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FURBEARING MAMMALS

FURBEARING MAMMALS. The furbearing mammals of Texas include those so defined by law and two additional species (bobcat and coyote) that are not included legally among furbearers, but that have valuable pelts and thus are of considerable importance economically. Because of its size and ecological diversity, Texas has more furbearing species than any other of the contiguous United States-one marsupial, three rodents, and eighteen carnivores. Formerly, wolves, bears, mountain lions, and some hoofed mammals (especially bison) also were sought in part for their fur or hides (see BUFFALO).

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is a marsupial that occurs throughout Texas except for the extreme western part of the Llano Estacado and adjacent areas to the southwest. The species is most often encountered in the eastern part of the state. It is the second most commonly harvested furbearer in Texas, but pelts are worth less than two dollars each.

The beaver (Castor canadensis) is a semiaquatic rodent that occupies ponds, lakes, and waterways in eastern and central Texas and westward along the Rio Grande and Canadian River. It is no longer harvested in any numbers; the pelts are valued at about ten dollars.

The muskrat, a semiaquatic rodent (Ondatra zibethicus), is one of the most important furbearers in the United States in terms of numbers taken each year. It was once important in Texas, but it now provides only about two percent of the total income from fur sales. The muskrat occurs only in the northern and eastern parts of the state and along the Pecos River and Rio Grande in the southwest.

The nutria (Myocaster coypus), also known as the coypu, is a semiaquatic native of southern South America. It was introduced into Louisiana in the 1930s and now occurs over much of the southeastern United States. In Texas it occupies aquatic habitats, including coastal marshes, throughout the eastern half of the state and is especially common in the south and southeast. Between 1976 and 1982 trappers in East Texas took more than 220,000 nutria at an estimated value of $1.6 million.

The coyote (Canis latrans) is a carnivore found throughout Texas, most commonly in open lands. The pelt varies in worth depending on market conditions, but the average is in the range of twenty dollars. The estimated income in the state from coyote pelts between 1976 and 1982 exceeded $8 million.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) occupies much of eastern and central Texas, west to the central Panhandle; it is not found in the southern and far western parts of the state. Although native to the United States, the red fox was not introduced into Texas until about 1895. The pelt of this canid is of only modest value.

The kit and swift foxes (Vulpes macrotis and V. velox) are small, pale-colored foxes found in West Texas. The kit (or desert) fox lives in the far southwest and the swift fox in the Panhandle and on the Llano Estacado. Because of their small size and because they are rarely found, they are of little significance in the fur trade; fewer than 1,500 of the two species combined are taken annually.

The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), which occurs nearly throughout the state, is among the five most important furbearers in Texas. Between 1976 and 1982 more than 225,000 were taken, with an estimated value of about $6.5 million.

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is economically the most important furbearing mammal in Texas. It is distributed statewide, but is much more common in the east. The annual take of this carnivore usually exceeds 500,000 animals at a value in excess of $13 million.

The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), a smaller relative of the raccoon, occurs throughout Texas except for the far southern part. It is found principally in rocky and wooded areas. Pelts average about six dollars each.

The long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), which has a statewide distribution, is of limited value as a furbearer in Texas. Farther north, where individuals molt to a white coat in winter, pelts are of greater value under the trade name of "ermine."

The mink (Mustela vison) is one of the most important furbearing mammals in the United States, so much so that it now is raised commercially. It is not as important economically in Texas as farther north. The price for the pelt of a wild-taken male is about twelve dollars; the smaller females bring about half that sum.

The badger (Taxidea taxus) occurs in all but the far eastern part of the state. About 10,000 pelts of this powerful burrower are sold in an average year; their value may be as much as twenty dollars each.

Western and eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale gracilis and S. putorius) are of little economic value; their pelts usually sell for less than five dollars. S. gracilis is found in the southwestern part of the state, and S. putorius occurs over most of the rest of Texas. The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is found throughout Texas. The hooded skunk (M. macroura) is limited to the far southwest. One or another of the two species of hog-nosed skunks (Conepatus mesoleucus and C. leuconotus) occurs in the western, central, and southern parts of the state. Only the striped skunk is common, and its pelt normally brings about two dollars at market.

The river otter (Lutra canadensis) is a semiaquatic member of the weasel family and has been a valued furbearer in North America. Though once distributed over the eastern half of Texas, it now is confined mostly to the eastern fifth of the state. Few pelts are harvested in Texas, although they command an average price of about thirty-five dollars.

The bobcat (Felis rufus) has a statewide distribution. Until the international ban in 1977 on trade in spotted cat skins, the hide was not especially valuable. Since that time, however, prices have soared, and an average price for a pelt now exceeds sixty dollars. Only the raccoon and coyote produce a greater dollar value among Texas furbearers. See also MAMMALS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

David J. Schmidly, The Furbearers of Texas (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1984).

J. Knox Jones, Jr.

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

J. Knox Jones, Jr., "FURBEARING MAMMALS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/tcf01), accessed October 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.