There are many wonderful critters that can be seen walking, swimming, flying or wiggling around in the park. They include wild turkey, deer, armadillos, snakes, lizards and insects, just to name a few.

Tarantula

Tarantula_Miller_Springs_cropped

This tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.) is extremely unhappy! It had just been stung by a nasty Tarantula Hawk (a large wasp) and so was completely paralyzed. The Tarantula Hawk was buzzing angrily nearby unhappy at having his prey taken from him. As a result it was possible to get this great photo! The tarantula finally woke up and crawled off but the Tarantula Hawk returned and carried it off to its nest! This was seen on the emergency spillway just west of the gravel walkway on the Rim Trail. – C. Newsom

 

Phacelia Caterpillar

Jerry Evans photographed this beautiful caterpillar munching happily on the leaves of the Blue Curls plant (Phacelia congesta). It could be the Phacelia caterpillar of the moth known as Zellers Ethmia (Ethmia zelleriella) but this is not certain since no one has raised it to adulthood. This moth has not been reported in Bell County. These beautiful caterpillars can sometimes be seen on the Blue Curls found on the Armadillo Trail – C. Newsom

Phacelia caterpillar munching on a Blue Curls leaf.
 

Scarab Beetle

Euphoria kernii, Scarab Beetle dining on a Prickly Pear Flower

I have seen Egyptian Scarabs, fashioned after Scarab Beetles, that were used as royal seals. These beetles are having a real party dining on the flower of the Texas Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii lindheimeri) on the Armadillo Trail. They also love the Thistles, Prickly Poppies and Yuccas. They seem to be particularly attracted to the flowers of plants with thorns for some reason! Until seeing these I never realized that not only are scarab beetles found in Texas but that there are actually 12 different species of this particular genus found here. It is incredible what one can find here in the Nature Center if you just look closely enough. – C. Newsom

 

Jumping Spider

This is a wonderful example of a jumping spider hanging out on a Cedar Sage plant. Fortunately it did not jump onto my camera when I was taking the photos although one can see that it is rather shy. A friend was not so lucky the first time he tried to photograph this spider. Fortunately he did not get bitten! The spider was seen about twenty feet from the above tarantula near the Rim Trail. – C. Newsom

Ipomopsis_rubra_05_spider
 

Armadillo

armadillo

Nine banded armadillos are usually night animals so it was interesting to see that this one was out during the day. They dig holes and root around looking for food such as ants and grubs. You will find many of their holes in the forest in the Nature Center. As a teenager I was once scared out of my wits one night while camping when an armadillo decided to dig a hole under my tent after I fell asleep. – C. Newsom

 

Ribbon Snake

This colorful snake (Thamnophis sauritus) likes to hang out near ponds and wetlands. I often seen them either swimming in the creek near the stone bridge (old forest loop) or in the nearby brush. They are fairly shy snakes but will emit a foul odor if they feel threatened so it is not advisable to try to catch this critter! – C. Newsom

Ribbon Snake
 

Caterpillar

American Dagger Caterpillar

This little fellow is a American Dagger caterpillar (Acronicta americana) and it will eventually turn into a moth. We were mushroom hunting along the Old River trail when we noticed it happily crawling along on a tree trunk. It was interesting enough I thought about touching it to see what it felt like. Fortunately I did not as this is a look but do not touch caterpillar. When touched the dark spines can break off and release a toxin which can cause severe allergic reactions! It is interesting that this caterpillar is much more colorful than the moth it will become. – C. Newsom

 

Rock Squirrel

This cute baby squirrel loves to hang out in the rocks near the dam along the West Access Trail. During the day one can often see these squirrels in the forest hunting for nuts. They are fairly shy so photographing them can be quite a challenge! – C. Newsom

Rock Squirrel
 

Dragonfly

Neon Skimmer Dragonfly

If you love dragonflies you will find that there are many different varieties in the park, including this beautiful example of a Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis). To see this dragonfly you will need to hang out near the many ponds and small streams found throughout the park. If you sit quietly they sometimes become accustomed to you and may even allow you to get quite close. They are found nearly everwhere in the park. – C. Newsom
More Dragonflies

 

White Tail Deer

There are many deer that live in the park, including this wonderful 12 point White Tail deer. Mule deer have also been spotted in the park. To see them it is best to hang out in the SE part of the park along either the South River or the Prairie trails that cross the large open grassy area. Alas, no deer hunting is allowed in the park! – C. Newsom

12 point White Tail Deer
 

Assassin Fly

Robber Fly

Picking up this strange looking fly can result in a nasty bite but don’t worry, it will not eat you! This fly is famous for attacking and eating bees and is also known as the “Robber Fly”. They like to wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight and then inject it with a neurotoxin. – C. Newsom

 

Giant Redheaded Centipede

The first Giant Redheaded Centipede (Scolopendra heros) that I saw in the park was living under a rock along the path between the two parking lots in the north parking area. I was rearranging the rocks to make a nice path between the lots when I got a huge surprise! I was not expecting any movement under the 10th rock that I moved. The legs were bright yellow and I nearly jumped out of my skin when it starting moving. This agressive animal was not at all happy to be disturbed. These giants can get up to 8″ long and has up to 46 legs and if you are “bitten” by its many poison legs it can be lethal! So it is best to flip over rocks with a big stick or hoe when looking for centipedes. – C. Newsom
More centipedes

Giant Redheaded Centipede - Scolopendra heros
 

Texas River Cooter

Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana)

This incredible turtle (Pseudemys texana) likes to hang out on logs in the ponds along the Old River Trail and on the banks of the Leon River. It can grow to as much as one foot in diameter. It is quite shy and so difficult to get close enough for a photo. Do not try to catch them as they do bite! – C. Newsom

 

Green Anole

This is my favorite lizard. It changes colors as it moves around and can lose its tail if attacked by a predator. Amazingly, its tail will continue to wiggle after it detaches and can distract the predator allowing the lizard to escape. Fortunately it can regrow another! It is also famous for its red throat displays often seen when it is guarding its territory. Most people think it is a chameleon but it is not! It is more closely related to the Iguanas. Its bite is harmless and I had lots of fun when I was young catching them. – C. Newsom

Giant Redheaded Centipede - Scolopendra heros
 

Lizard

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)

The Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) is looks like it comes right out of the Jurassic Age! Look for the two distinctive bands on the neck and the many spots on the rest of the body. It loves to live in rugged rocky areas as seen here but is versatile enough to live in the forests and grasslands as well. – C. Newsom

 

Whiptail Racerunner

The Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis gularis) is a beautiful and sleek lizard. It has a tail that is nearly three times the length of its body. When startled it will run off and stop to turn and look back at you. This is a very versatile lizard, occasisonally seen on the granite pathway, and lives in arid grasslands, sandy areas and in rocky areas. It is very active during the day from March thruough November hunting insects and even eating plants. – C. Newsom

Six-lined racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus)
 

Screech Owl

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)

The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) has one of the most interesting calls of any owl. This pint-sized bird can be heard in the forests of Texas at night as a long series of trills. They are night birds, like most owls, so if you want to see one during the day you must look for them in the niches in the trunks of trees near water. It is one of the more common owls found in Texas. – C. Newsom

 

Gray Fox

The beautiful Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) has been around for nearly 4 million years! It is a survivor in North and Central America in spite of everything humans have done to eliminate it. These animals are carnivores and can sometimes be seen in the grasslands carrying off a rabbit or some other small animal. – C. Newsom

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
 

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat

Believe it or not this bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is not a bird! It is a flying mammal, flies at night and is equipped with sonar to navigate and hunt. By hunting at night it avoids its predators such as the red-tailed hawk. The best way to observe the 7 species of bats found in our area is at dusk when they come out to hunt. Look for the jerky flight as they go after flying insects, its favorite food. They prefer nesting in caves or trees but will also happily live under bridges and in buildings in cities in colonies as large as 20 million. As a result bats are one of the most common mammals in North America. This bat is also the official flying mammal of Texas! – C. Newsom

 

Praying Mantis

The bizarre looking Praying Mantis (Stagmomantus carolina) is one of the more beneficial insects around. Like most insects it lives for less than one year and preys on various insects using its 2 compound and 3 single eyes mounted on its strange looking rotating heat to see around it by nearly 360 degrees. It begins preying nearly immediately after hatching from its egg. If there is little food around it will feed on its brothers and sisters! The female is famous for beheading and eating the head of the mail just after mating although this may be rarer in the wild than in the lab where this has been observed. The female will lay up to 300 eggs before dying a few weeks later. – C. Newsom

Praying Mantis - Stagmomantus carolina
 

Texas Ironclad Beetle

Texas Ironclad Beetle

This cool looking beetle has such a thick shell that to mount it you have to drill a hole in it! This is why it is called the Ironclad Beetle. This particular variety hangs out in central Texas, lays its eggs in dead wood and lives in Oak trees. It cannot fly and eats lichens growing on the trees without harming the trees. It is completely harmless to trees and people. If you touch one it will often turn over and play dead. It is about an inch long. – C. Newsom

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There are many more great photos in our GALLERIES ! ! !

Special thanks to G. Eckrich for the majority of the photos shown on this page.