Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

For the love of critters

Rose Park

Wobbling across the Scottish Rite Dormitory lawn, an opossum struggled to carry her bundle of wide-eyed babies. Students squealed “Ew!” and scooted away when they saw her “ugly” tail and broken back legs. I stood on the sidewalk and wished the mother could find a safe place to rest. 

Critters like possums are often considered nuisances, and most people don’t even notice their presence. However, native species play an irreplaceable role in ecosystems that everyone benefits from and has a responsibility to respect.

Educating ourselves and others is the best way to care for the populations we share campus with. Teaching students about our reliance on animals can encourage respect and appreciation for wildlife, leading them to act in ways that benefit its conservation. 

While common critters often go unnoticed in populated areas like Speedway, they are everywhere. Integrative biology professor Larry Gilbert said he spotted a gray fox there just last week.

“I think of biodiversity as the information that’s in our biological system at all levels. It’s a library of sorts,” Gilbert said. “A campus should have as much of that information as possible available.”

When I see critters on campus, it makes my day. Urban wildlife is crucial to understanding the world we live in. It pulls back the curtain on processes that are always at work behind the scenes, cultivating the natural spaces we enjoy. 

“To be able to step out the door and say, ‘look at this plant, look at this insect’ or a Texas bee or ‘this is a wasp that’s also a pollinator’ … that’s a very useful function,” Gilbert said about his experience teaching undergraduate ecology. 

Since graduating from UT in 1966, Gilbert said the loss of nature on campus has been extensive and disappointing. 

We all want to be more present and mindful, and recognizing your very real interdependence with wild spaces — even those small patches of grass on campus — is central to that goal. 

“It’s almost … built into our feeling of well-being, being somewhere near water, being somewhere near trees and vegetation, (because) that usually is an indication of where you can find a place to stay, a place to have shelter and food,” Gilbert said. “It may be some kind of hidden genetic program that we have that makes us feel better when we see green.” 

In addition to bringing people joy, animals are integral to our ecosystems. Gilbert mentioned the Hill Country’s sprawling oak trees, which rely on squirrels to bury seeds (and forget them) just to sprout.

To support native critters and consider overlooked ecosystems, students can make everyday decisions like living sustainably, advocating for policies protecting nature and educating others to spread the love for wildlife. 

“(We) think of biodiversity in terms of having all the diverse functions that are important in an ecosystem represented,” Gilbert said. “The important thing is the diversity of functions all being represented. And that’s what is falling apart.”

Remember the forgettable critters who make you smile on your walk to class, and don’t forget to reciprocate the joy and support they provide in our lives. Even when it seems like there are bigger problems to bother with, it’s always important to think about the little guys.


Jackson is a Plan II and journalism sophomore from Boerne, Texas.


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