Wednesday, October 01, 2014Register
 Species Spotlight

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

Roseate Spoonbill
Ajaia ajaja

Description: Roseate Spoonbills are found mostly in Florida and coastal Texas. They have a wingspan of 50-53 inches (127-135 cm), a length of 30-34 inches (76-86 cm) and weigh about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). Roseate Spoonbills are a brilliant pink bird with a blood-red "drip" on the shoulders. The Roseate Spoonbill has a white neck and back, with an orange tail and eyes that are ruby red or scarlet; the naked head is pale green to golden buff at pairing. They have a straight bill with a broad spatulate tip.

Life History: Roseate spoonbills reach sexual maturity at 16 weeks. In the US their mating season lasts from March through June and females lay 2-5 eggs. The eggs have after 24 days and in eight weeks young Roseate Spoonbills leave the nest. Roseate Spoonbills can live up to 10 years. The Roseate Spoonbill eats invertebrates, small fish and crustaceans, such as shrimp. The Roseate Spoonbill hunts by moving its bill back and forth in the water and snaps its beak shut when it encounters prey. The pink color of their plumage is believed to be due to the cartenoids (red and yellow pigments) found in shrimp.

Habitat: The Roseate Spoonbill is common in marshes, tidal ponds, sloughs and mangrove swamps along the Gulf Coast during the months of March through October. The Roseate Spoonbill may feed in shallow brackish or salt water and occasionally fresh water by swinging their bills in long arcs from side to side. The Roseate Spoonbill feeds alone or in small groups, and is frequently seen in company of other wading birds. The Roseate Spoonbill overwinters in Central and South America.

Distribution: Ajaia ajaja is found in Coastal Texas, southwest Louisiana, southern Florida; Cuba and Isle of Pines; Hispaniola; and Great Inagua in south Bahamas. Further south, the Roseate Spoonbill is found from coastal Mexico south through coastal regions of Central and South America.

Status: Historically, Roseate Spoonbills were hunted for their brilliant plumage. From the 1830s-1920s these birds were nearly hunted to extinction but as this trend slowed, Roseate Spoonbills have recolonized the Gulf Coast. This species still remains vulnerable and current threats to the Roseate Spoonbill are due to habitat loss.

Resources:

Birds of North America

TX Parks and Wildlife - Roseate Spoonbill


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 Texas-Louisiana Coastal Plains

Texas Louisiana Coastal Plains Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center].
Texas Louisiana Coastal Plains Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center].

The Texas-Louisiana Coastal Plains ecoregion is characterized by flat topography and a diverse array of hydrological features such as lakes, rivers, bayous, marshes, mud flats and bays. This ecoregion is comprised of ten subregions including (from southwest to northeast): Laguna Madre Barrier Islands, Lower Rio Grande Alluvial Floodplain, Lower Rio Grande Valley Floodplain, Coastal Sand Plain, Southern Subhumid Gulf Coastal Prairies, Mid Coast Barrier Islands, Floodplains and Low Terraces, Northern Humid Gulf Coastal Prairies, Texas-Louisiana Coastal Marshes, and the Lafayette Loess Plains.

In general, the topography consists of a flat, weakly dissected alluvial plain with deep saline soils that are fine to coarse textured. These sandy and silt loams and clayey soils tend to be poorly drained with a shallow water table. The salinity gradients range from high to low moving from the southwest to the northeast. Changes in salinity and drainage are the driving force in vegetation. Elevation ranges from sea level to 400 feet. Precipitation ranges from 25 inches in the southwest to 55 inches (62-140 cm) moving to the northeast. Temperatures average 68-70 F (20-21 C) and the growing season lasts 280-320 days.

Wildlife common to this ecoregion are: coyote, river, otter, collared peccary, swamp rabbit, plains pocket gopher, reddish egret, white-faced egret, roseate spoonbill, white-tailed hawk, American alligator, Mediterranean gecko and Texas blind snake, gulf coast toad and diamondback terrapin. The land use in this area is primarily dictated by cropland, pastureland and urban development. The coastal areas are being developed at a high rate and oil and gas production is common. Humans have impacted this ecoregion through urban development, conversion of prairie and forest land to arable crops and pasture, and development of shrimp and other fisheries in coastal waters.

The land use in this area is primarily dictated by cropland, pastureland and urban development. The coastal areas are being developed at a high rate and oil and gas production is common.  Humans have impacted this ecoregion through urban development, conversion of prairie and forest land to arable crops and pasture, and development of shrimp and other fisheries in coastal waters.

Read more about the Coastal Plains by maximizing the "Ecological Subregions" box below.


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 Ecological Subregions Maximize


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 Invasive Spotlight

[Photo: Stephen D. Hight, USDA, Agricultural Research Service]
[Photo: Stephen D. Hight, USDA, Agricultural Research Service]

Brazilian Peppertree
Schinus terebinthifolius

Description: Brazilian peppertree is a bushy evergreen tree in the poisonous family, Anacardiaceae. This tree can grow up to 30 feet (10 m) tall and is many branched with a short trunk which can reach 3 feet (1 m) in diameter. The leaves are alternate, elliptical in shape, and finely toothed, growing 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) and reddish in color. The flowers are white and present on male and female tree and the fruits, only found on the female are green and then become bright red when ripe, which is why the tree is often referred to as a the Christmasberry. The sap from this tree can cause itching and swelling of the skin, similar to its relatives poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak. This broadleaf, evergreen, small tree or shrub is well-laden with intertwining, drooping branches and foliage. Stems are yellow-green. Leaves are alternate, pinnately compound, and dark green, with 3-13 leaflets, each 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) long. A turpentine or pepper fragrance is given off upon crushing the leaves. Flowers cluster in small groups and consist of 5 small, white petals with yellow centers. Fruit are small red berries, 1/8 to 1/4 inches (0.3-0.6 cm) in diameter.

Life History: Brazilian peppertree plants can mature 3 years after germination and will produce a large amount of seeds. Both male and female flowers bloom from September through November; fruits are produced from December through February. This tree will propagate at the base of the plant via adventitious buds (buds that develop in places other than at the end of a twig) sprouting from roots. Brazilian peppertree seed is spread via consumption and distribution by birds and mammals and to a lesser degree, by water. Seeds must be scarified in order to germinate and remain viable in the soil for 6-9 months. This tree spreads rapidly due to sprouting and effective seed dispersal. Biocontrols are currently being studied for use on this plant. Herbicides can be used in conjunction with cutting.

Habitat: Brazilian peppertree prefers warm temperatures and does not grow north of Florida. This tree is an aggressive invader of disturbed habitats such as roadsides, drained wetlands, and abandoned agricultural fields. Brazilian peppertree is successful in both wet and dry conditions and has invaded natural areas such as pine forests, and mangrove forests. This species has a high tolerance for shade.

Distribution: Schinus terebinthifolius is native to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. In the US Brazilian peppertree occurs in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

Status: The Brazilian peppertree was brought to the US in the 1840's as an ornamental tree and was identified as a problem by the 1950s in the Florida Everglades. Brazilian peppertree forms dense thickets, shading out native plants and providing poor habitat for native plants and animals. The sale of this plant is prohibited in Texas and Florida, and it is considered a significant threat to native ecosystems.

Resources:

Galveston Bay Invasives

U of Florida, Aquatic Invasive Plants

Invasive Plants - Brazilian Peppertree


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 Endangered Spotlight

[Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service]
[Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service]

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
Lepidochelys kempii

Description: The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the smallest marine turtle in the world, with adults weighing 75-100 pounds (33-45 kg) with a carapace length of 24-32 inches (60-82 cm). The carapace (top shell) is a dark, greenish gray color and the bottom shell or plastron is a creamy yellow color. Kemp's ridley turtles have a a dark green spotted head with a beak-like shape and four dark green flippers with one claw on the front flippers and one to two claws on the back flippers.

Life History: Sexual maturity for females is at 10-15 years of age. Males and females spend their lives in the open Gulf or Atlantic Ocean waters and after mating, females come to shore to lay eggs. Females return to the same beach each year to nest and may have 2-3 clutches with up to 100 eggs during nesting season (May-July). After depositing the eggs, the females return to the open water. The eggs hatch after 50-55 days and the hatchlings quickly move to the open water to avoid nearshore predation. Only 1 percent of hatchlings survive to sexual maturity. The juveniles continue to develop while floating on sargassum mats. Kemp's ridleys can live up to 30-50 years. Both male and female Kemp's ridleys are migratory, with females moving from nesting grounds, to breeding grounds to foraging grounds. They mostly feed on swimming crabs, but also consume shrimp, snails, clams, jellyfish, sea stars and fish. Humans, shore birds and sharks are their major predators.

Habitat: Kemp's ridley sea turtles prefer open waters off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic seaboard. They forage in muddy or sandy bottoms in the "neritic" zone where prey such as fish, jellyfish, and mollusks are found. Females only come ashore to lay eggs on beaches in the Gulf of Mexico, and 95 percent of Kemp's ridley sea turtle lay eggs at three beaches in Tamaulipas, Mexico. This mass gathering and nesting of female Kemp's ridley turtles is referred to as an arribada or "arrival." After juveniles have hatched, they return to the water and live on floating sargassum seaweed mats for their first two years of life.

Distribution: In the U.S. Kemp's ridleys are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Atlantic coastal waters from Florida to New England.  The primary nesting grounds for femaleLepidochelys kempii are three beaches in the Tamaulipas area of Mexico.

Status: The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is a state and federally listed endangered species (1970). The populations of these sea turtles began a rapid decline in the 1940s due to egg collection and capture in fishing gear. According to NOAA, between 1978 and 1991, only 200 Kemp's ridleys nested annually. The populations have begun to recover and over 12,000 nests were found at various sites in 2006. The greatest threats to these species are incidental capture in fishing gear such as shrimp trawls, gill nets, longlines, traps and pots. Additionally, floating trash and more recently, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, continue to threaten this species. Egg collection has been banned and is no longer a significant threat to Kemp's ridleys.

Resources:

NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources

TX Parks and Widlife - Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle


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