SAN ANTONIO – This was a year unlike any other. Find more stories wrapping up 2020 here.
With a wild year came interesting stories about wildlife. And we do mean interesting.
This year, “murder hornet” became a household name, rogue Texas chickens were found miles away and reunited, and the Padre Island National Seashore was spotlighted for interesting creature finds.
But that’s just the beginning. Here are some of the best wildlife and animal stories we wrote on KSAT.com, from San Antonio to Texas to across the nation:
As the U.S. tried to get a grip on the chaos of 2020, the New York Times released a report about the arrival of a deadly species of hornets. Asian giant hornets, or otherwise known as “murder hornets,” were first discovered in the U.S. last fall in Washington state, NYT reports. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest of the “murder hornets” in October, and worked to wipe it out to protect native honeybees. Workers with the state Agriculture Department spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to the Asian giant hornets to find the nest.
In San Antonio, several residents thought they saw the “murder hornet” here, but they were actually seeing Cicada Killers, a predatory wasp that is native to Texas.
The pandemic changed a lot of things, but not the stinging caterpillar season in May. Stinging caterpillar species include the buck moth caterpillar, spiny oak slug caterpillar, hickory tussock moth caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar and Io moth caterpillar, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Experts said touching the insects could cause contact rashes and painful reactions. “A good rule of thumb is if a caterpillar looks ‘fuzzy’ - don’t touch it,” said AgriLife Extension specialist Molly Keck.
In early May, the blue glaucaus, known more commonly as the blue dragon, was spotted at Padre Island National Seashore. It is a type of nudibranch or sea slug, and officials with PINS called the sighting a “rare find.” “Blue dragons are a predator of the Portuguese man-of-war. After eating, they move the stinging cells from the man-of-war to the end of their ‘fingers.’ Because they concentrate the stinging cells together, their sting can be more painful than a man-of-war’s,” a post on the PINS Facebook page stated.
A kitten in Portland, Oregon, was born with two faces on May 20. The kitten had four eyes, two noses and two mouths. The family named it Biscuit and Gravy. Sadly, the kitten died days later.
Texas Tan Tarantula, a common species in Texas, was spotted on a patio door in June, greeting a family new to San Antonio. “I hear my husband yell, ‘OMG what in the heck is that?’” homeowner Teouna Thomas told KSAT. The homeowners called the front office of their apartment complex and a worker later released it back into the wild. Experts at the San Antonio Zoo said they’re harmless to humans.
Reba, a pet chicken from Fair Oaks Ranch, was stowed away on June 30 in the trunk of an Instacart delivery driver. At first, Reba’s owner Justin Matthews and his family feared the worst, thinking she might have been taken by a fox or a hawk but, alas, it was her curiosity that got her. The delivery driver said Reba jumped out of his trunk when he got to Costco. She made it to Del Rio when Good Samaritans saved Reba from the parking lot and took her home.
Days after the Reba story, another chicken, this one in Pearland, took a trip to a Jiffy Lube. The chicken, Maggie, was stowed away in a truck and jumped out when the truck was getting serviced. Tiffany Travis said a Jiffy Lube employee caught Maggie running around the bay as the family was leaving and asked, “Ma’am, is this your chicken? It just fell out of your truck.” She then realized one of her neighbor’s chickens had somehow hitched a ride.
Animal carcasses were tied down in the Nueces River and then hung from a bridge in separate instances in late June in a swimming area off County Road 414 in Uvalde County. Authorities investigated the case as illegal dumping.
San Antonio Zoo officials said a Micronesian Kingfisher, which is known to be extinct in the wild, was successfully hatched on July 4. It was a big win for conservationists who say only about 140 are known to exist in human care.
Al, a 5-foot-long alligator, somehow made his way to a home on the far East Side of San Antonio on Aug. 3, according to the Animal Care Services. A resident who was taking his trash out near Foster Road and U.S Hwy 87 spotted the gator and called San Antonio police and ACS. Caleb Harris, a reptile animal care specialist from the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo, was able to safely remove the reptile.
Two Texas anglers caught the same lemon shark nearly one year apart but with one major difference -- the 123-inch shark was very visibly pregnant in the second photo. Both catches were part of the Texas Shark Rodeo, a catch-photo-release, team-oriented, shark fishing tournament with an emphasis on tagging and collecting data for the conservation of sharks, according to the website.
Josie Silva caught a 9-foot tiger shark south of Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi on Labor Day. “I hooked on at 7:39 p.m. and it took me 40 minutes to bring her to shore, [and] five minutes to measure her and send her back out,” Silva told KSAT.
In early October, an 18-foot, 9-inch Burmese python captured in South Florida set a new record, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The massive “behemoth of a snake” weighed an impressive 104 pounds.
After the massive Burmese python was captured, a Florida trio legally captured a 600-700-pound gator on Oct. 5. Matthew Farlow said he, his brother Robby Farlow and friend Tyler Greene caught the massive gator in a tributary of the St. Johns River, according to News4Jax. Matthew Farlow said the men planned to keep and eat the meat, mount the head and use the skin for boots, wallets and belts. “Nothing goes to waste.”
A mystery sea creature washed up on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore on Oct. 5. Initially, PINS officials thought it was a Texas blind snake, but then they thought it seemed more like an eel due to its body structure.
A black bear that was first spotted in Del Rio with her cub on Oct. 16 was shot and killed in a residential neighborhood, according to a statement from Texas Parks and Wildlife. A Del Rio resident was charged with taking a protected state threatened nongame animal on Oct. 19. Bear sightings are continuing to crop up in the west and southwestern regions of Texas due to black bear conservation efforts over the last two decades, TPWD said. They are still considered rare in Texas and it is illegal to hunt, harass or kill them.
The Padre Island National Seashore on Oct. 23 said moon jellyfish were “washing up by the thousands” in the area. From a distance, they blend in with the sand and are hard to see. Officials reminded visitors to watch their step. It was unclear as to why so many washed up along shore all at once.
King, a San Antonio dog that somehow disappeared from the backyard of a home in June 2014, was found in October in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Broward County Humane Society had scanned the chihuahua and discovered he was microchipped. “It was my birthday. I thought it was someone playing a joke on me,” Debi Vazquez said. “It was just a miracle.”
Rocky, the tiny Saw-whet owl, was found stuck inside this year’s Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center as workers were setting up the tree on Nov. 16. The owl was taken to Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in the Hudson Valley town of Saugerties to be nursed back to health, as it hadn’t eaten in three days. It was later released to the wild.
A 10-foot male alligator in Port Aransas that was dubbed the “Dollar Store Gator” was relocated after experts said he was getting too comfortable with humans. Some people were feeding him, while others were throwing objects at him.
Officials with the Padre Island National Seashore on Nov. 1 posted a photo of a sargassum fish that washed up on the beach and was discovered by a visitor. Turns out, the sargassum fish is an ambush predator as well as a cannibal. PINS officials said the sargassum fish “lives in the seaweed beds out in the Gulf of Mexico” and blends into the seaweed due to its unique coloring.
Employees at San Antonio College made an interesting discovery in mid-November when they found a sly fox inside an office resting on top of cabinets. The Animal Care Services said officers were dispatched to the Moody Learning Center to rescue the fox, which somehow made its way into the office by entering through the ceiling.
Wyatt Walton, a trapper with Lone Star Trapping, told KSAT in November that the team was on track to capture more than 6,500 this year. Walton said local HOA boards are approving contracts more often than they have in the past. Lone Star Trapping has provided hog removal services in the San Antonio area since 2016.
An adopted dog named Honey was reunited with his owner seven years after he disappeared. Animal Care Services posted the happy story on Nov. 23, saying that after Honey was taken to the shelter as a stray, employees found a microchip registered to someone who had adopted him years earlier.
Marcus is a therapy dog and the first member of the PUPPYatrics team in the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio’s Child Life Department. He has been specially taught to have a calm disposition which allows him special access to patients in all areas of the hospital. Marcus is considered a facility dog which means he provides emotional support and comfort to patients and their families to help cope with the stressors of hospitalization as well as helping to normalize the hospital environment.
A mama corgi named Angela adopted four orphaned Labrador puppies after the puppy’s mother passed away shortly after giving birth, KSAT reported on Dec. 18. Angela was pregnant when she went to the Dog Ranch Rescue in October after she was saved from a puppy mill. Three weeks after Angela gave birth, the Labrador puppies’ mother, named Autumn Dove, gave birth to her litter before she died.