Below are a few examples of the kind of wildlife found in and around Johnson County. for a more complete look at Texas wildlife, please visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Facts Sheet.
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
- The Striped Skunk is a medium-sized, robust-bodied skunk with a white stripe on either side of its back that extend up over the head and down the sides of its bushy tail. The two large scent glands near the base of their tail produce the skunk's notoriously pungent scent, or musk.
- Life History
- Striped Skunks are largely nocturnal and rarely leave their dens until evening, returning early in the morning. In late fall they become extremely fat. In Texas, they seem more active in winter than in the heat of summer. Skunks are social animals. Several individuals will often occupy a winter den in a good location.
They eat a varied diet of both plants and animals. Insects form the bulk of their diet, but they also eat reptiles, small mammals, birds, and vegetation.
Their breeding period begins in February or March. The young are born in early May, with average litters consisting of five offspring. Some females have two litters a year, but one litter per year is more common. The nursery is a cavity under a rock, a burrow, or a thicket of cactus or other protective vegetation. Usually the mother builds a nest of dried grasses and weed stems for the blind, helpless young. Baby skunks must remain hidden in their nest until they can see and are strong enough to follow their mother.
Striped Skunks have a lifespan of about two years in the wild, but they have few natural enemies. Like humans, most predators avoid skunks because of the odor of their musk. When threatened or disturbed, skunks make a purring sound and often growl when attacked by humans. Prior to spraying the intruder with musk, skunks put on a defensive display by rising upon their hind feet, lurching forward, stamping both front feet, and at the same time clicking their teeth.
- The skunk is found in wooded or brushy areas and farmlands. They prefer taking shelter in rocky outcrops or under large boulders, but when these are unavailable, skunks choose to den in the abandoned burrows of other animals.
- They are distributed statewide in Texas.
Coyote (Canis latrans)
TPWD © Bill Reaves
- The Coyote is very similar in size to a small German Shepherd and weighs an average of 25 to 40 pounds. It has long, slender legs, a bushy tail with a black tip, and large ears that are held erect. The Coyote's coat can vary, but it is usually gray or buff-colored. From a close vantage point, there is no mistaking the yellow eyes and black, round pupils. The Coyote is a strong swimmer. It characteristically runs with its tail down instead of horizontally like foxes, or up like wolves and dogs.
- Life History
- The Coyote is an extremely intelligent animal with keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. It primarily is nocturnal and very opportunistic. Coyotes will eat just about anything. They feed primarily on rabbits, rodents and insects, but they also eat carrion, lizards, snakes, fruit, vegetable matter and even fish. This adaptability also is evident in their use of cover. The Coyote requires minimal shelter to survive, but it will use a den for the birth and care of its young. Coyotes usually prefer to take use an abandoned badger den or natural cavities rather than dig their own den; however, they will make the necessary renovations by excavating multiple escape tunnels linked to the surface.
Coyotes are considered monogamous, with pairs remaining together for several years, although not necessarily for life. They breed from mid-January to early March. After a gestation period of 63 to 65 days, a litter of five to seven pups is born. During the weeks following the birth, the male will bring food to the family, but the female will not allow him inside the den. Coyotes normally may live from 10 to 12 years.
- The adaptability of the Coyote and its acute sense of survival make it difficult to identify preferred habitat, although they most typically are associated with open plains in the West and brushy areas in the East. Their opportunistic nature has provided them the full advantage of surviving in a rapidly changing environment.
- Coyotes have an extensive range across the United States. They have slowly filled the void left by the declining population of wolves throughout the country. In Texas, they range throughout the state.
Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)
Body length: 3-4 ft. Tail: 2.5-3 ft. Height at shoulder: 25-30 in. Weight: 70-170 lbs.
The Mountain Lion is a large, slender cat with a smallish head and noticeably long tail. Its fur is a light, tawny brown color which can appear gray or almost black, depending on light conditions. Contrary to popular belief, there are no black panthers in North America; no one has ever captured or killed a black Mountain Lion. Mountain Lions are also called cougars, pumas, panthers, painters, and catamounts.
For more information see:
- Life History
- Mountain Lions are relatively uncommon, secretive animals. They are carnivores that prey on a variety of animals; some favorites include deer and wild hogs. Other prey animals included in the Mountain Lion's diet are rabbits, jackrabbits, javelinas, and rodents. Some lions occasionally kill livestock or dogs.
The Mountain Lion is solitary, except during breeding. Their young (typically 2-3 cubs) can be born almost any time of the year. Females usually breed every two to three years.
- Mountain Lions generally are found in remote mountains, canyonlands, or hilly areas with good cover.
- The Mountain Lion has the widest distribution of any wild cat, from Canada to South America. Formerly distributed throughout North America, the Mountain Lion is now found mostly in the remote areas of the western U.S., as well as western Canada and much of Mexico. A small population still exists in southern Florida, where the species is considered endangered.
In Texas, the Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country. Sighting and kill reports indicate that Mountain Lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.
- The bullsnake is a heavy-bodied snake that ranges from three to five feet in length. They are overall beige to light brown with dark brown or black blotches. Their belly is yellowish with black spots.
- Life History
- Bullsnakes vary in temperament. Some are rather docile while others react very defensively toward anyone who attempts to handle them. They may hiss loudly or even posture themselves in an S-shaped curve to deter potential threats. Despite their menacing attitude, they are non-venomous and they will not strike unless severely provoked.
Bullsnakes are beneficial snakes because they eat quantities of mice, cotton rats, gophers and small mammals. They frequently are associated with prairie dog towns and burrowing animal systems where they eat ground squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs and ground-nesting birds. They usually hunt by day, but during hot summers they become increasingly active during the cool nights.
Bullsnakes lay eggs. Mating occurs in March and April once they emerge from hibernation. During June and July, five to 19 leathery eggs are laid in loose soil. Fifteen to 20 hatchlings emerge in early autumn.
Because bullsnakes move slowly, they frequently are killed while crossing roads. They may also meet certain death while basking roadways. Road mortality along with habitat destruction are two elements that plague the otherwise long-lived bullsnake. One is known to have survived in captivity for 22 years.
- Bullsnakes prefer sandy soils in fields, brushlands and grasslands.
- Bullsnakes occur in the western, southern and southeastern United States. They are very common throughout Texas except for the extreme east and extreme western Trans-Pecos.
- Southern copperheads reach an adult length of 24 to 26 inches (60 to 66 cm). They have a pale brown to light tan body, often with a pinkish tint. Their yellow eyes have elliptical or cat-like pupils. Its body, covered with rough scales, is patterned with dark, hour glass-shaped cross bands, wider at their base and narrow across the back. Copperheads have heat-sensing "pits" located between the eyes and nostrils, hence the name "pit viper".
- Life History
- Copperheads feed on baby cottontails, swamp rabbits, rats, mice, birds, snakes, lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, and insects, especially grasshoppers and cicadas. They are preyed on by other snakes and raptors (birds of prey). Males reach sexual maturity within two years, females in three. Mating season is in the spring (February to early May), shortly after leaving winter dens; and fall (August to October) with fertilization delayed until following spring.
Copperheads, like other pit vipers, do not lay eggs. Instead the eggs are kept inside the female's body until the eggs are ready to "hatch." Incubation time is 105 to 110 days. The four to eight young, 7 to 10 inches (17 to 25 cm) long, weigh less than an ounce (28 g) at birth. Although duller in color, they look much like adults with yellowish tail-tips. (Tail-tips fade after third or fourth year.) Females provide no parental care after birth. One animal lived 23 years and 2 months in captivity, but in the wild, the average lifespan is probably 6 to 8 years.
Southern copperheads are diurnal (active during daylight hours) during early spring and late fall, at which time they will generally depend on the ability of their bodies to blend in with their environment to obtain prey and avoid enemies. They are nocturnal during the summer heat, actively hunting for prey during the cooler evening hours. Southern copperheads often eat one single meal every three weeks-even during their most active months. Copperheads sometimes nest with other snake species during hibernation.
Some people believe that the bite of a baby venomous snake is more powerful than that of an adult. Actually, there is no difference in the venom's potency, regardless of the age of the snake. Snake venom's most important function is to kill animals to be eaten. Defense is only a secondary function. Like all vipers, southern copperheads use the "heat seeking pits" behind their eyes to help locate their prey. Lying motionless on a bed of dead leaves, the pale-brown and chestnut-colored southern copperhead is all but invisible-a regular stealth viper! These are venomous snakes, but they are slow-movers, and depending on the season, they often share habitats with their prey.
- Southern copperheads prefer mixed pasture and wooded lowlands, usually within a river bottom, where leaf litter, logs and branches provide places to hide. They are sometimes present in wooded suburbs, adapting to the presence of humans.
- The copperhead is found in the eastern United States to the central and southern states, and in the eastern third of Texas.
- The bite of a copperhead is seldom fatal because of its short fangs (1.2 to 7.2 mm in length) and small amount of venom. Taking some simple safety precautions, however, can keep you from harm. Be careful where you put your hands and feet-don't reach or step until you can see the bottom. Never step over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first to ensure snakes are neither under, on or around these favored habitats. Use a flashlight when moving about at night, even in your home yard. Animal burrows make excellent habitat for snakes-don't reach in without first checking. Wear protective clothing if working in areas where you suspect snakes nearby. Heavy footwear, snake proof trousers and/or leggings will help reduce your risk. Freeze when snakes are known to be nearby until you know where they are. Allow the snake to retreat. If you must move, back slowly and carefully away from the snake.
- The cottonmouth is a dark, stout, thick-bodied venomous snake. When frightened, the cottonmouth will pop its mouth open. The skin inside its mouth is bright white-and the reason it is called "cottonmouth." Most adults average 30-42 inches (76-106.7 cm) long. They are dark, grayish-brown with little or no markings. Very old cottonmouths may be entirely black. Its broad, flat head distinctly wider than its neck, and it has an elliptical (cat-like) pupil. By day the pupil appears as a narrow slit; at night the pupil is wide and may even look round.
- Life History
- Frogs, fish, smaller snakes (including other cottonmouths), small water birds and small mammals, carrion, and sometimes fish on stringers make up the cottonmouth's diet. Cottonmouths are preyed upon by other snakes and humans. Females reach sexual maturity at three years; males at two years. Mating occurs in the spring. Like other pit vipers, cottonmouths do not lay eggs. Instead the eggs are kept inside the female's body until the eggs are ready to "hatch." Because fertilization and pregnancy are based on the female's physical condition, gestation periods vary from snake to snake and season to season.
Cottonmouths are born from early August until early October. Females bear only three to 12 offspring per litter. Newborn cottonmouths are 6 to 11 inches (15.2 to 28 cm) long. They have brownish or reddish bodies with lines that are wide on the sides and narrow across the back. Cottonmouths are born with yellow or greenish-gray tail tips and come complete with functional fangs and a full supply of venom. DO NOT TOUCH a young cottonmouth! Cottonmouths have a lifespan of less than ten years.
When swimming, the cottonmouth holds its head above water with most of its body barely touching the surface. Cottonmouths are nocturnal, most active at night. The young wiggle their tails so that the tip appears to be a small worm. When small frogs and lizards see the wriggling tail, they think it's something to eat and rush forward to eat it, only to be eaten by the baby cottonmouth. Cottonmouths eat other snakes, including their own kind. The only time more than one cottonmouth would be in the same place at the same time is: 1) mating season, 2) female giving birth, or 3) one cottonmouth is eating another.
Also called "water moccasin," cottonmouths CAN bite underwater, but their prey is fish. If they could not bite underwater, they would starve. Cottonmouths avoid contact with humans or any other possible predator. (All those stories about swarming cottonmouths attacking people are myths!) But like any animal, when threatened, cottonmouths will attack to protect themselves. In some places, especially around woodland ponds, you can find western cottonmouths every few yards. Sometimes, you can smell their musky odor in the air. Heat sensors on either side of the snake's face detect heat and help the cottonmouth to find food.
- Western cottonmouths prefer lowland swamps, lakes, rivers, sloughs, irrigation ditches, rice fields and salt marshes, but are not confined to living in moist habitats.
- Cottonmouths can be found from southern Illinois south to Alabama, west to Oklahoma and Central Texas
- Only 7% of all Texas snakebite cases involve cottonmouths. Throughout the United States, less than 1% of all deaths by snakebite have been caused by cottonmouths. While the odds make it seem unlikely to die from a cottonmouth bite, nonetheless, their venom can still cause severe bleeding and considerable damage to tissue. DO NOT TOUCH and if bitten, seek immediate medical attention!
As our population continues to grow, and wildlife habitat is developed, encounters with venomous snakes are going to occur. Many of these encounters occur around the home, with the result that incidents of bites close to home are statistically high. Keep wood and brush piles, trash dumps and livestock pens as far as possible from the residence. When working in these areas, exercise caution. Never put an arm or leg into something if you cannot see the bottom. Use a flashlight when moving about at night, even in your home yard. Animal burrows make excellent habitat for snakes-don't reach in without first checking.
Bullsnake (Pituophis catinefer sayi)
Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)
Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma)
All information was gathered from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Facts sheet.