and Texas in the United States, northeastern Mexico, and possibly parts of central Mexico.
Conservation Status: In light of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a threatened category, this species’ conservation status is listed as “Least Concern.” It occurs in several protected areas, though this may not provide adequate protection from all threats, such as invasive species.
Population Threats: The abundance of this snake in Texas has reportedly declined as a result of the invasion of fire ants.
Diet: Termites and ants make up 54 to 64% of the diet of Texas blind snakes. Larvae, nymphs and eggs of soft-bodied insects are also consumed.
Did You Know?
- Only 10 ½ inches in length, this slender snake has the appearance of a small, glossy earthworm. The species has tiny, vestigial, black eyes. It is also (and perhaps more descriptively) known as the Texas wormsnake or Texas threadsnake.
- This species is a secretive, subterranean snake that can sometimes be found under rocks, logs, or debris. It is primarily active on the surface only at night, especially with warm rains.
- Female Texas blind snakes lay a clutch of 2-8 eggs in crevices underground, between rocks, or in decaying vegetation. The eggs are laid in June-July and hatch in August-September.
- Quite unlike most reptiles, the Texas blind snake often nests communally– and the females may stay with eggs after laying.
- Eastern screech owls are known predators of Texas blind snakes; however, a mutually beneficial relationship between Texas blind snakes and screech owls has been documented. The owls brought live Texas blind snakes back to their nests. The snakes would remain in the lower levels of the nest for days while feeding on soft-bodied nest parasite larvae, seemingly aiding the survival of the young owls. Only once the owlets fledged would the snakes escape to the ground.
- Predators of this tiny snake species range from large centipedes, other snakes and birds, to mammals such as moles, armadillos, skunks, and domestic cats.
Southern Black Widow
Range: The southern black widow spider ranges as far north as southern New York, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. It has also been found in California and parts of southern Canada.
Conservation Status: Not yet assessed.
Population Threats: Nothing specific. Widespread pesticide use affects both this species and its prey.
Diet: Black widows typically prey on a variety of insects, but occasionally they do feed upon other spiders and soft-bodied invertebrates.
Did You Know?
- The black widow is a medium-sized spider. The female’s body is about a half-inch long, the male’s is half that. The common name is derived from the mistaken belief that the female invariably kills the male after mating.
- Although widow spiders are mostly found in the southern states, they may be seen throughout the US. The southern black widow, native to our area, is one of the most common of the American widow spiders. It is readily identifiable due to its shiny black, globular abdomen which has a characteristic red hourglass on the underside. The species has the distinction of inhabiting all four deserts of the American southwest.
- This spider is considered the most venomous spider in North America, and can harm people. It is said that the venom of the southern black widow is 15 times more toxic than a rattlesnake’s. However, only the female of the species bites and she injects such a small dose of venom that it rarely causes death. It also takes considerable provocation to make her bite.
- In 2013, there were 1,866 black widow bites reported. Only 14 of these resulted in severe symptoms. None resulted in death.
- Outdoors, black widow spider webs are usually built in protected cavities like woodpiles, under stones, in hollow stumps, and in rodent burrows. These spiders are often found in close association with people and will also inhabit portable toilets, abandoned sheds, littered areas, trash dumps and other relatively undisturbed places. Indoors, they prefer cluttered areas like basements, cellars, garages and crawl spaces.
- The black widow is exclusively carnivorous and very antagonistic to its prey. When a victim is entangled in its web, the spider quickly comes out of its retreat and makes a small puncture in its prey through which it injects a poison. The poison takes about 10 minutes to take effect, during which the prey is held tight by the spider. When movements of the prey cease, the black widow carries its prey back to its retreat to be eaten: it uses its teeth to mash it up, pours digestive enzymes on the prey and sucks up the resulting food. The whole digestion process takes place outside the spider’s body.
Giant Leopard Moth
Range: The giant leopard moth is found from southern Ontario south to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas.
Conservation Status: This species’ conservation status has not yet been assessed.
Population Threats: No specific threats have been identified for giant leopard moths but, as insects whose larvae depend upon weed-like plants for food, this species is at risk from both pesticide and herbicide application.
Diet: Like many tiger moths, giant leopard moths do not eat as adults. The larvae are general feeders that consume a variety of broad-leaved plants that are mostly considered to be weeds.
Did You Know?
- The giant leopard moth is also known as the eyed tiger moth and is the largest eastern tiger moth in the US.
- Adults of the species are always white, and almost always have black spotting– but this is very variable. In some specimens the spots are solid instead of hollow; in rare instances the spots are absent. The abdomen is beautifully marked with blue and orange, but the color is not visible when at rest.
- This species has a notable sexual dimorphism in size, the adult male reaching about 2 inches in length, while the adult female grows up to 1 ¼ inches. They have a wingspan of 2 to 3 ½ inches.
- The furry 3 inch-long larva of this species is commonly known as a Woolly Bear. This caterpillar is mostly black with tufts of stiff black hairs of equal length radiating around its body. When disturbed it rolls its head to up to its tail, exposing between the hairs the red rings that outline its body segments. Young larvae also have the hairy tufts, but are colored dark brown and orange.
- Giant leopard moths are nocturnal. Males are commonly attracted to lights at night. Sometimes dozens of males come to bright lights set out in good habitat. Females are less common around lights.
Range: There are nine species in the Pediodectes genus of shield-backed katydids, such as the ones that inhabit the Austin area. In total, they range from southern North Dakota south across the Great Plains and throughout Texas.
Conservation Status: There is no designated conservation status for these shield-backed katydids.
Population Threats: No specific threats to shield-backed katydids are noted. However, as insects that depend upon other insects for food, they are very vulnerable to the widespread use of pesticides.
Diet: Some species are active predators of other insects. Many also eat plant material and scavenge dead insects.
Did You Know?
- There are 122 species of shield-backed katydids in North America, and many more on other continents.
- Some of the species are very distinctive and can be recognized at a glance, but the majority can be rather difficult to reliably tell apart. Color patterns vary individually and with age and it is often difficult to tell if an individual in a photo is a juvenile (nymph) or an adult. Some of the species seem to “run together” and may not be entirely distinct from one-another. And, there may also still be unnamed species. The majority of shield-back katydid “species” occur within Texas.
- Four species of this particular genus of shield-backs inhabit our area. These are wingless insects, and while mostly found on the ground, they will not hesitate to climb up rock walls and trees. Their length is about one inch.
- The shield-backed katydids in our area are predaceous. They hunt and eat other insects, and can inflict a painful (but non-venomous) bite if handled.
- Female katydids (like the one pictured) have a long, backward-pointing, sword-like projection called the ovipositor. This is a tubular structure through which their eggs pass, and it allows the female katydid to carefully deposit her eggs in soil or insert them into the leaves and stems of plants.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Range: Eastern North America from Ontario south to the Gulf coast, west to the Colorado plains and central Texas.
Conservation Status: The eastern tiger swallowtails are not yet threatened by human impact on their ecosystem.
Population Threats: While adults can be found in any habitat, this species is dependent upon deciduous forests, woodlands, and swamps in order for the caterpillars to survive. Thickets, old fields with wild cherries, parks, or suburban areas with adequate food plants are sometimes suitable as breeding grounds but conversion of wooded habitat to manicured lawns limits the number of suitable breeding sites, and therefore reduces swallowtail butterfly population sizes.
Diet: Caterpillars feed on various plants including wild cherry, magnolia, basswood, tulip tree, birch, ash, cottonwood, mountain ash, and willow. Adults consume the nectar of flowers from a variety of plants including wild cherry and lilac. Milkweed and Joe-Pye Weed are favorites in summer.
Did You Know?
- The eastern tiger swallowtail is widely distributed and is probably the most recognizable swallowtail in the eastern United States. It is readily identified by its black “tiger stripes”.
- Male eastern tiger swallowtails (pictured) are always yellow, while females may be yellow or black. These two extreme female colorings are thought to coexist because they both have equally beneficial effects: while the tiger striping causes a distraction for would-be predators, the dark coloring imitates the unpalatable blue swallowtail. Females also have a splash of iridescent blue wash on their tails, while males do not.
- In this relatively large species the adult wingspan is about 4 ½ inches, and females are larger than males.
- The female eastern tiger swallowtail lays her green eggs singly on hostplants in many woody plant families, most commonly on mountain ash, birch, cherry, tulip tree, ash, basswood, apple, maple, willow, magnolia, and occasionally sassafras.
- This species occurs in nearly every area where deciduous woods are present, including towns and cities. It is most numerous along streams and rivers, and in wooded swamps.
- Tiger swallowtail butterflies only live about one month as adults. There may be as many as three generations per year in our region. The life cycle of the species depends upon individuals being able to overwinter in the pupa (chrysalis) stage so that there is a new generation of butterflies to start each season.
Smooth Earth Snake
Range: This species is native only to the United States. Its range extends from New Jersey and Pennsylvania as far south as northern Florida in the east, and as far west as southern Iowa, northeastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and central Texas. An isolated population occurs in peninsular Florida.
Conservation Status: In light of its wide distribution, tolerance of a degree of habitat modification, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be rapidly declining in numbers, this species’ conservation status is listed as “Least Concern.”
Population Threats: No major threats are known. Locally, this species is perhaps threatened in some areas by deforestation, and some populations appear to have been eliminated by residential, industrial, and agricultural development. As an obligate consumer of invertebrates, it is put at risk by widespread pesticide applications.
Diet: Eats only invertebrates, mainly earthworms, slugs and snails. It also consumes small arthropods.
Did You Know?
- A relatively small snake, adult smooth earth snakes measure 7-10 inches. They are generally not aggressive towards humans and are harmless if encountered. While they do have teeth, the size of the mouth and teeth make any strikes against humans superficial at worst. They can choose to defecate as a defense mechanism to make them less palatable to would-be predators.
- This infrequently seen species inhabits shady and moist woodlands and adjacent bottomlands and floodplains of the southeastern United States. By day, this secretive snake often shelters under logs, rocks, or other cover.
- The smooth earth snake can be locally abundant in some populations. It may be much more visible after cool rains, especially in the spring. It may also be more frequently encountered in the early winter as it begins its retreat into its overwintering burrows (called hibernacula) where it may aggregate with others of its kind during hibernation.
- This is a live-bearing species. Mating may occur in spring and fall. It gives birth to litter of 2-18 young, each measuring 2 ½ inches, which are typically seen from late July to September (slightly later in Pennsylvania and West Virginia).
- The record longevity for this species is 9.5 years (known from an individual under human care).
Range: Carolina wrens are year-round residents of the southeastern United States. The distribution of this species stretches from the Atlantic coast as far west as Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and eastern Oklahoma. It is bounded in the north by southern Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and in extreme cases, Ontario Canada. The species has trickled as far southward as the northeast corner of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as parts of Central America. As the global climate has warmed, this species has expanded northward substantially since the late nineteenth century.
Conservation Status: There is little concern about the conservation status of the Carolina wren. They are common across their range and the species’ numbers have increased between 1966 and 2015. The global breeding population is estimated to be 14 million, with 89% living in the U.S., and 10% in Mexico.
Population threats: Cold winters with ice and snow can have devastating effects on local Carolina wren populations, but their numbers often recover within a few years.
Diet: Mostly insects, of many kinds. Especially likes to feed on caterpillars, beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, and many others. Also consumes many spiders, some millipedes and snails. Sometimes catches and eats small lizards or tree frogs. Will also eat berries and small fruits (especially in winter), and some seeds.
Did You Know?
- This shy bird can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazingly loud song for its size. Its “teakettle-teakettle!” and other piercing exclamations can be heard in both backyard and forest, as it explores yards, garages, and woodpiles– sometimes nesting in very peculiar places.
- One captive male Carolina wren sang nearly 3,000 times in a single day.
- Feeding on or near the ground, Carolina wrens run, hop, and flit around leaf litter and tangled vegetation. They dodge in and out of dark spaces created by downed trees, rotting logs, old stumps, and upturned roots. Wrens use their curved bills to turn over the decaying vegetation and to hammer and shake apart large bugs.
- These birds also have a characteristic habit of climbing up and down vines, trunks, and branches, poking into squirrel nests and probing nooks and crannies in search of insects and fruit.
- Male and female Carolina wrens may form a pair bond at any time of the year and, once bonded, the pair will stay together for life. The pair share a territory year-round, and will forage and move around their domain together.
Range: There are 250 species of glowworm beetles that inhabit the Western Hemisphere. Of these, 23 species occur in the U.S.
In this particular genus there are ten species– of which seven occur in the southwestern (Arizona), central, and eastern United States, and three others occur in Mexico. Two live in Texas.
Conservation Status: No conservation status has been assigned to this poorly studied group of beetles.
Population Threats: There are no specific threats identified for glowworms although, as insects, they are incidentally vulnerable to pesticide use targeted toward other species perceived as pests.
Diet: Larvae, and the larvae-shaped females, are predators found in wet soils. They apparently have a strong preference for millipedes as prey. The short-lived males probably do not feed, but instead metamorphose into adults solely for the purpose of reproducing.
Did You Know?
- Glowworms are relatively uncommon New World beetles occurring from southern Canada to Chile.
- Glowworm females are wingless and resemble their caterpillar-like larvae. Both the females and larvae of most glowworm species glow in the dark, and the eggs and pupae of some species are also reportedly luminescent.
- Male glowworms (pictured) are odd-looking winged beetles much smaller that their mates, and are generally short-lived. They have elaborate, feathery antennae that are used for locating females.
- Luminescent flashes are used to attract mates in fireflies, but the purpose of luminescence in glowworm beetles is unknown. It is hypothesized that it functions in defense, warning potential nocturnal predators that they taste bad—in much the same way that warning coloration advertises the fact that some day-active insects are unpalatable.
Green June Beetle
Range: Eastern U.S. (from New York to Nebraska in the north and from Florida to Texas in the south) and eastern Mexico.
Conservation Status: Not assessed, but likely secure at this time.
Population Threats: This is a species often subjected to heavy pesticide pressure. Furthermore, its close association with the leaf-cutter ant also makes it vulnerable to control measures aimed at leaf-cutters, another perceived plant pest.
Diet: Adult June beetles consume pollen, fruit and the leaves of many trees and shrubs. They are especially attracted to overripe fruits, many of which are of commercial value. Peaches are a particular favorite.
The larvae feed on decaying organic matter in the soil, in well-rotted manure, or in compost piles. These grubs are considered pests because they will also feed on the roots of many plants, some of which are valuable crop varieties.
Did You Know?
- Over a thousand species of true beetles are known to inhabit Travis County. The green June beetle is one of the scarab beetles and is active during daylight hours.
- This species is larger and more robust than its close relative, the common brown May/June beetles. The adult green June beetle usually measures 3/4 to 1 inch in length and about 1/2 inch wide and has dull, metallic green wings. Its sides are gold and the head, legs and underside are very bright shiny green.
- The green June beetle is sometimes mistaken for the Japanese beetle, which is smaller (1/2 inch long) and has copper-colored wings with green margins.
- This species is widely considered to be a plant pest, with adults considered threats to fruit crops and larvae damaging the root systems of both agricultural crops and ornamental plants.
The larvae of the green June beetle are often very abundant in the waste material found in the lower levels of Texas leaf-cutter ant nests. Judging by the number of the larvae found in the ant nests examined, it is possible that these ant nests constitute an important breeding site for the green June bug.
- The grub of this beetle is largely held in control by natural enemies. For example, the female digger wasp will burrow into the larva stage of the beetle and lay her eggs on the grub. The larval wasps will feed on the beetle grub once they hatch, eventually killing the beetle larva. June bug larvae are also fed upon underground by moles, and above-ground (after heavy rains) by many mammal and bird species.
Eastern Fox Squirrel
Range: Found in the eastern two-thirds of Texas and the eastern half of the United States. It also occurs in very limited areas of adjoining Canada and Mexico. Range expansion has occurred in the mid-west and the species has been introduced into many portions of the west: introduced populations exist in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
Conservation Status: There is little conservation concern attributed to the eastern fox squirrel because of its wide distribution, large population, and its occurrence in a number of protected areas. In Mexico, it may be considered fragile, but is not officially threatened.
Population threats: Although not considered a major threat at this time, the range of eastern fox squirrels in the eastern United States has been greatly reduced in the past 100 years. Much of its historic habitat is undergoing rapid deforestation and the species is experiencing increasingly restricted distribution due to accelerated residential and agricultural development, and commercial forestry practices.
Another major cause of eastern fox squirrel population decline is mange mite. Severe winter weather can also cause significant short-term population declines.
Diet: Eastern fox squirrel foods include acorns, tree buds, insects, tubers, bulbs, roots, bird eggs, seeds of pines and spring-fruiting trees, and fungi. Agricultural crops such as corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, and fruit are also eaten– which often brings the species into conflict with farming interests.
Did You Know?
- This is the most common squirrel species in Texas.
- Over its large range, the coloration of the fox squirrel varies greatly. The species’ common name comes from its gray and red fur, a pattern that it shares with gray foxes native to Texas.
- Females of this species become sexually mature at ten to eleven months of age. Following a pregnancy of 44 to 45 days, they usually produce their first litter when they are one year old. The average litter size is three, but litter size can vary according to season and food conditions. While most births occur between mid-March and July, some litters may appear as early as late January.
- The eastern gray squirrel is also native to our area, and the two species are very similar in many ways. However, fox squirrels prefer more open habitat whereas gray squirrels prefer good tree cover. Fox squirrels spend more time foraging and running about on the ground than do the grays and may be encountered in fields quite far from any trees, where gray squirrels would not stray.
- Squirrels feed on acorns, which are rich in tannins. Tannins are poisonous to many animals, including some intestinal parasites. Thus, a diet of acorns helps to keep squirrels free of roundworms and tapeworms.
Range: The geographic distribution of the broad-banded copperhead includes western and central Texas, central Oklahoma, and eastern Kansas.
Conservation Status: The broad-banded copperhead is in no danger of extinction or of being endangered. Its population numbers are apparently secure.
Population Threats: The cryptic coloration and stealthy behavior of copperheads has led them to be occasionally found in close association with humans. This usually does not end well for the snake. Despite its shy and secretive demeanor, many people react to these snakes with unwarranted aggression.
Diet: The most common prey of the broad-banded copperhead are small rodents, ground birds, lizards, large insects, cicadas, frogs, toads, and other small snakes. Juveniles feed mostly on large insects and occasionally on small vertebrates.
Did You Know?
- Though only rarely encountered, the broad-banded copperhead is one of three venomous snake species that inhabit the grounds of the Austin Zoo. It has a large head and hinged fangs that spring out when striking at prey or in defense.
- Copperhead bites are uncommon and usually result from the snake being handled or accidentally stepped on. Human mortality rates from the bite of this species are extremely low (0.01%).
- The Broad-Banded Copperhead has elliptical pupils that look like cat’s eyes and, like all pit vipers, has a heat-sensing pit between the nostril and eye on each side of its head.
- This is one of the smaller copperhead species. It grows to only 20-36 inches in length.
- This species bears live young from eggs that hatch within the mother after a 105 to 150 day incubation. Litter size is three to ten young. The newborn snakes are left to fend for themselves and have fully developed senses and venom.
- Young copperheads possess brightly colored yellowish tail tips. The tail tips are held close within striking range and wriggled like a bright caterpillar or worm. This behavior is termed “caudal luring” and is known to attract frogs, lizards, or other prey that the young broad-banded copperhead ambushes to eat.
- The venom of a young copperhead is the same strength as that of the adult.
Greater Anglewing Katydid
Range: Found in southwestern and eastern US, except for most of New England.
Conservation Status: Widely distributed and relatively common, there is no particular conservation status assigned to this species.
Population Threats: Widespread pesticide use can be both a detriment and benefit to this species. Because its population is generally controlled by wasp parasites, the application of pesticides might skew the balance of the relationship between the two species and cause the wasp population to decline more than its prey.
Diet: This species eats the leaves of a variety of trees. It has been found to be common in the citrus groves of Florida, where it only rarely causes major damage.
Did You Know?
- Katydids spend most of their time at the tops of trees where the majority of the leaves are. They can fly short distances when threatened, but prefer to walk and climb. Their flight is primarily a downward flutter. If a katydid lands on the ground, it will typically walk to the nearest tree and climb.
- Throughout much of its range, this species overlaps with the smaller, but very similar, lesser anglewing katydid. Also called the broadwinged katydid, this species is 2 to 2.5 inches long; the lesser anglewing is 1.75 to 2 inches long.
- The greater anglewing produces two calls, one of which is a very distinctive 3 to 5 second series of soft ticks (produced by both sexes) that resembles the sound of two pebbles being rapidly tapped together.
- The eggs of the greater anglewing katydid look like flattened gray oval buttons aligned in two rows along a tree twig or leaf edge. When the eggs hatch, they open like an oyster, separating at the seam along the edge.
- Following breeding season, large numbers of growing katydid nymphs can do severe damage to the foliage of young trees.
- Tiny parasitic wasps play an important role in the natural control of this species’ population. When parasitized, the eggs of the greater anglewing will have a tell-tale flat appearance and round hole from which the wasps emerged. Generally, all the katydid eggs on a single leaf (typically many dozens) will have been parasitized by the wasps.
Range: In eastern North America the wheel bug can be found from Ontario and New York south to Florida, and as far west as Nebraska, Kansas, and Arizona. The range extends into the neotropics (eastern Mexico and Guatemala).
Conservation Status: Widely distributed and relatively common, there is no particular conservation status assigned to this species.
Population threats: Wheel bugs are considered a sign of a healthy, pesticide-free ecosystem because their presence indicates that all the other levels in the food web are intact. The use of pesticides upsets the ecological balance of the landscape, and the wheel bugs disappear.
Diet: Wheel bugs feed primarily upon soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars, Japanese beetles, etc. Because most of their prey items are pests, wheel bugs of all life stages are considered beneficial insects.
Did You Know?
- The wheel bug’s name comes from the prominent semicircular crest on its back that resembles a cogwheel or chicken’s comb. This is the only insect species in the United States with such a toothed crest.
- Wheel Bugs are one of the largest true bugs in existence reaching a length of up to 1 to 1 ½ inches. This species is the largest assassin bug in the US.
- These insects are vicious predators that pierce their food with their beak in order to inject salivary enzymes that dissolve soft tissue. Wheel bug saliva includes a toxic, paralytic substance that immobilizes and kills the prey insect within 15 to 30 seconds of injection. They are one of the few predators that attack the brown marmorated stink bug, a serious introduced pest of both households and many crop plants. They even prey upon other beneficial insects like lady beetles, honey bees and others of their own species.
- Wheel Bugs are not inherently aggressive to non-prey items and will avoid human contact at all costs. However, if pierced by its mouthparts, the resulting wound can be more severe than a bee sting and can have effects that last two weeks or more. Both nymphs and adults should be avoided or handled with caution.
- The wheel bug possesses two scent glands (red-orange in color) that, when disturbed, can be used to emit a repulsive odor. The scent produced by the wheel bug is not as strong as that of the stink bug, but is still strong enough to be detected by humans.
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Range: The ruby-crowned kinglet occurs throughout North America and can be found in the US, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala.
Conservation Status: This species has a very large range and a population that is believed to be slightly increasing. They are therefore considered a species of little conservation concern.
Population threats: As a species dependent upon insects for its food, large-scale spraying of pesticides would put these birds at risk of exposure.
Diet: Kinglets are insectivores and prefer feeding on small soft-bodied insects such as aphids and springtails. Their prey is generally gleaned from the branches and leaves of trees, although in some circumstances prey may be taken from the leaf litter on the ground or as the kinglet hovers in mid-air.
Did You Know?
- The ruby-crowned kinglet is one of the smallest songbirds on the continent and has a weight just a little more than half that of a chickadee. This species is nonetheless the largest of the kinglet genus (Regulus), which has sometimes been considered a member of the old world warbler family.
- The ruby crown for which the species is named usually stays hidden. This brilliant patch of feathers is only evident on males and is best seen in spring or summer when excited males are singing or defending their territories.
- Some of the tiniest birds in the world have impressively loud voices. The song of the ruby-crowned kinglet would be deafening if these birds were just a little bigger. In early spring, the kinglet’s loud song echoes from the forest edge in the lowlands. By late May, he is singing and nesting at high altitudes in the evergreen forests of the western US and Canada.
- The species constructs its nests up to 100 feet high in the trees. The nests are constructed using an assortment of materials including mosses, grasses, feathers and spiderwebs. Between five to twelve eggs are laid with an incubation period lasting 12-14 days.
- Kinglets are very short-lived birds. As many as 80% of some kinglet species die in their first year of life in the wild, and their maximum lifespan is only six years.
Striped Bark Scorpion
Range: Populations of this scorpion encompass a large geographic range that includes southern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, several of the states in northern Mexico, Texas, western Louisiana, western Arkansas, southern Missouri, Oklahoma, and much of Kansas.
Conservation Status: No special conservation status has been assigned to this species.
Population threats: In Texas, these scorpions have become associated with homes and surrounding areas. Human presence has given them new places to find shelter but these places often place scorpions in conflict with people. While scorpions help to control the local insect population, they are often killed on sight out of fear.
Diet: The striped scorpion is insectivorous, consuming primarily spiders, centipedes, crickets, flies, beetles, and other small insects.
Did You Know?
- The striped bark scorpion can inflict a very sharp, painful sting. Its venom is a mild neurotoxin which is not considered as potent as that of some of its relatives. Some people might have a severe allergic reaction to it, requiring medical attention.
- This is the most common scorpion in the USA. Populations of this species encompass a large geographic range.
- All scorpions are born live in litters that range in size from 13 to 47, averaging about 31. The young climb to the mother’s back after birth and soon molt. After the first molt they disperse to lead independent lives.
- Striped bark scorpions rest under loose bark or in depressions under rocks, logs, and other surface debris during the day, and they emerge after sunset. They frequently climb trees and other plants at night.
- The scorpion stalks its prey mostly at night and depends on its senses of touch and smell. Thess scorpions catch their food by grabbing and crushing them with their powerful pinchers, then bringing their tail over their body and sting the victims. The are paralyzed by the venom and die in the scorpions’ rigid grasp. The scorpions then chew the prey into a semi-liquid state, which they can then suck up with their tiny mouths.
- Striped bark scorpions are active all year in Texas. In Arkansas, this same species are not active on the surface during December, January, February, and March.
Range: Common in the southeastern U.S., this lizard can be found in the eastern third of Texas.
Conservation Status: This green anole occurs in many protected areas (parks, natural areas, etc.). Quite possibly numbering more than a million adult individuals, it is considered to have a stable population with few conservation concerns.
Population threats: In Florida, the species appears to be disappearing where the introduced brown anole has become established. This factor, competition with and predation by other non-native anoles, and human-caused habitat degradation have caused declines in central and southern Florida.
Diet: An anole’s diet consists of small insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, flies and other arthropods.
Did You Know?
- Because of its ability to change color from green to brown in order to blend with its surroundings, the green anole is sometimes identified in pet stores as the American chameleon. In spite of this ability, this species is not actually a chameleon but is instead rather closely related to iguanas.
- Color changes are not simply a matter of matching background, but also entail body temperature, stress and activity level. Green reflects activity and bright light, whereas brown reflects reduced activity in moist, dark cool conditions.
- An anole’s toes are expanded at the tips to accommodate adhesive toe pads, which aid them in climbing smooth surfaces where claws cannot be used. In contrast, a chameleon’s digits are arranged like mittens, to facilitate their ability to grasp slender branches.
- Both male and female green anoles have pink throat fans (a.k.a. dewlaps), which are used as the means for inter- and intraspecific communication. The much larger dewlap of adult males can often be seen expanding in the direction of females in hopes of attracting them as mates.
- The tail of an adult male anole can comprise 60-70% of its body length.
- Male anoles are strongly territorial. On sighting another male, the anole will compress his body, extend the dewlap, bob his head and attempt to chase the rival away from his territory. If the rival male continues to approach, the two will fight.
Southwestern Trapdoor Spider
Range: Widely distributed throughout the southern half of Texas and northern/central Mexico.
Conservation Status: There are twelve currently recognized trapdoor spider species of this genus, all distributed in Texas and north-central Mexico. Given the anatomical similarities to each other and the challenged posed in studying them, it is likely that more species exist than are currently described. Whenever uniquely-adapted species have very limited distributions, each is inherently vulnerable to environmental changes. Landscape changes, even a local level, can quickly lead to the extinction of these distinctly-evolved forms.
Population threats: Trapdoor spiders favor soils that support lawns. Insecticide and fertilizer treatments of these landscapes can have a negative impact on trapdoor spider populations.
Diet: Trapdoor spiders are opportunistic ambush predators. While they usually prey on arthropods and small insects, they will also take tiny vertebrates– including small frogs. Vibrations warn the spider of any prey and when the prey comes close enough to capture, the spider suddenly pops open the trapdoor and seizes whatever is outside it.
Did You Know?
- Trapdoor spiders create burrows that are lined with a thick silk. The burrows are closed with a heavy cork-like lid, the hinge for which is also formed from the spiders’ webbing. The spiders await passing insects and other arthropods to be preyed upon from behind the “trapdoor.”
- Trapdoor spiders can be longer than one inch in body length (not including the legs), which is quite large among spiders.
- While similar to tarantulas in shape, habit and size, they are only distantly related. They do, however, share a common predator: tarantula hawk wasps, which are known to paralyze tarantulas and other spiders. Observations suggest that, in Texas, female tarantula hawk wasps seek out this species and sting them in their burrows, within which the spiders would remain paralyzed so that they can serve as a source of food for the wasp’s young.
- The preferred habitats for trapdoor spiders are low elevation ecosystems, predominantly desert and tropical dry forest.
- Trapdoor spiders are hard to collect and are, in general, poorly studied. Some species are known only from male specimens.
Range: Dung beetles are found on all continents other than Antarctica. An article published in 2003 listed over 60 species of dung beetles in Texas alone.
Conservation Status: Given the large number of dung beetle species and their anatomical similarities to each other, it is likely that many dung beetle species are evolutionarily unique and have very limited distributions. These conditions would make each individual species inherently vulnerable to environmental changes, such as landscape changes on even a local level.
Population threats: Today’s pastures and rangelands often lack dung beetles, due principally to the use of insecticides and parasiticides.
Diet: Dung beetles feed on feces and often prefer herbivore dung over carnivore dung because it’s packed with more nutrients.
Did You Know?
- The most common of the dung beetles, also known as tumblebugs, are the ball-rollers. These beetles will roll a ball of dung into a hole they have dug for either feeding purposes or to lay an egg inside. This dung ball will get buried in the ground by the beetle and the larva (called grubs) will live its life inside the brood ball feeding on the dung surrounding it until it emerges as a beetle. Both male and female beetles construct the underground tunnels into which they roll the dung balls.
- Dung beetles are very beneficial beetles. They help to put nutrients back into the soil quickly and improve soil structure by aerating it. Getting rid of the dung quickly also reduces the number of flies and other pests. In some parts of Texas, dung beetles remove up to 80 percent of the cattle droppings.
- It has been estimated than an adequate population of dung beetles on pastures throughout the USA could save cattle raisers two billion dollars annually just from increased grazing, improved nitrogen recycling, reduced parasitism and reduced pest flies.
- Most dung beetles have a great sense of smell, which helps them to find fresh dung quickly. Multiple dung beetles will often converge on the same fecal deposit and compete for the fresh excrement.
- According to a 2012 research article, an African species of dung beetle is the only known insect that uses the Milky Way to navigate.
- A dung beetle’s mouthparts are for chewing. Larvae feed on animal excrement buried by the adults. Adult dung beetles have brush-like sieve mouths to help with slurping wet dung.
Texas Ironclad Beetle
Range: Found in the east-central portion of Texas and south into Mexico.
Conservation Status: No special conservation status is designated for this species.
Population threats: While not known to be threatened at this time, this species appears to be dependent upon the dead wood of hardwood trees. Human encroachment and habitat conversion tends to reduce the amount of decaying plant material upon which many species, including this beetle, rely for shelter, nutrition and as egg-laying sites.
Diet: Adult beetles are thought to feed on lichens growing on the trunks of oak trees. Larvae and pupae have been found within the dead wood of pecan trees, which may provide an important food source to the sub-adult life stages of this species.
Did You Know?
- Relatively little is known about this species. Studies have found them associated with pecan, oak and elm trees—including the dead wood of these.
- Adult Texas ironclad beetles can grow to greater than one inch in body length.
- While their mouthparts are designed for chewing, members of this species are not known to damage live plants and are medically harmless.
- This subspecies is named for Horace Haldeman who, in the late 1840s, was one of the first persons to concentrate on collecting insects in Texas. He sent his specimens, mostly beetles, to his entomologist brother, Samuel S. Haldeman, and a noted beetle expert, John L. LeConte, for description.
- The reference to ironclad in the common name of this beetle results from its very thick exoskeleton—so thick that traditional preservation techniques do not work on this species.
Texas Hackberry Emperor Butterfly
Range: It is found in Texas, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, southwestern Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado, southern Wyoming, Arizona, Utah (east of the Great Basin), southern Nevada, and southeastern California– as well as in northern Mexico.
Conservation Status: Populations of this species are currently considered secure.
Population threats: The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Widespread pesticide and herbicide use has also taken a toll on some butterfly species, including the iconic monarch butterfly.
Diet: Adult female hackberry emperor butterflies feed on the nectar from flowers (especially asters); adult males feed on sap, decomposing fruit, carrion and animal droppings. Caterpillars of the species feed on the leaves of hackberry trees including the desert hackberry and the Texas sugar berry.
Did You Know?
- This species of butterfly lives in varied habitats– but always near hackberry trees (from which it derives its name).
- As adults, members of this species may crave salt, and will even land on people in order to lap up the salt in their sweat.
- Hackberry emperor butterflies often perch in strange places, including sides of houses and (as in our photo) the window to the door of our Zoo Kitchen.
- The eggs of this species are pale green, and are laid either singly or in clusters of up to 20 on the lower surface of leaves of hackberry trees, or sometimes on the twigs or bark.
- The Texas subspecies is the westernmost subspecies of Hackberry Emperor butterfly, a species that ranges as far east as the Atlantic coast and as far north as southern Canada.
Thread-Legged Assassin Bug
Range: Most of the US (from Maine south to Florida in the east, from Wisconsin to Texas in the central states); as far north as Ontario, Canada; and as far south as Brazil.
Conservation Status: None identified for this species.
Population threats: No specific population threats have been noted. The family of insects to which this species belongs is considered beneficial to agriculture. Overuse of pesticides will impact this species both directly and indirectly (through the insects they eat).
Diet: The thread-legged bugs are capable of catching insect prey, but they often take an easier route to finding food– they steal insects caught in spider webs and sometimes eat the spiders themselves.
Did You Know?
- The thread-legged assassin bug is often mistaken for a stick insect. This species is usually about 1 to 1.5 inches in length, but is so thin that it appears to be no more than a slender stick.
- The thread-legged bug is a kind of assassin bug. Other assassin bugs include the kissing bug and wheel bug. On the other hand, walking sticks (which the thread-legged bugs mimic) are closely related to mantises, are herbivorous and do not have predator-like front legs.
- With their front legs having been modified for grasping prey, the thread-legged bugs walk on the rear four legs. When threatened, these bugs may hold their front legs out straight in front of their head, creating the appearance that the bug is a longer, four-legged insect. They can also fly.
- These bugs use their two pairs of remarkably thread-like legs (from which they get their name) to walk among spider webs. From within the web, they pick out insects caught in the silk.
- Thread-legged bugs have also evolved a behavior of plucking the web strands in order to produce vibrations that manipulate the behavior of the resident spider. Once they have the opportunity, a thread-legged bug will snatch the spider with its claw-like front legs, inject it with insecticidal venom, and eat it.
- This species is often found on the outsides of old buildings, and in barns. They may also be found under loose bark.