Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation) | KBIA

Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation)

This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut. 

Each fall, fawns lose their spots, adults’ coats change from reddish-yellow to grayish brown, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights. 

Once abundant across Missouri, unregulated hunting nearly wiped them out completely. Thanks to decades of dedicated conservation efforts, our state’s rich habitat once again supports more than a million white-tailed deer. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an ecological engineer, and unsung steward of streams.

    

The American beaver is North America’s largest rodent and builds dams and dens in streams and streambanks for its home. 

Their webbed hind feet, with large, flattened tails, dark brown fur, and pronounced front teeth, all suit these mammals well in their streamside habitats. 

Beavers are usually nocturnal, but in they become more active during daylight hours in autumn as they gather food and prepare their lodges for winter. 

This week on Discover Nature, get outside and enjoy a show of fall foliage, fruits, fungi, and flowers. 

 

Fall color in Missouri’s trees has been off to a slow start, with much green remaining on the landscape. But, with cooler temperatures and waning daylight hours, chlorophyll – the compound that makes leaves green – is breaking down, revealing pigments that have been hidden all summer. 

 

In central Missouri, hickories and maples are turning red and yellow, while dogwoods continue to show off a muted purple. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for the clear, loud calls of ground-dwelling birds just before dawn. 

 

Missouri’s native quail – Northern bobwhite live in groups of 5-30 birds, called coveys, from autumn to spring. 

 

Northern bobwhite are streaked or mottled reddish-brown and white, with a gray tail. Males have a distinctive dark brown cap and face. Their camouflaged colors help protect them from their many predators including foxes, coyotes, racoons, hawks, owls, and snakes. 

 

As autumn begins in Missouri, one of the state’s most fragile and unique species is active beneath the surface of some streams. 

Hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders, reaching lengths of more than a foot. Ozark and Eastern Hellbenders have a wide, flat head with tiny eyes and a broad, rudder-like tail. They breathe through their sensitive skin – usually grayish-brown in color, and covered in prominent folds. 

In late summer and early autumn, females lay as many as 200 – 700 eggs, which males fertilize and guard until they hatch. 

This week on discover nature keep your eyes peeled around dusk for groups of little brown bats.

 

Little brown myotises, or mouse-eared bats are only about three to four inches long, and weigh only a quarter of an ounce. They have yellowish- to olive-brown fur with a glossy sheen. 

 

In the fall, these bats gather at cave and mine entrances to mate before hibernation. However, fertilization of the ovum will not take place until spring, and mothers will bear a single offspring by mid-June. 

 

Discover nature this week and scout the understory of Missouri’s riparian woods for our state’s only native, tropical tree… and its ripening, custard-like fruits.

   

 

Pawpaw trees – Asimina tribloba – are small, with slender trunks and broad crowns.  

 

They grow in shaded colonies on moist lower slopes, ravines, valleys, along streams, and at the base of wooded bluffs. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for a swift-flying migratory duck traveling through Missouri from the north. 

 

Blue-winged teal breed all across North America, and they leave their summer homes early, from as far north as Alaska, to overwinter along the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. 

 

Adult males – called drakes – are small, each with a dark gray head and a white crescent between the eye and bill. A light blue patch adorns the forewing just above a greenish patch of feathers called a speculum. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation / L

Discover Nature this week as the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) prepares for winter.

 

As the weather cools off and we head into autumn, black bears enter a phase called hyperphagia, in which they eat heavily, accumulating a layer of body fat that results in a 30-percent weight-gain. This layer of fat will provide nourishment and insulation during winter, when bears enter a deep sleep-like state called torpor, usually lasting until April.  

 

This week on Discover Nature, take a walk in the garden or tall grass, and watch for silken traps spun by tiny architects of the natural world.

 

Black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) are common across Missouri in tall grasslands, gardens, fields, and urban backyards. 

 

Adorned with yellow-orange markings on its black body, fully-grown females are about twice as big as males, and can reach more than an inch in length. 

 

This week in the woods, or backyard garden, you’ll likely cross paths with the monarch butterfly.

   

 

In fact, you’ll find monarchs in a wide variety of habitats, including fields, roadsides, and landscape plantings. 

 

This large butterfly starts out as a white caterpillar with yellow and black bands, but transforms into a striking, flying insect, with distinct orange wings and black veins. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch – and listen – for a tiny, feathered pollinator that sings with its wings.

 

Ruby throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) display metallic green feathers on their upper backs, and males sport a ruby red patch at their throat. 

 

Common across Missouri from April to October, other hummingbirds who nested farther north have already begun their fall migration and are arriving in Missouri – making now a great time to see their numbers peak here. 

 

Discover nature this week, and watch for baby snapping turtles, hatching from eggs near Missouri’s streams, ponds, and wetlands.

 

Snapping turtles occur statewide – anywhere there’s permanent water. They prefer bodies of water with mud bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation, and submerged logs. 

 

Females travel overland during egg-laying season – mostly in late spring and early summer – and are often killed by cars. 

 

Females dig nests in deep sand or loose soil and deposit up to two clutches of 20-30 eggs per season. 

 

Josh Henderson/Wikipedia

Discover nature on a warm summer evening this week and watch the sky for Missouri’s only true flying mammals as the stars come out.

   

 

Flying and feeding, mostly at night, bats rely on keen hearing and sonar-like echolocation to find and identify prey mid-flight.  

 

Bats often get a bad rap for spreading disease, but in fact, disease incidence and transmission to humans is very rare. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Discover nature in Missouri this week as American mink kits travel with their mothers along streams.

 

Adult minks are almost entirely brown with a white chin and white spots occurring irregularly on the throat, chest, and belly. 

 

At about two-feet long or less, adult minks are generally larger than weasels and smaller than river otters. 

 

Minks have musk glands that secrete a strong odor considered by many to be more obnoxious than that of weasels or skunks. 

 

Discover nature this week, and keep an eye out for one of Missouri’s showiest native wildflowers blooming along roadsides and in tallgrass prairies. 

 

Prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) is a purple perennial wildflower.  Its tall, unbranched, hairy stalks blossom with spikes of dense purple floret clusters from July to October. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Discover nature this week along Missouri streams and bottomland woods, and listen for the low, harsh vocalizations of great blue herons.

    

 

Herons nest in colonies – or rookeries – near water. These rookeries can contain hundreds of bulky stick nests which may be used over multiple years. 

 

Herons are mostly monogamous during a season, and each pair incubates 3-to-6 eggs.  In mid-July, fledgling herons begin to leave the nest, learning to fly and feed themselves. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature, take a trip to a stream or pond near you, and observe the colorful dance of mating dragonflies across the surface of the water.

 

Adult dragonflies have long, slender, often colorful abdomens with robust bodies, large compound eyes, and sometimes spotted patterns on horizontally-outstretched wings.  

 

They don’t start out this way, though.  In mid-summer, watch courting dragonflies fly low over water – often attached to their mates.  In-flight, females deposit eggs along the surface of the water.  

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

As we head into the middle of summer, keep an eye out in the woods for ripening blackberries.

 

The common blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) grows as a shrub with branches reaching five-feet in height and eight-feet in length and arching high or being supported by surrounding trees or shrubs.  

 

The canes, or branches, grow green to reddish in their first year, and develop broad-based, recurved thorns.  In the canes’ subsequent years of growth, they will turn brown and produce clusters of white flowers from April to June.  

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

  This week on Discover Nature, watch – and listen – for the northern cricket frog.  

 

Commonly seen along the edges of ponds and streams, especially on mud flats and gravel bars, scientists are monitoring Missouri populations due to rapid declines in other states. 

 

The northern cricket frog can appear in a variety of colors from gray to tan to greenish-tan or brown, with a white belly. 

 

Their metallic calls resemble the sound of small pebbles being rapidly struck together. 

 

A green, black, and yellow sweat bee hovers over the spiked, orange center of a purple coneflower.
Missouri Department of Conservation

 From tiny ants to bats, birds, bees, and butterflies, we depend on pollinators to produce our food, and protect biodiversity. This week on discover nature, we celebrate national pollinator week. 

 

At least 450 species of bees are native to Missouri. They’re considered the most efficient pollinators – even better than honeybees. For instance, one blueberry bee can visit 50,000 flowers in its short lifetime, resulting in the production of 6,000 blueberries. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature, watch for water snakes basking near water… 

 

Missouri’s semi-aquatic snakes include the most prolific, Northern water snake, the diamond-backed water snake, yellow-bellied water snake, broad-banded water snake, and graham’s crayfish snake. 

 

Western mud snakes and Mississippi green water snakes are found only in the Southeast corner of the state, and the latter is an endangered species of conservation concern. 

 

While all of these snakes may bite in defense, if cornered, they are all non-venomous.  

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

As spring greening leans into summer color in Missouri’s outdoors, one native shrub is beginning to blossom this week.

 

The elderberry shrub (Sambucus canadensis) can grow to 5 – 12 feet tall, and in late summer, produces clusters of dark, berrylike fruits that feed dozens of bird species and other wildlife. This week, though, look for these shrubs’ showy umbels of white, fragrant flowers. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Wildflowers and warm weather signify the arrival of spring in Missouri… and one of the state’s largest, heaviest wild mammals enjoys the season as much as we do… 

This week on Discover Nature, we recognize May as National Bear Awareness Month.  

Black bears mate now through June, but reproductive development pauses for 6-to-7 months, until bears enter hibernation.  Mother bears birth litters of two to three cubs in January and February, sometimes while the mother still sleeps.  

Missouri Department of Conservation

In addition to honoring the sacrifice of soldiers, Memorial Day weekend often marks the unofficial beginning to summer – which, for many, means spending time on Missouri’s lakes and rivers.

 

  But there’s a tiny invasive species that threatens the health of our state’s waters, and boats, motors, and trailers pose a great risk for spreading them. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, learn how Missouri boaters can help slow the spread of zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week in Missouri’s woods, a native, thorny, locust tree displays clusters of fragrant white flowers.

 

The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) grows in dry or rocky upland woods, along streams, and in pastures, and thickets. 

 

A pioneer tree species, black locust easily invades disturbed sites, and some consider it a nuisance species. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Spring storms bring the threat of damaging wind, hail, flooding, and erosion, but they also restore life to the landscape – providing nutrients to plants and soil, habitat and drinking-water for wildlife and humans.

Wetlands are areas that hold these heavy rains and make the benefits of spring storms last. 

This week, on Discover Nature, we celebrate May as American Wetlands Month. 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Slow and steady wins the race… but when it comes to crossing roads turtles often lose. This week, as you’re driving down the highway or backroads, keep your eyes peeled for turtles in your path. 

Spring rains and warm weather trigger turtles to start wandering in search of food and mates, and they often need to cross roads that pass through their home areas. 

 

Box turtles commonly live to thirty years old, and can live as along as humans. They spend their quiet lives eating plants, earthworms and insects. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature, rock bass build nests for the spawning season. 

 

Closely related to shadow bass and Ozark bass, and collectively referred to as ‘goggle eye,’ none of these fish are true bass. 

 

Their greenish-olive to brassy color patterns with dark mottling and large mouths are reminiscent of bass, but goggle eye are all heavy-bodied sunfish species. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

Head outside in mid-April and you’ll notice many trees springing into bloom. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, we pay special attention to an unwelcome invader: the Callery pear tree. 

 

Callery pears, which include the commonly known Bradford pear, are easily identifiable right now: deciduous trees reaching mature heights of 30-50 feet, with a pyramid-shaped crown covered in clusters of tiny white flowers with an unpleasant odor. 

 

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