Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Raccoon fishing in the shallows | Photo credit: Matthew Paulson

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.

Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

Nine-banded armadillo | Photo credit: Jim Mullhaupt

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!

Fun Fact:
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.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Male green anole displaying dewlap | Photo credit: Ken Slade

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?

Green anole in green grass | Photo credit: Shannon Blackburn

Try to find the green anole in this photo!