Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are well-known inhabitants of our woods! These cats are usually very secretive but, every once in a while, they are spotted walking openly on our paved trails where people can see them. Unlike most mammals, bobcats are still active despite the increasingly colder days. During fall and winter, they become more diurnal as their prey (rabbits and rodents, mainly) is more active at daylight during those seasons. So, it is possible that more bobcats are going to be seen in the next coming weeks and months. Bobcats, in general, are not aggressive species. It is incredibly rare for bobcats to present danger to people. Nevertheless, here are some things you should know if you happen to encounter a bobcat:
Stay within a reasonable distance of the bobcat. If you start getting too close to it, it might think you present a threat. Naturally, it would want to defend itself.
If the bobcat starts to walk toward you, which is incredibly rare, slowly start backing away. It is important that you do not run as this might scare the bobcat.
Do not touch or attempt to feed the bobcat. Bobcats are wild animals and you always want to minimize opportunities for them to bite. As it is the case with most wild mammals, wild bobcats may be rabid at times. Feeding any wild animal can cause harm to the animal, and there are plenty of food resources in River Legacy Park.
If a bobcat decides to walk by you, as long as you do not try to kick it or make sudden movements, the bobcat will just continue on its way.
Always have your pets on a controlled leash. The last thing you want is any altercation between a wild bobcat and your dog.
Be sure to take a picture and/or video of your bobcat encounter from a safe distance!
Seeing bobcats is a neat experience and if you find yourself in that situation and, as long as you follow these precautions, you will be able to enjoy being in the presence of these wonderful cats!
Bobcat (Lynx rufus) seen near the entrance of River Legacy Living Science Center last Saturday, November 10th, 2018!
Autumn is in full swing and this is the prime season for finding the sometimes elusive devil’s cigar mushroom (Chorioactis geaster). This mushroom is a very special mushroom because it can only be found in certain counties in Texas (Dallas, Hunt, Denton, Collin, Tarrant, Travis, Hays, Guadalupe) as well as two locations in Japan (Nara and Miyazaki prefectures). Tarrant county, of course, is the home of River Legacy!
This mushroom is found growing on or right next to stumps or dead roots of cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia). It does not grow on any other tree here in Texas. In Japan, it has been seen growing on oak trees (Quercus spp.) as well as Japanese sapphireberry (Symplocos myrtacea). It essentially looks like a dark brown cigar but changes its appearance once it opens up to release its spores. When it does that, usually a hissing sound can be heard and eventually the mushroom looks like a star. This is why it is also known as the Texas star mushroom!
Mycologists (scientists who study mushroom and related organisms) do not yet know why it is found only in Texas and Japan. A 2004 genetic study showed that the two populations have been separated since at least the early Miocene (roughly 19 million years ago!) This rules out the possibility that humans could have moved from Texas from Japan or vice-versa. Therefore, it is still not known why it has a disjunct distribution. Just another interesting fact about this mushroom!
The devil’s cigar fruiting body usually appears between October and April since it prefers somewhat cooler and wetter weather. This year, it appears that the rain we have had for the past month is creating good conditions for it. We invite you to take a look around River Legacy Park and the trails around River Legacy Living Science Center to see if you can find a devil’s cigar fruiting body. Look around dead stumps of cedar elm trees. No worries if you can’t find it; You can always visit our Discovery Room, where you can interact with a replica of a devil’s cigar and hear for yourself the hissing sound it makes when it releases its spores!
Water is a vital resource for life. We have all seen or heard this statement since we can remember. But, what makes water unique for living organisms, from humans to blue whales to bacteria to mushrooms?
While entire articles and books can be written on the subject, here are just a few facts that make water essential:
Water has the amazing ability to carry out a vast amount of chemical processes in contrast to many other liquids because of its chemical structure. This allows for humans, plants, and animals to undergo all of the processes they need for survival, from digestion to respiration to photosynthesis. No other liquid would allow for ALL of these to take place.
Water prevents things from becoming dry. Since most organisms are majority water, this is key for survival in harsh conditions such as the desert. Without it, animals and plants would literally dry up and harden, dying in the process.
Water actually becomes less dense as it freezes. This is something unique to water and it is the primary reason why ice floats. Without this property, our planet’s weather would be drastically different, affecting all life on Earth.
Water can absorb a lot of heat before it actually starts heating up in comparison to other liquids. This is the reason why areas where there is a massive body of water nearby tend to be cooler than inland areas (for example, cities by a lake or the ocean). This also makes water an incredibly effective cooling mechanism.
The list goes on and on. Water is constantly being cycled; it goes from the clouds in the form of rain, to the plants and animals in the ground and to reservoirs, lakes, and streams. From there, it either continues to flow until it eventually makes its way into the ocean or it goes to our homes for consumption after a rigorous purification process. Water from our homes eventually rejoins the cycle. All water then ends up in the ocean where it can evaporate into the atmosphere, ready to fall back down as rain. Despite this seemingly never-ending cycle, at the end of the day, water is a finite resource. There was a time when our planet did not have any water and that happening again in the future cannot be ruled out. Therefore, it is very important that we conserve water. Conserving water is also financially smart in the long-run, both for cities and people’s homes.
If you would like to know more about the purification process water goes through, allowing us to be good water conservationists, we invite you to our first Conservation Saturday event at 11 am, Sept. 22. There will be a family-friendly presentation on water conservation, and families will have a chance to create a water bottle water filter. Spaces are filling up quick, so if you would like to sign up, please call 817.860.6752 to RSVP. We hope to see you there!
Last year, we talked about spiders and their benefits to nature. Today, we revisit spiders to talk about a very interesting trait they have – their venom. Almost all 46,000 spider species have venom. Fortunately for us, there are only a very few that can actually harm people. In our area, there are only two types of spiders of concern: the black widow and the brown recluse spider. Black widows are distinctively black and have a red or orange shape on the back of their belly while brown recluses tend to have a violin-like shape on the back of their thorax.
Spiders primarily use their venom to paralyze prey so they can eat it. The venom is injected into the insect through the spider’s fangs. Spider venom usually is one of two types. Certain spiders produce neurotoxins, which attacks the nervous system of the prey. Other spiders produce cytotoxins, which help in turning the prey into liquid form. This makes it easier for the spider to consume it. In many ways, spider venom is not that different from snake venom.
If you would like to watch a spider eat, we invite you to our public feedings on Fridays at 4:30 pm to see our Texas brown tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi) eat in his exhibit. Usually the venom will not be seen, but you can be assured the spider is using it to eat its food!
Left: Our Chilean rose hair tarantula eating a cricket. A venom drop, in white, can be seen on the right side of the mouth.
World Lizard Day was celebrated on Aug. 14. Herpetologists, pet owners, and nature enthusiasts commemorate this special day every year by increasing awareness about these amazing scaly animals, learning more about them and showing them appreciation. Here at River Legacy, we join in that celebration by sharing our knowledge of them and inviting you to appreciate them.
There are around 6,000 species of lizards alive in our world. Together with snakes, they form a group of reptiles known as the Squamates. They are cold-blooded, scale-covered animals that have generally four legs, ear holes and eyelids. The latter three characteristics are mainly what distinguishes them from snakes. The largest lizard in the world is the Komodo dragon (Varanuskomodoensis) found in Asia and the smallest one is the dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus ariasae) found in the Caribbean.
In Texas, there are several species of lizards. Here at River Legacy, the most common include several types of skinks (Family Scincidae), the Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus), the green anole (Anolis carolinensis), and the Mediterranean gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). While the Mediterranean gecko is not a native to the area, the other three are.
The Science Center’s wildlife ambassadors include skinks, green anoles and a bearded dragon. You can also spot anoles, Texas spiny lizards and skinks as they dart across our trails. This is the time of year they are out and about. You can find them on top of decaying logs or basking on a fence, bench, or tree trunk.
River Legacy is home to lots of very well-known mammal species such as bobcat, raccoon, squirrel, and armadillo. But, did you know that the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) also lives here? Here are some cool facts about one of River Legacy’s most secretive mammals.
Beavers are the second largest members of the rodents, after the South American capybara. They can weigh up to 71 pounds!
Beavers have an extra thick layer of fat under their skin. This helps with insulation from very cold water.
Beavers are incredible architects! They are able to construct their homes in rivers, streams, and/or lakes using twigs, mud, sticks, chewed-on trees, and other similar materials.
Beavers can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes!
Beavers can use their tail to slap it on the water to warn other beavers nearby of potential danger, such as predators.
Beavers are largely nocturnal. The best way to find them during the day is during the dawn hours. Walking the trails close to the Trinity River or Snyder Creek during this time could provide you with the wonderful experience of seeing a beaver! We’ve even spotted one in our pond recently at River Legacy Living Science Center!
Learn more about the beaver and other animal architects during our NEW Animal Architects Summer Class in July. Spaces are still available for the class which meets July 9-13 and July 16-20. Sign up online at www.riverlegacy.org or call 817.860.6752, ext. 102 to enroll today!
Today, June 5th, the world celebrates World Environment Day! Since 1974, on this day, the United Nations has encouraged and promoted awareness and ways we can all help to take care of the environment.
One of our missions at River Legacy is conservation and preservation of the lands around the Trinity River. While not everyone can be involved in taking care of the forest, there are a few steps that you can take at home to be good stewards of the environment, especially on this very special day:
When doing laundry, try using your washer and drier only when you have a full load. You can help conserve water this way!
When watering your yard, do it in the early morning when it is cooler. If you do it in the middle of the day, the water will evaporate quickly. This is especially true during this hot season.
Try taking shorter showers as to conserve more water and replace your shower head with a low flow shower head!
Drink out of reusable water bottles versus plastic! Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose.
When at the office or school, try printing double-sided as to conserve paper. The less paper we waste, the less trees we are wasting.
Disconnect electrical appliances. Having them plugged in only uses up electricity. For example, your TV or computer when you’re not using them.
Starting in the Fall, we will have a new program dubbed Conservation Saturdays. This program will be centered around specific things we can do to help conserve natural resources such as water as well as all aspects of the forest. Stay tuned for more information in the next couple of weeks!
This past Wednesday, May 23rd, the world came together to celebrate World Turtle Day. Did you know that turtles, just like snails (make sure you read the last post about snails!), are born with their shells? Contrary to how they are shown in some movies, turtles are not able to get out of their shells. In fact, their ribs are fused into them. In addition to having a really good way of protecting themselves, turtles are also among the oldest living reptiles. There have been records of turtles making it past the age of 100!
River Legacy is home to a wide variety of turtles. The island in the middle of our pond at River Legacy Living Science Center can have tons of turtles basking on a warm Summer day. Usually, red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) can be seen basking together. In addition, three-toed box turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) and the similar ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) may be spotted in wooded areas of our trails. Make sure also to pay a visit inside the Science Center and see the three-toed box turtle in exhibit. If you visit the Discovery Room, you can take a look at more red-eared sliders, a river cooter (Pseudemys concinna), a spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), and a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). These last two could also potentially be seen in the pond and/or creek as well.
Snails (Phylum Mollusca, Class Gastropoda) are among the smallest animals at River Legacy. They are often not noticed and, therefore, unappreciated. However, they play a very important role in the environment as decomposers. They feed on dead plants, mushrooms, trees and animals. Some even feed on empty shells from other snails, tree sap and animal feces. While that may sound gross, it is very important that those things are consumed so that those wastes do not accumulate and start damaging the ecosystem.
Snails also help out with the calcium cycle, since they retain calcium in their shells. Once they are eaten by many animals (opossums, beetles, millipedes, etc…), that calcium passes to those predators and so on, onto the next ladders of the food chain.
There are roughly 60,000 species of snails in the world. This number includes slugs as well as marine snails. They are very slimy, which allows them to stay moist. The need to retain moisture makes them a big fan of water and rain, especially.
So far this Spring, we have had alternating periods of rain and dry, hot weather. Next time it rains and the forest becomes very moist, look for snails walking around on different surfaces. A popular place to look for snails at the Science Center is the pedestrian bridge at our western entrance, coming from Rose-Brown-May Parkway. Another place where snails are frequently seen after a rain is the wall on the ramp to our western entrance, just adjacent to Mike’s Garden. If not, any boulder or log in the forest will probably have some. In addition, we encourage you to sign up your children for classes this upcoming summer (classes like Slime Sleuths, Animal Sense-Abilities, PSI: Pond Scene Investigations, among others). Snails will be an important topic in those classes and students may even get the opportunity to touch and hold snails. For more information on how to sign up, you can visit our website at www.riverlegacy.org/summer-classes.
Most plants that exist in the world today belong to the seed-producing plants, either flowering plants or cone-bearing plants. However, did you know that there is a diverse group of plants that produce a different reproductive structure called the spore? These are the ferns. Consisting of about 11,000 species worldwide, this group is very ancient. Fossil evidence suggests that this group has been around since the late Devonian period (roughly 350 million years ago!). Here at River Legacy, some ferns find a perfect home.
Let’s now go back to the characteristic that sets these plants apart from the more common plants: spores. A spore is basically just a different way of plant reproduction. In essence, they function like seeds but they form in a separate manner. Rather than being associated with a fruit or a cone, these form on the underside of fern leaves or leaflets. They are significantly smaller than seeds and much more fragile. They are found in clusters called sporangia, which in turn form structures called sori that are seen underneath the leaves of a fern. When spores are released, they give rise to an intermediate plant stage called a gametophyte before becoming an adult fern.
One of the native ferns at River Legacy is the bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa). This fern grows in very moist habitats and is usually found on rocky surfaces, ledges, or slopes very close to a stream or another body of water. As you walk the trails at River Legacy Living Science Center, specifically the ones close to Snider Creek, see if you can spot this fern!