Creature Feature: Mountain Lion

This article was written by interpretive guide Mary Thorne.

Today I got to ride on a mountain lion. Well, I didn’t really ride on a mountain lion; I sat on a mountain lion. I was giving a private sculpture tour to a group of 33 bicyclists. When we got to the mountain lion sculpture I figured they could hear and see me better if I climbed to the top of the rocks. Once up there, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sit on the sculpture.

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Sitting atop a real mountain lion would never happen except in a cartoon or fantasy world. Mountain lions are extremely elusive and solitary animals and very few people have ever seen them in the wild. Their natural instinct is to avoid human interaction. It is amazing so few mountain lions are seen since it is the widest ranging land mammal in the western Hemisphere, aside from humans.

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It once roamed from the Canadian Yukon territory, into all of the lower forty eight states and down into South America. Early explorers called it leon (lion) and gato monte (cat of the mountain), later shortened to catamount. Since it lives in such diverse habitats why it is called a mountain lion? A folktale tells of fur traders buying pelts from natives and wondering why the furs had no manes like African lions. The natives jokingly said the male lions lived far away in the mountains.
Any animal that exists in different countries, with different languages, and different cultures is bound to have many common names. The mountain lion has so many common names that it is listed in the Guinness book of world records as having more names than any other animal.

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The scientific name of the mountain lion is Puma concolor. In Latin this means cat of one color and in the Peruvian Quechua language it means powerful. It’s strong muscular legs allow it to jump 15 feet in the air. Even the muscles of its jaws are structured to allow for an extremely powerful bite. Pumas have no natural enemies, except of course for us humans.  Mountain lions do not roar like a lion. Instead, due to the structure of their voice box, they hiss, growl purr and scream. That explains why one of its names is the screamer.

Come take a walk on our Forest Sculpture Trail to learn more about animals native to the Rio Grande Valley.


Creature Feature: Black-tailed Jackrabbit

This article was written by interpretive guide Mary Thorne.

Now that Easter has passed us, I got to thinking about why the Easter Bunny is associated with a religious holiday.  It turns out that rabbits reproduce so quickly they are often used as symbols of fertility and new life.

Then I got to thinking about the Black-tailed Jackrabbit and why they are called jackrabbits, when they are really hares.  It turns out it got its name because of its large ears.  Once upon a time someone thought its ears looked like the ears of a donkey, so they started calling it a “jackass rabbit.”  After a while it was shortened to jackrabbit.

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Then I got to thinking about why it has such big ears.  It turns out that, in addition to having exceptional hearing, Jackrabbits make good use of those huge donkey-like ears.  When they are hot, they increase the amount of blood that flows through their ears, causing their body temperature to cool down.  When temperatures plunge, they stay warm by decreasing the amount of blood flowing through those big ears.

Sculpture Black-tailed Jackrabbit 2 WEB

Then I got to thinking about how to encourage people to come see the bronze reproduction of the Black-tailed Jackrabbit at Quinta Mazatlan.   It turns out all I have to do is invite you to come join me for a sculpture garden tour.

I remembered that, years ago, one of my sisters told me I think too much.  Then I got to thinking about Rodin’s sculpture of The Thinker and how funny it would be if The Thinker was a bronze rabbit with big ears.   It turns out I think my sister was right.

Creature Feature: The Green Kingfisher

Tour 2013-03-16 McAllen Nature Center

Female Green Kingfisher at the McAllen Nature Center

We have three species of kingfishers (family Alcedinidae) that occur in the United States, who, in order from largest to smallest, are: Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, and Green Kingfisher. Of those three, only the Belted Kingfisher has a widespread range in the United States, with the mostly tropical Ringed and Green Kingfishers’ ranges just getting into South Texas.

Green Kingfisher Range Cornell

Range Map of the Green Kingfisher. Image from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Neotropical Birds website.

Green Kingfishers eat mainly small fish and tadpoles, which they catch by diving from low, waterside perches. They are a target species for many visiting birders, but can be difficult to find at times. Males have a rich red color on their breasts; this, mixed with the overall dark green plumage, makes these birds very attractive. Because of their food habits, they are nearly always required to be around water sources. In the Valley this includes the Rio Grande River, resacas, ponds, and even canals.

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Kingfishers have an interesting breeding habit; they dig burrows in riverbanks for nests. The burrows are dug using their large, strong bills, and the resulting dirt is pushed out the back by their feet.  A Green Kingfisher burrow can go up to a meter into the steep side of a riverbank, and is usually hidden behind overhanging vegetation. This makes finding their nests quite difficult! They lay 3-6 eggs in the small chamber at the end of the burrow, and both the males and females take turn incubating them and feeding the subsequent hatchlings.

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfishers can be found at various nature parks across the Valley, such as Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Quinta Mazatlan and others. Another place that offers good chances to see Green Kingfishers is the McAllen Nature Center. Last month’s birding tour to the center had good looks at male Green Kingfisher along a nearby canal.

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In a place where specialty birds abound, the Green Kingfisher often stands out as being a favorite. Their hidden nests, somewhat reclusive habits, and beautiful plumage make them a bird many strive to see – how lucky we are to have them in the Rio Grande Valley!

Our next field trip to the McAllen Nature Center will be Saturday, March 16th.  Registration is required.  Visit our website for more information: