Woodpeckers and 100 other species of birds inhabit the area. Woodpeckers nest in holes or “cavities” they peck into old pine trees, telephone poles or posts. Hollow logs or trees can also be home. Wood is very hard so it takes a long time to peck a hole in a tree. They make a new hole each time they nest during mating season. Other birds and creatures use abandoned woodpecker cavities for their own homes. Humans should be careful about chopping down old, dead trees. They may be homes for woodpeckers or other creatures!
Woodpeckers live in family groups. Pecking the entrance to their nest allows sticky tree sap or “resin” to ooze out and provide protection for the nest from snakes and other predators. Males use their beaks to make tapping sounds on wood and metal to attract mates. Woodpeckers eat insects, nuts, fruits, and berries.
Cottonmouths, which are also called water moccasins, are snakes that like watery places along river and lake shorelines and swampy areas. They eat frogs, fish, other small animals, and even other cottonmouths! Cottonmouths are one of the few venomous snakes we have in Texas. Even baby cottonmouths are venomous when born! The inside of its mouth is white like cotton, giving this snake its name. They have scaly dark, grayish brown skin. Older cottonmouths may be entirely black.
Eastern cottontail rabbits are common in the woods of East Texas. These rabbits have shorter ears and are smaller than their cousin, the jackrabbit, which is actually not a rabbit at all—it is a hare. Baby rabbits are born helpless, blind, and without fur. Baby hares are born furry, with open eyes, and able to run. The cottontail rabbit has white fur on the underside of its tail, which looks like a ball of cotton. These rabbits live in tall grass, inside thick brush piles or in holes or dens abandoned by other animals. Rabbits eat plants for food. Their front teeth never stop growing, so they must gnaw on wood to keep them from getting too long. Rabbits are a prey species, meaning they are food for other animals. Rabbits are hunted by many predators, include coyotes, owls, and bobcats and people. Rabbits have several traits to help them as prey. Rabbits give birth often and to large litters. Rabbits can hop away from an enemy at 18 miles an hour, zigzagging back and forth to confuse their pursuers. They have a keen sense of hearing and smell.
Squirrels have chisel-like front teeth to help them gnaw. The squirrels of the Pineywoods are busy animals with long, bushy tails just like other tree squirrels around the world. They eat berries, fruits, acorns, mushrooms, and seeds. Squirrels live in a den in a hollow tree trunk or a sturdy nest on a tree branch. In winter, several squirrels may live in one den. These creatures scurry around on the ground or in treetops, hopping from branch to branch in woodland areas. Their tails help them keep balanced.
Did you know that Texas has an animal related to the kangaroo? It's the opossum! The common female opossum gives birth to babies the size of a kidney bean and carries them around in her pouch until they are fully developed like a female kangaroo carries her baby. Opossums can grow to be as big as a house cat. They can hang upside down by their tails. Hunting only at night, they eat animals and plants. To avoid danger, these creatures lie still and appear to be dead. We say a person is “playing possum” when faking an injury or playing like they are dead.
The most common pine tree is the loblolly pine. All pines are evergreen trees with needlelike leaves and cones. Since they bear cones they are also called “conifers.” The cones allow the trees to reproduce. There are male and female cones. The male cones are generally smaller and produce pollen that is carried away by the wind. The female cones are larger and have eggs cells attached to their woody scales. The needles of the loblolly pine always grow in bunches of three. Other types of pines have needles that grow in bunches of two, five, or more. The loblolly can grow over 100 feet tall. It is a fast-growing tree and is used for timber.