The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Friday, August 02, 2002

Animal Names & Football
Ron Smith, Valley Morning Star, August 2, 2002, © 2004

Bobcats. Javelinas. Horned Frogs. Mustangs. Broncs. Longhorns.

The names of Texas animals are popular for our high school and college sports teams, because they have dramatic and historic connotations. They evoke emotions and represent spirit, power and courage, giving announcers and columnists opportunities to say things like, "The Mustangs are thundering down the field," or "The Bobcats are ripping up the opposition!" Even Horned Frogs, really Texas Horned Lizards, are beloved. It might be because they emit blood from their eyes when alarmed. (Rather like lining up against a guard with glaring bloodshot eyes.)

However, we have what might seem at first to be a strange nickname here in the Valley. Do you wonder why the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Memorial teams are labelled the Wolverines? These mammals have never been within 1000 miles of South Texas. Yet this was an appropriate choice. Coming from the Wolverine State of Michigan, I have a natural appreciation of this selection. The University of Michigan Wolverines are my favorite team. Go, Blue!

Well then, what are the qualities that might have motivated the school to choose this fascinating animal? It is the largest North American representative of its family, the Mustelidae, which includes the weasel...but don't let that put you off. Remember that the marvelous mink is also part of the family. Wolverines can reach about 70 pounds and over three feet in length. For their size, they are among the world's strongest animals. They do prey on smaller creatures, even eating eggs, but they are renowned for pulling down others five times their size, such as caribou, elk and deer...rather like tackling a 250-pound fullback. They hunt quietly, swiftly and tirelessly pursuing quarry at a steady, loping gallop even in deep snow thanks to their large padded feet. They have been known to run at speeds of 15 miles per hour for an hour...TD! Swimming and climbing trees are part of their skills. Not surprisingly, wolverines can drive wolves, cougars and even bears away from a carcass. This stamina galore and boundless courage make them a formidable animal.

Wolverines are also handsome, treasured for their luxuriant dark brown fur decorated with a lighter stripe on each side. This pelt is treasured by trappers for its frost resistant qualities in lining parkas and coats. As a result of this market and the fact that they will raid traps for food, they are declining from their range across the northern latitudes of the world. Breeding only once every two years does not help maintain their population either.

They prefer timber country, the taga, but survive on the tundra, too. They can tolerate the worst weather. Oddly, they probably never inhabited Michigan, but the appellation came from skins brought in from Canada by the fur traders.

If you want to read about the Wolverine, try the fictionalized book "Carcajou" by the nature writer Rutherford Montgomery. Carcajou is the French-Canadian name for the animal. The main character is a wolverine in deadly conflict with a wily human.

I have not mentioned the negative qualities of the subject, and there are several, but no animal is perfect. Many teams are named after less qualified creatures. In the Wolverine you have beauty, speed, power and perseverance. What more could fans want, and besides, they are mostly nocturnal...Friday night football!


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