It’s Turkscap time!

In addition to the incredible number of animals that make River Legacy their home, several equally incredible species of plants are also found in the park.

One of those plants is the Turkscap or wax mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus). This plant is a member of the Malvaceae family, a large family that includes okra, cotton, and hibiscus, among many others.

The Turkscap is native to the southeastern United States, including Texas, as well as Mexico, Central America, and South America. It is a shrub that grows to about 2-3 feet, though sometimes higher and has small red flowers that never fully open. Instead, the five petals overlap and form a small tubule, from which the stamen and pistils protrude. It flowers usually in the summer and the flowers resemble a Turkish turban, hence the name. Sometimes, hummingbirds, moths, caterpillars, spiders, butterflies, praying mantises, and other insects can be seen near or on the Turkscap!

Come check out the Turkscap shrubs growing just outside the western entrance in Mike’s Room of River Legacy Living Science Center!

 

 

Amphibians of River Legacy

River Legacy is home to a wide variety of animals. Though big mammals and such as armadillos, bobcats, raccoons and others are among the most iconic inhabitants of River Legacy, several equally-awesome amphibian species make this park their home.

But, first, what are amphibians? Amphibians are a class of vertebrates (animals with a backbone) that are cold-blooded, live semi-aquatic lifestyles, and have a moist and scale-less skin. There are three kinds of amphibians in the world: frogs and toads; salamanders; and caecilians.

Gulf Coast Toad

Here,  only two of those kinds can be found – frogs and toads and salamanders.

Frogs and Toads

Several frog species can be found in our forest. Frogs and toads will usually be found near or in a body of water or a moist area. Some can be seen hopping by the trails or in our pond. Here are some of the most common species: Gulf coast toads (Incilius valliceps) are native to Central America but they have become established in North-Central Texas, including River Legacy. Other common species include the southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) and the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). Additional species include the Texas toad (Anaxyrus specious), green tree frog (Hyla cinerea), gray tree frog

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog

(Hyla versicolor), and the Blanchard’s cricket frog (Acris crepitant blanchardi).

Salamanders

Salamanders look like lizards but they are not covered in scales. They are less diverse and common than frogs and toads. One of the common species found in River Legacy is the barred tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium).  River Legacy is part of the range of other species, but no records have been reported.

Visit River Legacy Living Science Center to see the amphibians in our animal exhibits!

Why Do Nocturnal Animals Come Out at Night?

As with most animal behavior, it comes down to survival. Whether it’s avoiding being eaten by another animal or being able to find food, nocturnal animals have plenty of good reasons to sleep during the day and hunt at night.

Temperature

Many reptiles sleep during the day to avoid the hot afternoon temperatures. For example, Copperhead snakes spend much of the daytime sleeping under logs and leaf litter. Then they forage for cicadas and small rodents at night.

Predators

Animals such as mice are nocturnal because many of their predators are out during the day. While there are also predators at night, these small animals have a better chance of going unnoticed as they forage for food and water. During the day they can rest safe and sound within their burrows and at night they can search for food.

Prey

Some animals also come out at night because their prey comes out at night. For example, owls hunt for mice at night, which also happen to be nocturnal. Catching prey at night can be more difficult, but nocturnal predators are equipped with adaptations like great hearing and eyesight.

Competition

Animals are nocturnal because there is too much competition during the day. For example, bobcats might hunt during the daylight so coyotes hunt at night. This allows each species the chance to hunt for food without constantly fighting each other.

The coyote picture shown above is from one of our night trail cameras at the Science Center which captures still photographs. Trail cameras are predominately used to watch and track wildlife. They are perfect to place in a remote location and see what wildlife is in the area. It is surprising what you will see and how much wildlife is around us at night.

 

Bobcat Sighting

This beautiful bobcat was spotted earlier this week near River Legacy Living Science Center. We only got this quick glimpse before it sauntered back off into the woods.

If you should see a bobcat along the trails of River Legacy Park, this is what you should do:

  • Quietly watch or photograph the animal from a distance.
  • Make sure the bobcat has an “escape route” and do not try to corner it,  approach it or throw anything at the animal.
  • Never approach a mother bobcat that has cubs. She will try to protect them if she feels you might be a threat.
  • Never feed bobcats or any wild animal. They have plenty of natural food sources (rodents,  squirrels, birds) in River Legacy Park.
  • Enjoy the experience! Bobcats are solitary animals with a territory of up to 25 square miles. They are usually well camouflaged and avoid human contact so you are privileged to see this remarkable animal in the wild.

The bobcat’s most distinctive characteristics are a tuft of fur on each ear and a bobbed tail.

Let us know of your cool bobcat sightings!

Babies on the Way!

Our Texas Spiny Lizard has laid a clutch of eggs, so hopefully we will have baby spiny lizards in about 30 to 60 days after isolated incubation. Baby spinys, about 2-inches long, emerge ready to fend for and care for themselves.

Texas Spiny Lizards breed in spring and can lay up to 4 clutches of eggs during the summer. Clutches can contain anywhere from about 10 to 20 eggs.

We are excited about our potential babies. Be sure to watch for updates on their hatching.

Wildlife on River Legacy Trails

You never know what you’ll see next on the nature trails surrounding River Legacy Living Science Center! And since we are Wild About Wildlife in the month of July, we wanted to share one of our most recent sightings – three armadillos digging in the dirt.

The nine-banded armadillo is native to the Americas and quite common in Texas. It is, in fact, the state small mammal. Typically solitary and nocturnal, these animals will sometimes wander during the day if their night-time foraging for insects has not filled them up.

Recently, several of our young students and employees spotted three of these armored creatures digging together.

Armadillos can be easily identified by their leathery, armor shell, which helps protect them from predators. Often, they will be digging, using their sharp claws. They are usually between 2 and 3.5 feet in length, including their tail.

One of the best things about walks down the nature trail is the chance to see beautiful animals. As always, however, safety is a priority, both for our guests and the animals themselves.

South American three-banded armadillos have the ability to roll into a ball when they are frightened. The nine-banded armadillo found in Texas, however, cannot do so. When it is frightened, it can jump 3 to 4 feet into the air! Although this is quite a sight, we value the security and well-being of the animals in our park. We certainly want them to stick around!

When observing an animal like the nine-banded armadillo along park trails, it is often best to admire from a distance. Remain as quiet as possible, as any fast movements or loud noises may cause the creature to flee quickly and hide deeper in the forest, away from the trail.

Our exhibits here at River Legacy Living Science Center are full of different animals all native to the area that can be found around our nature trails! Celebrate Wild About Wildlife Month this July with a visit to the Nature Center to learn more about the wonderful creatures we share our environment with.

Written by Josh Ripple, Summer Intern at River Legacy Living Science Center, and student at Stanford University.

 

Snake Sightings on the Rise

No alarm needed, just a dose of caution,  if you spot a snake on the park trails or even in your own backyard. Like most wild animals, snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.

Just like checking weather conditions and packing enough water are necessary steps to prepare for any outdoor outing, so should being aware of the wildlife you may encounter. The first thing to keep in mind is that these are wild animals, and wild animals need space. If you encounter a snake along a trail, be sure to observe from a distance. Most snakes will move quickly off the path while others might stay as still as possible. If you can, walk around the snake, giving it a wide berth.

The best course of action is to leave it alone and observe or take pictures from a distance. Most snake bites occur when people try to pick up, move or kill a snake, all of which are unnecessary. Another way to avoid snake bites is to always be mindful of where you are stepping or placing your hands while hiking a trail that is either paved or off-the-beaten path. Be sure to look where you are walking and never reach down to grab something unless you have complete visibility.

Many snakes, like copperheads, like to bask in the sunlight and can be found doing so stretched across a trail, log, or parking lot. Copperheads are venomous but are not aggressive. Rat snakes are another common snake spotted in this area. Rat snakes are non-venomous, help control the rodent population and have excellent camouflage. They are typically spotted climbing trees or sliding across your backyard or trail.

Learn more about snakes common to our area at River Legacy Living Science Center and check out our exhibit of snakes, as well as other wildlife native to River Legacy Parks.