Carnivorous deer a crawfish frogs


“Seeing fewer quail on your hunting lease? Maybe it’s time to quit pointing your finger at coyotes, raccoons and fire ants and place the blame on the murderous herd of white-tailed deer.”
That was the opening statement of an article in the New Orleans “Times-Picaune” written by Todd Mason. He was reporting on USGS research revealing that deer prey upon nestling birds and bird eggs. Dr.Keith Causey, a deer expert, related that he was aware of an observation of white-tailed deer eating quail eggs.
All this time I have been of the opinion that fire ants were the reason for the virtual disappearance of quail from our area, and of ground-nesting Eastern Meadowlarks and Nighthawks for that matter. The severe declines of some other ground-nesters, however, has puzzled me. Chuck-Wills-Widows and Kentucky Warblers were common 30 some-odd years ago,  when I moved to the country, and I would occasionally see another ground-nester, the Woodcock.
All are now as scarce as hens’ teeth. But these birds nest in shaded situations that are not inhabited by fire ants. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that deer are preying on the eggs and nestlings of these birds. The declines in these and the others I mentioned began about the time the population of white-tailed deer was beginning to peak. As I have stated in a previous column, the deer population needs thinning for reasons other than their carnivorous dietary habits. The latter only reinforces my contention. Hunters, get out your guns and get you some venison. It’s delicious.

For many decades I, my students and other herpetologists have sought in vain to find the elusive crawfish frog in Alabama. In my book, I stated my belief that the species would ultimately be found in the state, because it is known to occur in Mississippi, not far from the state boundary.
The frog is medium-sized and spends most of its time in abandoned crawfish burrows and other subterranean recesses. During wet weather in late winter the frogs emerge to breed in flooded depressions. The call of the male is an unmistakable snoring noise.
A few weeks ago some biologists explored some counties bordering Mississippi on a night when crawfish frogs were likely to be breeding. Lo and behold, they discovered two breeding assemblages of the frogs, both in Sumter County, not far from the Mississippi line. Sumter County is in the Black Belt, and I suspect the frogs will ultimately be found in Pickens County, another Black Belt county, adjoining Sumter to the north.
The discovery of two populations of crawfish frogs in Alabama, and the realization that deer prey on the young and eggs of ground-nesting birds, constitute breaking news.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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