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 Species Spotlight

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

White-tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus

Description: White-tailed deer, the most common large mammal in North America, weighs 125-301 pounds (57-137 kg) and is 63-87 inches (160-220 cm) long. The white-tailed deer has a thick grayish coat in winter and a lighter, reddish coat in summer. These deer have white coloration around the eyes, nose, ears, throat, beneath the tail, and on the upper insides of their legs. Fawns have white spots along their trunk for camouflage. Male white-tailed deer (bucks) begin to grow antlers as yearlings in spring and summer, which are shed the following January-February.

Life History: Male and female white-tailed deer reach sexual maturity at two years of age and breed once yearly from October through December. The gestation period is 6.5 months, with an average of 2 fawns per litter. Fawns are weaned after 8-10 weeks and males leave after one year, with females waiting two years to become independent. These deer are opportunistic herbivores and feed on the buds and twigs of young trees and brush. White-tailed deer can live up to 10 years in the wild but the average lifespan is 2-3 years. Predators of white-tailed deer are humans, gray wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, bears and jaguars.

Habitat: White-tailed deer inhabit farmlands, woodlands, grasslands, forests, swamps and thornbrush deserts. Ideal habitat for white-tailed deer contains dense thickets for cover and forest edges for immature, tender, vegetation.

Distribution: Odocoileus virginianus are found from Bolivia in South America to southern Canada.  These deer are found throughout the US and are abundant in the Southeastern US Plains ecoregion.

Status: The white-tailed deer was historically overhunted but is now actively managed for hunting and is the most important game species in the US. Due to their intense grazing, white-tailed deer herds can cause severe damage to agricultural crops and forest understory in areas where they are overpopulated.


Animal Diversity - White-tailed Deer

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

 Southeastern US Plains

 Southeastern US Plains Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center]
Southeastern US Plains Level 4 Ecoregion Map [Figure: Houston Advanced Research Center]

The Southeastern US Plains ecoregion is located from eastern Texas to central Louisiana and north to central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. This ecoregion consists of 4 major areas: East Central Texas Plains, Mississippi Valley Loess Plains, South Central Plains, and Southeastern Plains.

Some examples of wildlife common across this ecoregion are white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, gray fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, gray squirrel, bobwhite, mourning dove, egrets, cardinal, wood thrush, box turtle, common garter snake, and timber rattlesnakes. The major industry in this region is forestry, agriculture, and oil and gas production.  Human impacts can be seen in the massive conversion of native mixed-pine forests to loblolly and shortleaf pine monoculture timber stands.

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

 Ecological Subregions Maximize

 Invasive Spotlight

[Photo: Nava Tabak, Invasive Plant Atlas of New England,]
[Photo: Nava Tabak, Invasive Plant Atlas of New England,]

European Privet
Ligustrum vulgare

Description: European privet is a perennial shrub of the olive family. The branches of this tree form dense thickets and spread out horizontally so that the shrub can grow up to 30 feet (9.1 m) tall and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide. The leaves are oval to elliptical and are 1.5-2.5 inches (3.8-6.4 cm) long. The flowers are small, white, fragrant and grow in clusters. The fruits are small, shiny berries that are pale green in summer turning to bluish-black by late fall or winter.

Life History: The flowers of the privet bloom from April to June with prolific fruiting (hundreds of fruits each with 1-4 seeds) occurring in the south from July through March. Wildlife and birds that eat the berries help disperse the seeds, although this shrub can also sprout from stumps.

Habitat: The European privet can thrive in a variety of habitats including bottom lands, forests, agricultural fields, woodlands, grassland, fence rows and a variety of disturbed sites. Optimal habitat includes good sunlight and low nutrient soils.

Distribution: Ligustrum vulgare originated in Europe and northern Africa but was brought here as a hedgerow species during the 1700s. It is now found commonly in the eastern US but also occurs in the central Southwest (Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas) and various western states.

Status: The European privet was widely planted and escaped cultivation. It grows in dense thickets shading out native vegetation. European privets spread rapidly due to effective seed dispersal by birds and animals.

Resources: - European privet

US Forest Service

 Endangered Spotlight

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

Houston Toad
Bufo houstonensis

Description: Houston toads are medium sized toads that are 2-3.5 inches (5-8.9 cm) long, with a stout body and warty skin. Houston toads are highly variable in color, often exhibiting a brownish color but coloration can range from light brown to purplish gray or almost black. Males have a dark throat color. Both sexes have white undersides with black speckles, and their legs and face have dark banding. Houston toad females are larger than males.

Life History: Male Houston toads become sexually mature at one year but females are not mature until two years of age. Houston toads breed from January to June with males calling (high pitched trilling sound) near water to attract females. Females move towards the water to mate and lay their eggs (several thousand at a time) in the water to be fertilized by the males. After seven days the tadpoles hatch and depending on temperature, will metamorphose over the next 15-100 days. Houston toads travel relatively long distances in search of food and will burrow into sand or under logs to escape harsh weather conditions (cold and drought). The lifespan of a Houston toad is 2-3 years. Although Houston toads secrete a substance that is distasteful and sometime poisonous, it still hunted by a wide variety of predators including spiders, snakes, turtle, owls, raccoons and other frogs.

Habitat: Houston toad habitat occurs on the deep sandy soils of east central Texas. Optimal habitat is sandy soils of greater than 40 inches (100 cm) deep for burrowing, near pools of slow-moving water utilized for breeding. Habitats associated with the Houston toad are pine or oak woodland or savanna with species such as little bluestem, loblolly pine, post oak and sandjack oak.

Distribution: Bufo houstonensis currently exist in nine counties in southeast Texas.

Status: The Houston toad is a state and federally listed endangered species (1970). This species saw a major decline during the middle of last century, due to habitat loss. There are currently around 2000 Houston toad adults, mostly located in Bastrop County. Habitat loss due to urban development, agriculture and forestry practices have caused the decline of this species. Mortality due to automobiles is another important pressure on this species and drought can cause population decline as well. Because of changes in vegetation, Houston toads are unable to burrow to escape the dry conditions. The red imported fire ant is also a threat to this species because it can kill young toads around 7-10 days old.


Texas Parks & Wildlife - Houston Toad

US Fish & Wildlife - Houston Toad

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