Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

This week along Missouri’s streams, ponds, swamps, wetlands, and ditches, watch for salamanders undergoing a life-changing transformation… 

 

Nearly 50-species and subspecies of salamanders live in Missouri.  With bodies that look like lizards, but skin like frogs, salamanders rely on clean, fresh water for the first stage of their lives as gilled, aquatic larvae. 

 

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. 

 

Take a quiet float trip, or wade around a bend in a Missouri stream this week, and you’ll likely encounter a feathered fishing friend.

 

Green herons typically stand motionless or stalk intently for prey along the banks of streams and ponds.  These intelligent birds are known to use tools – dropping small objects such as twigs, feathers, or insects on to the water’s surface to lure curious fish within snatching distance. 

 

Green herons are sometimes confused with least bitterns, though their vocalizations are distinctly different. 

 

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. 

 

If you’ve stepped out to enjoy the night air lately, you’ve likely noticed a loud newcomer to the chorus of night sounds.  This week on Discover Nature, listen for the nocturnal chorus of katydids.

 

Close relatives of grasshoppers, many species of katydids call Missouri home – each with very different characteristics. 

 

The northern, or common true katydid has long, slender legs, and large veined wings resembling green leaves, although a genetic mutation causes some specimens to appear pink. 

 

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. 

 

As summer heat settles into Missouri, forage the forest floor for a culinary treat.

 

This week on Discover Nature, search for chantrelle mushrooms fruiting in the woods. 

 

Chantrelles are funnel- or trumpet-shaped and have wavy cap edges.  Usually orange or yellow in color, with a fruity fragrance when fresh. 

 

Chantrelles do not have true gills under the caps, such as those found on the poisonous, but similar-looking jack-o’-lantern mushrooms, which are sharp-edged and knifelike. 

 

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.  

 

This week on Discover Nature, female coyotes wean their pups.

   

Keep an eye and an ear out, especially at dawn and dusk, for these canine scavengers. 

Coyotes are nocturnal but are also seen in daylight.  They live singly, in male-female pairs, or in family groups and use complex expressions and postures to communicate. 

They mate in early spring and birth litters of 5 to 7 pups in late April or May. 

By late June both parents begin teaching their young to hunt and behave as adults. 

Listen at the water’s edge this week, and you’ll likely hear Missouri’s largest frog, and official state amphibian.

Growing up to eight-inches long, the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) ranges from green to olive to brown, with small, dark blotches on its back, a large, round external eardrum (or tympanum) behind the eye, and distinct brown bars on its hind legs. 

Bullfrogs are ambush-style predators that will eat any live prey they can fit in their mouths, including insects, fish, mice, birds, and snakes.  

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an aerial hunter in Missouri, perched on fences, phone wires, and trees; flitting to catch insects and fend off avian intruders.

Eastern kingbirds have black on the head and dark gray on the back, with white underparts, a distinctive white band on the end of the tail, and a bright reddish-orange crown on its head – though this small patch can be hard to glimpse in the field. 

Bird nesting peaks in late spring, and paying close attention to this seasonal behavior can show us more about the birds we see around us every day.

   

 

While nesting behavior varies considerably among different birds, we can observe a typical nesting cycle in the American robin. In their case, both sexes share in building the nest, which is composed of a mixture of mud and grass. 

 

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.  

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. 

 

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. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, a poisonous perennial wildflower shows off bright red- and yellow-blossoming spurs.

   

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is in full bloom in Missouri this week. Growing about two-feet tall, often in shaded areas in woodlands and hanging from rock cliffs, this hardy native wildflower is also a favorite among landscape gardeners. 

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. 

 

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. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for wild turkeys gobbling in Missouri woods and grasslands.

This popular gamebird, once a contender for our national bird, makes many other vocal sounds, as well, often described as purring, yelping, and putting.  

Adult males, called Toms, are large and dark, with a bare, red, white, and blue head, long legs, and bronzy feathers. Males and some females have a tuft of hair-like bristles, called a beard, in the middle of the breast. Females are smaller and less iridescent than males. 

Discover nature this week with a walk outdoors, and keep an eye out for blooming Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis).

   

 

Find these small, ornamental, Missouri-native trees in woodlands, glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs, as well as in urban landscape plantings. Young trees have smooth, reddish brown to gray bark which will develop long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates as the trees grow older. 

 

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. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, Eastern bluebirds begin arriving at breeding locations in Missouri.

   

The Eastern bluebird is a small thrush with a plump body and short, straight bill. Underparts are rusty in color, with white on the belly and under the tail feathers. Its upper body is bright blue in males, and gray-blue in females. 

The famous poet Henry David Thoreau once wrote that the bluebird “carries the sky on its back.” 

A blurry whistled series of notes comprise its distinctive, pleasant song. 

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.  

 

Eastern cottontail rabbits begin birthing their first litters of the year this week.

   

 

This medium-sized mammal with long ears, large hind legs, shorter front legs, a short fluffy tail and soft fur begins breeding in February. They may birth as many eight litters in a year. 

 

Each litter produces one to nine young – born about five inches long – that will leave the nest after about two weeks. 

 

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. 

As temperatures freeze and thaw in late winter, one of the sweetest harvests awaits in the Missouri woods.  This week on Discover Nature, tap a tree, and collect a treat.

 

Freezing and thawing temperatures cause increased sap-flow in living trees. By drilling a small hole in the side of the tree, you can harvest its sap, and cook that down to make syrup. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, seldom-seen salamanders find love in late winter.

    

Eastern tiger salamanders grow to seven- to eight-inches in length, with striking yellow or olive and black patterns on their moist skin. 

They live in woodlands, swamps, prairies, and old fields near farm ponds. You may also occasionally find them in wells, basements, and root cellars. 

In autumn, these amphibians migrate to fishless ponds and swamps, where courting and breeding will begin in mid-February. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for great horned owls hooting in the night.

These large owls have wide-set ear tufts, mottled brown feathers, and yellow eyes. 

They mate from January through early February, and this week in Missouri, they are incubating eggs in their nests. 

An average clutch consists of just two eggs, with incubation lasting about a month before chicks hatch. 

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. 

 

Groundhogs dig tunnels leading to a nest chamber, three to six feet underground. They hibernate from October until February when they emerge and begin breeding. 

 

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. 

These squirrels begin mating in late December and January. Pregnancy requires about 45 days, with most litters born in February or March. They mate again in late spring and early summer, giving birth to second litters in July and August. 

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