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Archive for the ‘Nature & Wildlife’ Category

Now that wintertime seems to have officially announced its presence here in central Texas, all the outdoor creatures want in…to my house.  Evidently, one day while I was away at work, some critter placed a big, fat “Vacancy” sign over my door.  That’s all it took.  A family of squirrels moved in, a few lizards snuck inside and a small army of rats turned into squatters, all happily nesting together in my attic.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.  And if you are a rodent, bring all your friends, too!

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. And if you are a rodent, bring all your friends, too!

It wasn’t such a huge deal at first.  I figured, once it warmed up, I’d see about fixing the hole in the soffit filters on the house, trim away the branches that touch or reach the roof and somehow shoo the critters away.  My traitorous house, however, decided to fall apart in exactly the wrong area:  a section of tile around the fireplace came unglued and fell off the wall, leaving a very tiny crack.  This tiny, 1/2 inch space somehow connected to the nether regions of the house and, ultimately, to the attic and outdoors as I could feel a draft coming through the crack.  I didn’t get around to fixing the tile immediately, which was exactly the same amount of time it took for three rats to move in.  Three.  Rats.  In.  My.  House.  Not wanting to become a wildlife landlord, I decided to take action.

You would think the presence of three dogs would deter the rodents or, at the very least, the canines would alert me to the rats presence.  If we were talking about normal pooches, the above would probably be true, but because we are talking about my dogs, none of it is.  I’m beginning to suspect that maybe the “Vacancy” sign was hung by my woofers in an attempt to make new friends.

The first time my dogs saw a rat scuttle by in the wee morning hours, they all looked at me like, “What the heck is that?”  Grimm literally stood still and watched as the rat ran underneath the couch, through his legs and then disappeared into the space under the fireplace.  I’m yelling at them, “Get the rat!  Get the rat!”  Zella finally started sniffing tentatively at the spot where the rodent was last spotted, Grimm followed her lead, and Rufus went and waited by his food bowl in hopes of scoring a second breakfast.

My dogs can coordinate perfectly in order to bite branches off of trees, so how come they can't team up to catch one measly rat?

My dogs can coordinate perfectly in order to bite branches off of trees, so how come they can’t team up to catch one measly rat?

With the second rat sighting, the dogs conducted themselves in a slightly more intimidating manner.  Well, okay…a slightly less embarrassing one.  It was like watching the three stooges–all of them were trying to figure out where the rat went, sniffing like crazy, but they kept bumping into each other in their exuberance.  The rat must have been laughing his little rat ass off at their shenanigans.  Even though all three watched as this rat ran under the refrigerator, instead of guarding the fridge, waiting for the rat’s appearance, they all ran back to the fireplace to see if any new rats would emerge.  Worthless dogs.  I told them I was trading them all in for cats.

Rufus became a little worried about being traded in for a feline model.  So, to up his rat catching game, he started researching how to become an intimidating kitty.

Rufus became a little worried about being traded in for a feline model. So, to improve his rat catching game, he started researching how to become an intimidating kitty.

Because my canines were clearly failing at catching rats, I had to take things into my own hands.  I refused to use chemical warfare for a few reasons: having rats bleed to death or go into convulsions before dying seemed barbaric and cruel; the rats would probably pay back my cruelty if I used such methods by dying in between my walls and causing all kinds of calamity; and my dogs would probably find and ingest the rat bait regardless of how well I hid it, leaving me with high vet bills and/or dead dogs.  On to my next option.

I decided against rat traps because, even though they are more humane than the poison option, waking up to a rodent with a broken back or a crushed face with little proptosed rat eyeballs seemed like the basis of nightmares.  The little rodent bastards were eating my food and generally causing messes, but I couldn’t kill them for it.  I decided to dust off my old Havahart trap, baited it with dog biscuits and peanut butter, and waited.

The first rat was caught the first night I set the trap.  My sister and I drove a mile down the street to a nice wooded area and let him go.  Rat number two was caught a few days later and released into the same area as rat number one.  Rat number three was proving to be the brains of the trio and not falling for the baited trap routine.  I tried bananas (because he sure liked them when they were on the kitchen counter), tortilla chips (again, because the rat tore into the new bag I purchased, probably to eat with his rat salsa) and bread (this little rat had an insatiable appetite)…but no luck.

One rat down, two to go...

One rat down, two to go…

There was one day when I almost caught the rat–he had gone into the trap, but the trap door didn’t close all the way.  I picked the trap up to examine it more closely in order to determine the malfunction.  I did not realize that the rat was still in the trap, hiding under the trigger plate.  As I peered into the front of the trap, this gray blur sped out and launched itself off the front of the trapdoor, right into the midst of three pit bull dogs.  This was probably the safest place for the rat to be as my three knucklehead dogs again became the three stooges, twirling around in circles trying to determine where the rat went.  

While my dogs were dancing around the rat, I was doing a heebee jeebee dance of my own, squealing like a six year old girl.  “Eeeeeeeeh!!!!!  Get the rat…get that bastard!”  By this point, the rat had escaped into parts unknown, leaving bewildered canines and a frazzled human in its wake.  Well played, rat, well played.

Days went by before the last rat finally let down his guard and became my captive.  Again I made the trip to my secret rat dumping ground and released the bugger.  As I drove away, he probably hitched a ride on my car’s rear bumper and is now outside, plotting how to get back inside and commence Operation Rat Revenge.  Good luck with that, rat.  I now have a secret weapon:

"Meow!  I'm a scary kitty cat, and I'm going to eat me some mousies!"

“Meow! I’m a scary kitty cat, and I’m going to eat me some mousies!”

Okay, so my secret weapon isn’t really that threatening, but maybe the rat will at least die from laughing.  Just in case, though, maybe we’ll see how the lizards and squirrels react first.  Then again, maybe not.  They might invite all their friends over for the show, making my house some new vermin version of a nightclub with Rufus as the star attraction.  I think I may need to invest in more Havahart traps…

Rat in a trap

Even captured in a trap, rat number three still looks smug. Probably has a shank hidden in his cheek pouch…

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This weekend I had the grand idea of extending one of my flowerbeds.  I thought to myself, what better way to celebrate the weekend than by not being able to move the next day?  Nothing quite says weekend warrior like a pulled back and fire ant bitten feet.  My dogs, God bless them, were outside with me every curse of the way.  They suffered through heat, witnessed abuse to rocks and watched in amazement as I tamed the earth to my will.

 

 

Eating Trees

 

 
Grimm, who must have been a landscaper in a previous life, helped me out by pruning a few branches.  While I was busy digging and planting, Grimm kept watch over the whole scene.  Even though it may look like he was goofing off and just eating plants, he assured me he was actually testing them to ensure they were safe to have in the environment.  Good old Grimm, looking out for the other pooches.

Suddenly, without warning, Grimm gave the “ALERT!  ALERT!” bark.  Something had crept into our perimeter that posed a huge threat.  We were at DEFCON 2, according to Grimm, and all on alert.  I made my way to safety while Grimm corralled the trespasser.  Using his own body to block any possible escape routes, Grimm made sure the interloper did not move any closer (as seen below).  All that military training was starting to pay off.

 

 

Grimm With Snail

 

 

Wait, you don’t believe me?  Where is the huge threat, you ask?  Here, let me show you more closely the seriousness of the situation:

 

Itty Bitty Snail

 

 

This is obviously a very scary, enormously dangerous creature.  Thank goodness I had my big, tough pit bull outside to protect me and watch every movement this gastropod made.  What with a snail’s lightning quick reflexes and all, I’m surprised I lived to tell the tale.  How could I, a puny human, ever hope to survive combat with a snail on my own, especially one so microscopically tiny?  Surely my squinting to see the darn thing would hinder my movements and hasten my demise…or so Grimm would believe.  We humans are so fragile.

 

Grimm On Porch

 

 

 

Grimm takes his job as protector very seriously.  No microbug or itty bitty crawly thing will escape his notice.  Spiders everywhere cower at the mere mention of his name.  In one fell slurp, it all could be over.  Grimm did not eat the snail since the snail decided to retreat back into his home.  If he hadn’t, escargot would have been on the menu.  Smart move, snail…smart move.

Grimm saved the day once again.  Nothing scares him, as long as it is smaller than, say, a chicken.  My dog is tough as nails or, at least, snails.  His motto is, “The smaller they are, the softer they fall”  and Grimm likes soft things.

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My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.
–Lady Bird Johnson

If you grew up in Texas, at some point you probably found yourself being photographed while sitting or lying in a patch of bluebonnets.  It is a rite of passage for most children growing up in this state.  Every spring, once the bright blue spires dot the roadsides, parents load up their children (and possibly the family dog) and go in search for the perfect spot.  It is not unusual for that perfect spot to literally be on the side of a busy highway.  For those of you who didn’t grow up here but have witnessed this roadside pilgrimage and wondered just what the heck was going on,  I’ll let you in on a great Texas secret:  we’re plumb crazy about our wildflowers, but especially the bluebonnets.

Grimm shows off his Texas sized tongue while lounging in the bluebonnets.

Grimm shows off his Texas sized tongue while lounging in the bluebonnets.

When I was a kid, every spring the family would load up in the minivan and drive west towards the Hill Country–prime bluebonnet territory.  My folks could disguise the trip as a mini vacation and, by my parents reckoning, my siblings and I could frolic through the fields on some back country road without as much worry about us becoming human roadkill.  Plus, in the hill country, there was always the possibility of getting longhorn cattle in the background of the photograph.  True, there might have been a greater probability of having one of us kids being bitten by a rattlesnake, but there were four of us and I’m pretty sure my parents thought the risk of losing a child perfectly acceptable in return for the perfect picture.  Seriously.  That’s how hard-core Texans are about their bluebonnet photo-ops.  You may get bitten by ants, stung by bees, bitten by a snake or gored by a longhorn, but by-golly your parents captured the glory of spring and the essence of youth by pairing you with those blue flowers.  I won’t mention the rashes incurred, though, from commando crawling through the flowers so that mom and dad could get that perfect “flower + face” close up.  No sirree.  Some things are too horrible to relive.

Charley smiles pretty and puts up with my photographing nonsense.

Charley smiles pretty and puts up with my photographing nonsense.

Since I have no children, my dogs now get to suffer as I did as a child.  They now get to endure the biting insects and deal with the sun being in their eyes.  Cruelly, they also have to pose with any number of my flowering plants to commemorate the event.  Like the bluebonnets, some of these plants only flower once a year and photographing the flower in question lets me enjoy it’s beauty year-round.  On the plus side, I usually don’t make them stand next to the giant prickly pear cactus when it is in bloom but that is only because I am not terribly fond of plucking cacti needles out of doggy legs.

Rufus acts serious when posing in front of the lavender plant.

Rufus acts serious when posing in front of the lavender plant.

Zella humors me and stays in place for her photograph with the oleander bush.  She is really just dying to go chase more bunnies.

Zella humors me and stays in place for her photograph with the oleander bush. She is really just dying to go chase more bunnies.

I thought this snail was really cute but none of the dogs would pose with him.  Oh, well.

I thought this snail was really cute but none of the dogs would pose with him. Oh, well.

All of the new growth, the bloom of the flowers and the emergence of tiny crawly things reminds us of the miracle of our earth.  Everything has it’s own niche and balances perfectly in sync with everything else.  We humans sometimes forget how delicate nature can be and days like today, Earth Day, remind us of the importance of doing our part to keep Mother Earth healthy and hale.  Sustainable living through reducing, recycling and reusing has become an everyday mantra.  Urban farming and composting have become commonplace which, in my view, helps us to get back to the literal roots of it all–the interconnection of nature and the natural world.  To enjoy it, we must protect it and each do our own small part to make the world a greener and healthy place.  After all, future generations of Texas kids need to be able to live through their own great bluebonnet photo trek and without bluebonnets, they will never be able to appreciate the soothing relief provided by Calamine lotion.  See?  Circle of life.

Grimm has decided he has had enough posing with the posies and races towards me through the young sunflowers.

Grimm has decided he has had enough posing with the posies and races towards me through the young sunflowers.

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What is it about sunshine that makes us feel so vibrant…so renewed?  Sure, it helps that sunshine can stimulate the production of serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) and help regulate our pineal gland, which produces melatonin (the “body clock” hormone).  Of course, it allows us to make Vitamin D and the UV radiation in sunlight causes an increase in endorphins (the “natural opiate”).  If you are like me, though, the warmth of sunshine on your face triggers memories of youth, of being carefree and relaxed, of getting to be almost one with nature.

 

Grimm basks in the spring sunshine.

Grimm basks in the spring sunshine.

 

The dogs love the spring sunshine just as much, or maybe more, than I do. Some of the above biochemical processes may occur in them, too, but with their fur coat, the benefits have to be less.  So why do they love the sunshine as much as me?  Well, for one, it means they get to run around outside and chase the spring bunnies, munch on fresh spring grass and wallow in the mud and wildflowers.  The increase in sunlight causes things that were once dormant to awake and drives the rhythms of life around us.  The canines are mesmerized by the songs and mating antics of the birds and, at times, dive-bombed by the mockingbirds when they get too close to their nests.  The best for them, though, is the proliferation of smells that have invaded their world.

 

 

Zella sits in the wildflowers as she rests in her pursuit of bunnies.

Zella sits in the wildflowers as she rests in her pursuit of bunnies.

 

Spring rains seem to wash the winter drudgery away while the sunshine dries the landscape to perfection.  Textures change daily as growth happens literally overnight.  The buzzing of the bees, the trills of the birds, and the whispering of the wind act in harmony to create a perfect symphony.

 

Charley watches the other dogs as he prepares to saunter into the greenery.

Charley watches the other dogs as he prepares to saunter into the greenery.

 

 

Watching the dogs romp and play in the new spring landscape delights me.  They are as curious about the outside world as we are.  Grimm chases butterflies, Zella rousts rabbits and Charley finds the most delectable blades of grass to nibble on.  Rufus acts like a kid who has entered a magical world–for him, this is his first spring ever.  He had never smelled wildflowers, never tasted the earthiness in a sprig of grass, never before been entranced by a buzzing bee before now.  He has learned the joys of spring and sunshine and mimics his older housemates.

 

 

Rufus and Grimm frolic through the grass, kicking up their heels in almost perfect synchronicity.

Rufus and Grimm frolic through the grass, kicking up their heels in almost perfect synchronicity.

 

The sunshine and beauty of spring has brought a renewal of spirit to all of us at my house, human and canine alike.  The power of the sun has enlivened our world and called forth life.  Now is the time to get out and live it.  Time to act like a kid again and race with the dogs through the wildflowers.  All of you should do the same.  Go outside, enjoy the sun and frolic with your beasts!

 

Grimm leads Rufus in finding more spring-time adventures.

Grimm leads Rufus in finding more spring-time adventures.

 

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What a gorgeous day we had today in Austin!  Perfect temperature, perfect blue sky, perfect pure sunlight pouring down.  My yard, however, was not looking so perfect…straggly, even.  Time to put on the gardening gloves.

First order of business was to pull up all the dead sunflower stalks from earlier in the summer.  Grimm decided he was going to help by bringing me pieces to add to the pile.  Because the dried stalks still have a few dried sunflower heads attached, seeds are still present, too.  To keep the birds happy and to provide a place for the smaller critters to hide, I add the stalks to several brush piles I have strategically placed around the yard.  These piles are nestled in the mini-bamboo forests I have cultivated around the perimeter of my property.  The bamboo makes a perfect natural fence and with the brush hidden inside, my neighbors can’t complain about unsightly brush piles.

Step 1: Bring the stick to the stick pile. Step 2: Drop the stick on the pile. Step 3: Tap the stick into place with your foot. Step 4: Watch the stick carefully to make sure it stays in place.

Grimm was so excited to be able to help today.  I think, ladies and gentlemen, I have found Grimm’s niche:  gardening.  Granted, it took about 10 minutes for him to bring one little stick over (first he had to munch on it to make it the appropriate size, I guess), but he did add, well, five stalks to the pile.  Once he gets his stick fetching skills honed, we’ll have to start on digging next.  Maybe by next month he’ll be talented enough to work the mower.  One can hope, right?

Grimm takes his time finding the perfect spot to place his dried sunflower stalk.

While Grimm worked at collecting sticks, Zella chased a few bunnies.  I was a little surprised that Grimm stayed with me and not with her, but, as a lot of you now know, Grimm is a velcro dog–even the excitement of a rabbit chase can’t get him to truly leave my side.  He watched Zella, though, as she sprung through the tall grass.  Finally, she flushed one his way and he joined in the hunt.  Not to worry, though, they never came close to catching any of those agile rabbits.

Grimm watches Zella chase bunnies in the field next to my house.

 

Getting outside on such a glorious day really lifted my spirits!  The last few weeks have been a little rough and I didn’t realize how much I missed just being able to putter around outside (with the dogs, of course).  Plus, if you’ve been following or reading this blog, you’ll know that I was Freshly Pressed this week. All of your stories about your own critters and kind words of encouragement really heartened my spirits.  I would never have thought that one little story, on one little blog,  about one little (well, okay, big) dog could create such an overwhelming response!

So, thank you.  Thank you for embracing my stories and empathizing with my frustration.  I now know more about all of your toilet habits, too, which is not something many people can say.

Grimm thanks you, too.  He was elated to learn that there are other dogs out there who didn’t read their Rules and Regulations in Regards to Living in the Human World handbook, either.  He feels a little better knowing he’s not the only one with a paper fetish and a strong desire to hang out with his person by the commode.

For now, it’s back to stick clearing duty.  This garden isn’t going to prune itself. I’ll leave that chore to Grimm.  He likes to eat paper, and isn’t paper just pulverized sticks?

Maybe I’ll just munch on this stick for a while. Tastes like chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumn has officially arrived here in Central Texas.  Acorns are starting to fall from the live oak trees in my yard, goldenrod and ragweed are blooming, and the days and nights are getting cooler.  Squirrels are driving the dogs crazy, my allergies are killing me, and the small town chili festivals are about to commence.

Goldenrods bloom in my yard. These plants are often confused with ragweed, which also blooms this time of year. Ragweed, unlike goldenrod, causes my immune system to go haywire, leaving me (and lots of others) in misery.

Grimm stalks through the ragweed towards the oak trees where the squirrels are taunting him.

Speaking of chili festivals, I came across a funny anecdote that made the email rounds a few years back.  I hadn’t read it in a while, and thought it was time for a resurrection.  Originally, this was said to be an actual account relayed to paramedics at a chili cook-off event.  While I don’t doubt that many people have suffered at the hands of a masochistic chili connoisseur, I cannot verify its authenticity or original author.  However, this story still makes me laugh out loud, especially since I have had similar thoughts when eating some of these ridiculously spicy concoctions.  There’s hot, then there’s HOT.

Recently, a man named Frank was visiting Texas from Springfield, Illinois.  Like most tourists, he thought it would be great fun to experience some of the local flavor.  He decided to attend a local chili cook-off which was taking place that same day.  Unbeknownst to Frank, one of the original three judges of the competition called in at the last minute, regretting that he would not be able to make it to the judging.  The other two judges were at a loss as to what to do.  At that precise moment, Frank found himself at the judge’s table asking for directions on how to get to the Coors Light vendor.  Using their native Texan ingenuity, the judges asked Frank if he would like to fill in.  He was assured by the two judges that the chili wouldn’t be all that spicy and, besides, he would have all the free beer he wanted during the tasting.  Luckily for them, Frank was up for the challenge and became Judge #3.  Unfortunately, Frank found out the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished.  Here are the scorecard notes from the event:

*Chili #1:  Mike’s Maniac Monster Chili

Judge #1:  A little too heavy on the tomato.  Amusing kick.

Judge #2:  Nice, smooth tomato flavor.  Very mild.

Judge #3 (aka Frank):  Holy shit!  What the hell is this stuff?  You could remove dried paint from your driveway with this stuff!  Took me two beers to put the flames out.  I hope that’s the worst one.  These Texans are crazy…

*Chili #2:  Austin’s Afterburner Chili

Judge #1:  Smoky, with a hint of pork.  Slight jalapeno tang.

Judge #2:  Exciting BBQ flavor, but needs more peppers to be taken seriously.

Judge #3:  Keep this out of the reach of children.  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to taste besides pain.  I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver.  They had to rush in more beer when they saw the look on my face.

*Chili #3:  Fred’s Famous Burn Down the Barn Chili 

Judge #1:  Excellent firehouse chili.  Great kick.

Judge #2:  A bit salty, but good use of peppers.

Judge #3:  Call the EPA.  I’ve located an uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano.  Everyone knows the routine by now.  Get me more beer before I ignite!  Barmaid pounded me on the back and now my backbone is in the front part of my chest.  I’m getting shit-faced from all the beer!

*Chili #4:  Bubba’s Black Magic

Judge #1:  Black bean chili with almost no spice.  Disappointing.

Judge #2:  Hint of lime in the black beans.  Good side dish for fish or other mild foods;  not much of a chili.

Judge #3:  I felt something scraping across my tongue, but I was unable to taste it.  Is it possible to burn off your taste buds?  Sally, the beer maid, was standing behind me with fresh refills.  This 300 pound woman is starting to look HOT…just like this nuclear waste I’m eating.  Is chili an aphrodisiac?

*Chili #5:  Lisa’s Legal Lip Remover

Judge #1:  Meaty, strong chili.  Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick.  Very impressive!

Judge #2:  Chili using shredded beef.  Could use more tomato.  Must admit, the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.

Judge #3:  My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead and I can no longer focus my eyes.  I farted and four people behind me needed paramedics.  The contestant seemed offended when I told her I thought her chili had given me brain damage.  Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer on it directly from the pitcher.  I wonder if I’m burning my lips off?  It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming.  Screw them!

*Chili #6:  Vera’s Very Vegetarian Variety

Judge #1:  Thin yet bold vegetarian chili.  Good balance of spices and peppers.

Judge #2:  The best yet.  Aggressive use of peppers, onion and garlic.  Superb!

Judge #3:  My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames.  I shit on myself when I farted and I’m worried it will eat through the chair.  No one seems inclined to stand behind me except Sally.  I can’t feel my lips anymore and I need to wipe my ass with a snow cone.

*Chili #7:  Susan’s Screaming Sensation Chili

Judge #1:  A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.

Judge #2:  Ho hum, tastes like the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment.  I should note that I am somewhat worried about Judge #3.  He appears to be in a bit of distress and is cursing uncontrollably.

Judge #3:  You could put a grenade in my mouth, pull the pin and I wouldn’t feel a thing.  I’ve lost sight in one eye and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water.  My shirt is covered in chili which slid unnoticed out of my mouth.  My pants are full of lava to match my shirt.  At least during the autopsy they’ll know what killed me.  I’ve decided to stop breathing–it’s too painful.  Screw it!  I’m not getting any oxygen anyway.  If I need air, I’ll just suck it through the four inch hole in my stomach.

*Chili #8:  Big Tom’s Toenail Curling Chili

Judge #1:  The perfect ending!  This is a nice blend chili.  Not too bold but spicy enough to declare it’s existence.

Judge #2:  This final entry is a good, balanced chili, neither mild nor hot.  Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge #3 farted, passed out, fell over and pulled the chili pot down on top of himself.  Not sure if he’s gonna make it.  Poor fella–wonder how he would have reacted to really hot chili?

Judge #3:  <<no report>>

Giant pots of chili like this are found at local festivals known as “chili cook-offs”.

At any rate, fall happens to be my favorite time of year.  The dogs enjoy it, too, and act friskier than normal.  Of course, chasing the squirrels who are looking for acorns adds to the fun.  Grimm really hadn’t seen too many squirrels until we were outside today.  At one time, when I first bought my current home, there were no squirrels to be seen.  The trees in my neighborhood were too small and puny to adequately support a large squirrel population at the time.  Now that the trees have matured, the squirrel families have as well.

The only downfall (pun intended) to autumn is the ragweed and it’s stupid pollen.  I guess chili cook-offs can be dangerous, too.   As long as I stock up on Zyrtec I’ll be able to survive the ragweed pollen explosion.  And, as long as I take my Prilosec and Zantac, I’ll survive the chili festivals, too.  I can’t guarantee Grimm will survive the fall unscathed–those squirrels can really chunk an acorn.

Zella and Grimm clean off after a long day of chasing squirrels.

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While outside today, I almost stepped on the toad frog below.  This toad’s nearly perfect camouflage allowed it to blend seamlessly into the background. The irony, however, is that this same adaptive strategy, meant to protect and disguise this frog from predators, worked so well that it almost caused this toad to be squished.  To be fair, this camouflage also makes the toad invisible to prey–if only I were a juicy grub or beetle.

Nature has perfected the art of camouflage.

At the last second, right before my foot fell, the toad leaped up and hopped away.  Needless to say, I gave a little yelp (okay, I sorta squealed like a girl, but that’s okay because I am a girl).  Grimm, who was walking with me, also jumped and he did scream like a little girl (he pretends to be tough, but he’s my cowardly lion, er, pit bull).  He then proceeded to try to sniff the toad, but the toad continued his strategy of just hopping away.  Finally, when the toad could go no further, he just hunkered down as low as he could go.  At this point, I knew that the frog’s secondary defense mechanism would be used if Grimm kept his pursuit.

Pictured above is the Texas toad (and this happens to be the official state amphibian). The swellings behind the eyes are the parotoid glands.

The Texas toad (Bufo speciosis), like other toads, has two glands on top of it’s head just behind the eyes called the parotoid glands.  These glands secrete bufotoxin, a neurotoxin that can cause irritation to the mucous membranes, nausea, and other symptoms depending on the exact chemicals in the excreted substance.  If you have ever seen your dog shake his head, paw at his mouth, drool or salivate excessively after licking or eating a toad, this is the chemical responsible.  This species of toad usually doesn’t pack enough punch to be truly dangerous to a dog, but other species can cause problems, especially if you have a small dog squaring off with a more venomous toad frog.

Grimm seriously wanted to lick (or eat) this old toad.  I didn’t want to deal with strings of dog drool and I wanted to keep the frog around for insect control, so I scooted the bumpy amphibian under the house, away from doggy lips.  Grimm was disappointed to see his frog prince escape.

What is that bumpy, jumping thing?

A whole knot of toad frogs lives around my house (and yes, a group of toads is called a knot).  Because these amphibians are mostly nocturnal, I don’t usually see my bumpy friends during the day.  When I water the front flower beds in the evenings, these bulldog looking frogs come lumbering out from under all the rocks and stones piled around the porch.  Because of our constant drought here in the Austin area, they need the water.  Not only do I water the plants, but I water the frogs, too.  They repay me by eating the bugs that are drawn to the front porch lights–my own little ecosystem in action.

Grimm’s still a little disappointed that I didn’t let him kiss a frog.  He’s under the impression that the toad would have turned into something grand.  I told him he’s been reading too many fairy tales.  Besides, I have a suspicion that the frog in the tales stayed a frog.  Too much bufotoxin can cause some amazing hallucinations–maybe even causing a lowly amphibian to look like a handsome prince.  Mother nature is an awesome chemist.

Toad, come back!

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