Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wild Texas: the critters of the Lone Star State

by Kraig Becker (RSS feed) on Nov 9th 2009 at 9:00AM

When it comes to viewing wildlife in the U.S., most people naturally gravitate to the western part of the country, where you'll find a wide variety of species in abundance. Places like Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and of course Alaska, have great reputations for offering travelers an opportunity to see a large number of animals in their natural habitat. One place that doesn't garner this kind of attention however, is Texas, despite a surprising array of creatures within the state.

Most visitors to the Lone Star State, expect to see plenty of deer, squirrel, and armadillo of course, but they are often surprised to hear that they can also spot more exotic creatures. For example, if you want to see Black Bears, you can head to the western portion of the state to Big Bend National Park or the Guadalupe Mountains, where they still wander the thickly wooded or desert scrub areas. While you're in that part of the state, check out one of the five small herds of elk that still roam the region as well.

Moving to central Texas, you'll have an opportunity to spot the elusive mountain lion, whose numbers have increased substantially over the past decade. The big cats are known to wander the Texas Hill Country, just west of Austin, although you'll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot them. Mountain lions aren't the only wild cats to wander the Texas backcountry however, as ocelots are found in the southern part of the state, and in the Rio Grande valley, which also serves as home to Jaguarundis, a species that isn't much bigger than a common house cat. Bobcats are also fairly common, and found in nearly every corner of Texas.

Speaking of Austin, from February to October of each year, that city is home to the largest urban bat population in the country. More than 1.5 million bats live under the Congress Street bridge, and every night at dusk they take flight, in a mass migration that has become a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. The mass exodus is a sight to behold, with a seemingly never ending stream of Mexican free-tail bats flowing out into the night air in search of dinner in the form of insects.

The Gulf Coast region of Texas has plenty to offer the wildlife lover as well, with amazing sea creatures regularly on display. The most common of these is the Bottlenose Dolphin, which often travel in pods of eight near the shores of Corpus Christi and Galveston. Atlantic spotted dolphins have been known to make appearances as well, as have a variety of types of whales and sea turtles too. There are a number of tour operators that offer day cruises out onto the Gulf of Mexico, allowing visitors to get an up close, and personal, look at the aquatic wildlife.

There are plenty of other interesting creatures throughout the state as well. The Panhandle is home to a large prairie dog colony for instance, while the eastern portion of the state offers the American Alligator and the always popular River Otter. There is a substantial Coyote population in Texas as well, and Bald Eagles can be seen throughout the state at all times of the year.

As you can see, the Lone Star State has plenty to offer anyone looking to catch a variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. From bears, to dolphins, to big cats, there is something for everyone. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the rattlesnakes, as they are in abundance too!

http://www.gadling.com/2009/11/09/wild-texas-the-critters-of-the-lone-star-state/

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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