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The Western diamondback rattlesnake, common throughout North America, is just one of the many snake species that inhabit Texas. A member of the pit viper family, the venomous, six- to eight-foot-long diamondback is one of the world’s most dangerous snakes. The distinctive diamond pattern running the length of the snake’s body serves as camouflage.
When threatened or startled, the snake coils and vibrates the rattle at the tip of its tail, emitting a loud, rhythmic buzz. The sign of an impending strike, the snake may also raise its neck into an "S" curve; even when fully coiled, rattlesnakes can strike a distance equal to half their body length. Diamondbacks feed primarily on frogs, rodents, rabbits, lizards, and birds, all of which it can swallow whole.
Diamondbacks can be found in desert, grassland, woodland, and river bottom habitats; their longevity is approximately fifteen years. A nocturnal species, diamondbacks often spend their days coiled quietly in the shade where they can easily move in and out of the sun to regulate their body temperature.
In total, there are over fifteen species of rattlesnakes in the United States and they all have poisonous (toxic) venom. Other toxic venom snakes in the U.S. are water moccasin (also known as cottonmouth), copperhead, and two species of coral snake. Several harmless snake species have coloration similar to the poisonous coral snake; the following mnemonic proves useful in differentiating the innocuous snakes from the toxic ones, based on the arrangement of their color bands:
“Red on black, poison lack;
Red on yellow, kill a fellow.”
Contact the National Poison Center Hotline if you are bitten by a snake or other venomous creature.
Virtually any grassy or brushy area in Texas can yield viewing opportunities for various snake species. The western diamondback pictured on this page was spotted at Mitchell Lake Wetlands in San Antonio.
Raccoons are widespread from southern Canada to Central America. Their preferred habitat consists of brushy or wooded areas near streams, lakes, or swamps. A distinctive black mask, outlined in white, extends across the raccoon’s eyes, cheeks, and snout, while the rest of its rounded body is covered in dense, gray or brown fur. Their long, bushy tail is ringed with four or more black stripes. Adults measure twenty to thirty inches in length, and can weigh up to thirty-five pounds.
Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they consume a variety of foods. Their diet is made up of aquatic life, such as crayfish, crabs, and oysters, as well as mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, nuts, and fruit. When human fare is available, raccoons will not hesitate to sample it as well. Using their highly developed senses of hearing, sight, and touch, raccoons can locate food quite readily. A camper’s closed ice chest, tent, and trash bags serve as no challenge to the curious raccoon.
Talented climbers and swimmers, adult raccoons have few natural enemies. Juveniles are preyed upon by owl, wolf, coyote, and bobcat. In some areas, raccoons are controlled through trapping and baiting due to overpopulation of the species and/or fears of potential rabies outbreaks. Raccoons may live up to ten years in the wild.
Virtually any wooded area in which humans congregate and leave potential food sources is a good raccoon-viewing location. Since raccoons are nocturnal creatures, viewing opportunities are most likely during overnight activities such as camping. One of the many Texas parks you may witness these masked bandits is Guadalupe River State Park in Spring Branch. They first appear just before dusk and can move quite stealthily.
The nine-banded armadillo is a curious-looking creature, its twelve-pound body almost entirely covered with jointed, armor-like plates. Armadillos range in color from brownish-black to gray. Native to Central and South America, the nine-banded armadillo first appeared in Texas in the late 19th century. Today, the armadillo’s range includes Texas and the southeastern United States.
Armadillos are often visible while foraging during the summer months, or as the unfortunate victims of "roadkill" along highways and busy streets. Despite their small size, armadillos are quite noisy when rooting through forest duff in search of insects, worms, and berries. They use their sharp claws for digging and finding food. Gifted with a keen sense of smell, armadillos have extremely poor eyesight. Upon sensing danger, armadillos scurry off to safety at a frantic pace.
Adding to its peculiar appearance, the armadillo also has the unique ability to make itself buoyant when the necessity to cross deep or expansive water arises. In shallow waterways, dillos simply walk — underwater — on the bottom to the opposite side!
Armadillo females always have four "pups" and all four pups are always the same sex.
Two of the many armadillo viewing locations in Texas are Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, and Palmetto State Park in Gonzales. The key to observing armadillos is to listen, as you will likely hear them before you see them.
Often mistaken for chameleons, the green anole is a tree-dwelling lizard that is native to the southeastern United States and Caribbean islands. Green anoles are also found in warm climates throughout North and South America.
Often seen in parks and residential areas on walls, fences, trees, and low bushes, green anoles reach a maximum length of six to eight inches. Their bodies are slender, with a long, thin tail. Like true chameleons, green anoles have the ability to change color; this ability is limited in anoles, however–coloration is usually green, yellow, brown, gray, or a mixture. Most healthy, non-threatened anoles are bright green in appearance. The male anole has a large pink fan of skin on its neck, called a dewlap, which can be extended for courtship or territorial display.
Active and agile creatures, anoles have specially adapted pads on their feet which permit them to climb, cling, and run on virtually any surface. Another adaptation of the anole is its extremely fragile tail which drops off its body when grabbed, allowing the anole to escape from predators; in time, the anole will regrow a new (although generally shorter) tail. Anoles feed on small insects such as crickets, cockroaches, spiders, moths, and grubs.
Your backyard is perhaps the best place to view wild green anoles. Active during daylight hours, green anoles often sun themselves on walls and branches. Green anoles can also be observed in pet stores where they are sold. Like all lizards, green anoles require special care and a controlled environment if they are to survive in captivity. To see more anoles, view our anole slideshow.
Can You Find the Anole?
Try to find the green anole in this photo!
The Eastern fox squirrel is a common sight in forests, wooded urban parks, and gardens of the Central and Eastern United States (except New England), including much of Texas, as well as northern Mexico and southern Canada.
The fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel and about 20% larger than its close relative, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Fox squirrels measure between 19 to 29 inches in length from head to tail tip and weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. Three color variations exist among fox squirrels: in the northeastern regions, they have grey backs with yellowish undersides; in the western part of their range (like much of Texas) they have gray backs with rust-colored undersides; in the south they may be black with a white mark on their face and on the tip of their tail.
Like all squirrels, fox squirrels forage on the ground and in trees, feeding on a variety of nuts, seeds and plants. Squirrels also occasionally feed on insects, bird eggs, or hatchlings. While not aggressive, squirrels can use their sharp teeth and curved claws for defense if necessary.
Adept climbers, squirrels take to the trees when danger threatens. Once safely out of reach, the squirrel lashes its bushy tail and scolds the intruder with a series of barks. Due to predation, squirrels normally do not live past six years of age. Numerous hawks and mammals prey upon squirrels, particularly the young. Squirrels are also frequently struck by vehicles.
Like other rodents, the fox squirrel is sometimes labelled as a pest. However, the squirrel’s innate desire to bury a stockpile of nuts plays an important part in reforestation. Each nut the squirrel fails to reclaim has the opportunity to sprout and grow into a new tree. Backyard birdfeeders are a favorite target of squirrel "raids", requiring bird watchers to exercise some ingenuity of their own to thwart these furry bandits.
Squirrels are prevalent and can be readily observed at most Texas parks. For example, many wild squirrels can be found living on the grounds of the San Antonio Zoo, located in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park.