Saturday

20 Years of Saving Turtles. And Tortoises!

Saturday May 23 marks the 20th anniversary of World Turtle Day, an annual celebration to encourage the protection of turtles, tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. 

About 30 different species of turtle and tortoise call Texas home; some common, some endangered, some terrestrial, some aquatic.



There are simple ways you can help keep our shelled neighbors safe. 

  • Don't buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop, it only increases demand for wild individuals. 
  • Report the sale of any individual under four inches to local authorities.
  • If you're helping a tortoise cross the road send it in the same direction that it was going, otherwise it will just turn around!





And in honor of World Turtle Day, here's a sneak peek at our next Wild Women column by Louie Bond. Meet Ila Loetscher, the Turtle Lady of South Padre Island!

At 81 in 1985, petite but indomitable Ila strolled onstage at Late Night with a year-old Atlantic green sea turtle incongruously attired in a wig and baby dress with ruffly pink panties, then proceeded to playfully nibble the creature's flippers and rub the turtle's oil on her face as a "beauty treatment."

Next came a 3-year-old turtle in a giant hat and poncho, whose severed flipper caused him to swim in circles, Ila reported. 

"Boy, do I know that feeling," quipped host David Letterman, obviously tickled by his sprightly guest. 






Friday

Zebra Mussels on the Move in Texas

As with terrestrial invasive species, aquatic invasive species can be easily introduced by our own inadvertent actions. It's incredibly important to follow all national, state and local regulations to do our part to stop the spread.


How can you help?


Three simple words. Clean. Drain. Dry.




The Great Lakes account for approximately 80% of our continent's surface fresh water. It's a vast water system with tendrils through much of the country. The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, was first observed in a Michigan area lake in 1988, and it now calls much of the large water system home.

As of March 2020 zebra mussels had made significant forays into Texas, with confirmed infestations in at least 19 lakes in 5 major river basins of the state.  


So why is that such a big deal? Their rate of spread is incredibly fast and their biology makes them particularly problematic. They can stick to just about any surface or substrate, permanently securing themselves to pipes, boats, trailers and buoys.  They can sink navigational buoys, damage boat hulls and destroy water systems. Major cities have been impacted as water flow is restricted or even contaminated by infestations in water system pipes. Austin's water supply made national headlines in 2019 as decaying zebra mussels caused system-wide odor in its potable water.

The thing about zebra mussels is that they are incredibly easy to accidentally move. In their free-floating larval stage they can float for up to a month in ballast water. Because of this and their ability to attach to the surface of a boat or boat trailer, boat movement is a primary vector for moving them from one body of water to another. 

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, with our natural propensity to get out on Texas' lakes and rivers, it's critical for all boaters to Clean, Drain and Dry their boat, trailer and equipment.



More reading on the Zebra Mussel in Texas:




If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to 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!

Thursday

These Ants are Crazy!

Not all invasive species get their foothold as the result of intentional release. Instead they arrive because we unknowingly bring them here.

Something as simple as moving a single small item from point A to point B can be the launch of introduction. Multiply that by many items, and even more points, and it's easy to see how an invasion begins.


How can you help?


Don't move firewood. It's so easy for something unexpected to hitch a ride! Instead, buy it where you burn it. You can find detailed information at DontMoveFirewood.org.






Nylanderia fulva, the crazy ant, is one of our newer Texas invaders. It's also a tad mysterious and apparently loyal to the state since, to date, it's only been spotted here.

Tom Raspberry, a Houston area exterminator, was the first to recognize this as a unique pest. This - and not their reddish color - gave rise to their first moniker, the Raspberry crazy ant. Now they are more commonly referred to as tawny crazy ants.

Following that first identification in 2002, the ant seemed to turn up all over southeast Texas, from Houston down to La Porte, wreaking havoc on area businesses and homes. They seem particularly attracted to electrical wiring, even creating problems at NASA facilities.

Since then they have spread inland, with infestations in almost 20 Texas counties, as far from the Gulf as San Antonio. And given that they are considered a semi-tropical ant they certainly have the potential to keep on going.

But where exactly did they come from? Most likely South America. At least they are similar to other ant species found there. How are they spreading? Again, we don't specifically know, as no mating has been observed in the field. But they do propagate, and rapidly, colonizing a number of habitats and becoming nearly impossible to eradicate once they do.

As to how they got here, the most likely explanation is aboard a commercial vessel — an inadvertent stowaway, unknowingly transported to a new home. 


More reading on the Tawny Crazy Ant in Texas:




And tune in to your  local Texas PBS station May 24 - 31 for Texas Parks & Wildlife's award-winning television show. Learn more about new research into crazy ant control in the lab and in the field.


If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to 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!

Wednesday

Venom, Spikes and Stripes

Some invasive species are innocuous and easily overlooked. Others are so stunning it's difficult to understand how they could have invaded without notice.

It's up to all of us to stay vigilant about invasive species whether they are boring or brilliant.

How can you help?


Report any new or expanded invasive species outbreaks to authorities in your area.




The Red Lionfish, Pterois voilatans, is hard to miss. A gorgeous exotic that can grow to 17 inches or more, this saltwater reef fish is native to west Pacific waters.

It's not known precisely how they first appeared in the Gulf of Mexico although both intentional aquarium releases or a single large release during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 have been suggested. 

However they made it into the Atlantic, by 2010 they were present in the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary off the Texas' coast. Unfortunately, their numbers have continued to grow exponentially.

As with many invasive species, lionfish can devastate the areas they colonize. They out-compete native species due to their aggression, opportunistic feeding habits and prodigious breeding ability. In addition the lionfish is venomous - although reportedly delicious!


More reading on the Lionfish in Texas:





If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to 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!

Accessible Texas

Sometimes we just need a little help to pursue fun in the outdoors.





More than a quarter of all adult Texans have some kind of disability, which can make exploring the great outdoors pretty difficult. 

Of course, we’re here to inspire you to get outdoors, so we’re offering great information on accessibility in our March 2019 feature and Wanderlist, and now on a newly released episode of our Under the Texas Sky-Wanderlist podcast.

Not only are there visible kinds of limitations, like mobility impairment, but many are hidden as well. Think about the loss of sensory skills like vision and hearing or weakness due to illness or age.

Having small children in tow or taking care of aged parents can open our eyes to accessibility issues, as well. Break a leg or arm and you’ll see everything in a different light.

Many state parks offer some accessible features. These include trails, campsites, restrooms, bird blinds or exhibits.

Keep in mind that nature can play havoc with accessible facilities outdoors. Floods carve gullies in trails, drought leaves fishing piers and boat launches high and dry and strong winds down tree limbs that block paths. Even wild critters can damage accessible facilities.

Always call a park before you visit to ask about its accessible features or to see if hours/availability are affected by weather or COVID. Visit our Accessibility in Texas State Parks page for more information. 

Parks with accessible features




If you love getting helpful information like this, share this post and invite your friends to 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!

Tuesday

Grass Carp in Texas

On occasion, the introduction of an invasive species isn't fully accidental. Many plants and animals arrive here with positive intent – as a pet or ornamental shrub or for agricultural purposes  –  but simply slip beyond our control.

The most obvious examples of this would be the intentional release of aquarium fish and plants into domestic waterways. But accidental release can also occur.

How can you help?


Avoid situations where aquarium pets, aqua-cultured plants and animals or live bait are released into waterways – whether that might be accidentally or purposely.



Ctenopharyngodon idella, the Asian Grass Carp, was initially brought to the U.S. as an aquaculture control measure in the 1960s. Individuals eventually escaped and were soon spreading. 

The introduction of Grass carp was certainly not intended to lead to ecological problems but it unfortunately has. They can inhabit a variety of habitats, are prodigious reproducers and can harbor parasites, all of which potentially change ecosystem dynamics.

There are breeding populations in Texas from both legal experiments that escaped and illegal stocking. These are known to exist in Lake Conroe and in the Trinity River - Galveston Bay area.


More reading on Asian Grass Carp in Texas:




If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to 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!

Monday

Invasive Species Awareness Week: Giant Salvinia

Not every exotic species becomes a danger when introduced. Most cause no harm or simply fail to thrive. But the 15% that do reproduce and spread rapidly become known as invasive species. Whether you’re a landowner, suburbanite or city-dweller, invasive species will impact you – even if you never realize it.

$137 billion is spent annually to prevent, monitor and control invasive species spread in the U.S. And while it’s tempting to picture that as giant snakes in the Florida Everglades or the northern snakehead in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, here in Texas we have our fair share of invasive species that are equally problematic.

This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, a nationwide push to raise awareness of how people can prevent the spread of invasive species and protect their natural ecosystems.  


How can you help?


Learn about invasive species, especially those found in your region. Alerts for Texas by region can be found at https://www.texasinvasives.org/i101/ecoalert.php.




One invasive species you might not know about if you never visit a Texas waterway is Giant Salvinia. 

Salvinia molesta is a South American native that floats in large chains. Because it lacks roots, it can form dense mats that block sunlight from reaching native aquatic species, and its large leaves reduce oxygen levels in the water as they decay. Entire water surfaces can become covered, irrigation pipes blocked, recreational fishing, boating and waterfowl hunting all impacted by its spread.

Giant Salvinia was initially used as an aquarium plant and for decorative water gardens. It was first found outside landscape cultivation in Texas in 1997 and continues to spread throughout the eastern region of the state. 


More reading on Giant Salvinia in Texas:




If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to 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!