Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are common in central and southern Georgia and are moving northward. Only one species of armadillo lives in Georgia and the southeastern United States. Georgia law prohibits keeping armadillos in captivity. Because they are not protected in Georgia, they can be hunted or trapped throughout the year. Armadillos have few natural predators. Many are killed while trying to cross roads or highways or when feeding along roadsides. Long claws make them proficient diggers. Armadillos rely on a good sense of smell to locate food but have poor eyesight. Digging, is often considered a nuisance, although consumption of ants, including fire ants, and white grubs may be beneficial in other ways. About two million years ago, a relative of the armadillo as large as a rhinoceros lived in South America.
The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), or “opossum” as it is commonly known, is a native mammal in Georgia. An adult opossum has 50 teeth, quite a lot, and is not afraid to bare them when scared or angry. Its tail is about a foot long and has very little hair on it. The tail is prehensile which means it is can be used to grasp onto objects such as tree limbs. On average, opossums can be expected to live about two years at best, with a substantial percentage dying before their first full year. Major causes of mortality include predators such as coyotes, dogs, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, and raptors, as well as human caused mortality through hunting, trapping, and vehicle strikes. Opossums are subject to a variety of diseases, though interestingly, rabies is exceedingly rare. Opossums are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal substances. They have even been…
Common Snapping Turtle
Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are large turtles that can grow more than a foot long and weigh up to 35 pounds. Common snapping turtles have long tails and necks and rough shells. Snapping turtles are found throughout eastern North America including all of Georgia. In Trinity Lakes, the mud bottom ponds with lush aquatic vegetation are especially favorable. While snapping turtles are often thought of as aggressive predators, these turtles, in fact, are omnivores whose diet consists partly of plant matter. Snapping turtles spend most of their time underwater waiting for their next snack to float by. They are not aggressive animals, but like any wild animal, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. The common snapping turtle is not protected and is considered locally abundant in Georgia. In some areas, it is harvested for food.
When sounds of their “honking” fill the air, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts look to the sky in search of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). These remarkable birds have become more common in Georgia. Although Georgia has established a hunting season for Canada geese, these birds are a protected species under state and federal law and can only be hunted according to Georgia’s migratory bird regulations. Canada geese fly in a distinctive V-shaped flight formation, with an altitude of more than 3,000 feet for migration flight. The front position is rotated since flying in front consumes the most energy. The maximum flight ceiling of Canada geese is unknown, but they have been reported as high as 29,000 feet. Each summer, in late June and early July, geese go through a molting process during which they lose their ability to fly until they grow new flight feathers. The lifespan in the wild of…
Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtles
Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtles (Trachemys scripta scripta) are among the most abundant of all basking turtles and native to Georgia. Any time the weather is mild and the sun is out, slider turtles rest on logs, stumps or rocks. Slider turtles are abundant in the ponds and streams of Trinity Lakes and can subsist on a vegetative diet, but are not normally able to capture healthy fish. Sliders can live more than 30 years in the wild. In Trinity Lakes, it’s common to see them sunbathing in a group or even on top of one another and, if you get too close, they’ll slide back into the water with a splash.
Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are large raptors. They have small heads and narrow but strongly hooked bills. The bare skin of the head is black. There are two types of vultures in Georgia, black vultures and turkey vultures. Turkey vultures have red skin on their head. At Trinity Lakes, both types of vultures can be found. One-on-one at a carcass, black vultures lose out to the slightly larger turkey vulture. But flocks of black vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary turkey vultures away. Vultures play an essential role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. These birds pick decaying carcasses clean which help prevent disease outbreaks. A world without vultures would be an awful place filled with disease and decay.
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is found throughout Georgia in both rural and urban areas. In Trinity Lakes, you can find both red foxes and gray foxes. The easiest way to identify the difference between a red fox and a gray fox is the tail. Red foxes have a white-tipped tail and gray foxes have a black-tipped tail. Red foxes are considered carnivores because a large portion of their diet includes rabbits, rats, mice, squirrels, birds and insects, however they also will eat fruits, nuts and berries. When preyed upon by coyotes or bobcats, red foxes utilize speed and endurance to elude predators. This adaptation is what made this species so popular for fox and hound hunting. Foxes are quite common. Although foxes are primarily nocturnal hunters, it is not uncommon to see a fox during the day. If you see a fox, the best advice is to simply leave…
River otters (Lontra canadensis) have a reputation for goofing off. They spend a large part of their day wrestling, sliding on their bellies, and playing chasing games. Most river otters weigh 15 to 30 pounds. River otters are semiaquatic (living both in water and on land). An otter easily catches fish. Otters do not store food, but catch asmuch as they can before eating. Their favorites are sunfish, bass, minnows,crayfish, snakes, frogs, and sometimes muskrats, ducks, and mice. Otter fur is very dense and does a good job of insulating otters underwater. A river otter can hold its breath as long as two minutes and dive more than 40 feet deep. Today, the river otter thrives throughout the state, including areas in Georgia where its’ populations were once diminished. River otter abundance is directly dependent on habitat quality and availability.
With the eradication of the Red Wolf across Georgia, the Coyote (Canis latrans) has filled the void statewide. Resembling a small dog, a coyote has pointy ears and snout, mottled color fur and a bushy tail. A group of coyotes is called a band. Coyotes are considered an invasive species in Georgia. Coyotes visit Trinity Lakes in search of rodents and even deer. The local coyotes at Trinity Lakes keep a distance on the northern side of Trinity Creek, and shy away from human contact. Coyote attacks on humans are very rare. If mated with dogs, a female coyote can produce a coyote/dog hybrid called a “coydog.” However, this is uncommon due to the unsynchronized breeding cycles of the two species. Despite its nuisance reputation, the coyote serves to maintain a balance in Georgia’s rodent population.
The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is a common dabbling duck found in Georgia. The male mallard is unmistakable with a glossy green head. The female is predominantly colored mottled brown. In Trinity Lakes, the mallards enjoy feeding on the sedges surrounding the lakes and acorns from the oak trees. The average life expectancy is three years, but they can live to twenty. The predation-avoidance behavior of sleeping with one eye open, allowing one brain hemisphere to remain aware while the other half sleeps, was first demonstrated in mallards, although it is believed to be widespread among birds in general.