By Eric Duran
This month, I wanted to have a look at animals that are in trouble. These are creatures that have experienced problems with human settlement, and their numbers have dropped greatly. Some of them are endangered, and some are just impacted enough so that we should be concerned about them. Let’s have a look at three species that we should all get to know better, and do more to support.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is endangered in most of its range across the southeastern and mid-Atlantic United States, but it has been recovering modestly in Texas. In our state, they are found in the eastern pine forests. This small-medium sized woodpecker is unique in that it makes nest cavities in living pine trees and not dead wood. The sticky sap of a living tree helps to protect it from predators. They are also unique among woodpeckers for living in family groups. The family unit consists of the mother and father, this year’s offspring, and last year’s male offspring (who hangs around to help care for younger siblings).
Recently, while birdwatching at a state forest north of Houston, I found myself in the middle of five birds all calling back and forth to each other. RCWPs have suffered from degradation and loss of habitat, as the longleaf pine forests they depend on have been chopped down for homes, farms, and logging. Some 98 percent of their habitat has been lost, but recent efforts to save them have stabilized their numbers, and even increased their populations in some places.
Diamondback Terrapins are turtles found in saltmarshes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S., where they feed on a wide variety of small marine animals. As with SE Pine forests, somewhere around 98 percent of coastal saltmarshes have been destroyed or degraded in the U.S. These gorgeous reptiles have not only suffered from loss of habitat, but have also found themselves drowned in crab traps. They enter the traps in search of a tasty crab meal, and end up in trouble. Thankfully, many people are now using crab traps with turtle escape hatches. They’ve also been widely hunted as a source of meat. Fortunately, turtle meat has largely fallen out of favor, and they are now protected in many parts of their range. Across their range they are considered a “vulnerable” species, though they are very much endangered in some states.
The Houston Toad is an endangered frog that doesn’t actually live in Houston. They live in pine forests in Bastrop county. The name comes from the misidentification of a population, that was probably Gulf Coast Toads, near Ellington Field. Like the other two species, Houston Toads are particular about the habitat that they live in. They require pine or mixed pine-oak forests with deep sandy soils and numerous ephemeral ponds, free of fish, which may eat their tadpoles. The major threats to them are habitat destruction and degradation. Work is currently underway to protect their habitat, and breed them in captivity.
Even when it’s cold outside, it’s worth the effort to bundle up and go out and look for wildlife. This part of Texas has a lot to offer in winter. If you have any questions about wildlife now or any time of the year, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duran is the head naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire, NatureDiscoveryCenter.org, 713-667-6550.