Welder Wildlife Refuge shares critters at Shrimporee
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The 2010 Aransas Pass Shrimporee offered exhibits with information about the Texas Coastal Bend area.
Welder Wildlife Refuge's exhibit included items, such as animal shells, teeth and skulls. Those tell about the animals they came from, all of them from the Coastal Bend.
Several of the animal parts were placed in mystery boxes, built to contain an item, such as an antler. Each box has a hole in it that's large enough for someone to put their hand through and touch what's inside. The hole is covered by a fabric drape to encourage folks to explore what's inside by touching without peeking first. The top of the box opens wide, so what's inside can be explored more thoroughly after the guessing is done.
For each animal part we had on display, there was also a sheet of paper with a color picture of the part and information about the animal in its Coastal Bend habitat.
For some of the animals, the sheet also had information about the animal in other habitats. We'll talk here about several of the animal parts in the exhibit, and some of their characteristics that we explored with visitors to WWR's booth.
The items we put into the boxes included alligator teeth, a white-tailed deer antler and a jaw showing some teeth, a gopher tortoise shell and a Texas tortoise shell, a bobcat skull with teeth, a 9-banded armadillo shell and American oyster shells. All the items have only bone or other hard structures left.
We had those available so that we could offer visitors an opportunity to explore Coastal Bend wildlife, the habitat those animals live in and how our area's animal and plant life work together. And, in some cases, we explored how they work together with humans.
An alligator's teeth are hollow; they fit one on top of another - rather like stacked paper cups - in each tooth's hole. That allows the gator to grow a new, replacement tooth inside each tooth. Then, when a tooth falls out, it can be replaced fairly quickly to maintain the gator's ability to catch and eat fresh meat. We had several gator teeth for booth visitors to see the stacking.
The booth beside Welder's had shark's teeth. So, we collaborated with the folks to demonstrate the difference between an alligator's tooth replacement and a shark's tooth replacement. Sharks have replacement teeth in rows behind their current teeth. So, if a shark loses a tooth, another one in the row behind the empty tooth hole moves forward to restore the shark's capacity to function with a complete set of healthy teeth. Having a full set of working teeth is important to both alligators and sharks.
Another interesting characteristic of alligator teeth is that they overlap when the gator's mouth closes. That makes it difficult for the gator's prey to escape.
Deer antler, jaw with teeth
A deer's jaws are rather long to allow it to reach into areas that are somewhat prickly to bite off the plants it wants to eat. Its front teeth are cutting teeth for biting off portions of its food plants. The teeth farther back in its jaws are grinding teeth. Those teeth are used to chew those plants. The grinders become worn because of the effort to grind the deer's plant foods.
The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) lives from South Texas southward into northwestern Mexico. A very docile creature, a Texas tortoise is primarily a vegetarian, eating mostly the fruit of the common prickly pear and other succulent plants available. It usually grows to a shell length of about 8 inches. It's been classified since 1977 as a protected (nongame) threatened species in Texas. That means it cannot be taken, possessed, transported, exported, sold or offered for sale.
The Texas tortoise has yellowish-orange, "horned" scutes (plates) on its shell; and its hind legs are cylindrical and columnar, like those of an elephant. It is a "gopher" tortoise, living at least to some extent in tunnels that it - or some other tunnel-digging animal - has dug in the sandy soil of its habitat. It has also been known to use a shallow "pit" in the sand as a home.
Some fossil evidence in Central Texas suggests that the Texas tortoise and its relatives may have lived in an area including part of its current range as far back as ten million years B.C.
We also had another, much larger gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) in the exhibit. Its common name is actually gopher tortoise. Several states and the Federal government list it as threatened or endangered.
The bobcat skull included both the cat's front and rear teeth. The front teeth are used for biting into its captured prey and biting off meat from the prey's body. The rear teeth are designed to chew up the bites into smaller pieces so the bobcat can swallow them.
The eyeholes in the skull face forward so the cat can see straight ahead. That ability to see straight ahead is what enables it to capture prey and thus survive. On the other hand, animals such as deer need to have good side vision to stay safe from predators.
All in all, as usual, we enjoyed being there and representing Welder Wildlife Refuge at the Shrimporee.
The co-author on the white-tailed hawk series is an oil-spill response person at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Given what is going on with the oil-spill situation in the Gulf of Mexico, you know how very busy she is. We will keep additional parts about the white-tailed hawk on hold until we have a chance to share more information with you.
Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.