Monday, April 7, 2014

Not as Prevalent as Before by Ciara Gold


File:Horned lizard 032507 kdh.jpg
photo from Wikipedia
The Texas State reptile is the Texas horned lizard. When I was young, we’d find these funny little creatures everywhere and what little kid couldn’t resist playing with them? We used to call them horny toads. We’d turn them on their backs and stroke their tummies until they’d go to sleep. You don’t see them much anymore. Their main staple is the harvester ant but with the introduction of the fire ant, the harvester ants have decreased thus causing a significant decrease in the horned lizard in central Texas. Might be different for other areas but I know it’s been years since I’ve seen one here.
The firefly or “lightening bug” is another creature we see very little of now. When I was younger, we’d see them all the time. I always loved catching them and putting them in a jar for a short time to enjoy their antics before releasing them to the night sky. Just last spring, we spied one in our front yard for the first time in twenty years. We were very excited. I did find a website that collected firefly sightings from Texas and it seems there are pockets here and about where you can still find swarms of them. They like the marshy areas and I imagine the draughts we’ve had in recent years have affected the firefly populations in our area.
File:Mountain lion.jpg
photo from Wikipedia
These recollections got me to thinking about other animals and their dimensioning numbers. When folks first settled the west, I imagine they saw a great many species of animals that are no longer as prevalent. For example, before Europeans settled in Texas, the cougar or mountain lion roamed all over Texas. Now the majestic felines keep to scattered counties of Texas and the mountainous country in West Texas.
Black bears in Texas used to be quite abundant. From 1850s until 1950s, folks would hunt these animals just for fun and by the 1950s it was very rare to find a black bear in Texas. By the 1970s, hunting restrictions were put into place and by 1983, it was illegal to hunt black bears in Texas at all and they were placed on the endangered species list. Twenty-some-odd years later, there seems to be a growing population of bears in west and east Texas, thrilling wildlife biologists.
I supposed the point I’m trying to make with this short reflection is that along with everything else we need to remember when we write, authors should research the existence of animals, insects and birds for the time period of their setting. I remember reading a book where an author mentioned a black bear in Texas and I’m thinking, eh? The book was a modern western written around 1980 and I don’t recall ever hearing of bears in Texas at that time so it kinda threw me off. I imagine there might have been a few rare sightings then but …


Caroline Clemmons said...

What a great post, Ciara. I have the same memories of growing up. Until we moved to town last summer, we were on the route of at least two cougars. One that matched your photo came by and the Tx Parks and Wildlife Ranger said we were on his territorial route. The other was a Mexican black cougar, which is really dark with black spots barely visible on the coat. He killed our neighbor's elderly dog. The golden cougar never seemed to bother local pets, but ours were always inside.
My daughter, who lives near Greenville, was told black bears are indeed returning to East TX due to their habitat in Ark being destroyed by logging and construction.

Rain Trueax said...

Logging and forest fires change terrain also over a short span sometimes. I think writers have to do the best they can with what they can find. I know in Oregon grizzlies and wolves were here, got killed off pretty much totally, and now are making a comeback in certain regions. I learned recently we also have wolverines around Crater Lake now, which I didn't know, but they are secretive enough that they might've avoided the kill off of so many other predator species through shooting or trapping.

Kathleen Rice Adams said...

Great points, Ciara! The flipside of the coin is that readers sometimes have trouble accepting the appearance of critters in historical novels if those critters don't live in the area now. That's particularly true with black bears and cougars in Texas, I've discovered. In the 19th Century, both were common in some places, as were wolves. All three species could mean big trouble for ranchers ... which is why they don't roam all over Texas anymore. ;-)

Ciara Gold said...

Thanks all who've commented thus far. I agree, it's like reaching a healthy balance. I remember wanting my historical western family to live near a lake and hubby telling me that there are only two natural lakes in Texas (Caddo and Big Lake) so ... oops, I had to back peddle some. Sometimes it's so hard to find these little details especially if you don't know you're supposed to look for them. LOL.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Another biggie is how these animals, especially the predators, are perceived. I just saw a flap-up over the governor of Idaho allowing 500 more wolves to be shot. That wouldn't even have made the news in the 1870s. Our Old West characters wouldn't have been the slightest bit worried about preserving the wolf population.