Moseying: Exploring the Natural World
Come see a snookums bear and other omnivores at Sibley on Saturday, March 24th
March 18, 2012
Omnivores are cool. Humans are omnivores, and quite a few animals are omnivores. Foxes, coyotes, and skunks will all eat both plant material and meat, as will raccoons, opossums and snookum bears (more on snookum bears in a moment.) Lots of folks have gotten to know their neighborhood gray fox, since the Sibley Nature Center gets at least one telephone call, email, dropin, or Facebook message every week from folks worrying about their cats and dogs being harmed by a fox. West Texas is the only place in the world with four species of fox (red, gray, kit, and swift.) Foxes eat mice, fallen fruit, some insects, and pet food left outside. Gray foxes are the only canid (dog-like animal) in the world that can climb trees and telephone poles, so people are often very surprised when they see a fox on the roof.
You will not see a coyote on the roof, or a skunk, thankfully! Coyotes are sometimes seen at the edge of town, but rarely in town except where prairie dogs have become established. Coyotes do pose a threat to small pets. Skunks are all over town, with their population density higher in town than in the surrounding pastureland, but are not a threat to pets except to dogs who approach too close and get "stunk up!" Like foxes both species feast on our garbage and pet food. Coyotes prefer larger food, and skunks prefer insects, but both are ultimate opportunists.
A few people have tamed opossums, but they are not the most friendly of souls, although a baby will cuddle with a human. They have many sharp teeth, so it is a poor idea to pick one up, although many possums will play dead when bothered. Possums are sometimes found in town. Their diet mainly consists of carrion and many opossums becomes roadkill. They are also known to eat insects, frogs, birds, snakes, small mammals, slugs, and earthworms. They take advantage of unsecured garbage and pet food.
Raccoons are also sometimes found in town. One that learned to eat "pet" box turtles in people's backyards caused quite a stir a number of years ago before it was trapped with a bait of anchovy paste and hauled twenty miles away from town. Young coons sometimes are good pets, but as they age, their inquisitive mind gets them into conflict with their "owners." Most folks know about their habit of washing food. While their diet consists mostly of insects, worms, and other animals, they eat active or large prey, preferring prey that is easier to catch, specifically fish, amphibians and crayfish. Bird nests (eggs and hatchlings) are frequently preyed on, too.
All of the above omnivores are relatively easy to find on the southern Llano Estacado. Snookum bears have never been seen on the Llano Estacado, and only rarely in Texas. Old records indicate their original range included the mountains of the Trans-Pecos. Some recent anecdotal reports have come from the canyons of the Pecos and Devil's rivers, but most are from near Brownsville. Snookum bears are actually coatimundis, also known as coatis. The Coati is a raccoon-like omnivore, but is more slender and possesses a longer snout. The Coati is gregarious and noisy as it travel about in groupsof female and young, each holding its tail almost erect and chattering with others. This mammal grows 30 to 55 inches long and stands 8 to 12 inches high at the shoulder. It can weigh from 10 to 25 pounds. Males are almost twice as large as females and usually travel alone. The Coati has a long snout that is white near the tip and around the eyes, which often have dark patches above. The Coati has small ears, dark feet and a long, thin tail up to two feet long with 6 or 7 dark bands. Coatis are diurnal, spending most of the day foraging for food, which includes insects, lizards, roots, fruits, nuts and eggs. Bil Gilbert's Chulo, a book about living with and studying them, is a classic.Come see a snookums bear, an opossum, and a raccoon on Saturday March 24th at 11-2 at the Sibley Nature Center. Dr. Jessica Todia and her staff will not only show off and talk about these animals, but they will also have a scavenger hunt along the trail and some crafts in the building.