All The World is a Stage

by: Brian Mihura The Wildlife Center receives creatures of enormous talent.  Not only do world-class songsters pass through annually, but so do masters of disguise, phenomenal architects and all too often, expert escape artists.  Topping the bill for actors, however, is the Hognose Snake. The Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), is a snake common to the eastern half of North America.  It is considered non-venomous, but toads would probably argue that point. Venom has been found in the saliva, but it only seems to affect toads and small amphibians. It is easily identified by its turned up nose. Coloration can range from sandy to almost black, but they are usually spotted shades of tan, copper and brown. Our current patient leans more toward shades of dark green and brown. Not considered an aggressive creature, it will put its acting skills to use when confronted. Act 1 begins with the flattening of the body and the adoption of a fierce open-mouthed display.  This often includes surprising audible hissing.  Common names for the Hognose include the hissing adder or puff adder.  To the uninitiated, there is no doubt that this snake is venomous and mean as …well…a snake. More than one person has mistaken the act to be that of a cobra’s, a snake not found in the New World.  Strikes may also be attempted by the Hognose, but these invariably take place with the mouth closed.  If this aggressive bluff fails, the Hognose moves on to Act 2. Act 2 involves the release of a foul-smelling musk and fecal matter and begins to writhe in death throes.    All of this is meant to send the signal that it is patently unappetizing fare – not only does [...]

A Thorny Problem

Horned lizards, commonly called “horny toads”, used to be a common sight in most of the United States. Children of previous generations may have even had one as a pet, these days it is illegal to posses them.  Texas is home to two species; the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) and the Short Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandezi). They are both listed as threatened by Texas Parks and Wildlife and a “Species of Concern” by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The Endangered Species Act provided a category known as “C2” which gave limited protection to species that U. S. Fish and Wildlife considered at risk. That category and its protections was eliminated in 1996. The Wildlife Center receives several of these interesting animals each year. While the Greater Houston area could support isolated populations, these animals were probably “pets” that were surrendered or “set free” to be found by others. The “lucky” Horned lizard arrives at the Wildlife Center dangerously dehydrated and malnourished. Horned lizards are very specialized eaters and as such are exceedingly difficult to maintain in captivity. Their status as threatened by Texas Parks and Wildlife requires Wildlife Rehab and Education notify authorities upon admission. First introduced to Europe in 1651 by the Spaniard Francisco Hernandez, they were considered sacred by the indigenous Indians. Astounded audiences were regaled with stories of blood jetting from the eyes. Fourteen sub-species have been described and eight can be found in the United States. Australia has its own spiny lizard called the Thorny Devil. Biologists originally thought they descended from a common ancestor, but genetic analysis has shown that the two lizards are examples of convergent evolution. Lizards on the two different continents independently evolved similar adaptations to exploit a [...]

Hitching a Ride

We’ve seen lots of strange things in this city, especially along Westheimer and Richmond. But a recent hitchhiker seen on San Filipe takes the cake. The call to the Wildlife Center went something like this: We found this tortoise on San Filipe, can we bring it to you?  Is it a turtle or a tortoise? (Volunteer is thinking, some of Texas’ tortoises are endangered – it’s probably just a Red-eared Slider) It’s a tortoise. Is it a baby? No Is it injured? No Well, we only care for sick, injured of orphaned wild animals here at the Wildlife Center, just move it to a nearby safe spot and let it go. There isn’t a safe spot - this is SAN FILIPE! Like, six lanes plus a suicide lane! OK, bring it to the Wildlife Center and we’ll see what can be done. Just put it in your car and bring it to us. You don’t understand, I have someone sitting on it to keep it from walking away and it is STILL walking away! I don’t think I can lift it. (Volunteer feels like they’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone) Can you and the person that is sitting on it lift it? It’s pretty big.  Well, maybe if I fold down the seat it will fit. (Cue the theme music for the Twilight Zone) A couple of volunteers are asked to help bring the tortoise inside. It is so big that if placed in a normal sized bathtub it would take up two-thirds of the length and could not turn around. And this bad boy weighs about 45 pounds! One volunteer takes a look and says “Oh that’s an African Spurred Thigh Tortoise, it is [...]

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