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Wildlife

Filed Under: 
Environment
Deer in Palo Duro Canyon. Photo by Robert Plocheck.

 

Texas has many native animals and birds, as well as introduced species. More than 540 species of birds — about three fourths of all different species found in the United States — have been identified in Texas.

Some 142 species of animals, including some that today are extremely rare, are found in Texas.

A few of the leading mammals of Texas are described here. Those marked by an asterisk (*) are non-native species. Information was provided by the Nongame and Urban Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife; The Mammals of Texas by William B. Davis and David J. Schmidly, 1994, and the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Mammals

Armadillo — The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is one of Texas’ most interesting mammals. It is found in most of the state except the western Trans-Pecos. It is now common as far north and east as Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Badger — The badger (Taxidea taxus) is found throughout the state, except the extreme eastern parts. It is a fierce fighter, and it is valuable in helping control the rodent population.

Bat — Thirty-two species of these winged mammals have been found in Texas, more than in any other state in the United States. Of these, 27 species are known residents, though they are seldom seen by the casual observer. The Mexican, or Brazilian, free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) and the cave myotis (Myotis velifer) constitute most of the cave-dwelling bats of Central and West Texas. They have some economic value for their deposits of nitrogen-rich guano. Some commercial guano has been produced from James River Bat Cave, Mason County; Beaver Creek Cavern, Burnet County; and from large deposits in other caves including Devil’s Sinkhole in Edwards County, Blowout Cave in Blanco County and Bandera Bat Cave, Bandera County. The largest concentration of bats in the world is found at Bracken Cave in Comal County, thought to hold between 20 and 40 million bats. The big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), the red bat (Lasiurus borealis) and the evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis) are found in East and Southeast Texas. The evening and big brown bats are forest and woodland dwelling mammals.

Most of the rarer species of Texas bats have been found along the Rio Grande and in the Trans-Pecos. Bats can be observed at dusk near a water source, and many species may also be found foraging on insects attracted to street lights. Everywhere bats occur, they are the main predators of night-flying insects, including mosquitoes and many crop pests. On the Web: www.batcon.org/

Bear — The black bear (Ursus americanus), formerly common throughout most of the state, is now surviving in remnant populations in portions of the Trans-Pecos. Recently, some have been moving into East Texas from neighboring states. (Click, for additional discussion of habitat.)

Beaver — The American beaver (Castor canadensis) is found over most of the state except for the Llano Estacado and parts of the Trans-Pecos.

Bighorn — (See Sheep.)

Bison — The largest of native terrestrial wild mammals of North America, the American bison (Bos bison), commonly called buffalo, was formerly found in the western two-thirds of the state. Today it is extirpated or confined on ranches. Deliberate slaughter of this majestic animal for hides and to eliminate the Plains Indians’ main food source reached a peak about 1877-78, and the bison was almost eradicated by 1885. Estimates of the number of buffalo killed vary, but as many as 200,000 hides were sold in Fort Worth at a single two-day sale. Except for the interest of the late Col. Charles Goodnight and a few other foresighted men, the bison might be extinct.

Cat — The jaguar (Felis onca) is probably now extinct in Texas and, along with the ocelot, jaguarundi and margay, is listed as rare and endangered by both federal and state wildlife agencies. The mountain lion (Felis concolor), also known as cougar and puma, was once found statewide. It is now found in the mountainous areas of the Trans-Pecos and the dense Rio Grande Plain brushland. The ocelot (Felis pardalis), also known as the leopard cat, is found usually along the border. The red-and-gray cat, or jaguarundi (Felis yagouaroundi Geoffroy) is found, rarely, in extreme South Texas. The margay (Felis wiedii) was reported in the 1850s near Eagle Pass. The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is found over the state in large numbers.

Chipmunk — The gray-footed chipmunk (Tamias canipes) is found at high altitudes in the Guadalupe and Sierra Diablo ranges of the Trans-Pecos (see also Ground Squirrel, with which it is often confused in public reference).

Coati — The white-nosed coati (Nasua narica), a relative of the raccoon, is occasionally found in southern Texas from Brownsville to the Big Bend. It inhabits woodland areas and feeds both on the ground and in trees. The coati, which is on the list of threatened species, is also found occasionally in Big Bend National Park.

Coyote.

Coyote.

Coyote — The coyote (Canis latrans), great in number, is the most destructive Texas predator of livestock. On the other hand, it is probably the most valuable predator in the balance of nature. It is a protection to crops and range lands by its control of rodents and rabbits. It is found throughout the state, but is most numerous in the brush country of Southwest Texas. It is the second-most important fur-bearing animal in the state.

Deer — The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), found throughout the state in brushy or wooded areas, is the most important Texas game animal. Its numbers in Texas are estimated at more than 3 million. The mule deer (Odocoileus heminous) is found principally in the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle areas. It has increased in number in recent years. The little Del Carmen deer (white-tailed subspecies) is found in limited numbers in the high valleys of the Chisos Mountains in the Big Bend. The only native elk in Texas (Cervus merriami), found in the southern Guadalupe Mountains, became extinct about the turn of the 20th century. The wapiti or elk (Cervus elaphus), was introduced into the same area about 1928. There are currently several herds totalling several hundred individuals.

A number of exotic deer species have been introduced, mostly for hunting purposes. The axis deer* (Cervus axix) is the most numerous of the exotics. Native to India, it is found mostly in Central and South Texas, both free-ranging and confined on ranches. Blackbuck* (Antilope cervicapra), also native to India, is the second-most numerous exotic deer in the state and is found on ranches in 86 counties. Fallow deer* (Cervus dama), native to the Mediterranean, has been introduced to 93 counties, while the nilgai* (Boselaphus tragocamelus), native of India and Pakistan, is found mostly on ranches in Kenedy and Willacy counties. The sika deer* (Cervus nippon), native of southern Siberia, Japan and China, has been introduced in 77 counties in Central and South Texas.

Dolphin — The Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) is rather small, long-snouted, and spotted; it is purplish gray, appearing blackish at a distance, usually with numerous small white or gray spots on its sides and back. In the Gulf of Mexico, this dolphin is second in abundance only to the bottlenose dolphin. The bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus)is stout and short-beaked with sloping forehead, projecting lower jaw, and high dorsal fin. Other species, such as the Clymene, the Common dolphin, the Pantropical Spotted, Risso's, Rough-toothed, Spinner, and Striped are unusual and known in Texas only through strandings along Gulf beaches.

Ferret — The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was formerly found widely ranging through the West Texas country of the prairie dog on which it preyed. It is now considered extinct in Texas. It is of the same genus as the weasel and the mink.

Fox — The common gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is found throughout most of the state, primarily in the woods of East Texas, in broken parts of the Edwards Plateau, and in the rough country at the foot of the High Plains. The kit or Swift fox (Vulpes velox) is found in the western one-third of the state. A second species of kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) is found in the Trans-Pecos and is fairly numerous in some localities. The red fox* (Vulpes vulpes), which ranges across Central Texas, was introduced for sport.

Gopher — Nine species of pocket gopher occur in Texas. The Botta’s pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae) is found from the Trans-Pecos eastward across the Edwards Plateau. The plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) is found from Midland and Tom Green counties east and north to McLennan, Dallas and Grayson counties. The desert pocket gopher (Geomys arenarius) is found only in the Trans-Pecos, while the yellow-faced pocket gopher (Cratogeomys castanops) is found in the western one-third of the state, with occasional sightings along the Rio Grande in Maverick and Cameron counties. The Texas pocket gopher (Geomys personatus) is found in South Texas from San Patricio County to Val Verde County. Attwater’s pocket gopher (Geomys attwateri) and Baird’s pocket gopher (Geomys breviceps) are both found generally in South Central and Coastal Texas from the Brazos River to the San Antonio River and south to Matagorda and San Patricio counties. Jones’ pocket gopher (Geomys knoxjonesi) is found only in far West Texas, while the Llano pocket gopher (Geomys texensis) is found only in two isolated areas of the Hill Country.

Mexican ground squirrel

Mexican ground squirrel.

Ground Squirrel — Five or more species of ground squirrel live in Texas, mostly in the western part of the state. The rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) is found throughout the Edwards Plateau and Trans-Pecos. The Mexican ground squirrel (Spermophilus mexicanus) is found in southern and western Texas. The spotted ground squirrel (Spermophilus spilosoma) is found generally in the western half of the state. The thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) is found in a narrow strip from Dallas and Tarrant counties to the Gulf. The Texas antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus interpres) is found along the Rio Grande from El Paso to Val Verde County.

A green jay perches on top of a javelina.

A green jay perches on top of a javelina.

Javelina — The javelina or collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) is found in brushy semidesert where prickly pear, a favorite food, is found. The javelina was hunted commercially for its hide until 1939. They are harmless to livestock and to people, though they can defend themselves ferociously when attacked by hunting dogs.

Mink — The mink (Mustela vison) is found in the eastern half of the state, always near streams, lakes or other water sources. Although it is an economically important fur-bearing animal in the eastern United States, it ranked only 13th in numbers and 9th in economic value to trappers in Texas in 1988-89, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey.

Mole — The eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is found in the eastern two-thirds of the state.

Muskrat — The common muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), occurs in aquatic habitats in the northern, southeastern and southwestern parts of the state. Although the muskrat was once economically valuable for its fur, its numbers have declined, mostly because of the loss of habitat.

Nutria* — This introduced species (Myocastor coypus), native to South America, is found in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The fur is not highly valued and, since nutria are in competition with muskrats, their spread is discouraged. They have been used widely in Texas as a cure-all for ponds choked with vegetation, with spotty results.

Opossum — A marsupial, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is found in nearly all parts of the state. The opossum has economic value for its pelt, and its meat is considered a delicacy by some. It is one of the chief contributors to the Texas fur crop.

Otter — A few river otter (Lutra canadensis) are found in the eastern quarter of the state. It has probably been extirpated from the Panhandle, north-central and southern Texas.

feral pig.
Feral pig.

Pig, Feral* — Feral pigs are found throughout Texas but especially in areas of the Rio Grande and Coastal Plains, as well as in the woods of East Texas. They are descendants of escaped domestic hogs or of European wild hogs that were imported for sport. Their rooting habits can extensively destroy vegetation and soil.

Porcupine — The yellow-haired porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is found from the western half of the state east to Bosque County. It is adapted to a variety of habitats and, in recent years, has expanded into South Texas. Porcupines are expert at climbing trees but are as much at home in rocks as on the ground or in trees. They have a relatively long lifespan; one marked female lived more than 10 years under natural conditions.

Prairie Dog — Until recent years probably no sight was so universal in West Texas as the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Naturalists estimated its population in the hundreds of millions, and prairie-dog towns often covered many acres with thickly spaced burrows. Its destruction of range grasses and cultivated crops has caused farmers and ranchers to destroy many of them, and it is extirpated from much of its former range. It is being propagated in several public zoos, notably in the prairie dog town in Mackenzie Park at Lubbock. It has been honored in Texas by the naming of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, along one segment of which is located the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon.

Pronghorn — The Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) formerly was found in the western two-thirds of the state. It is currently found only in limited areas from the Panhandle to the Trans-Pecos. Despite management efforts, its numbers have been decreasing in recent years.

Rabbit — The black-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus californicus) is found throughout Texas except in the Big Thicket area of East Texas. It breeds rapidly, and its long hind legs make it one of the world’s faster-running animals. The Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is found mostly in the eastern three-quarters of the state. The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni) is found in the western half of the state, usually on the open range. The swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) is found in East Texas and the coastal area.

raccoon
Raccoon.

Raccoon — The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is found throughout Texas, especially in woodlands and near water. It is strictly nocturnal. A raccoon makes its den in a large hollow tree or hollow log, in which its spends the daylight hours sleeping and in which it also rears its young. In western areas, dens usually are in crevices of rocky bluffs.

Rats and Mice — There are 40 to 50 species of rats and mice in Texas of varying characteristics, habitats and economic destructiveness. The Norway rat* (Rattus norvegicus) and the roof rat* (Rattus rattus), both non-native species, are probably the most common and the most destructive. They also are instrumental in the transmission of several dread diseases, including bubonic plague and typhus. The common house mouse* (Mus musculis) is estimated in the hundreds of millions annually. The Mexican vole (Microtus mexicanus guadalupensis), also called the Guadalupe Mountain vole, is found only in the higher elevations of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and just over the border into New Mexico.

Ringtail — The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is a cat-sized carnivore resembling a small fox with a long raccoon-like tail. It found statewide but is rare in the Lower Valley and the Coastal Plains. Ringtails are nocturnal and live in a variety of habitats, preferring rocky areas, such as rock piles, stone fences, and canyon walls.

Bighorn.

Bighorn.

SheepThe mountain sheep (Ovis canadensis), also called desert bighorn, formerly was found in isolated areas of the mountainous Trans-Pecos, but the last native sheep were seen in 1959. They ´╗┐recently have been introduced into the same areas. The barbary sheep* (Ammotragus lervia), or aoudad, first introduced to the Palo Duro Canyon area in 1957–1958, has become firmly established. Private introductions have brought it into the Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos, South Texas, Rolling Plains and Post Oak Savannah regions.

Shrew — Four species are found in Texas: the southern short-tailed shrew (Blarina Carolinensis), found in the eastern one-fourth of the state; the least shrew (Cryptotis parva), in the eastern and central parts of the state; the Elliot’s short-tailed shrew (Blarina hylophaga), known only in Aransas, Montague and Bastrop counties); and the desert shrew (Notiosorex crawfordi), found in the western two-thirds of the state.

Skunk — There are six species of skunk in Texas. The Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is found in the eastern half of the state and across north-central Texas to the Panhandle. A small skunk, it is often erroneously called civet cat. This skunk also is found in East Texas and the Gulf area. The Western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis) is found in the southwestern part of the state north to Garza and Howard counties and east to Bexar and Duval counties. The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is found statewide, mostly in brush or wooded areas. The hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura) is found in limited numbers in the Big Bend and adjacent parts of the Trans-Pecos. The eastern hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus), found in the Gulf Coastal Plains, ranges southward into Mexico. The common hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus) is found in southwestern, central and southern Texas, north to Collin and Lubbock counties.

Squirrel — The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is found in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is found generally in the eastern third of the state. The flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is found in wooded areas of East Texas.

Weasel — The long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), akin to the mink, is found statewide, but is scarce in West Texas and the far north Panhandle. In general, their destruction of mice, ground squirrels, and pocket gophers benefits agriculture. But on occasion they enter poultry houses and wantonly kill chickens.

Whale — Some species that are found in the Gulf of Mexico include: dwarf sperm whale(Kogia simus); pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps), found near the Texas coast where strandings occur relatively frequently; short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), common in the Gulf where there are numerous strandings and sightings; sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), an endangered species and the most numerous of the great whales in the Gulf, where sightings are relatively common. Other species are known in Texas only through strandings on Gulf beaches.

Wolf — The red wolf (Canis rufus) was once found throughout the eastern half of the state. It has now been extirpated from the wild, with the only known remnants of the population now in captive propagation. The gray wolf (Canis lupus) once had a wide range over the western two-thirds of the state. It is now considered extinct in Texas. The red wolf and gray wolf are on the federal and state rare and endangered species lists.

Reptiles and Arachnids

Most of the more than 100 species and subspecies of snakes found in Texas are beneficial, as also are other reptiles. There are 16 poisonous species and subspecies.

alligator
Alligator.

Poisonous reptiles include three species of copperheads (southern, broad-banded and Trans-Pecos); one kind of cottonmouth (western); 11 kinds of rattlesnakes (canebrake, western massasauga, desert massasauga, western pigmy, western diamondback, timber, banded rock, mottled rock, northern blacktailed, Mojave and prairie); and the Texas coral snake.

 Also noteworthy are the horned lizard, also called horned toad, which is on the list of threatened species; the vinegarone, a type of whip scorpion; tarantula, a hairy spider; and alligator.

 

Photo credits: Coyote and alligator, Ron Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service; Mexican ground squirrel and javelina, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; feral pig, Ray Sasser; bighorn, Texas Parks & Wildlife.

 

 

Texas Almanac

Texas Almanac