According to my on-line dictionary, “critter” is among the bottom half of words for popularity. Texas has them. Lots of them. Most aren’t human, they love it here, and many are annoying and dangerous. Texas wildlife is abundant and diverse, but “Critters of Texas” is also the name of a very large exterminating service. What’s that tell ya?
The Bugs and Bats
I’ve talked about the mosquitoes. Just a few miles west of were we stay in New Braunfels, TX, there are fewer flying insects to annoy us at night. The town of Bracken is there, and near that town is Bracken Bat Cave. From March to October, roosting in that cave is the largest colony of bats in the world: 15 to 20 million Mexican free-tailed critters (32 other species of bat reside in Texas).
Each Spring and Summer evening the Bracken bats exit the cave mouth, flying out in a dark cloud (which is visible on the FAA radar) as they go out for dinner (bats do not like to cook). They chow down on the menu of flying bugs after snatching them out of the air, and go all the way to Mexico and back each night. Thus, fewer bugs. The immigration folks don’t seem to mind. Apparently, they have no desire for our jobs and we sure don’t want theirs.
Crawling creatures, especially bugs, are in ample supply here. It seems like every kind of roach and beetle call the Lone Star State home. But the real scourges are invaders from South America – a tiny ant and a bee.
These Brazilian bastards are called fire ants because their sting burns like fire. They are fast, aggressive, prolific, fearless, and virtually indestructible. There must be billions of them. They range from North Carolina to Texas, and have been found in other places as far west as California. Fire ants are virtually everywhere in this state. Chemical warfare has failed. A species of fly has been imported that lays an egg on the ants. After hatching, the larva eats the head of the ant. Feel free to fact check that.
If you step on a fire ant den, they attack quickly and viciously. First, they will cover half your leg, then you’ll feel an annoying itch. Before you are fully aware of your folly, the stings are setting in and your language changes to the cries of the victim. Anaphylactic shock is common and about 5% of fire ant attacks in the US are fatal.
Even hurricane Harvey and all the flooding did little harm to fire ants.
Don’t even get me started on the killer bees, another gift from our South American neighbors.
I don’t like snakes. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s Eve and the forbidden fruit thing, but I have never been comfortable eye-to-eye with a long limbless reptile with no eyelids. It seems there are three kinds of snakes: non-venomous, venomous, and extremely venomous. Texas has an ample supply of all three. Even in mid-October, it’s still warm enough here for snakes, but I am not looking for that kind of companionship.
This weekend, we are on the outskirts of Colorado City, TX, just 30 miles west of Sweetwater, TX, home of the largest rattlesnake roundup in the country — probably in the world. I know snakes are virtually everywhere, I simply have come to associate Texas with snakes. A few years ago, my wife killed a coral snake in pool area of our back yard. We lived in burbs of San Antonio at the time. That’s too close.
Again, Texas shares its lizardry with the rest of the American Southwest. But one, called the horny toad (a name I have always liked), is as cool as it is ugly. My apologies to all supporters, students, and alumni of Texas Christian University (TCU), in Fort Worth, aka ‘Cowtown,’ for the disparaging comment regarding the attractiveness of their school mascot. I took at least 12 semester hours of master’s level coursework there. So, while I spent my time as a horned frog, and while have been called either a toad or horny, my time in your school was the one experience putting the two words together about me.
On my walk yesterday, I set out to find one. I did, but it was ‘itty-bitty’ (small). The state’s population of these harmless creatures is on the decline due in no small part to fire ants. It seems like the Brazilian bastards do not like harvester ants and the invaders destroy the native ants. Harvester ants are the main food supply for horney toads. Another problem for the lizards and the good ants is the continued prevalence and misuse of pesticides. But that is caused by ignorant invader toads of the two-legged variety.
These are the mysterious, adventurous, and lovely semi-wild creatures who refer to me as ‘Opa,’ and call Yolonda ‘Oma.’ More to come on that, but they also live in Texas.
When doing yer walkabout in Texas, look both ways,
especially in the wild.
Know this, there be critters lurking in the gaps, so mind them.