Archive for the 'Wildlife' Category

Wildlife: Benefits of Scorpions

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Scorpion in Texas

Scorpion in Texas

This is Passport to Texas

Texas boasts a fair number of scorpion species.

06— There are about 18 species in Texas. Depending on where you’re at – you may have more or less.

Ben Hutchins is an invertebrate biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

10— In all of Texas, we don’t have scorpions that are considered life threatening. As with any animal that has venom, there’s always the possibility of an allergic reaction.

Hutchins says in healthy non-allergic people a scorpion sting will cause discomfort, but not for long. You might want to cut scorpions some slack – they’re beneficial in a couple of ways.

23— Scorpions are predators, and so they feed on a variety of potential pest organisms. Some scorpions also feed on other scorpions, so they do have an important role in the environment potentially controlling pest populations…insects…spiders…other arachnids. There’s also potential medical utility for scorpions as well – using venom to treat medical conditions.

Researchers are studying scorpion venom’s qualities as a pain killer. So, if a scorpion wanders into your home some summer evening while foraging, don’t kill it.

12— There’s really no cause for alarm. What I usually do is use a cup [and place it over the scorpion and use a] piece of paper that you kind of slide under there to pick up the scorpion. And then you can just remove it and put it in an area where it can do its business.

Learn more about scorpions in the June issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. That’s our show for today… Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Wildlife: Texas Scorpions

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Scorpion on leaf litter.

Scorpion on leaf litter.

This is Passport to Texas

With crablike pincers and barbed tails, scorpions strike fear into the hearts of many who see them.

04— I think we have a natural reaction to anything with different body morphology.

Ben Hutchins is an invertebrate biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife. He says scorpions dwell in a wide variety of habitats.

03— Pretty much any habitat except Alpine environments.

Although we have several species of scorpions in Texas, Hutchins says we’re not likely to run into them.

18— Usually, we don’t run into them that often because they’re mainly active at night; during the day they’re usually hiding under rocks, under logs – deep in leaf litter as well. So, we don’t run into them a lot, except when perhaps we’re in the yard gardening, or they might wander into our house at night.

It’s that last part about wandering into the house at night that’s worrisome. Why do they come into our homes?

08— It’s not really intentional; during their foraging, they might see a crack under your door as just another crevice that they’ll be traveling through in search of prey.

Once they’re inside, they could make themselves comfy.

08— If you have a room with the lights off and lots of boxes – places to hide – that mirrors their natural environment with lots of secure hiding place for them.

Note to self: remove boxes from home office and turn on lights. Find an article about scorpions in the June issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Wildlife: Evolving to Live in Caves

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Rare Toothcave Beetle

Rare Toothcave Beetle

This is Passport to Texas

Biologist, Ben Hutchins, studies animals that live full-time in cave environments, including a wide range of invertebrates.

07— Crickets, beetles, spiders, scorpions, harvestmen – that’s kind of like a Daddy Longlegs….

How and why these creatures evolved in dark, dank cave ecosystems is an area of active research. One theory: they’re relics of the past.

14— They’re leftover from a period of Texas history when it was cooler, more moist. In the Ice Age, these animals were widespread on the surface. As the climate changed, they became restricted to the cave environment.

Over time, these creatures physically adapted to their new surroundings. They lost their eyesight and pigmentation; their metabolisms slowed and their antennae elongated, among other adaptations. Biologists want to understand why.

23— Another [thing we want to know] is, why do we see in some places lots and lots of species such as in the Edward’s Aquifer, and in other places, we see very few – or almost none. So, some of our very dry caves farther west have much lower diversity. So, caves are an interesting laboratory to study what are the environmental controls that influence where biodiversity occurs.

Learn more about karst invertebrates on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Wildlife: Karst Invertebrates

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Harvestman spider, Photo by: J. Krejca

Harvestman spider, Photo by: J. Krejca

This is Passport to Texas

In most ecosystems living plants are the foundation of the food web, but dark caves – which occur in a landscape known as karst – are not most ecosystems.

04— And because there’s no light, there’s no photosynthesis, so there aren’t any plants.

Biologist, Ben Hutchins, studies caves. More to the point, he studies invertebrates that live in them full-time.

08— Animals that live in karsts have had to have a lot of unique adaptations to deal with that lack of plant material.

Including evolving to survive on the droppings of other cave dwelling creatures, like cave crickets that leave the karst at night to forage on vegetation. In a way, full-time cave dwellers do eat vegetation – it’s just processed. Another adaptation is a much slower metabolism thus reducing their nutritional requirements. So who are these denizens of the dark?

21— Crickets, beetles, spiders, scorpions, harvestmen – that’s kind of like a Daddy Longlegs. Then, there’re all these aquatic species as well. A lot of people don’t know we have cave adapted catfish, salamanders. And then, all kinds of aquatic beetles, aquatic crustaceans… So, lots of interesting things in Texas. It’s an interesting place to study cave biology.

How did these invertebrates end up living inside caves? That’s an active area of study we explore with Ben Hutchins tomorrow.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Wildlife: Invertebrates

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Tarantula outside TPWD HQ in Austin, Texas

Tarantula outside TPWD HQ in Austin, Texas

This is Passport to Texas

What are invertebrates? The first thing you need to know is they vastly outnumber us humans.

08— Invertebrates are any animal that doesn’t have bones. So, most of the animals on the planet are invertebrates.

Think: insects, snails, worms, flies and all manner of boneless animal on land and in the sea. Biologist, Ben Hutchins has a soft spot for these spineless creatures.

09— As an invertebrate biologist, I’m interested in where these animals occur, why we find them where they are, and what are they doing on a day-to-day basis.

To a lot of us, invertebrates are creepy crawlies; the angst-producing members of the animal kingdom. Ben says good bad or otherwise – they all have their place.

18— A lot of these are economically important: they pollinate our plants, they pollinate our crops. Some are pests; they eat our plants and eat our crops. Some of them are parasites, and some of them have very interesting interactions with other animals. So, they play a really important role in the environment.

And there’s one class of invertebrates that’s captured Biologist Ben Hutchins imagination and we go underground to learn about them tomorrow.

We record our series at the Block House. Joel Block engineers our program.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.