Muskets, Cannon Balls, and…Antelope!
What comes to mind when you think of Palo Alto Battlefield? Did your list include Asia antelope or creatures you expect to see at the beach? If it didn't, then you're in for a surprise. While Palo Alto is a battlefield site, it is also home to many interesting natural resources. As you tour the park, take a careful look around. Some of these animals were the same ones experienced by soldiers in 1846. Others are more recent arrivals to this site...you may be surprised by what you find.
Palo Alto Battlefield NHP (Public Domain)
You've seen the large split hoofed tracks along the trail and caught a glimpse of something large in the brush. No, you are not on safari. You have just had a run-in with one of exotic species at the park, the nilgai. This animal is native to India and can weigh upwards of 600 lbs. Mature male nilgai are also known as "blue bulls" because of the color of the adult male's coat. Nilgai have a keen sense of sight and hearing so getting a good look at one requires patience and a bit of luck.
How did nilgai get to Palo Alto? After all, it is a very long swim from India. Nilgai were first released in South Texas in the late 1920's. The exotic animal was imported by the King Ranch in the hopes of diversifying the hunting offered at the ranch. Since then, the animals have thrived in the South Texas environment and migrated southward along the Gulf Coast.
As one of the places that has seen an influx of nilgai, Palo Alto is working towards a management plan for this non-native species.
Palo Alto Battlefield NHP (public domain)
As you walk along our trails you might come across an innocent looking mound of earth. Stay away! These mounds are home fire ants. Fiercely territorial, fire ants get their name from the painful sting they inflict. Sting sites can develop into a pustule which can become infected if scratched.
Most of the fire ants you'll encounter at Palo Alto are red imported fire ants or RIFA. These South American invaders were accidentally introduced through the port of Mobile, Alabama in the 1930's. These invaders have continued to spread across the southern U.S ever since.
Not only do RIFA pack a potent punch but It is believed they have affected native horned lizard populations. The invasive ants compete with harvester ants for resources. Unfortunately, harvester ants make up about 70% of the horned lizard's diet.
So please heed our advice and stay on all marked trails. The last thing you would want is an army of angry fire ants marching upon you.
Palo Alto Battlefield (Public Domain)
When it is a horned toad, of course. Because of its appearance it is also known as the horny toad or horned frog. This in incorrect because this animal is a reptile and not an amphibian.
The Texas horned lizard is one of our more elusive residents. Their coloration makes for great camouflage. These little guys are usually found in arid or semiarid areas with sparse plant cover. Though they have an aggressive appearance, these docile creatures pose no threat to people.
Harvester ants make up the majority of their diet. Unfortunately, loss of habitat and food sources have placed the lizard on the Texas threatened species list. The good news is that preservation of Palo Alto Battlefield has protected a large area of horned lizard habitat.
Did You Know?
Americans celebrated the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma with songs, artwork, and poetry. One enterprising company even marketed a men’s hat called the “Palo Alto.” Sales were so brisk that a “Resaca” women’s hat soon followed.