What’s Your Favorite Wildlife Critter in Texas? – March Giveaway Spotlight

In 2021, the Texan by Nature team is excited to celebrate our 10-year anniversary! To give a big thank you to all of our friends and followers, we are hosting a giveaway on the 10th of every month on our Facebook and Instagram. These giveaways are made possible by the following amazing businesses and organizations – learn more about these sponsors in this blog.

Blue Bell Ice Cream | Chisos Boots | David Marquis | Dell Technologies | East Foundation
Fin & Fur Flims |  H-E-B | Hiking Texas | Laura W. Bush  | Desert Door | Farmer Brothers
Texan by Nature | Texas Monthly | Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 
 Texas Humor | Howler Brothers | Mad Hippie


Each month, the giveaways have a theme. January started with “How are you Texan, by Nature?”, February was “Where do you explore the great outdoors?”, and March was “What’s your favorite Texas wildlife critter and why?” There will be 9 more fun and engaging giveaways to come, so be sure to follow along on our Facebook and Instagram!

Throughout March, we received many comments of the diverse critters you can see across the Lone Star State – this blog lists all of those species, and a few fun facts about them.

Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)

To kick it off, our March #TxN20Giveaway winner was Jessamyn (@rockinred24 on Instagram), and her favorite critter is our very own Texas State Reptile, the Texas Horned Lizard. Jessamyn said, “My favorite Texas critter is the horned lizard or “horny toad” because they can shoot a stream of blood out of their eyes for up to 5ft! Can any other animal do that?”

Jessamyn wasn’t the only horned lizard-lover who entered our March giveaway:

“Hard to think of just one favorite. I am going to say horned lizards out of nostalgia for growing up with them in the backyard in Fort Worth.” – @mariannfbrown on Instagram

The Texas Horned Lizard or “horny toad” is a flat-bodied and fierce-looking lizard listed as a threatened species in Texas. It is the only species of Horned Lizard to have dark brown stripes that radiate downward from the eyes and across the top of the head. They can be found in arid and semiarid habitats in open areas with sparse plant cover. Because Horned Lizards dig for hibernation, nesting, and insulation purposes, they commonly are found in loose sand or loamy soils. They feed primarily on Red Harvester ants and excrete a specialized mucus to keep from getting bit by the ants as they eat.

Coincidentally, San Antonio Zoo’s Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project was selected as a 2021 Conservation Wrangler.

Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri)

Texas Horned Lizards weren’t the only reptile nominated, @camrynkiel on Instagram said, “My favorite Texas critter is the Texas tortoise because it’s the smallest tortoise in the US and the only native tortoise to Texas!”

These very docile creatures are primarily vegetarian; they feed heavily on the fruit of the common prickly pear and on other mostly succulent plants available to them. Although the life span is unknown, some believe that breeding age is attained in about 15 years and that longevity may be as great as 60 years. Related fossil forms in this genus have been found in the Pliocene in Central Texas, dating back to approximately 10 million years B.C.!

Learn how to recognize these tortoises in this video.

Bullsnake (Pituophis catinefer sayi)

Another reptile nominated as a favorite Texan critter, “The Bullsnake because of its impressive rattlesnake impersonation!” – @lexagwalt

The bullsnake ranges from three to five feet in length and is beige to light brown with dark brown or black blotches. Their belly is pale yellow with black spots. Despite their seemingly menacing attitude, they are non-venomous, and will not strike unless severely provoked. Bullsnakes are beneficial to the Texas ecosystem, because they feed on mice, cotton rats, gophers, and other small mammals, thus controlling their populations.

Nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

It’s no surprise that another one of our state animals was mentioned, the Nine-banded armadillo is our Texas State Small Mammal.

“We love the armadillo, because they’re funny when they run away, and have natural armor!” – @doddk4 on Instagram.

“Armadillos!! I cannot wait to live in TX!” – @pamanela149 on Instagram.

Despite their name, nine-banded armadillos can actually have anywhere from seven to eleven bands on their armor. The term “armadillo” means “little armored one” in Spanish, referring to the presence of these bony, armor-like plates that cover the mammal’s body. A common misconception is that nine-banded armadillos are able to roll up into spherical balls similar to a pill-bug, but in reality, only two species of armadillo (both three-banded) are able to roll up completely.

Learn more about these naturally-armored animals in this video.

Collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) – commonly known as “Javelina”

Entering another Texan mammal, the Javelina! “My favorite is the Javelina – they have a bad reputation of being ferocious but really also have just terrible eyesight!” – @speakdashruth on Instagram

Javelina are often mistaken for pigs, but they are actually in an entirely different family than pigs. Although they look similar, the two species have completely different anatomy, from their toes to their teeth. Javelina are herbivores (plant eaters) and frugivores (fruit eaters). Their favorite food is succulent prickly pear cactus pads, because they have such a high water content that keeps the mammals hydrated.

Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

One of the more elusive mammals of Texas was also a very popular favorite amongst our March giveaway applicants. @lindsay.martinez14 on Instagram said, “My favorite is the ocelot – I love all wild cats and the ocelot is especially beautiful and in need of our help!”

“Ocelots – because they are beautiful and endangered.” – Tasha Cer on Facebook

“So hard to pick a favorite, but I do love ocelots. I remember being so amazed to learn that they live here – I had never thought of them as Texan, and I think it’s just the coolest that they roam wild and free here.” – @megslieknope on Instagram

A bit bigger than the average house cat, Ocelots are about 30 – 41 inches long and weigh 15 – 30 pounds. Historical records indicate that 80 to 120 Ocelots once roamed all throughout south Texas, the southern Edwards Plateau, and along the Coastal Plain. Today, the cats’ range has shrunken significantly, with only about 30 to 35 individuals left occupying the south Texas brush country and lower Rio Grande valley. Ocelots are considered to be endangered because their historic habitat has been cleared for farming and industrial development.

Our friends at Fin & Fur Films created a feature film on these magnificent felines that will be coming to a screen near you this Spring. Learn more about the “American Ocelot” film.

River Otter (Lutra canadensis)

A very, very cute mammal made the list next, “River otters! So playful and cute…our kids love seeing them.” – @beckslynnedub on Instagram

This species is perfectly adapted for life in the water. With webbed feet, a short neck and legs, and a very streamlined body, River Otters are skilled swimmers and divers, and can remain underwater for up to several minutes. Because of this affinity for water, Otters prefer to live near lakes, large rivers, and streams. Along the Texas Gulf Coast region, they can also be found in marshes, bayous, and brackish inlets.

Desert Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)

A species found in the arid desert made the list, “Mine is the Desert Bighorn Sheep. Elusive, majestic, and making a comeback!” @vanderbander on Instagram

Did you know that as the result of restocking efforts started in 1954, Texas has eleven herds of free-ranging desert bighorn sheep? This species has immensely contributed to the development of wildlife management practices since the beginning of their reintroduction, because of their need for consistent population sampling. The field of wildlife management has experienced huge improvements in survey methods as technology has advanced, and the Desert Bighorn has been a test species for many systematic survey methods along the way.

Southern Plains bison (Bison bison bison)

The largest land animal in North America is Tim’s (@thibodeauxaustinboudreaux on Instagram) “favorite Texas critter”, mentioned in our March giveaway, “Bison! They don’t roam like they once did, but they are perfectly built for Texas and its wide array of weather and landscapes!”

The Bison is an iconic American species, a true icon of our heritage, spirit, and culture. Once over-hunted and threatened to the brink of extinction, the Bison does very well today thanks to the hard work of conservationists. Not only found in Texas, Bison herds can now be seen in many states, with a population size in the tens of thousands. Caprock Canyons State Park, San Angelo State Park, and the Fort Worth Nature Center are just a few Texas locations to view Bison herds in the wild.

Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)

Texas is proud of our diverse abundance of bats, one of the only mammals capable of true flight. One of our favorites is “The Mexican free-tailed bat because they eat all the mosquitos!!!” – @hillcountrydrone on Instagram

This species of bat can be found throughout Mexico and most of the western and southern U.S. The densest concentrations of free-tailed bats are found in Texas, where they roost in maternity colonies numbering in the millions. These massive maternity colonies are formed in limestone caves, under bridges, and in buildings. It is estimated that 100 million Mexican free-tailed bats travel to Central Texas each year to raise their young, and they consume approximately 1,000 tons of insects nightly. A large proportion of these insects are agricultural pests, which is why bats are so essential to Texas ecology. The Mexican free-tailed bat is also recognized as the State Flying Mammal of Texas.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

To highlight another one of our flying Texas critters, Michael Niebuhr on Facebook said, “I love watching ospreys fish in Galveston Bay.”

Along the Texas coast, Ospreys can be seen flying over the water, plunging feet-first into the Gulf to catch fish in their talons. After a successful strike, the bird will fly away from the water, carrying the fish head-forward with its feet. Due to the chemical thinning of their eggshells, the Osprey was seriously endangered by the effects of pesticides in the mid-20th century. Since DDT and other related pesticides were banned in 1972, the Osprey made a triumphant comeback in many parts of North America.

Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Another feathered fellow to make the list, “My favorite texas critter is the ruby-throated hummingbird. They are so little and feisty.” – @lauren.m.reed on Instagram

Tiny but mighty, the Ruby-throated hummingbird can beat its wings over 50 times per second. To accomplish this feat, these birds will consume up to twice their body weight in nectar and small insects every day to support their incredible metabolism. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have an impressive migration despite their size, with some birds traveling all the way from Canada to Costa Rica. Urbanization is a huge threat to this species because most migratory birds fly at night. Bright lights of commercial and residential buildings attract and disorient birds, causing collisions and leaving birds vulnerable to threats on the ground. Read more about protecting migratory birds in Texas here: bit.ly/LightsOutTexas

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

An animal found on the TV screen and throughout Texas, “I think the roadrunners are hilarious!” – @field_trip_fridays on Instagram

The Roadrunner is a rather famous species in the southwest, featured all throughout American culture, from folklore to cartoons. Recognized by its long tail, and expressive crest and facial features, the Road-“runner” primarily walks and runs on the ground, flying only when necessary. This species has been recorded running up to 15 miles per hour, with much faster sprints when chasing prey. The Roadrunner’s courtship ritual includes chases on foot, followed by one of the birds approaching the other with a gift, usually food, a stick, or a blade of grass.

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)

A species we may have all seen across the Lone State State, “Northern bobwhite! My favorite because it’s the best game bird to watch, study, or hunt. No other upland game bird in Texas or perhaps the US has the culture surrounding it like the Bobwhite.” – @bradkubecka on Instagram

The Northern Bobwhite is the only native quail in the eastern United States. It has a call that is a familiar sound of spring in the farmlands and brushy pastures of Texas. These birds are more often heard than seen, as they like to live within dense low cover. The Northern Bobwhite disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and even declined severely in more southern areas. This decline is likely due to fragmentation and degradation of the grassland habitat that the Northern Bobwhite rely on.

Learn more about this popular favorite in this video.

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Another iconic species made the list, “The red-tailed hawk because of their amazing call.” – @juan_elissetche on Instagram

The Red-tailed hawk is the most prominent and familiar large hawk in North America. This species is the largest hawk, usually weighing between two and four pounds. The female is nearly 1/3 larger than the male, similar to most raptor species, and can have a wingspan of up to 56 inches. With its large, broad wings, this bird of prey is perfectly adapted to soar effortlessly across any landscape. Adult Red-tailed hawks can all be easily identified by their trademark reddish-brown tail, but the rest of their plumage is surprisingly variable, ranging from brown to white depending on their location across the United States.

Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)- commonly known as Redfish

And for our critters that live in the water, “My favorite is Redfish. Love their diverse habitat and unique spotting each fish has. Unfortunately, they were hit hard with the recent freeze but so happy organizations like CCA Texas are working to help build their numbers back up.” – @atx_flyfishing on Instagram

The Red drum is appropriately named, males will attract females to mate by vibrating a muscle in their swim bladder, producing a drum-like noise. This species of fish has a distinctive black spot near their tail that is believed to help trick predators into attacking the red drum’s tail instead of their head, allowing the fish to escape. The Red drum prefers shallow waters, about one to four feet deep, so superficial that their backs are sometimes exposed above the water while swimming. This fish is often found along the edges of bay areas with submerged vegetation and soft mud. Red drum are also commonly found around oyster reefs. This species can live in freshwater, and have been found many miles upriver. During cold spells like Texas experienced in February of 2021, large numbers of red drum can be found upriver in tidal creeks and rivers

Dog-day cicada (Neotibicen canicularis)

Our last Texas critter is “The dog day cicada, of course, because their calls are a celebration of Texan summer!” – @itsnotastinkbug on Instagram

This periodical cicada species that occurs in Texas completes their life cycle in a whopping 13 years. Females lay eggs that burrow deep into the soil once they hatch, completing several cycles of growth and molting before emerging from the ground in large broods to start the cycle all over again. Adult Dog-day cicadas will emerge almost every year, from April through July, depending upon species and locality.