Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation) | KBIA

Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation)

This week on Discover Nature, keep an ear-, and an eye out for native bees buzzing about the bushes, trees, flowerbeds, and even the ground beneath our feet.

   

Missouri is home to more than 450 species of native bees that play a critical role in pollinating agricultural crops and maintaining reproductive processes for native plants — in turn, supporting diverse wildlife species, soil health, and water quality. 

Fear not! Most of our native bee species don’t have stingers long enough to penetrate human skin. 

This week on Discover Nature, crappie are spawning in shallow water across Missouri.

These popular panfish occur nearly statewide in open water or near submerged timber or other suitable cover in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and slow-flowing backwaters of large rivers. 

During the spring spawning season, these fish find vegetation and submerged woody structure in shallow water.  

Crappie are most active in evening and nighttime, but can be observed at all times of day. 

In Missouri’s woods this time of year, there’s something new to see every day.

 

For weeks, redbud blooms have stolen the show, painting pink streaks through the understory, but this week, Missouri’s state tree takes the spotlight. 

 

Common, especially in the Ozarks, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) lives along wooded slopes, ravines, bluffs, upland ridges, and successional fields; preferring well-drained, acidic soils, and shade. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, while enjoying spring in Missouri, keep a watchful eye to the ground for snakes leaving their winter dens.

   

The eastern copperhead is the most common of Missouri’s five species of venomous snakes. Its color varies from grayish brown to pinkish tan, with distinctive hourglass-shaped crossbands on its back. 

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.  

 

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. 

 

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.  

On warm, late-winter and early-spring days look along streams for an insect skimming across the water's surface. This week on Discover Nature we watch for the water strider.

Water-repellant hairs on the hind and middle legs allow these nimble insects to skate on water. Velvety hairs on their bodies keep them dry despite spending all their time on water.  

 

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. 

 

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.

 

This week on Discover Nature, turkey vultures begin to return to Missouri.

These large, black-bodied birds, sometimes called buzzards, are actually related to storks and flamingos. Turkey vultures have featherless, wrinkled, red heads, and are voiceless, except for a few hisses and groans they use to communicate with each other. 

Their bare heads and fee get cold and damp at night, so they begin their days by sunbathing to warm up. 

This week on discover nature, voles (also called meadow mice) are busily working under snow and soil.

    

Voles, often confused with moles and shrews, are more mouse-like: small, stocky brown rodents with short tails, small ears, and a blunt, rounded snout. 

Three species of voles call Missouri home: prairie voles and woodland voles reside statewide, while the meadow vole only inhabits the northern part of the state. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for river otters on frozen water. 

  

Well suited for life in water, otters have streamlined bodies, fully webbed feet, and long, tapered tails.  Dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat keep them insulated. 

Otters are graceful, powerful swimmers and can remain submerged for three to four minutes.  On land, they travel with a loping gait, and on snow or ice, they alternate loping with sliding. 

This week in nature, keep an eye out for groundhogs. Also known as woodchucks, or whistle pigs, these rodents in the squirrel family are active during daylight hours, and are breeding now.

   

 

With short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy tail, these mammals can grow to more than two-feet long, and weigh as much as 14 pounds. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, Missouri’s most common squirrel species begin bearing litters.

   

Eastern gray squirrels are slender and wear a usually gray coat with white on the fringe of the tail and belly. 

Eastern fox squirrels are usually reddish-yellow in color, heavy-bodied and larger than the gray squirrel. 

Missouri’s resident and migratory bald eagle populations peak in the winter, and now is a great time to look for these iconic American raptors.

     

 

Mature bald eagles are easily identifiable by their black bodies with white head- and tail feathers. However, for their first four to five years of life, juveniles sport all-brown feathers with white speckles. 

 

While cruising down a Missouri highway this winter, keep an eye out for a predator on the prowl.

    

 

Often known as “highway hawks” for their roadside perches, red-tailed hawks are “brown above, and white below,” and adults have a rust-red tail with a narrow black band near the end.  They stand nearly two feet tall with a wingspan more than double their height.  

 

These hawks usually nest in open woodlands or in trees in grasslands and crops – frequently within city limits – hunting snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.  

 

This winter, consider a style of hunting that doesn’t require any special equipment, and has no bag limit. This week on Discover Nature, head outside in search of deer sheds.

 

Each year, between April and August, white-tailed bucks grow antlers made of calcium, phosphorous, and protein. Bucks use these hard antlers as weapons when sparring with other bucks for territory and mates during the fall rut, or mating season. 

 

The holiday season continues, but as we enter the new year and Christmas trees come down, consider giving one more gift – to nature.

  

 

Re-using cut Christmas trees can provide great habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife.  

 

Strip your tree of ornaments and consider placing it in a pond. By attaching a rock or other anchor to your tree you can help fish populations by creating natural cover for them… and possibly a new fishing spot for you.  

 

Now that most leaves have fallen from Missouri’s trees, look for the smooth, white limbs of a giant rising over streams and river banks: Discover Nature this week with the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). 

A living sentinel of our streams, sycamores provide year-round food and shelter for river wildlife. 

Did you know there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers in the world? This week on Discover Nature, look and listen for the seven species that call Missouri home.

  

 

Hairy, downy, pileated, and red-bellied woodpeckers live in Missouri year-round, while the migratory northern flickers, red-headed woodpeckers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers are temporary residents of the Show-Me state. 

 

Special adaptations help woodpeckers climb and drum on trees: 

 

Over the river and through the woods… whether out for a hike, or on the hunt for your next Christmas tree, Discover Nature this week, and watch for Missouri’s Eastern red-cedars.

Eastern red-cedar trees are not true cedars – they actually belong to the juniper genus of the cypress family. True cedars belong to the cedrus genus in the pine family.


Nonetheless, these aromatic evergreens offer food and cover for birds and wildlife, often providing windbreaks and wildlife corridors in cemeteries, farmyards, and neighborhoods.

On a crisp Missouri night, take a walk in the woods and listen for the sultry calls of courting owls. 

Long-entwined in human history and folklore, science has stripped away superstitions that once connected these birds to witchcraft and death.  Instead, we now recognize the unique role they play in controlling populations of mice, rats, and snakes. 

This week on Discover Nature, take a moment to admire and appreciate Missouri’s many gifts from nature.


Picture the vast geography of our state, as avian migrations pass over our prairies and plains, Ozark forests, big river systems, and marshy lowlands; the karst sinkholes and cave systems that filter our water below our feet and harbor sightless, unseen lifeforms.


Each ecoregion supporting its own array of animal and plant species that have constituted our state’s natural heritage from long before settlers set foot on Missouri soil.

This week on Discover Nature, set up bird-feeding stations to help keep feathered friends fed through the cold season.

  

To keep warm in frigid weather, birds must feed almost constantly. A drop of twenty degrees can double their metabolic rate. So, keeping food available can be especially important, and rewarding for birdwatchers when the weather turns cold. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut, and celebrate 75 years of modern deer hunting in Missouri.

In the fall, fawns lose their white spots, adults’ coats take on a grayish-brown color, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights.  

Deer were essential to American Indians and early settlers, providing food, hides, sinews for bowstrings, and bones for tools. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for the eerie calls of bobcats in the wild.

Several hundred years ago, bobcats lived throughout the United States. They were largely eliminated from much of the U.S., but are still scattered throughout areas with sufficient habitat. 

On cool fall evenings, listen for their hisses, growls, snorts, and screams coming from the woods. 

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. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, keep an eye to the sky after midnight and in the predawn hours, as the annual Orionid meteor shower peaks.

  

 

In autumn each year, just as hunters are taking to the woods and fields here on Earth, a hunter in the sky puts on a show of his own. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, we’ll look for one of Missouri’s late-blooming native wildflowers.

    

 

The New England aster is the tallest of Missouri’s native asters – growing up to eight feet – dotted with dozens of quarter-sized flower heads, usually in shades of purple, with a yellow disk in the center. 

 

Members of the Daisy family, these hardy wildflowers tend to bloom earlier than most other asters, and stay in flower for longer.  

 

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