Meet a Few of Our Wildlife Ambassadors!

Smokey the Western Rat Snake

Hi guys!! I am Smokey, a Western Rat Snake. I am the newest Animal Ambassador to River Legacy Living Science Center and the latest resident to our public exhibits. I was brought from the Fort Worth Nature Center because I needed a larger home.

I am 6 years old with a beautiful yellowish, tan color and irregular blotching from head to tail. I am active during the day, especially when I’m hungry! Hey, you can come see me eat every Friday at 4:30! Sometimes when I get disturbed I let out a hiss, but not to worry, I‘m not venomous, merely voicing my opinion.

Actually, my relatives and I get confused with rattlesnakes because we look alike and we both shake our tails, but Western Rat Snakes do not actually have a rattle. Generally, though, I am a nice girl so come on over and see me! I am so excited that I just got a larger home with lots of room to climb! I might be hiding up high, so look closely.

 

 

 

Poppy the Virginia Opossum

Poppy the Virginia Opossum found her way to River Legacy Living Science Center after she was rescued and rehabilitated from being hit by a car. Due to the injuries sustained, she was not able to be released back into the wild. This is unfortunate due to the many positive benefits opossums provide to an ecosystem.  She is very sweet and curious about her new home. She loves eating hard-boiled eggs, crickets and strawberries.

When people encounter this ambassador in the wild, the feelings are a mixed bag. Some think this nocturnal creature is either cute or ugly; others think it looks like a giant rat. The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is a very unique creature. It is North America’s only marsupial, which means it has a pouch. Average life span of a wild opossum is 1 to 3 years; life span of a captive opossum is 2 to 5 years.

Opossums have a remarkably robust immune system and show partial or total immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes, copperheads, and other pit vipers. (Remember, North Texas only has two venomous snakes, the rattlesnake and copperhead.)  Opossums are about eight times less likely to carry rabies than wild dogs. This is due to the fact that their core body temperature is lower than most mammals and the virus cannot live in this cooler environment.

Another benefit from having opossums in your neighborhood is that they will eat and therefore kill ticks that are in their fur.  Opossums are fastidious groomers.  A study by the Cary Institute for Ecosystem shows that an opossum may eat up to 5,000 ticks in a season. Ticks can cause a variety of issues for humans, including Lyme Disease.  Now, the opossum is not single-handedly stopping Lyme Disease, but if the opossum takes care of ticks in its own body, then those are less ticks in our yards and natural areas.

Beavers at River Legacy!

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!

What is basking?

Whenever you take a walk through the woods, you might see lots of reptiles and amphibians enjoying a sunbath. Turtles usually gather on top of a log, all lined up neatly one behind the other. Sometimes, they decide to take in the sun just off the side of a creek or river. Snakes and lizards usually like to receive the sun’s heat just off the side of a trail or on top of a log or surface. Amphibians, likewise, exhibit similar behavior.

But, have you ever wondered why these particular animals do this? What reptiles and amphibians are doing is called basking. Basking is the action of receiving warmth directly from a heat source, such as the sun or a heat lamp, by simply standing or sitting under it. Both reptiles and amphibians are ectotherms, which means that they are not able to regulate their own body temperature in the same way that other vertebrates, such as mammals or birds, can. Sometimes, this is also referred to as being “cold-blooded.” Their body temperature basically depends on their environment. Basking allows these animals to be able to obtain the energy that they need in order to move about, find food, mate, and all the other things that they need to do. This is the reason why, if a reptile or amphibian gets cold, it starts acting in a very sluggish manner.

Next time you visit River Legacy Living Science Center, take a close look at our pond. In it, you will find a small island in the middle that is a very popular spot for basking turtles. You can also search for basking lizards on any surface where the sun is hitting.

Spiders are our Friends

Spiders (Class Arachnida) are animals that, often times, get a bad reputation. Some people find them creepy, dangerous, menacing, etc. While there are some species that do present a danger to humans due to their venom (black widow, brown recluse), most spiders are beneficial and a crucial part of the ecosystem.

Spiders are carnivores whose prey includes many species of insects, thus keeping their populations in check. This is especially important for agricultural crops. Simply put, without spiders, swarms of vegetable-devouring insects would overwhelm much of the world food supply. In addition, they also eat mosquitoes and flies, which can carry diseases. On top of that, many of the things that spiders produce such as venom and silk are being used in innovative ways in the medical and engineering fields, respectively.

Here at River Legacy, there are dozens upon dozens of spider species. As you walk around our trails, take a close look at the dozens of spider webs that can be seen throughout the forest. If you see a web that looks like a funnel and it is very close to the ground, it likely was made by a grass spider (Genus Agelenopsis). Orb weavers (Family Araneidae), including the yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) (pictured), and wolf spiders (Family Lycosidae) are also very common.

Yellow garden spider

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.

 

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.

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.