Celebrating Bats During #BatWeek

Bats, unfortunately, get a bad rap. In reality though, bats are some of the most fascinating and misunderstood critters throughout the world. Bat week is an international, annual celebration, held October 24-31, that aims to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation and the vital role they play in our natural world. 

Many old horror movies and tall tales portray bats as blood-thirsty creatures, all of whom carry rabies, that will intentionally fly into and get stuck in your hair. Let’s start there and bust some bat myths!

Indeed, while it’s true that a limited few species of bat, 3 out of over 1400 species, eat blood from other animals, bats around the world have hugely varied diets, including insects, frogs, fish, nectar, pollen, fruit, birds and even other bats. Researchers believe that the variety of bat species is associated with their ability to adapt to available food sources. Most bats in Texas are insectivorous. As such, bats can act as natural pest control. Researchers have estimated that bats save farmers billions of dollars in pesticide due to their appetite for bugs. So, more bats = fewer bothersome insects and more affordable produce!  

Speaking of some of the ways bats benefit humans, bats provide economic services to people by providing opportunities for tourism. The Congress Avenue bridge in Austin is thought to bring millions of dollars in tourism to Austin each year.

For the gardeners, bat guano is a very effective fertilizer because it is so rich in nitrogen. It’s such a rich energy source that it is the basis of cave ecosystems that operate largely independent of the sun. If you want to use it at home, the rule of thumb is “one teaspoon per tomato plant”.

Next, it should be known that not all bats carry rabies. In fact, rabies is no more prevalent in bats than in other common urban animals, including foxes, raccoons and skunks. Many people mistake bats for rodents but they’re actually a unique group of mammals known as Chiroptera. They are mammals, just like us. Bats give birth to live young, feed their pups with milk, are warm-blooded, have furred bodies, and their wings are comprised of the same bones that form our arms and hands.

Interestingly, bats are the only flying mammal. Other mammals like flying squirrels can glide, which is little more than steerable falling. Bats, though, are capable of powered flight, meaning they can generate lift and speed by flapping their wings. With minute movements of their fingertips, bats can pull off impressive maneuvers, including flips, loops and high-speed turns while they chase down their prey.

Some myths have some grounding in reality. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bat biologist, Dr. Nate Fuller, recalls a story he heard from what he describes as “an old-timey bat guy”.

“It turns out that bats flying into hair is one of the weirdest myths in bat biology,” Fuller says. “Bats really aren’t interested in you. Sure, they may check you out and wonder what you’re doing in their home, but they don’t want anything from you.”

Fuller says that the story about bats in your hair comes from times long past when ladies would wear their hair up high and wrap them in fine nets. Meanwhile, hygiene wasn’t the best back then and smelly humans would attract bugs. Bugs would attract bats, and bats, confused by the acoustic image of hair in a net, would errantly crash into these towers of hair while chasing down a meal.

Bats vision isn’t as bad as you may think either. A bat’s vision is about as good as the average nocturnal animal, such as a raccoon or fox. However, their most effective sensory system is echolocation. Using high frequency calls and listening to the way these calls echo off objects, bats can sense their environment in extraordinary detail. Some species of bat can detect millimeter-sized changes in the environment, such as ripples on water surfaces. Researchers have also shown that the neurological pathways that provides echolocation information also translates the signals in color. So, while the colors aren’t the same that we may perceive, bats can effectively “see” color with echolocation.

You can learn more interesting bat facts, why humans need bats and how you can help bats at Bat Conservation International’s website

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


German American Heritage Month - The Food

If you've never wandered around Wurstfest in New Braunfels dipping your Kartoffelpuffers in apple sauce you're definitely missing out.

New Braunfels, like many Texas cities with a strong German heritage, celebrates with a festival honoring its founders' rich traditions. New Braunfels is unique in calling it Wurstfest rather than Oktoberfest, but the general idea is the same. Unfortunately in 2020 many of these celebrations have been canceled or are being held online due to COVID-19. And yes, we'll miss the music, the color, the fanfare. But we'll also miss the food.

Schnitzel © ChronoPhoto | Dreamstime

German immigrants brought with them an array of native recipes, and as it turns out their hearty meat and potatoes diet was a perfect match for Texas. Most of their staples could be grown or raised here as they were on German soil. In fact, two of the foods we think of today as quintessentially Texan likely owe their very existence to German immigrants.

Chicken-fried steak bears more than a passing resemblance to Schnitzel — a tenderized slab of meat, breaded and fried. Germany has a number of specific Schnitzel dishes, as the word itself simply means meat cutlet. But chicken-fried steak seems most like a Jägerschnitzel, commonly served with a mushroom sauce, or Rahmschnitzel, which is served with a cream sauce. Either way, it's clear that the much beloved CFS has its roots firmly in a German tradition.

German meal prepared at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

And of course we can't talk about the German-Texas food connection without discussing smoked meats. We tend to think of Germany + smoked meats = sausage. Move that equation to Texas and you get German Texans + smoked meats = brisket. That's right. Texans owe that smoky, salty, fatty, bark encrusted beefy goodness to German American butchers who decided to pop a brisket in the smoker, instead of in a dutch oven. 

Clearly we owe a lot to German food. 

Which brings us back to Kartoffelpuffer. They're a kind of potato pancake or fritter. More substantial than a hashbrown, but not precisely an entrée either. While some like there's topped with sour cream, I prefer mine with a tart applesauce. Yum!

Kartoffelpuffer © Barmalini | Dreamstime

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


Mammal Monday - Prairie Dog

The word rodent generally has a negative connotation. We've been conditioned to associate it with vermin that carry disease and infest domestic and commercial buildings. But the order Rodentia is a massive one, with members that fill practically every habitat on earth. And despite an irrational antipathy towards rats and mice, people can't help but be captivated by the social nature, curiosity and interesting behaviors of the wide variety of rodents found in nature. 

Case in point — the Prairie Dog.

© Samuel McBride | #inthewildhood

Even if you've never seen a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs in person, you've likely seen them featured in documentaries or on a much smaller scale in zoo exhibits. The thing you'll notice immediately is that they never seem to be alone. Prairie Dogs are extraordinarily social animals, with an amazingly structured society. Their "towns" are complex undergrown burrow systems that span hundreds of acres of Panhandle and West Texas soil. Each town is made up of wards (think suburban subdivisions) and within the wards are multiple coteries — extended families made up of an adult male, a group of females and young offspring.

Territory within the burrow complex is based on these coteries and wards. Specific burrows are for their own use and recognition is an important aspect of all social interaction.

Two individuals coming upon one another will bare their teeth and touch them. If one isn't a member of the coterie it's a swift goodbye! If the two are from the same coterie the teeth touching becomes more extended, likened to kissing, and then play generally ensues. It is their playful antics that make Black-tailed Prairie Dogs so engaging to watch. They nuzzle, wrestle and groom each other, reinforcing the bonds of their coterie.

Of course, one of the behaviors that makes them so endearing isn't a play behavior at all but rather an alarm. Prairie dogs foraging outside their burrows are constantly in communication with one another, alert to the dangers presented by their many predators. At least one sentry will remain on duty ready to cry out an alarm at the first sign of danger.  The others then run back to burrow openings and take up the warning call, dashing into burrows if the danger is extreme.

© Samuel McBride | #inthewildhood

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is relatively common in the areas of Texas where they are still found. But the numbers today represent less than 1% of their historic populations. This is due primarily to habitat loss to ranching and farming. They remain, however, a keystone species. Other animals depend on them for shelter — burrowing owls, endangered black-footed ferrets, and a various fox species all co-opt their burrows. And of course they are an important prey item for rattlesnakes, hawks and coyotes.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


German American Heritage Month - The Language

Pennsylvania Dutch. Most people have heard that phrase, usually in conjunction with the Old Order religious communities such as Amish or Mennonite that live in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Those that aren't terribly familiar with what it means likely assume they speak Dutch. They would be wrong. The word Dutch is actually Deitsch or Deutsch, and refers to the Palatine German spoken by settlers who began arriving in the 17th century.  Later settlers spoke other German dialects and these blended to create, over time, the hybrid Pennsylvania Dutch. Because of it's close association with insular Old Order communities, the language is still in use today.

Now, would it surprise you to learn that here in Texas we also have our own German dialect?

Areas in purple represent German settlement

It makes sense really. German immigration into Texas introduced hundreds of thousands of German speakers that settled in an area so specific that we refer to it as the German Belt. Towns like Bulverde, New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Pflugerville, Walburg, Comfort, Westphalia, Gruene, Luckenbach, Schulenburg, Brenham and Weimar were safe places to speak, write and teach in a language familiar to the first generation that came to Texas. 

In 2001 Hans Boas, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas, overheard diners in a restaurant speaking a version of German he couldn't quite pinpoint. What he was hearing was Texas German. Thus was born the Texas German Dialect Project, which collects oral histories and conducts research in order to preserve Texas German and the culture and traditions it represents. 

It wasn't until 1909 that the state began mandating English only teaching in public schools. Add to that open hostility and anti-German sentiment during both World War I and World War II, and the construction of the highway system in the 1950s that opened up previously isolated communities, and the language that had evolved into Texas German over the course of a century began to die out. Today likely fewer than 5,000 people still speak Texas German fluently, most over the age of 60.

But what does Texas German sound like? Dr. Boas likens it to a mix of 19th century German dialects, with about 5% English loanwords. It's so individualized however, that, "Hardly any of the Texas Germans speak alike." 

Some of the commonly noted changes are grammatical — changes in tenses, object use, and the like — as well as moving away from formal pronouns to informal. Language became more casual as strangers became neighbors and friends. But, by far the greatest change was in vocabulary.  In some cases Texas Germans used words they heard every day from their English speaking neighbors even though there were already German counterparts. Thus in Texas German rope and fence remain rope and fence, whereas in standard German the words Seil and Zaun are used. In other cases, separated from Germany by an ocean and a century of technological advances, Texas German and standard German evolved in parallel. Words like car, roundup and cultivator remain the same in Texas German as they do in English.

There are also many examples of compound words made of English and German in Texas German, similar to the English-Spanish mixture that we call Spanglish. Examples include Stacheldrahtfence for barbed wire fence, Mesquitebaum for mesquite tree or Sattelbags for saddlebags.

Texas German can be found nowhere else in the country or the world.  If the language itself dies out by 2035 as Dr. Boas fears, the Texas German Dialect Project archives may become the only place to hear examples of this unique dialect spoken.

Here are a few more translations:

Texas German                English                    Standard German

Bungis                            pumpkin                   Kurbis

Eichkatze                        squirrel                    Eichhorchen

Luftschiff                         airplane                   Flugzeug

Stinkkatze                       skunk                      Stinktier

Wasserkrahn                   faucet                      Wasserhahn

Blanket                            blanket                    Decke

all                                     gone                       leer

hiedas                              this                         dieses

mitaus                              without                    ohne

wasever                           whatever                was auch immer

Photos used in this post are available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, unless otherwise credited.

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


Protect Your Texas Lands from Wildfire

Hunting season in Texas has begun! For many, hunting season conjures up memories of cold days wrapped in layered camouflage clothing while sitting in a tree stand, waiting for a white-tailed deer to step into the sunriseThat image is certainly accurate for trips to the field during the late fall season, but many Texas hunters begin heading into the dove fields on hot September days. 

Following the summer months, conditions throughout the state remain hot, dry and windy as hunting season kicks off. These conditions require hunters, and all other outdoor enthusiasts, to use an extra level of wildfire awareness and safety.  


Help take care of Texas and consider these tips when heading to your hunt camp, lease or Texas Public Hunting Lands: 


  • Check with local officials or the Texas A&M Forest Service for county burn bans and other outdoor burning restrictions.  
  • If towing a trailer, make sure to secure all safety chains to ensure they will not come in contact with the road. Dragging chains can produce sparks that can fly into dry grass along a roadside, potentially starting a fire.  
  • Maintain off-road vehicles and ensure they are in proper working order.  
  • Avoid parking or idling vehicles over dry vegetation. A vehicle’s catalytic converter can become so hot that it ignites the grass underneath.  
  • Avoid shooting near tall, dry grass or rocks and avoid using full metal jacket or tracer ammunition.  


Be smart, don’t let a wildfire start!  

If you want to learn more about conservation efforts in Texas 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!

Mammal Monday - Ringtail

The last softball game of the night had just finished playing at the city complex on the banks of the Colorado River. Lights on the eleven fields were going out one by one as chairs and ice chests were packed up into cars. In the soft glow of the headlights a slender creature raced up a tree just fast enough to catch the eye. 

© Mike Casey | #inthewildhood

I immediately stopped what I was doing to look up into the branches of the medium sized live oak. I was agog. "That's a RINGTAIL!" I remember saying, when my friend Rachelle insisted it was simply a raccoon. 

I'd never seen a ringtail in the wild before that night, and despite living directly on a greenbelt for the past two decades, I've never seen once since. In fact, the only reason I knew what I was looking at was from having seen ringtails being rehabbed at nature centers. But it was hard to mistake what I was looking at in that tree. 

Ringtails are distinct from raccoons when you take more than a casual glance. While they are related to raccoons (as are coatis and kinkajous) and have a striped tail, the similarities really end there. They weigh a scant couple of pounds, three at most, whereas even a small adult raccoon weighs in at a hefty 10 pounds. Their bodies are long and gracile, more akin to a ferret or small fox than the ponderous shape of a raccoon.  In contrast to the rather squat tail of the raccoon, the ringtail's tail is long, about the same length as their body, and provide balance when climbing. 

And their faces are adorable. Large, oversized ears and eyes lend them the appearance of a child's toy.  But don't let that cute face fool you. Ringtails are active carnivores when necessary, taking birds, smaller mammals, reptiles and insects, although fruit and berries also make up a large portion of its diet. The large eyes and ears are necessary for the ringtail to be effective hunters and foragers in the dark of night.

Although seeing a ringtail seems something of a novelty, they aren't particularly rare. Ringtails are found throughout Texas — although most commonly in areas with rocky habitat that accommodate their ability to climb and preference for setting up dens in crevasses in the rock face. But given their solitary nature, and primarily nocturnal habits, most people are simply never in the right place at the right time to see one. I consider myself lucky to have been.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


Hispanic Heritage Month - Your State Parks

I have an odd quirk that my children have always bemoaned. When we're road-tripping through Texas, and the terrain around us becomes rugged with steep ravines, hilly outcrops, densely packed trees, drifting sand or boggy lowland, I inevitably exclaim, "Wow! Can you believe ANYONE ever traveled out here on a horse or in a wagon?"

Settlers would not have found the Texas frontier easy going. And yet they came.

Prints and Photographs Collection #1972/163-26. 
Archives and Information Services Division,
Texas State Library and Archives.

As early as 1716 women and children came to Texas from the Mexican city of San Juan Bautista. Priests and soldiers established missions and small settlements as buffers from French intervention. Texas' first municipal government was begun in San Antonio by settlers from the Canary Islands. Throughout the Spanish, Mexican and Texian periods — and well into statehood — they kept coming.

They worked the land, felled trees, cleared brush, dammed streams and plowed fields. They brought with them domestic livestock that disrupted natural resources and displaced native animals. 

People weren't unaware of the ways they diminished the land they'd come to — the 1860s saw the first laws protecting fish and wildlife passed in Texas for example. But it wasn't until 1923 that Governor Pat Neff, a man who was motivated by the idea of providing recreational opportunities for Texans, persuaded the Legislature to create the State Parks Board. 

Neff wrote, "...all breathing spots for humanity where the weak and weary and worn may be nursed in the lap of nature back to health and happiness — should be preserved wherever found, for the use not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn."

Today over 80 state parks and natural areas are spread throughout Texas, preserving the rugged landscapes that settlers would have encountered when they first arrived. 

And those early 18th century Hispanic settlers, making their slow journey into what would become Texas, left behind the words used to name many of our state parks. 

Here are a few examples.

Not surprisingly, several of our state parks are named for the rivers that flow through them. A  description and history of the Spanish words for our Texas rivers can be found in our first Hispanic Heritage Month post.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, deep in South Texas, was once part of Porcíon 50 — granted to Jose Antonio Zamora in 1767. A small village called Las Nuevas existed on the property from 1850 to sometime in the 1930s, when it was abandoned. Eventually purchased by the Bentsen family, the acreage that comprises the majority of the park was donated to the state in 1944. Today it is one of the very few continuous sections of riparian woodland native to the area, home to Rio Grande ash, Texas ebony and black willow, and a hotspot for birding activity.

Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park

In fact, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is part of the World Birding Center, as are two other parks with Spanish names. 

Resaca de la Palma State Park, located close to the very southern tip of Texas, is a tropical wetland and woodland that's little changed since Spanish conquistadores explored the area in 1535. Resacas are all over the Rio Grande Valley — remnant lakes sitting in the floodplain of the mighty river. In English they're usually called oxbow lakes. 

The Spanish word resaca has multiple meanings, none of which seem to be geographical in nature. It may be that it's a corruption of the infinitive verb resacar, to retake, in the sense that either the river is retaking its water or the earth retaking its land. It could also be a portmanteau of rio seco (dry river), in which case it's describing the eventual fate of a resaca that stops receiving water from upstream.

De la Palma is an easier translation — "of the palm."  Alternately called the Rio Grande, Mexican or Texas palmetto, the Sabal mexicana reaches it's current northern range in south Texas and can be found in the park.

Resaca de la Palma State Park

It was once part of a vast land grant given to the Hinojosa family in the late 18th century by the Spanish King Charles IV. Today, Estero Llano Grande is a 230-acre park of reclaimed wetland surrounded by riparian woodland and thorn scrub habitat. The name is fitting as estero llano grande means large flat estuary. 

The Hinojosa family eventually claimed hundreds of thousands of acres in what became south Texas, encompassing most of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. While the family name is largely forgotten today, part of their legacy remains famous throughout the country under a slightly different appellation. Padre Nicolas Balli, grandson of the original grant-holder Juan Jose Hinojosa, was a Catholic priest who in his own right held property along the Texas coastline. Savvy readers may see where this is going — we may not know the name Hinojosa, but we all certainly know Padre Island.

Estero Llano Grande State Park

The Goliad, in Goliad State Park, sounds slightly Spanish, but is it? No, but also yes. The word itself isn't Spanish, but the word it's derived from is. And how it was derived is something of a tale.
Almost 300 years ago Franciscan priests built a Catholic mission at Matagorda Bay next to a presidio. Presidio is one of those loanwords that we use today in English, somewhat interchangeably with its translation of fort. The mission, Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, and the presidio, Nuestra Señora de Loreto de La Bahía del Espiritu Santo Presidio, were apparently never quite settled in place — they were moved by authorities a few times before eventually being relocated to opposite banks of the San Antonio River in 1749. The site had previously been called Santa Dorotea, but once the mission and presidio were built the town that grew up around it was called La Bahía. Thus, a town some 40 miles inland from the coast, was named "the bay." 

La Bahía had a complex history in the near century before it became Goliad. It was involved in the Revolutionary War (yes, really, that war), the Mexican War of Independence and multiple failed attempts at early Texas independence efforts between 1812 and 1821. It became Goliad in 1829, when the Gobernador of Coahuila y Tejas changed the name of the town to Villa de Goliad

But who was this Goliad the town was suddenly renamed to honor? It's actually an anagram of the name Hidalgo. And the man so honored was Father Miguel Hidalgo, who gave the famous Grito de Dolores on September 16, 1810, which marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

Goliad State Park

In far west Texas desert landscapes are beautiful, but a lack of water can also make them treacherous. Jutting high about the desert floor, the granite hills of Hueco Tanks State Park are the remnants of molten rock pushed up 34-million years ago. These weathered over time, eroding countless dips and hollows into the hard rock.  And in these voids rainwater collected— enough rainwater in fact, that in 1860 it was estimated they held sufficient water to last a full year. Water is a blessing in a place with so little, and well into the 20th century these huecos provided essentially the only water between El Paso and the Pecos River. The word hueco can be translated to several English words — hole, hollow, void, gap, opening — but all convey essentially the same meaning, an empty space that can be filled.

Hueco Tanks State Park

The canyon, running through the heart of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and, in places, reaches depths of 800 feet or more. It's the second-largest canyon in the country, and is the single most compelling geographic feature in the Texas Panhandle. And yet, it's name comes not from its majestic pinnacles, hoodoos, buttes or mesas, but rather from the trees found in the canyon. Palo duro translates to hard stick, in this case in reference to hardwood trees such as mesquite, cottonwood, willow and cedar.

Who named the canyon palo duro isn't exactly clear, but its believed that members of the Coronado expedition reached the canyon in the spring of 1541, and this is likely how the name first came into use.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the history, culture and contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to our country. Celebrated nationally since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, encompassing the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.

To learn more about the state parks found throughout Texas subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


German American Heritage Month - The Settlers

In 1683 thirteen German families from the Rhine arrived in Philadelphia. The date, October 6th, has been celebrated as German American Day since 1983. In fact, the entirety of October is recognized as German American Heritage Month, and Pennsylvania is certainly not the only state that has a claim on German heritage. 

The first German settlers came to Texas 150 years after those that landed in Philadelphia. The city of Industry was founded in 1831 by the family of Johann Friedrich Ernst. A man with a somewhat checkered past, Ernst was born in Lower Saxony, served as a quartermaster, fought against Napoleon, and seemingly embezzled a large sum of money from a public post before fleeing with his wife and children to America. Originally arriving in New York, Ernst made friends with fellow German Charles Fordtran, who hailed from Westphalia. The two made the decision to move further afield with Missouri as their destination. On the way, they read rave reviews of Austin's colony and changed direction. Instead of Missouri, the schooner Saltillo delivered them to Texas.

Ernst and Fordtran obtained land in Austin's colony and a letter sent by Ernst to relatives in Germany extolling the virtues of this new land went viral — at least the 19th century version of viral. Copies of the letter apparently circulated throughout Germany and encouraged further immigration. Whether the influx of more Germans had been his intent or not, Ernst proved to a generous benefactor. He opened his home as a boardinghouse for new emigrants, sold lots partitioned from his own land, provided knowledge and resources and earned the nickname the "father of the immigrants." 

Industry was the first German town in Texas, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Organized emigration of Germans began with the creation of the Verein zum Schutze deutcher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the protection of German immigrants in Texas), commonly known as the Adelsverein, in April of 1842. Twenty-one members of the German nobility formed the society with the express purpose of establishing a Germany colony in Texas by encouraging and enabling mass emigration.

Logo for the Adelsverein

Members of the Adelsverein came to Texas in 1842, conferred briefly with President Sam Houston about the possibility of a frontier land grant, and instead purchased thousands of acres near present day Round Top. Further purchases in 1844 and 1845 added millions of acres for settlement between the Llano and Colorado Rivers, and near Comal Springs. 

While many German towns, including Bettina, Castell, Leiningen, Meerholtz and Schoenburg, were established on this acreage, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg were definitely the largest from the beginning.  In the span of seven months over 5,200 Germans made the arduous ocean voyage , disembarking in Carlshafen (which later became Indianola, which later became a ghost town after two hurricanes and a massive fire destroyed the town and port in the late 19th century) and traveling overland to their eventual destination.

German immigrants journeying from Carlshafen to New Braunfels
from the German Federal Archive

The Adelsverein is something of a curiosity today. The intent of its founders was philanthropic, but also commercial. By providing lands and means of emigration to German workers they hoped to ease economic pressures in Germany. At the same time they believed that German settlers would be the source of both raw materials for production and end-consumers for the goods produced. But the project was beset by poor planning and economic mismanagement. In the end their intent of a new Germany within the confines of Texas failed, but it left behind vibrant German communities that still exist today.

Additional settlements cropped up as the years went by. The city of Castroville became the center of Alsatian culture in Texas due to the colonization efforts of Henri Casto that brought 2,000 settlers to the area in 1844. The community of Serbin was founded by some 600 Wends. Throughout the 1850s the population of German-born Texans more than doubled, reaching over 20,000. The German Belt in Texas was firmly established.

Immigration came to a standstill during the Civil War due to blockades of Confederate ports, but as soon as the war was over the Galveston wharves saw more German passengers disembark.  In the 25 years after the war ended, more Germans arrived in Texas than had arrived during the entirety of the early colonization period — an estimated 40,000 new immigrants. They didn't all end up in the established German towns and settlements. Some ventured further afield, and German "ethnic islands" existed in North Texas and on the high plains of West Texas.

By the 1890s German immigration to Texas was winding down, and most arrivals were from other states rather than from Germany itself. But those first, intrepid settlers that had already arrived left their mark. Roughly 17% of Texans claim German ancestry today, and their heritage and culture are commemorated in celebrations, food and language.

But let's save those for other posts.

Photos used in this post are available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, unless otherwise credited.

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Mammal Monday - The American Badger

You'd be forgiven for hearing the word badger and immediately picturing an imaginary creature living in a tranquil British fantasy countryside. After all, most of us are first introduced to the intrepid creature through childhood tales from The Wind in the Willows or The Chronicles of Narnia.

In truth, badgers reside on every continent except Australia and South America (while the honey badgers of South America are related to badgers, they are not, properly, badgers.) It's just as likely then that the badger you picture actually lives outside of a child's ideal of Britain and instead in, say, Texas.

© Tim Kirkland | #inthewildhood

Because they do, in fact, live in Texas. While they are most common in prairies and deserts, where large sections of open ground allow for unfettered burrowing, they can actually be found throughout the state — the sole exception being far east Texas.

They are swift and agile hunters and will often pursue their prey into burrows. As unparalleled excavators, they use their unique skills and fearsome, inch-long claws, to dig through the ground in search of these small mammals, snakes, reptiles and insects. 

They have few natural predators, and any inexperienced enough to make an attempt are met with a ferocious defense. Their compact muscular body and loose skin makes them capable of twisting free from the grip of the attacking animal, and those impressive claws and razor sharp teeth are used in combination with loud and vicious snarls and growls, enough to scare away even large assailants.

Badgers are generally solitary, mating in late summer. The female will dig a sett — a multi-roomed tunnel — in which she gives birth to one to five pups in the spring. She'll keep them with her for several months. In the fall they set out on their own solitary lives.

At up to 25 pound and 3 feet long, with a shaggy coats and white striping on the face, the badger is hard to mistake for any other animal. Add to that the strong scent glands common to mustelids, you'll likely know when you encounter this Texas native.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Mammal Monday — The "Op Art" Cat

These wildcats are so fascinating to some people that even famous painter Salvador Dalí owned an ocelot named Babou and often took it to a restaurant in New York City, tethering it to the table. Of course, its appearance raised concerns, and Dalí once told a fellow diner when asked about it that it was just a regular house cat painted with an “op art design.”

courtesy USFW

Ocelots are, in fact, quite similar to house cats but a bit larger. They are more similar in size to a bobcat. People often refer to them as “painted leopards” due to their spotted markings or even “dwarf leopards” due to their size. They have also been nicknamed “ghost cats” because of their secretive and nocturnal nature.

In Texas, ocelots are rare, as there are an estimated 80-100 individuals living in South Texas. They mainly reside in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding dense thorn-scrub areas of the Rio Grande Valley. Texas has the only ocelot breeding population in the country.

Historically, ocelots occurred throughout South Texas, the southern Edwards Plateau region and along the Coastal Plain. However, their population declined from habitat destruction and other human activities. More recently, ocelot populations have decreased as highway construction has increased. About half of the ocelot deaths documented in the past 20 years have been from traffic mortality. In recent years, eight underpasses have been built east of Brownsville to allow wildlife, especially ocelots, to safely cross highways. In January, an ocelot was recorded using an underpass for the first time.

Though chances of long-term survival may seem slim for ocelots in Texas because of their small population, there is still hope. In spring 2020, wildlife officials celebrated the discovery of a new young male ocelot at Laguna Atascosa, spotted on a remote camera. So don’t give up yet on these “ghost cats” in Texas!

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.


Hispanic Heritage Month - Our Animals

As much as 80% of the English we speak today is made up of cognates and loanwords.  

Spanish is the 6th most common language  for loanwords, taken not only from England's European neighbor Spain, but also where paths crossed in the New World. At its peak 1.5% of all new loanwords in the English language were borrowed from Spanish.  

Over time these foreign words changed phonologically, and sometimes in spelling, to match more common English pronunciations. Although these words might first require definition, eventually they became so common as to no longer need explanation. By then little remained to distinguish them from other English words.

This was certainly not just a New World phenomenon — gecko and penguin are loanwords from Malay and Welsh, respectively for example  — but as English speakers followed Spanish speakers into areas that now comprise the southern and western U.S. it makes perfect sense that the animals they encountered would carry Spanish names that would became English words.

Here are a few.

Spanish explorers likely stumbled across them when they first arrived in the New World in the early 16th century. While they may have been familiar with the Latin word crocodrillus, they would have had no reason to connect it to the the large reptiles living in the bayous and waterways they crossed. Instead these creatures were dubbed el lagarto, the lizard, eventually becoming the word alligator that we know today. 

© Sandy Nelson | #inthewildhood

Originally found from South America into the desert southwest of the U.S., these striking raptors no longer enjoy the continuous range they held prior to habitat loss. In Texas, reintroduction efforts have proved somewhat successful, with evidence of breeding along the southern coast. The Spanish word aplomado — lead-colored, plomo meaning lead — is generally accepted as a reference to their bluish-grey plumage.  However, an alternate translation could just as easily be the adjective poised or self-confident. This may be born out by descriptions of a New World bird introduced to European courts in the 16th century, praised as "high mettled," which some believe to have been the Aplomado Falcon.

Profiled earlier this summer in a Mammal Monday post, this little digger is our state mammal. A diminutive form of the Spanish word for armored (armaduro or armado), the armadillo was so named for the banded shell that covers its body.

© Jeffrey Newon | #inthewildhood

This isn't an animal so much as it's an attitude. A mainstay of rodeos across the western US, these horses are bred for the temperament to throw off their rider. The word bronco translates to rough and accurately describes the bucking they give to rodeo athletes.

A burro is a donkey, and a donkey is an ass. It's as simple as that. Well, almost. The domesticated donkey is descended from the African wild ass and has been a working animal for at least 5,000 years.  First arriving in Europe on the Iberian Peninsula via the Straits of Gibraltar, they can be found immortalized as pack animals in Spanish rock paintings dating to 2,000 BC. The word donkey appears in the written record in 1784, although by that time they'd already been in the Americas for nearly 300 years. Given their introduction by Spanish explorers and conquistadores it makes sense that they would carry with them the Spanish word for donkey — borrico — which in turn became the burro we use today. Burros are protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West." Finally, a little recognition for these hard working equines. 
© Jana Laven | #inthewildhood

The most interesting thing about the commonly recognized Spanish word cucaracha is that it hasn't replaced the English word roach. La Cucaracha entered the lexicon not so much as the insect, but as the song that bears the name of that insect. It's been sung by artists as diverse as Judy Garland and the Kumbia Kings, and most children readily recognize it from Mel Blanc's versions in morning cartoons or, more recently, via The Wiggles. But oddly, the song itself isn't really about la cucaracha

©Apreechas2536 | Dreamstime

Immortalized in writing as early as 1819, its folk song lyrics have changed to meet the needs of the times. Most of the lyrics we know today date to the Mexican Revolution (1910 - 1920) and are rife with political allegory, satire and complaints of the peones. Texas was intrinsically linked to the Revolution — Tejano communities provided refuge to political exiles and support to revolutionary forces in Mexico. Border raids were common, eventually resulting in attempts at U.S. military intervention. And the Mexican Revolution resulted in later activism on this side of the border. The leaders of Tejano political movements in the mid-20th century were raised in the calls for increased education, end to discrimination, recognition of women's rights and pleas for fair labor intrinsic to the the Partido Liberal Mexicano. Not what you'd expect of a song named for the lowly cockroach.

If you were to jump into a loanword etymology time machine, assuming something like that existed, javelina would definitely be a word you'd want to track. This small, rooting animal is reminiscent of pigs, and can be found throughout Central and South America and into the desert southwest of the U.S. Our word javelina is derived from an older Spanish word jabalina, which is the feminine versions of jabalí. That translates to wild boar and comes from an Andalusian Arabic word, خِنْزِير جَبَلِيّ‎, which translates roughly to mountain pig. That in turn is based on, جَبَل , the Arabic word for mountain. Thus, javelina, is an Arabic loanword borrowed into Spanish, and a Spanish loanword borrowed into English — a trip that takes us back many centuries and, quite literally, to the other side of the world.

© wildeyesphotos | #inthewildhood

They are the bane of summer enjoyment, these stinging insects that take our blood and leave itchy skin behind. Mosquito literally means little fly, mosca being the Spanish word for fly. English isn't the only language that's borrowed the word. Portuguese, Estonian and Italian also use it.

© Kalletaavo | Dreamstime

Let's get this out of the way from the start — mustangs aren't wild horses. True wild hourses are native to Western and Central Asia. Wild equines originated in the New World but went extinct around 11,000 years ago. They weren't seen again on the American continents until 1519. The mustangs that we know now are technically feral animals, descended from that domesticated stock. The word mustang is a mesh of two Spanish words, mestengo and mostrenco. Both convey the idea of animals that have strayed or who are of uncertain ownership. Today the word has changed to mean untamed to fit the spirit of the animals that still roam the west. Like their smaller burro cousins, mustangs are protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

© Susan Pena | #inthewildhood

Texas isn't the only place that nutria now call home. Native to South America, their valuable fur led to introduction into waterways in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. And here's where it gets interesting. We don't know when the Spanish word nutria was applied to the large, semi-aquatic rodent. We aren't even sure why it was. Nutria actually translates to otter and it could be that early explorers didn't realize they weren't otters. In North America and Asia the Spanish name nutria remains. In most Spanish-speaking nations they are called coypu, coipú or coipo, variations on names used by indigenous people within their native range. Why THAT didn't end up as the English loanword is anyone's guess.

If you've ever wandered along the banks of a river or creek you've seen these tiny fish darting about. Gambusia are a truly New World fish, with 45 recognized species in Texas, Mexico, Colombia, throughout Central America, on certain Caribbean islands and in some southern U.S. states. Several species vulnerable or endangered, and both the Amistad and San Marcos gambusia are extinct.  Gambusia are curiously named. The Cuban gambusia is the type species and it is from Cuba that the name comes to us. Zoologist Felipe Poey wrote in 1851 that the word from which it is derived, gambusino, "...significa nada, con idea de chasco ó burla."  Basically the word signifies nothing, and is a joke that when fishing you catch nothing.  Curiously, the word gambusino has an actual definition of a place-miner or someone that pans for gold. This could be the source of the joke and thus the name of the fish, since panning for gold often also results in nothing.

There's a visceral thrill — maybe excitement, maybe fear — that you get when you're snorkeling and come face-to-face with a barracuda. It's a startling thing to see the silvery shine of the large body and, of course, those teeth!  Barracuda is definitively a Spanish loanword. We know if can be traced back to late 17th-century Latin American tradition.  We don't know precisely what it means or where it came from before that. It may be simply a native Cariban word describing the fish. It may be that it was brought to the America's from the Iberian peninsula as a Catalan word that implies snaggle-toothed. In either case it's again a loanword borrowed into Spanish, then borrowed again to English. 

© Genlady | Dreamstime

National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the history, culture and contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to our country. Celebrated nationally since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, encompassing the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.