14 August 2005

Texas wildlife update

The other day I was playing Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow when I saw something move across the floor near the kitchen.

“Oh crap,” I thought, “Another cockroach.”

I got up and grabbed something to squash it with. But it wasn’t a cockroach—it was a tiny lizard. He was approximately floor colored; brown with light brown stripes. I carefully caught him in a spare perspex dish from the refrigerator. He turned out to have sucker feet, and crawled up the side of it. I let him out in the garden.

So, I think it’s time for an update on the local wildlife.

  • Lizards. Gavin had more of them, but apparently we will get to enjoy them too. People used to keep them in the house to help deal with insects indoors, but I’m not sure I want to go that far; lizard poop can’t be all that hygienic.

  • Snakes. This morning I got up (comparatively) early to try and cut the grass before the temperature went over 30 celsius. While I was lawnmowering, I found a snake. Happily, he had kept his head low and avoided the lawnmower blade. He was small and didn’t rattle, so I decided it would probably be safe to move him somewhere.

    If you’ve never tried to pick up a snake using a forked stick, I can tell you it’s a lot harder than they make it look in the movies. I did consider just picking him up in my hand; I was pretty sure he was just a harmless grass snake, given the circumstances of the discovery. However, given my near total lack of serpentine knowledge, I decided the stick option was best. I mean, he might still have pointy teeth, right?

    For the record, research suggests that there are only four types of venomous snake in the USA—and all four are found in Texas: the copperhead, the cottonmouth or water moccasin, the rattlesnake, and the coral snake. They’re all stripey, so my new rule is to stay the hell away from any snake that’s stripey or makes a noise.

  • Cockroaches. Six total, and most of those we believe came in via the boxes that were in storage for months. If we start to see ’em again, we might get the exterminators in.

  • Frogs. Haven’t seen ’em, but apparently they’re in the creek, and you can hear them sometimes at night.

  • Wolf spiders. Brown and stripey. The ones in the house are generally small. Unlike most spiders, they don’t build webs at face height; instead they wander the house, leaping at prey. Since I’m much too big to fall in that category, they mind their own business. I’ve started to feel quite affectionate towards the little things.

    The big wolf spiders in the garden, however, are another matter. They’re rather too big for me to be comfortable within sight of.

  • Peacocks. Incredibly noisy at all hours of the day and night during spring, but they’ve been silent recently. We did see one in the street again, so they’re still around.

  • Vultures. Yes, really. We saw one a couple of blocks away, eating some roadkill. Sometimes you see birds circling overhead too, and I’m sure they’re not all eagles.

  • Grackles. Specifically, boat-tailed grackles if I’m not mistaken. They’re like crows, but with a beautiful metallic blue-black color and wide tails which seem to be mounted vertically. They’re louder per unit volume than the peacocks, and make an amazing variety of noises you wouldn’t think a bird could make, except perhaps for some kind of exotic Amazonian parrot. Mostly they make a noise which can only be described alliteratively as the cackle of the grackle. They’re evil and aggressive scavengers, which is a pity, as they look quite nice. They also collect by the thousands in the trees outside shopping malls, where they put the cack in cacophany.

  • Francie. She’s next door’s dog, but has recently completed her athletic training and can now leap over their fence without having to climb on their air conditioner first. She seems to like sitting on our porch, where she can keep an eye on the dogs across the street; she also likes to nest in the overgrowth beneath my office window, and roll in the dirt by the mailbox.

    Since we’ve always kinda wanted a dog, her increasing presence hasn’t been too much of a problem. We’re starting to wonder if we should offer to take her for walks.

  • Cardinals. There was a pair nesting nearby, but I haven’t seen them this week so perhaps they’ve moved on.

  • Woodpeckers. I went out onto the back porch one day to answer the question “What the hell is that noise?” and it turned out to be a woodpecker attacking one of the live oaks.

  • Deer. Not in our neighborhood, but we’ve met them in other parts of Austin.

  • Squirrels. Much like the American grey squirrels found in England or Boston, but the ones here are reddish-brown. They’re also very timid. Some of them are starting to get noticably plumper.

  • Click beetles. I don’t know what these are officially called, but they’re about 1.5–2cm long, thin, and brown. They’re also quite slow moving; but if approached they convulse suddenly, firing themselves off of the floor with a click. They propel themselves at most 10cm or so. It’s probably a great way to avoid the wolf spiders, but it’s singularly ineffective as a method of escaping humans.

  • Peanut beetles. Again, not the official name; they’re really some kind of June Beetle, but the local ones are brown and dry looking, rather like dry roasted peanuts with legs. They also feel rather like dry roasted peanuts if you accidentally rest your hand on one. They’re even slower and dumber than the click beetles: they basically live in turf, then crawl inside the house to die. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fully live one indoors; the best they seem to be able to do is drag themselves half-heartedly across the floor and then turn into a dessicated corpse by the next time you wander past.

Still to come:

  • Armadillos. We’re told that the way to see these in the wild is to go out camping. Supposedly they’re noisy enough at night that there’s no danger you’ll miss them. Years of family camping ‘holidays’ mean that the mere smell of wet canvas can bring back horrific flashbacks, so I’m hoping we’ll find out about a nearby armadillo race instead. But don’t pet ’em: they may not have teeth, but they can carry leprosy.

  • Scorpions. The neighbors claim not to have seen them in the city, but we’re told they can be a problem in less urban areas. The local ones are apparently yellow, and the best way to find them is to get a near-UV keychain flashlight and explore the yard with it, because they glow under UV. Of course, this supposes that you would want to find one.

  • Skunks. Texas features all five kinds of skunk. So far, we’ve only had a faint whiff of them, though.

© mathew 2017