Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation)

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. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

As nighttime temperatures begin to climb and soil warms in Missouri’s woods, a fungal favorite of foragers begins to emerge. 

 

This week on discover nature, keep an eye to the ground for morel mushrooms. 

 

Morels are hollow-stemmed mushrooms, with a somewhat conical cap, covered with definite pits and ridges, resembling a sponge, pinecone, or honeycomb.  

 

These choice-edibles grow in a variety of habitats including moist woodlands and river bottoms. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on discover nature one of the oldest fish species alive today, and Missouri’s official state aquatic animal, is on the move. 

 

Paddlefish are related to sturgeon and sharks and are historically found in the big rivers of our state. 

 

This large bluish-gray fish with an elongated paddlelike snout, or rostrum, has no bones in its body, and adults have no teeth. Paddlefish swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open, collecting tiny crustaceans and insects in their elaborate gill-rakers. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

The lonesome calls of Missouri mornings on the prairie – once produced by hundreds of thousands of birds across our state – now hold the haunting story of a species nearly eliminated from our landscape

Each spring, male prairie chickens return to breeding grounds, called leks, to perform unique mating rituals. Each male defends his territory from competing cocks, inflating bright orange air sacs on his neck, and producing distinct “booming” call. 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on discover nature, celebrate the first week of spring with a nature hike.

 

 

Spring brings new life to the outdoors: watch for young river otters near lakes and streams, bats leaving hibernation caves, wild turkeys, and turtles becoming active. 

 

The sounds of spring, alone, offer reason to rejoice. Listen for pileated woodpeckers drumming to establish territories, mourning doves cooing from their crop field nests, and the serenade of spring peepers at sunset.  

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

For thousands of years, fire has shaped natural communities in Missouri. This week on Discover Nature, watch for smoke and fire on the landscape. 

 

The first European explorers to document the Missouri wilderness noted American Indians’ use of fire to preserve grasslands for bison and promote regrowth of fruits, berries, and many other natural foods that flourish from periodic fires. 

 

Today, this ancient tool remains relevant as ever in managing pastures and woodlands for wildlife and food production, and combating invasive species. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature take a walk outside, and you may hear one of the first serenades of spring on the horizon.

  

   

 

Spring peepers have spent the winter burrowed under soil – a natural antifreeze in their blood keeping them thawed.  

 

One of the first species to begin calling in the spring, this small, slender frog can appear pink, gray, tan, or brown, with a dark ‘X’ on its back.

 

Roughly one-inch in length, they breed in fishless ponds, streams and swamps with thick undergrowth.  

 

Missouri Department of Conservation

In the waning weeks of winter, one of North America’s most important game fishes begins to get active in Missouri. This week on Discover Nature, walleye are on the move. 

 

These slender, yellowish or olive-brown fish have large mouths with prominent teeth, and especially reflective eyes. 

 

Residing in large streams and reservoirs throughout the state, these nocturnal fish feed in shallow water at night, and retreat to deeper pools during the day. 

 

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