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 Species Spotlight

[Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife]
[Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife]

Coyote
Canis latrans

Description: Coyotes are a small to medium sized Canid weighing 15-45 pounds (7-21 kg) and 30-40 inches (75-100 cm) long. Coyotes are grayish yellow to grayish brown in color with a light gray or pale yellow underbelly and throat, and gray and black fur along the muzzle. The gray fur along its back is black-tipped and the hair on the back of its head is gray mixed with yellow. Coyotes can be distinguished from domestic dogs by their large pointed ears and drooping tail.

Life History: Male and female coyotes are sexually mature at 9-10 months. Coyotes breed once a year from January through March, with a courtship period of 2-3 months. The gestation period last 50-65 days, with litter sizes averaging 4-7 pups. Pups are blind for the first two weeks of life, are weaned at weeks 5-7, and leave their mother at 6-9 months. Coyotes are mostly solitary but can be found in pairs during breeding season. Coyotes are opportunistic, generalist predators, feeding on birds and mammals. They are also known to eat fruits, berries, seeds, and carrion. Ninety-percent of the coyote's diet consists of rodents (mice, rats, and squirrels), rabbits, and carrion.

Habitat: Coyotes originally inhabited grasslands; however, today coyotes are successful in a wide range of habitats including grasslands, riparian areas, forest edges, deserts, and swamps. Coyotes are also successful in highly modified habitats such as urban, suburban, and agricultural areas, increasing the possibility of coyote-human interactions. As a result, this important predator is considered by some to be a nuisance around human development. The home range of a coyote is highly dependent on available space and food, but averages around 8-15 square miles. Coyote dens can be found in hollow logs, under rock ledges, or on brushy hillsides. Coyotes will also use abandoned rabbit, woodchuck, fox or badger dens.

Distribution: Canis latrans is found from Panama north to Canada and into Alaska.  The historical range of the coyote in the US was in the western half of the country, but the coyote's ability to adapt to human modification of habitat has allowed it to expand its range eastward to cover the entire US.

Status: Due to the intelligence and adaptability of coyotes, their range has expanded over the last several decades and their populations remain abundant. Coyotes serve an important ecosystem function by keeping mice and rabbit populations in check; however, coyotes carry rabies and are also seen as a threat to domestic livestock populations.

Resources:

Mammals of Kansas - Coyote

Animal Diversity

Kansas Parks and Wildlife - Coyote


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 Temperate Prairies

Temperate Prairies Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center]
Temperate Prairies Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center]

The Temperate Prairie ecoregion is a narrow prairie that separates the Ozark Highlands to the east from the Cross Timbers to the west. This ecoregion can be separated into two distinct subregions: Osage Cuestas and Cherokee Plains.

The Osage Cuestas are characterized by the cuesta land formation, a steeply sloped rock escarpment. These low cuestas (100-300 foot relief) are situated within gently rolling plains, creating a mosaic of land formations with an overall elevation range of 500-1050 feet (152-320 m). Soils are finely textured and rich, however, create only a shallow layer over the underlying sandstone and shale. Average annual precipitation ranges from 44-45 inches (90-105 cm) with average temperatures from 55-63 F (13-17 C). The growing season lasts 200-205 days. Native vegetation is comprised of a tall grass prairie in the east (consisting of big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass and Indiangrass) to a mix of tall grass prairie and oak-hickory forest (consisting of blackjack oak, post oak and little bluestem) moving eastward. Bottomland, or riparian , forests consist of boxelder, silver maple, bur oak, American elm, hackberry, pecan and others. Seventy-five percent of land use is agricultural with cattle production common on these shallow soils. Some of the area is in cropland and soybeans, grain sorghum and alfalfa hay are all grown here.

The Cherokee Plains consists of gently sloping plains and broad valleys. The elevation ranges from 750-950 feet. The soils are finely textured clayey soils, which may form impermeable claypans after intense rainfall. These soils are underlain by shale and sandstone. Annual precipitation is 39-45 inches (99-114 cm), with mean temperatures of 55-63 F (13-17 C), and a growing season of 200-205 days. Potential native vegetation is similar to the Osage Cuestas region. The major land use is in this region is cropland of soybeans, wheat, alfalfa hay, and sorghum.

Examples of wildlife that are common across the Temperate Prairies ecoregion are: white-tailed deer, coyote, meadowlark, scissor-tailed flycatcher, dickcissel, sparrow, hawks, turkey vulture, and bobwhite quail.

The major human impact on this region has been conversion of land for agriculture and strip mining for coal, lead and zinc. The Cherokee Plains section of this ecoregion includes the infamous Tar Creek Superfund Site, which consists of forty square miles of waste mine tailings (75 million tons) as a result of seventy years of intensive strip mining for lead and zinc.


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 Invasive Spotlight

[Photo: James Dowling-Healey, Animal Diversity Web]
[Photo: James Dowling-Healey, Animal Diversity Web]

Feral Hog
Sus scrofa

Description: Feral hogs are descended from European wild hogs and escaped domestic swine. The appearance of feral pigs is varied depending on their lineage, but when domestic swine and European wild hogs cross, the progeny exhibits characteristics of the European hog. European wild hogs are brown to black in color with a long mane of black bristly hair growing from the neck to the rump, and a straight tail with tufts of hair. Escaped domesticated swine are often black in color with shorter, bristled hair and a short tail which can be curly or straight. In general, feral hogs have a snout for a nose, small eyes, facial tusks, and a short, stout body. Their mass averages around 130 lbs (59 kg) and a length of 35-70 inches (90-180 cm).

Life History: Male and females are sexually mature at 9 months; however, females do not being to breed until 18 months of age. At 5 years old males reach the size which allows them to compete for females, ,which entails aggressive fighting with other mailes during mating season using their sharpened facial tusks. Breeding occurs year round in warmer climates and in the spring in cooler climates. Females can give birth to several litters a year in warm areas, with an average litter size of six. The gestation period averages 115 days and the piglets weigh 960 g at birth. Piglets will be weaned within 3-4 months and independent after 7 months. The average lifespan of a feral hog is 4-5 years (can live up to 27 years) and mortality is due to humans, parasites, bears, large cats, wolves, crocodiles and large snakes and raptors. Pigs are opportunistic omnivores and feed on fungi, tubers, succulent vegetation, grans, nuts, fruit, eggs, small vertebrates and invertebrates, carrion and manure.

Habitat: Feral hogs prefer moist, shaded areas near bottomland forest habitats, especially oak forests. They will often be found in densely vegetated riparian areas (streams, lakes, marshes, swamps, etc) because they like to wallow in water to keep cool and require protection from temperature extremes. They prefer forests with a good litter layer for food. Due to their adaptability to habitat and climate, these hogs can be found in almost all habitats from deserts to mountains.

Distribution: In the United States feral hogs are mostly distributed throughout the South from West Virginia south to Florida and west to California.  There are large populations in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii. Sus scrofa distribution is limited only by extremely arid conditions and depth of winter snowfall.

Status: Feral hogs have rapidly expanded their range over the last few decades due to their adaptability to varying habitats and diet. Feral hogs are listed as one of the world's worst invasive species due to their damage to native vegetation through trampling, digging and wallowing, competition with native pigs for food, and preying upon native species such as ground nesting birds and eggs. Feral pigs are also hosts for parasites such as trichinosis, cysticercosis and brucellosis. Additionally, feral hogs feed on several agricultural crops and can be quite aggressive towards humans. On a positive note, feral hogs also disperse seeds and disturb soil, allowing primary successional plant species to flourish.

Resources:

TX Cooperative Extension - Feral Hogs

Texas A&M - Feral Hogs

Mammals of Texas

Animal Diversity - Feral Hogs


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 Endangered Spotlight

Two gray bats [Photo: National Park Service]
Two gray bats [Photo: National Park Service]

Gray Bat
Myotis grisescens

Description: The gray bat is a medium sized bat which is 3 inches long and weighs 0.33 ounces (7-16 g). It has a wingspan of 10-11 inches (25-28 cm). It can be distinguished from other similar Myotis species by its entirely gray fur, in contrast to other closely related bi-color or tri-color bats. In the summer, its fur can lighten to a rust-colored brown. The gray bat is also distinct from other members of its genus because its wing membrane connects at the ankle, instead of the toe.

Life History: Gray bats go into hibernation caves in September and October where they hibernate in large clusters in ceilings and walls, with up to one million bats in one hibernation cave. From March through mid April female bats leave the hibernation cave followed by male gray bats in mid-April to May to move to summer roosting caves, up to 200 miles away. From late May to June females roost in maternity colonies, eventually giving birth in June to one live young. After 4 weeks, mothers and their young rejoin the male colonies. Gray bats eat a variety of flying aquatic and terrestrial insects. They forage at night along water up to 12 miles from the roosting caves.

Habitat: Gray bats live in caves year round, utilizing deep vertical caves for hibernation in the winter (42-52 degrees F) and domed caves along rivers in the summer (58-77 deg F). Ninety-five percent of all gray bats hibernate in just 8 caves within its range.

Distribution: Myotis grisescens are limited to limestone (karst) caves areas in the central and southeastern US.  The gray bat is only known to occur in 4 counties in northeast Oklahoma: Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, and Ottawa.  Ottawa and Delaware counties are partially contained within the Temperate Prairies ecoregion.

Status: The gray bat was listed on the Federally Endangered Species List in 1976. The decline in the population was due to four different factors: human disturbance, cave modifications, pesticides and pollution, and destruction of riparian areas. Human exploration of caves can disturb both hibernating and roosting bats, causing them to lose stored fat and abandon their young. Cave modification in the form of gates or fences can alter conditions in the cave (i.e. temperature, humidity, etc) enough to impact the gray bat. Pesticides may reduce local insect populations which serve as prey for the bats the bats. The pesticides may also bioaccumulate in the bats. Additionally, water pollution can negatively impact aquatic insects that the bats feed upon. Deforestation along rivers destroys riparian corridors that are important for movement of bats between summer roosting caves and areas where they forage. Gray bat populations are currently rebounding in many locations due to the protection and restoration of critical habitats.

Resources:

Fish and Wildlife Service - Gray Bat

Missouri Dept of Conservation - Gray Bat


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