From creepy to heartfelt, the best Texas animal/wildlife stories of 2021

Albino rattlesnakes. Tongue-eating parasites. Massive fish. The wildlife stories are bigger in Texas.

Albino rattlesnakes. Tongue-eating parasites. Massive fish. The wildlife stories are bigger in Texas. (KSAT)

Read more stories wrapping 2021 here.

In 2021, news from the animal world brought us things like a bee “piñata of pain,” a rare albino Western diamondback rattlesnake, and a team of hogs tearing up a neighborhood.

Yikes, the wildlife sure is wild.

But thank goodness animals are also fascinating and wonderful, because we also learned about the first hospital-based therapy horse in Texas and observed wildlife using the new Tobin Land Bridge at Hardberger Park.

This year was chaotic and full of surprises, but one thing is for sure: wildlife kept things interesting. Here’s a look at the coolest and most interesting animal and wildlife stories of 2021.

Fly fish angler reels in potential world-record blue catfish in Texas river

Ben Christensen, of Johnson City, caught a 31.55-pound blue catfish on Oct. 11 on the Pedernales River. He caught it with a 4-weight fly rod, which he says is typically unsuitable for catching fish over about five pounds.

“I have caught a lot of big fish and know how to keep the rod and my knots from breaking by being careful with the reel’s drag and the angle of the fly rod,” Christensen told KSAT. “The rod tip was bent over almost double during the whole fight.”

The catfish might be a world record holder.

Angler Ben Christensen caught a 31.55 pound blue catfish on a size 10 Gamakatsu hook, with 12-lb. Rio Bass tippet and a Scott Flex 4-weight fly rod. (Ben Christensen)

20+ hogs caught on home surveillance camera destroying Texas neighborhood

Fort Bend County homeowner Glen Garner’s surveillance cameras caught 25-30 wild hogs roaming through his front yard.

“You’ve seen one hog, OK. And then you see the whole family troop filing in. It’s just really bizarre,” Garner told KHOU. “They move really quickly. Looking back on our camera, they were in our yard less than a minute.”

He added that the hogs caused extensive damage to his landscaping.

People are dumping aquarium pets into San Antonio River and it could cause bank collapse

The San Antonio River Authority said people have been dumping aquarium fish, which are invasive species, into the river.

Some of the fish causing the most harm to the San Antonio River are vermiculated: catfish and plecostomus, both referred to as armored catfish, and tilapia. The armored catfish burrow themselves into riverbeds, causing erosion and possibly leading to bank collapse.

Pet owners who want to give up their fish should return them to pet stores or try to rehome them.

Photos show deer, rabbit and other animals crossing the new Tobin Land Bridge at Hardberger Park

Just months after the $23 million Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge opened at Hardberger Park, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department released images of animals actually using the path.

A Virginia opossum, a cottontail rabbit, a white-tailed deer and a coyote were among the aminals captured on camera using the bridge, which goes across Wurzbach Parkway. The city later released additional images of raccoons, foxes and ringtails using the bridge.

The land bridge is 165-feet wide at the base and 150-feet wide at the center and includes water bubblers, trees, shrubs and grasses to help animals cross and to attract wildlife. It opened on Dec. 10, 2020.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department released images of animals crossing the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge. (Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy)

Tongue-eating creature found inside fish at Texas state park is the stuff of nightmares

A tongue-eating parasite was found inside the mouth of an Atlantic Croaker at Galveston Island State Park in October.

The parasite can actually attach itself to the fish’s mouth and become its tongue. While it’s creepy, it doesn’t kill the fish or affect humans.

Tongue-eating louse or ‘snapper-choking isopod’ are somewhat common among certain species of fish, like Atlantic croaker (as pictured), spotted seatrout, and a few species of snapper. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

‘We’re all standing together for animals’: 810-pound manatee hoisted from Texas canal in rare rescue

A stranded manatee was found in a Texas City canal in early December and was taken to SeaWorld San Antonio for recovery.

He was underweight and suffering from acute cold stress syndrome due to the lack of suitable habitat conditions, according to SeaWorld San Antonio spokesperson Chuck Cureau.

A news release from SeaWorld states that the destruction of seagrass and the drop in temperatures may have contributed to the manatee becoming stranded from its natural habitat. After he has recovered, he will be returned to the wild in Florida.

Miniature horse joins therapy animal team at Methodist Hospital

Bambi is unlike any other therapy animal. She’s got four hooves, a long tail, a snazzy vest and matching pink bows, and spreads joy at Methodist Hospital.

The miniature therapy horse is the first hospital-based therapy horse in Texas and works alongside three full-time therapy dogs.

“(Bambi) makes hospital visits to patients and just kind of gets their morals up and spirit ...,” said Alexa Farris, Bambi’s handler and ER manager for Methodist Hospital.

Hawk caught on camera trying to snatch Chihuahua in Texas front yard

A four-pound, 12-week-old chihuahua named Lola was lucky to have escaped an attempted attack from a red-tailed hawk.

Kathryn Garver, told KHOU, that she saw a hawk swoop down and try to grab Lola. Luckily, Lola was not injured.

“It just happened so fast, and I honestly thought he had gotten her,” she told KHOU.

Rare western diamondback rattlesnake found on Hill Country ranch

The owner of a ranch in Mason County found an albino Western diamondback rattlesnake in September. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department states they captured the snake and released it on the property.

“Albinism is very rare in rattlesnakes,” TPWD spokesperson Megan Radke told KSAT. “Our biologists say they see albino Western diamondback rattlesnakes pop up from time to time around the state but again, it’s rare.”

This rare albino Western Diamondback rattlesnake was found on a Hill Country ranch. (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Shrimp eels come out at night along Texas Coast, officials say

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared a photo of a shrimp eel in August to show that they’re common along the entire Texas coast. They’re harmless and typically emerge at night.

Shrimp eel spotted in Galveston, Texas. (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Extremely rare and critically imperiled turtles rehabilitated by San Antonio Zoo, released back in Texas watering hole

The San Antonio Zoo released rehabilitated rough-footed mud turtles back into the wild in the fall. In 2018, Jennifer Smith, a professor at the University of New Mexico Alamogordo, found the six rough-footed mud turtles at a pond outside of Marfa.

The poor water quality caused the turtles to get skin infections and they were overall in poor health, the zoo stated. They were taken to the zoo for recovery while the pond was rehabilitated to make it a better habitat for the turtles.

Texas man busted for keeping alligator and several invasive and endangered species at his home

A man in Montgomery County was caught with an alligator snapping turtle and freshwater stingrays at his home in August, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Authorities said he was also spotted with an alligator in his backyard.

The animals were taken to better-suited facilities.

Texas homeowner admitted to capturing an alligator and taking it home to show his kids. That's not the only animal he took illegally. Photos show alligator snapping turtle and freshwater stingray. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Raising Monarchs: Sarah Acosta shares her personal experience

KSAT 12 News’ Sarah Acosta spent several weeks in the fall raising monarch butterflies in her garden. Monarch butterflies are a backbone pollinator to the ecosystem and food cycle, and she said she felt compelled that the offspring live and make it to Mexico for the winter.

“It felt like a mission accomplished. I had saved at least one of the many monarch caterpillars turned chrysalis to its final stage. I hope she makes it to Mexico for the winter,” Acosta wrote.

Baby dragons! 10 endangered dragons have hatched at San Antonio Zoo

According to the San Antonio Zoo, 10 baby Komodo dragons successfully hatched between Oct. 17 and 27.

With less than 1,400 mature Komodo drags left in the world, this was positive news for the species.

No, it’s not a ‘piñata of pain.’ It’s actually more common in Texas than you may think.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared an image of what appeared to be a nest of Mexican honey wasps in Kenedy, a city southeast of San Antonio.

The nest was large, and some people on social media compared it to a “piñata of pain” or the monster from “Jeepers Creepers.”

These wasps are the only honey-producing wasp species in the nation, according to TPWD.

Texas Parks and Wildlife shared this image of a Mexican honey wasp nest. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)

This ‘creepy, eyeball-looking spaghetti monster’ was spotted on Mustang Island

A “creepy, eyeball-looking” creature found on Mustang Island State Park this spring left wildlife officials stumped trying to figure out what it was.

The creature was identified as Rhizophysa eysenhardti, otherwise known as spaghetti monsters or thread-jellies. They’re related to Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, according to wildlife officials.

One beachgoer, Jennifer Baltazar, said it stung her son and she was “super surprised” because she had never seen such a creature. Her son was fine, she said.

A “creepy, eyeball-looking” creature has made its way to the shore of Mustang Island State Park this week, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials. (Courtesy of Jennifer Baltazar)

San Antonio organizations helping animals in need of shelter from Hurricane Ida

Local organizations stepped in when Hurricane Ida displaced animals in late August.

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo offered all hurricane evacuees a location to board their horses, free of charge, if needed. The San Antonio Humane Society helped the Houston SPCA transport more than 100 dogs and cats away from the Louisiana coastline.

Hollywood actor Justin Theroux supports Texas animal shelter with cheers from ex Jennifer Aniston

Hollywood actor and dog dad Justin Theroux showed his support for Austin Pets Alive! by sharing a series of photos of Kuma, his pitbull mix that he adopted from the shelter.

Kuma’s Instagram bio says she’s “helping people help animals who help people” with a link to Austin Pets Alive!.

Actress Jennifer Aniston, who was previously married to Theroux, said she loved what “these two are doing to help people who help pups who help people.”

LEFT: Screenshot from Jennifer Aniston's Instagram story. RIGHT: Actors Justin Theroux and Jennifer Aniston arrive at the Oscars at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 24, 2013. Getty Image. (Getty Images)

About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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