And many of you seem to agree judging from all the fabulous entries in our In The Wild Hood summer photo contest. You don't have to go far to find and capture (on film) the beauty of nature. Sometimes it comes to you. Now, if I could only get a photo...
The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the U.S., weaving its way into the fabric of human life and social connection. But humans have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation — the outdoors.
Many large cities in Texas issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the virus. Though social isolation is great for slowing the spread of the virus, the resulting loneliness can cause higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity and other negative health impacts.
As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. Luckily, the outdoors can counter those ill effects (still keeping in mind appropriate social distancing). Being in or around nature has shown time and time again to produce positive health effects in humans.
In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality and general happiness.
Though it is not fully proven, some evidence suggests that vitamin D from sunlight may even help protect individuals from becoming infected with, and developing symptoms of, coronavirus.
Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they would be participating in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.
Most Texas state parks are open, though some restrictions and capacity limits are in place. “No one is more pleased than us to welcome more outdoor enthusiasts back into state parks as part of the continued reopening of Texas,” said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Even in this limited capacity, we are glad that we can get more Texans and their families safely back on the trails and in the campsites to enjoy all the many unique spaces and places that make Texas state parks so special.”
People are also interacting with outdoor spaces closer to home. Leave No Trace, an outdoor nonprofit, conducted a survey on how COVID-19 has affected the way individuals spend time outdoors and found that there was a decrease in participation level in travel-based activities, such as camping, climbing and backpacking, while activities that could be conducted in a residential area, such as running, birding and gardening, increased.
These closer-to-home activities still prove to be effective, as humans need only two hours minimum per week outside to reap the benefits. Even merely looking out the window increases satisfaction and decreases stress. Birding from the comfort of your neighborhood also promotes better mental health.
So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! You don’t need to travel far to find the peace that nature provides — all you have to do is simply walk out the door.
And while you're outside, whether in your backyard or elsewhere in Texas, why not enter our In The Wild Hood photo contest! Submit photos of the wild see you see all around you and submit them online in one easy step.
To learn more about all the outdoor wonders that Texas has to offer, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!
Father's Day really, really trailed in the wake of Mother's Day.
|Bat emergence on South Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin|
For variety, it’s hard to beat bats. Bats are one of the most diverse groups of animals in the world, and you can see it in their faces, from the prominent muzzle and nose leaf of the Mexican long-nosed bat to the wrinkly, scrunched-up visage of the ghost-faced bat. These differing faces give us a glimpse into the wide world of bats, a creature often misunderstood and threatened.
There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide. Texas is one of the biggest U.S. bat hubs, with 32 of the 47 bat species found in the U.S. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the most common bat species in Texas. They typically spend their winters in Mexico and migrate to Texas in the spring to birth and raise their pups.
Texas also has one of the largest bat colonies in the world — Bracken Cave, which hosts over 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. During the late summer, pups are old enough to forage on their own, which provides for some astounding bat emergences. Bat fanatics can see bat flights in many places in Texas such as Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area in Rocksprings, Frio Bat Cave near Concan and others. Just remember to be patient with the bats, as emergences are naturally occurring, unpredictable events, and to respect them by talking quietly, keeping your distance and refraining from shining bright lights.
Unfortunately, many bats are endangered today. Out of the 32 bat species in Texas, 23 are considered “species of greatest conservation need” in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Conservation Action Plan.
One area of increasing concern is the deadly white-nose syndrome, which is an invasive, cold-adapted fungus that targets hibernating bats in North America and has killed 5.7 million bats in the U.S. and Canada. The first case was found in New York in 2006, and fungus started appearing in Texas in the Panhandle in 2017. The first case in Texas was found this year in Gillespie County on a cave myotis bat on February 23.
Bat populations are declining across the globe. Why? For starters, bats are the slowest producing mammals on earth for their size, as females give birth to one pup each year. The babies weigh up to one-third of their mother’s body weight (imagine giving birth to a 40-pound human).
Habitat destruction is a major cause of bat decline, with forest habitats being cleared for agriculture or other development. Wind energy presents a threat as well, as bats collide with the turbine blades.
Bats are also constantly misunderstood by people, and these irrational fears can cause problems. For instance, perhaps the biggest myth is that bats are blood suckers. While vampire bats exist, there are only three of those species, and they are limited to Latin America. They don’t even suck blood but rather lap it up as kittens do with milk. Additionally, their saliva carries an enzyme used to prevent blood clots and has been developed into medicine for strokes.
Another bat myth some people believe is that all bats have rabies. While most bats that approach humans could carry diseases, only 5 percent to 6 percent of bats tested by the CDC have rabies. Many folks are also afraid bats will fly into and “nest” in an unsuspecting person’s hair. If a bat swoops toward your head, it’s probably after an insect. Plus, they don’t even make nests!
Some see bats as wicked creatures, whereas bats are actually quite selfless. In fact, they share food with other bats. In China, they are symbols of good luck and happiness.
Other myths include bats being blind (they have normal eyesight as any other animal and even use echolocation); they are flying mice (they are more closely related to humans than rodents); and they always stay in isolated caves (they actually interact daily with the same fields, forests and waters that we do).
Unfortunately, the endangerment of bats is also a danger to us. Bats are critical for the environment’s well-being and our economic health. They act as natural pest controls, as bats eat around 600 to 1,000 mosquitos an hour. They also reduce crop damage and pesticide use by $3.7 billion a year. Bats pollinate critical plants and act as seed dispersals for new flora to grow. Even their excrement, guano, can be used as fertilizer.
So how can we help bats? Educate others on bats! Let them know they’re not scary, flying creatures that bite but rather diverse and beautiful creatures that can coexist with humans. It is also best to reduce pesticide use, care for natural bat habitats, protect water quality and maybe even build a bat house.
Check out the Under the Texas Sky Wanderlist podcast that inspired this blog post or read more articles about the fascinating lives of bats, places to watch emergences and the threat of white-nose syndrome in Texas Parks & Wildlife.
To see bats in action around the world, check out these live cams: https://batworld.org/bat-cams/.
To learn more about Texas' fascinating wildlife, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!
Succulent/cacti, flower, tree
Sunrise, sunset, moon, stars, Milky Way
Wind chimes, outdoor lights, gorgeous gardens
Atmospheric, interesting rocks, nature abstracts
Flying bug, crawling bug, spider in a web
Bird, reptile, amphibian
For more information and complete rules, click here.
Each week we'll spotlight a different category on social media.
And look for our favorites in future issues. Will your submission make the cut?
- Learn to Fish with tips and videos covering all the basics.
- Not sure where to fish? Find a lake, community fishing spot or river access point. Need a wheelchair accessible fishing site? Be sure to check any potential COVID-19 related closures before you go.
- And once fishing's in your blood, be sure to help out conservation efforts by purchasing your fishing license so you can fish all year long. 100% of the proceeds go to on-the-ground conservation efforts that make Texas one of the best places to fish!
The last Friday in May is dedicated to National Heat Awareness. With summer imminent and temperatures rising, we remind you to stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed.
Even with summer heating up there are still ways to be outside and stay cool. Here are a few tips.
- Wade in the water. You can often find cooler temperatures by the ocean, and fresh water lakes and streams can offer welcome respite.
- Climb every mountain. West Texas vistas benefit from high altitudes and low temperatures, even if you have to trek to reach them.
- Descend into the depths. Many of the caverns and caves that spread beneath our Texas soil boast consistent, year-round lows to keep you cool while you tour, enthralled.
- Stay up late. There's a reason so many critters live the nocturnal life. Night hiking or running is a great way to take advantage of cooler temps when the sun goes down.
For more details on how to beat the heat, read Sarah Youngblood's story in our July 2019 issue.