Creature Feature: Skunks

“Do you smell that?” One whiff and your alarm bells start ringing – skunk!  Like all skunks, our two local species, Striped and Spotted, are equipped with an unforgettable sulphuric spray. While we may not appreciate their smell, skunks have plenty of likeable qualities. Keep reading to learn more about our odiferous neighbors. 

Fast Facts: 

  1. Skunks are omnivorous.  Their diet varies with the season – insects and bugs during the spring and summer, small animals in the fall and winter – and the occasional berry or leaf. Like most urban wildlife, they’re opportunistic and will take a quick snack from the garbage can, pet food bowl or garden. 
  1. Their spray isn’t a weapon, it’s a warning. Spraying is about defense, not offense. The organic sulphur compound ejected from two small glands (known as a musk) tells potential predators that they taste bad, don’t waste your time.  
  1. It takes 10 to 12 days to replenish their stinky supply. Their spray supply isn’t endless. It can take nearly two weeks to produce enough for a few more shots. 

Why do we need them? 

Valuable garden allies, these natural pest control heroes feast on crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, small rodents and moles. Should the insects feasting in your garden seemingly disappear overnight, you might have a skunk to thank.

Defensive Behavior 

Skunks are passive, shy animals, who would rather flee than fight. Their bold white stripes or spots are all the warning most animals need. When their markings don’t get the message across, skunks give additional warnings with agitated foot stamping, hissing and growling. If the aggressor continues, the skunk will form his body into a “U” shape with both head and tail aimed at the attacker. 

Skunks spray their musk only as a last resort and are impressively accurate up to about 10 feet. Spray that enters the eyes causes temporary blindness. Combined with the lingering malodor, it’s likely their attacker learned a lesson it won’t soon forget. 

A nosy family dog is a common spray victim. If yours takes a hit, mix up the following remedy. Wear rubber gloves and do NOT get the solution in the dog’s eyes. Also, do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as it is not stable. If your dog has been sprayed in the eyes, call your veterinarian for appropriate care. 

Remedy 

Mix together: 
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at a pharmacy) 
¼ cup baking soda 
1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid soap 
 
Rub the mixture all over and scrub deep to neutralize the odor. Leave it on until the smell abates – but no longer, peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse thoroughly. 
 

Avoid A Conflict 

It’s more likely that you’ll smell a skunk rather than see one. A persistent, faint musky smell under a structure or woodpile may suggest a skunk has taken up residence. During breeding season, males can spray frequently when fighting over females.

Deter skunks from your yard: 

  • Keep a tight lid on garbage cans or pull them inside. 
  • Remove pet food before nightfall. 
  • Remove boards or debris where skunks may hide. 
  • Close off openings under decks, patios, or sheds.  Use ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, burying the wire at least 6 inches to prevent skunks from digging underneath. 
  • If you think a skunk has already taken up residence, it’s essential to be sure the animal (and any young) have left the den before blocking the entrance.  

If you come upon a skunk, simply move away slowly and quietly. 

Threat of Rabies 

Skunks are one of four animals (including the fox, raccoon, and bat) considered primary carriers of the rabies virus and is classified as a rabies vector species.  

Though mostly active at night, skunks sometimes look for food during the day, particularly in the spring when they have young to feed. Don’t be concerned if you see a skunk in the daytime unless they also show abnormal behaviors, such as: 

  • Limb paralysis 
  • Circling 
  • Unprovoked aggression 
  • Disorientation or staggering 
  • Uncharacteristic tameness 

If you witness any of these signs, don’t approach the skunk.  For assistance, call the Montgomery County Animal Control Authority at 936-442-7738, or Harris County Veterinary Public Health at 281-999-3191. 

Removal 

Under state law, a person may trap a fur-bearing animal at any time if it is causing damage or creating a nuisance. If you live trap a skunk, you must notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before relocating the animal.  A permit must be obtained and permission granted from the property owner where you plan to release the live animal.  Always contact a professional wildlife specialist if unable to safely remove wildlife on your own. 

Skunks have a single litter of 4-6 kits around May-June. The young stay in the den until around 8 weeks old. 

Yes, skunks are a bit smelly. But, these impressive animals are important members of our ecosystem. Most of the time, skunks simply pass through your yard at night and you’ll never encounter them.  Make the compassionate choice to live in harmony with nature. After all, they’ve learned to live with us. 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Backyard Mothing: Easy, Enjoyable and Exciting

Moths are everywhere, including your own backyard. In fact, more than 11,000 species of moths have been identified in North America. An astonishing number, considering there are a “mere” 575 species of butterflies. Despite their diversity and abundance, moths have attracted less study than their more glamorous cousin, the butterfly. That leaves a lot yet to be discovered about moths – perhaps by you! 

National Moth Week, July 18-26, is a great time to try “Mothing”. This easy, inexpensive hobby can be pursued right at home. With a few simple pieces of equipment, you can take an up-close look at our fascinating neighbors and share observations that build our understanding of the magnificent, mysterious moth. 

Outside the polar regions, moths are found across the Earth (their abundance makes them an important pollinator of flowering plants) and in all sizes and colors. They range from the 6” long Cecropia moth to the tiny (1.2 mm) Stigmella maya. Some vibrate with color. Others are drab to better blend with their environment.  

Moths are distinguished from butterflies by a stout body covered in dusty scales, and feathery, thick antennae. Look but do not touch. Touching can easily damage a moth’s wings. A resting moth extends its wings to the side or holds them tent-like over the body, unlike butterflies which hold their wings vertically.  

Like butterflies, moths develop through the process of metamorphosis.  An egg hatches into a tiny caterpillar (the larval stage).  Eating voraciously, the caterpillar develops through several growth stages called instars. At the end of the final instar, the caterpillar either spins a cocoon or splits its outer skin to expose the chrysalis beneath. The cocoon or chrysalis protects the insect while the transformation from pupae to adult occurs.  When metamorphosis is complete, the adult moth emerges and completes the life cycle by laying the next generation of eggs.  

Moths can be highly destructive in their larval stage. Vegetable gardeners dread the appearance of the tomato hornworm.  These large green horned caterpillars can quickly consume tomato plants. In the adult stage, the tomato hornworm transforms into the beautiful sphynx moth. Also known as “hummingbird moths” due to their size and flight pattern, sphynx moths are important pollinators of summer flowering plants. 

Photo of a Tomato Hornworm
Photo of a White-lined Sphynx Moth

Mothing can be done any time of day, though nighttime provides the easiest viewing. Start by simply turning on your porch light; a number of moth species are attracted by white light (LED or CFL work best). Use a black light and a sheet to attract additional species. Hang a white sheet (cotton works best to reflect the UV rays) between two trees or attach it to your fence. Be sure all four corners are secured as moths prefer a stable surface for landing. Place a black light or a plant grow light next to it and wait a few minutes for these beautiful insects to arrive. Your mothing endeavors will be off to a flying start.  

Shine a light on a white, cotton sheet to attract a variety of moths to your backyard for observation

You may also want to experiment with sugar bait in order to attract nectar feeding moths. Homemade sugar bait can be fashioned from ingredients on hand in your kitchen.  Try blending together a ripe banana, one cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons of molasses and a half cup of flat beer or apple cider. For best results, allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for a day prior to your planned observation. Paint the mixture onto the trunk of a tree or two and wait for nectar feeding moths to land. Check with mothscount.org for more ideas on attracting moths.   

A moth feeds on sugar bait

For identification help, choose a good quality moth guide such as the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern America, by Seabrooke Leckie and David Beadle (cost about $30).  Small laminated moth guides are easy for children to use.  Try Texas Butterflies and Moths: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species, by James Kavanaugh. This guide is often available in local groceries or may be purchased online.   

Share your backyard moth observations with other citizen scientists by joining National Moth Week July 18-26. The information you submit will be used to help map moth distribution and collect other data.  Join today and have fun mothing! 

Learn more about moths: 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Creature Feature: Coyotes

Trickster, creator, messenger and symbol of death, the coyote appears often in the tales and traditions of Native Americans. Most stories focus on the coyotes’ cleverness in achieving victory. These mythological portrayals have seeped into our perception of who the coyote is, for better or worse.  

Modern coyotes do display an impressive level of cleverness, continually adapting to the changing American landscape. These members of the dog family once lived primarily in open prairies and deserts. Now they are found across North America, including densely populated, urban areas. You might spot one running across a golf course or city park or in a culvert alongside a busy road.

Urban areas offer a steady supply of food for these opportunistic eaters. With plenty of rodents, rabbits, deer and vegetation cover around our community, it’s no wonder that coyotes have chosen to call The Woodlands home.

Be sure to look for the Creature Feature article in the upcoming July Community Magazine for more coyote facts and highlights.

Largely nocturnal hunters, seeing a coyote is rare, however it is possible that you may cross paths one day. Unexpected encounters with wildlife can cause confusion and invoke fear for both you and the animal! Familiarize yourself with the following responses and be prepared to act calmly and responsibly if you find yourself in one of these situations.  

If you hear or see a coyote, follow these best practices:

Utilize TheWoodlands311 app service request system (the app will pinpoint lyour location and allow for comments)

Hazing Techniques 

Pathways, Parks, Forested Areas, Open Spaces: Slowly and calmly walk away. If approached, DON’T RUN. Wave arms, make noise and walk toward the coyote until it retreats. Thrown rocks and sticks can be effective. The goal is not to hit the animal, but to scare it away. Be “Big, Bad and Loud.”  

At Home:  Do not approach animal. Wave arms and make loud noise (air horns, car horns, banging pots and pans, whistles). Throw rocks and sticks toward the animal. Water hoses can be effective. 

Pet Safety 

Though naturally timid, a coyote may see your pet as a threat, especially during breeding season, when pups are nearby, or when defending a source of food. Coyotes will try to intimidate your dog by baring their teeth and hunching their backs. This threat display is an attempt to scare your dog away without making any physical contact. If your dog does not move on, the possibility of a physical conflict is more likely. 

Ensure your pet’s safety and follow these guidelines: 

  • Never let your dog chase or play with a coyote.  
  • In an area where coyotes have been seen, keep your dog under full control at all times.  
  • To protect your small dog in coyote areas: 
    • Avoid using a flexi-leash  
    • Avoid walking near bushy areas  
    • Stand or walk with other people or larger dogs  
    • Avoid walking small dogs at dawn 
  • If a coyote gets too close for your comfort make eye contact with  
    it. Leash larger dogs and pick up small dogs. Haze the coyote (see above).  
  • If the coyote doesn’t leave, it’s likely there’s a den, pups, or food source nearby. Don’t run. Leave the area calmly. Change your routine to avoid this area for a while.  
  • If a coyote performs a threat display, or two or more coyotes charge your larger dog(s), leash up, leave the area calmly, and report it to 3-1-1. 

At home, reduce the chances of a coyote encounter by doing this simple yard audit:  

Want more information? 

Coyotes are clever. They have managed to adapt to an evolving landscape, raise their young in densely populated areas and find food and shelter in unexpected places. Understanding how to live with our wild neighbors creates a safe home for all of us. There’s much to appreciate and learn from coyotes on how to adapt to an ever-changing world. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Want to save pollinators? There’s an app for that.

Attention outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and wildlife champions! Don’t miss the chance to participate in a community-wide, virtual event that brings you closer to the outdoors right in your own backyard. 

The Township is hosting a week-long “bioblitz” – a community effort to identify as many species as possible during National Pollinator Week. This effort provides an informal, fun opportunity for the public to learn together and share their enthusiasm for nature. And the information collected contributes to a genuine scientific survey. Anyone can participate regardless of age or knowledge level.  

This community-wide, virtual event coincides with National Pollinator Week, June 22-28, 2020. Created by Pollinator.org, this world-wide celebration is also a call to action to save the bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and other pollinators who need our help.  

The Woodlands Township is celebrating National Pollinator Week by hosting a week-long BioBlitz. Participants are encouraged to seek out pollinators, in particular,when making observations. iNaturalist will automatically identify and track your observations and share the data with scientific organizations. Now you are participating in a world-wide citizen-science effort to help populations in need, like pollinators. 

How to participate 

  • Download the iNaturalist app onto your phone, tablet or computer.  
  • Before the Bioblitz officially begins, familiarize yourself with the app. 
  • Watch a short, simple tutorial at iNaturalist.org.  
  • Head outside with your phone and photograph the insects, critters and plants you encounter. 
  • Upload the photos to iNaturalist via the app or website. iNaturalist will help identify your picture. Just click ‘What did you see?’ on your phone, or the ‘Species name’ section under the photo you shared.  

To join The Woodlands Bioblitz, log into your iNaturalist account 

Cell Phones 

  • Select ‘Projects’ in the top left corner. 
  • Use the ‘Search’ magnifying glass in the top right corner. Type ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Select ‘Join’. 

Computers 

  • Select ‘Community’ at the top of the page.  
  • Use the drop-down menu and select ‘Projects’. 
  • Use the search bar, located below the featured project. Type in ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Click on the event to be directed to the project page. 
  • Select ‘Join’ in the upper right corner. 

Observations made during National Pollinator Week will be tallied at the end of the week. Results will be shared with our community.  You can make as many or as few observations as you like and from any area you wish – backyard, park or forest. However much you participate, you will find that you learn something new, contribute to important scientific efforts including pollinator conservation, and have fun being outdoors. Sign up today! 

For more information on how you can celebrate National Pollinator Week, visit www.pollinator.org or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Creature Feature: Venomous Snakes

“Snakes. Why does there have to be snakes?” Perhaps you’re one of the many who empathizes with Indiana Jones. In fact, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) tops the list of phobias, right along with public speaking. Fear of wild animals is valid, but what Indie probably didn’t consider is that snakes don’t seek out humans to attack. A bite is most always a defensive reaction. Indiana Jones movies introduce venomous snakes from around the world. In The Woodlands, we have only three. The Southern Copperhead, Western Cottonmouth and Texas Coral Snake.

Southern Copperhead: Tan to light orange body, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Darker markings that resemble a Hershey kiss. Copperheads are very well camouflaged on forest floors.
Western Cottonmouth: Stout, thick-body that ranges from dark, grayish-brown to black, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Also known as water moccasins.
Texas Coralsnake: Brightly colored pattern of red, yellow and black rings. Small head and slender body. Usually 30 inches or shorter

Let’s get acquainted

Like most snakes, these three species are shy and generally keep out of sight. They travel alone and prefer brush, rocks and woodpiles. Multiple snakes will share a den for winter hibernation, emerging in late February through early March. They are active during the day in spring and fall and at night during the summer to avoid the intense heat.

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. The type of prey varies by the species and may include mice, rats, frogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, insects, eggs, snails, scorpions and smaller snakes. Aquatic species, like the cottonmouth, also eat fish, crustaceans and amphibians.

Snakes play an integral role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem by helping keep prey populations in check. For example, controlling the rodent population results in the reduction of common diseases like hantavirus, lymphocytic chorio-meningitis and salmonellosis.

Living with nature

14 of the 17 species of snakes commonly found in The Woodlands are nonvenomous. While a bite from any wild animal is possible and can cause injury, most wildlife is harmless when left alone. If you unexpectedly encounter a cold blooded neighbor, follow these best safety practices.

Preventing snake bites

Most snakes live on or near the ground. Most bites happen around the ankle and about 99% of all bites occur below the knee.

Safety tips:

  • Wear protective clothing; fangs are sharp but break easily and almost never penetrate leather shoes or boots. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will help further reduce your risk.
  • Watch where you step, sit down and put your hands (never blindly into a hole).
  • Avoid stepping 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 not near.
  • Use a flashlight when moving about at night.

Around the home

  • Keep the grass short, shrubs trimmed, and flowerbeds free from debris.
  • Limit wood and brush piles and keep them away from the residence.
  • Keep storage sheds and garages as neat as possible.
  • Treat overturned boats, plant pots, tarps and similar objects as potential shelter for snake

Snake encounters and recommended responses

Removal – who to contact

When removing wildlife from your private property, it is best to call a professional.

  • Montgomery County: Woodlands Snake Removal, Nathan Wells: 346-218-0279
  • Harris County: Texas Snakes & More, Clint Pustejovsky: 713-934-7668

Keep in mind that living in a densely forested area means that you may encounter snakes at local parks, ponds and along trails. Follow the recommended responses above during an encounter and avoid handling any wildlife. Snakes are a valuable asset to the health of our forests and we don’t want to remove them from their natural home.

Want more information?

Now that you’ve read a little more about snakes, hopefully you appreciate the importance of having them around. We’re not suggesting you’re cured of your fears but maybe you’ve found a new respect for snakes and you will let them be when you see them. And on the rare occasion that you encounter a pit of asps on your world-wide adventures, go ahead and channel your inner professor of archaeology.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov