RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – It’s tuna time in Texas as the prickly pear cactus fruits, known as tunas in Spanish, are ripening throughout the South Texas wildlands much to the delight of wildlife.
Ground squirrels in particular savor the tasty tunas, and they are popping up everywhere to dine on the tempting treats.
The ripest and most accessible tunas are the first to be devoured, and soon this eager eater has coated its countenance with the purple juice like a kid on a hot summer day with a juicy raspa.
The prickly pear fruits are so popular that sometimes two ground squirrels tackle the tunas together, but not all are willing to share and often rivals are aggressively chased off.
And, if a tuna topples, then it is not long before an alert ground squirrel spies it and attempts to snatch the fruit. But, the tunas are covered in small thorns or glockets, and they can be troublesome. After a few test bites, the persistent critter finally figures out a way to abscond with the tasty treat.
At first, this young ground squirrel settles for scraps, and then receives a few pointers from mom about thorn removal. Soon, junior graduates to tackling tunas on his own, and then boldly decides to climb right on top where he promptly loses his footing toppling from the tunas.
Ground squirrels are not the only critters enjoying the special summer time sustenance, and a variety of birds from pyrrhuloxias to Green jays savor the tempting treats. Both Long billed and Curve-billed thrashers are particularly fond of the fruits.
But it is those entertaining ground squirrels that just cannot seem to get enough of them, and it is fortunate there is a bumper crop of tantalizing tunas.