Podcasts: Hall of Texas Wildlife

Behind the scenes


How did the museum get these animals?

Dr. Travis J. LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology, UT Biodiversity Center
Time length: 54 seconds

Transcript: The majority of the animals you see here in the 3rd floor exhibits are real animals. Only a fraction of what you see on display isn’t real (such as the snakes along the 3rd floor hallway—as they are only painted models). The Museum has acquired these animals and other specimens kept in research collections through a variety of different ways. Museum scientists travel around the world to collect specimens for their research. Because of space limitations, however, most of these specimens end up stored off-exhibit and are used for research purposes; other specimens, like the ravens and their fantastic nests, are useful for public exhibition. Some specimens at the museum were actually collected by the public and later donated to the museum. Zoos often donate the bodies of zoo animals after they have died of natural causes. With proper care and curation, these specimens will last well beyond one person’s lifetime. Some of the large mammals on display, like the buffalo, were first displayed for the museum in the 1930s!



Why do some birds have such long beaks and feet?

Dr. Pamela R. Owen, Associate Director of TMM
Time length: 40 seconds

Transcript: Birds found along the Gulf Coast of Texas show adaptations for life along shorelines. With their long feet, shorebirds walk in shallow water in search of food. Some shorebirds, like the American avocet, have webbing between their toes, others do not. The feet of all shorebirds have widely spaced toes that allow the bird’s weight to be evenly distributed over the foot. This keeps them from sinking into the wet sand. The long, narrow beaks of shorebirds are used to probe into mud and sand to search for a meal of small invertebrate animals. Each species can find food at different depths, depending on the length of their beak.


Are eagles protected in Texas?

Dr. Pamela R. Owen, Associate Director of TMM
Time length: 1 minute 6 seconds

Transcript: Live and deceased eagles, their parts, eggs and nests are protected not only in Texas, but nationwide. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was first enacted in 1940 to protect our national symbol, the bald eagle. In 1962 the act was amended to include golden eagles, which were suffering a population decline resulting from uncontrolled shooting and trapping. A few golden eagles are residents of the Panhandle Plains and Trans-Pecos regions of Texas. Many seen in the western half of Texas are seasonal migrants from northern parts of their breeding range, which extends from Alaska southward through western North America into central Mexico. The golden eagle was named for the gold sheen of the feathers on its head and neck. It is the national bird of Mexico. With a wingspan of 6 to 7.5 feet, it is a majestic bird of prey that nests in high places. Females are one-third larger in size than males, and both parents help care for eggs and young.



What is this huge catfish?

Jessica Rosales Rains, Former Ichthyology Collections Manager
Time length: 40 seconds

Transcript: That is a taxidermy mount of Splash the state record blue catfish, scientific name Ictalurus furcatus. Splash is a female and weighed in at 121.5 pounds. Blue catfishes, sometimes also called bluecats, can grow up to 1.65 m or 5.4 feet in length. At 121.5 pounds, she was the largest blue catfish ever caught until a 124 pound bluecat was caught from the Mississippi River in 2005. However, as of June 2007, Splash remains the Texas state record blue catfish.


Why doesn't this catfish have eyes?

Jessica Rosales Rains, Former Ichthyology Collections Manager
Time length: 39 seconds

Transcript: Prietella phreatophila, Satan eurystomus, and Trogloglanis pattersoni are all cave dwelling catfish. All species are highly adapted to caves and total darkness by millions of years of evolution—this has resulted in complete loss of pigment and eyes. The eyes in these fishes are reduced to tiny, and apparently non-functional remnants buried deep under fatty tissue. To navigate around their environment and find food they have adapted hypersensitive senses of smell, taste, and movement detection. For example, pores in their skin can detect movement, objects, and food items.


Is this red and blue paddlefish real?

Jessica Rosales Rains, Former Ichthyology Collections Manager
Time length: 52 seconds

Transcript: Yes it is! This is a real fish that has been prepared as a cleared and stained specimen. Special chemicals have been used to dye the bones red, cartilage blue, and render the body transparent. One reason scientists do this is to examine the skeletons of animals that can not be put into a beetle colony. In beetle colonies the larvae of the beetles eat away at the dried flesh of the animal leaving behind clean bones. However the larvae can devour small specimens or bones completely and will often eat right through cartilage.

So animals like frogs and salamanders that have a lot of cartilage in their skeletons, structures and connections can be easily lost causing the skeleton to fall apart. Clearing and staining keeps these connections intact. Now look closely at the paddlefish skeleton. Based on the colors, what do you think the skeleton is primarily composed of—cartilage or bone?



What group of insects contains the largest number of species?

Dr. John C. Abbott, Former Curator of Entomology
Time length: 47 seconds

Transcript: Beetles epitomize diversity. They are the largest group of insects representing a fifth of all living organisms and a fourth of all animals. No other group of animals exhibits such a range of size, color and shape. Since the early Permian period, about 240 million years ago, beetles have evolved into nature’s single most astounding array of color and form. Nearly every strategy for animal life on land is represented in this remarkable group. Their diversity, which eloquently extends beyond the physical, encompassing strategies of behavior, defense, reproduction, and adaptation, has been appreciated since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Approximately two-thirds of the known beetle species reside in just eight families, including the Scarabaeidae, the family that includes the most of the beetles you are looking at.


What was the first group of animals to develop wings?

Dr. John C. Abbott, Former Curator of Entomology
Time length: 49 seconds

Transcript: Flight has evolved at least four times, in the insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats. Insects were the first group of organisms to evolve wings though and they are also the only invertebrates that have evolved flight. The earliest known fossil of a flying insect—a fossil that is 310 million years old, belongs to the stem group of mayflies. These insects achieved powered flight, 90 million years before pterosaurs or “pterodactyls”. Although only four groups of animals have evolved flight, all of the three extant groups are very successful, suggesting that flight is a very successful strategy once evolved. Bats, after rodents, have the most species of any mammalian order, about 20% of all mammalian species. Birds have the most species of any class of terrestrial vertebrates. And insects have more species than all other animal groups combined.


How big did prehistoric dragonflies get?

Dr. John C. Abbott, Former Curator of Entomology
Time length: 45 seconds

Transcript: Meganeura is a genus of extinct insects from the Carboniferous Period approximately 300 million years ago, which resembled and are related to the present-day dragonflies. With wingspans of more than 28 inches, Meganeura is one of the largest known flying insects. They fed on other insects, and even small amphibians like modern day dragonflies. Controversy has prevailed as to how insects of the Carboniferous Period were able to grow so large. The way oxygen is diffused through the insect's body puts an upper limit on size, which prehistoric insects seem to have well exceeded. It has been proposed that Meganeura was able to grow so large because the atmosphere at that time contained more oxygen than the present day 20%. Not all scientists agree with this hypothesis, but it has recently gained new traction.


wild cat

What mysterious and rare wild cat comes in more than one color?

Dr. Pamela R. Owen, Associate Director of TMM
Time length: 43 seconds

Transcript: The jaguarundi is a small relative of the puma, and is found in the scrublands and forests of Texas and Arizona, south into Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and Argentina. Jaguarundis have coats that are reddish-yellow, like this individual, but also may be brownish-black, or gray in color. These different color phases are found in both males and females and may be found in kittens from the same litter. The body and tail of jaguarundis are very long and these cats move with great speed and agility on both the ground and in trees. Jaguarundis typically hunt in the mornings and evenings, preying on small rodents, birds, and reptiles.



How old is that rattlesnake?

Dr. Travis J. LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology, UT Biodiversity Center
Time length: 56 seconds

Transcript: Let's talk about what makes rattlesnakes so unique—and perhaps so identifiable: the rattle. Rattles are composed of the same material as our fingernails, keratin. Rattles are made up of individual rattle segments, each loosely connected to each other to form a rattle string. A new rattle segment is added to the base of the string every time a rattlesnake sheds its skin. There are no beans or other material inside the rattles—the noise we hear is a combination of all the rattle segments contacting each other at a high rate. On a warm day, an agitated snake can shake its rattle back and forth over 100 times a second. Much like our own fingernails, when rattle segments are exposed to different environmental conditions (such as wet, dry, cold, heat), the oldest rattle segments may break and fall off, leaving the newest segments still attached at the base of the tail. For this reason, you can not tell how old a rattlesnake is by the number of rattles it has.


Is man's best friend more dangerous than a venomous snake?

Dr. Travis J. LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology, UT Biodiversity Center
Time length: 51 seconds

Transcript: Living with venomous snakes here in Texas may make us a bit uneasy and rightfully so. These snakes do have the capacity to injure and at times kill people. But before we start worrying too much about lots of venomous snakes slithering around the state, we should know some statistics regarding snakebites. In the United States, around 8000 people are bitten each year by venomous snakes, but only an average of 8–12 people actually die each year due to snakebite. In fact, in 2002, only 3 people died in the United States from venomous snakebites. Your chances of survival are incredibly high because of modern medical advances. We have a much bigger risk of dying in a vehicle accident than we do having a fatal encounter with a venomous snake. In fact, an average of 73 people die each year after being struck by lightning. Even people dying from dog bites typically account for more deaths in the United States each year than venomous snakes ever do.

horned lizard

When I grew up, horned lizards were everywhere—what happened to them?

Dr. Wendy L. Hodges, Former Research Assistant, Herpetology Collections
Time length: 1 minute 3 seconds

Transcript: Early Texas settlers admired horned lizards and noticed their toad-like body shape, christening them “horny toads.” Even the scientific name, Phrynosoma, means toad-bodied. Those early settlers moved horned lizards around, starting populations in the Texas Piney Woods, Louisiana and as far east as Florida. Boy Scouts collected them and took them to jamborees. In the 1950s and ‘60s, so many horned lizards were collected that the Texas State Legislature passed special rules banning their exportation. Today they are protected by the state’s Endangered and Threatened species laws. And though over-collection has ended, Texas horned lizards continue to decline from a combination of factors: loss of habitat for agriculture and urban growth; chemicals used to kill insects, especially their food source, native ants, like the harvester ant; and the invasion of nonnative species like the red imported fire ants. Horned lizards have lived around humans for a long time, but in combination, all these factors play a role in their current demise.

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