Friday, December 21, 2012


Silverfish in the order Thysanura are one of the most common household pests found in North America. They are considered cosmopolitan which means they are found nearly Worldwide. Unmistakable in appearance with a teardrop-shaped wingless body, three long projections coming from their posterior end and two long antennae located on their head. Silverfish reach lengths up to 3/4 of an inch, and are covered in tiny scales and usually soft bodied. Their common name of silverfish comes from the silvery-blue coloration and their fish-like movements. These are incredibly fast insects capable of extreme short bursts of speed. They typically hang out in areas of high humidity including basements, bathrooms, garages and closets, but may also be found in attics, bedrooms and other parts of your home. They are nocturnal and prefer to remain hidden from humans, therefore infestations are rarely noticed until they are large in number. Humidity levels between 75% and 95% seem to be ideal for optimum population growth and survival.

They feed on a wide variety of substances but prefer carbohydrates in the form of sugars and starches. Diet may consist of glue, book bindings, plaster, photos, paper, sugar, coffee, carpet, clothing and even dandruff. But they will also consume proteins, silk, cotton and synthetic fibers. It is this feeding preference that gives them pest status as they can cause damage to many of our valuable items. They are capable of living up to a year or possibly longer without eating, and in times of famine may turn to other forms of food for sustenance such as meat. If you discover an infestation of silverfish you will need to contact a pest control agent to treat your home in order to get rid of them. Some claim to have good luck with using cinnamon or nutmeg as a repellent to keep them away from certain areas of your home. Although these household spices will not kill them, it may afford you some comfort in keeping them at bay. Silverfish are also prey for arthropods such as earwigs, house centipedes and spiders.

Other methods that may help prevent or control silverfish infestations are:

  • Keep bookcases clean by vacuuming and shaking out books occasionally
  • Prevent the stockpiling of newspapers
  • Reduce the humidity in the basement and laundry room with a dehumidifier
  • Store starched linens in sealed plastic bags
  • Repair leaky pipes and patch openings around pipes and conduit
  • Periodically clean out closets, cabinets, and storage containers
  • Keep dry processed foods in containers with tight lids

Silverfish are one of the longest lived insects, living from 2 to 8 years and are capable of producing up to 100 offspring in their lifetime. Reproduction is an elaborate affair that consists of a mating dance where the male will approach the female and they will face each other touching antennae. The male will back away and return and once again touch antennae. This may be repeated numerous times. Then the male will run away from the female and the female will pursue him. Once she catches up to him the male will line himself up beside the female so that their tails touch. He will begin vibrating his tail against the female. This stimulates the male to release a spermatophore and stimulates the female to take the spermatophore up into her body. Once the eggs are fertilized she will lay them from one to 60 at a time in small clusters hidden away in tiny cracks or crevices. It takes the eggs from two weeks to two months to hatch.

They will be born looking nearly identical to the adults in appearance, except they will be white instead of silvery-blue. They gain the silver coloration as they age and molt. From 3 months to 3 years they will reach adulthood and will continue to molt even after reaching adult age. They may molt up to 66 times in their lifetime, and some specimens have been documented molting 30 times in a single year! That is highly unusual for an insect.

Even though they are not known to bite humans or carry diseases that can be spread to humans I still kill them each time I find them. I normally let all bugs live, and even if I don't want them in my home I just take them outside and turn them loose. But I have a huge book collection and cannot risk the silverfish damaging them. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Silver-Spotted Skipper

With the unseasonably warm weather we've been experiencing here in NW Missouri it puts me in mind of spring and butterflies. One of my favorites is the very common, yet beautiful Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). When I say common, I literally mean dirt common, they are everywhere in the spring and summer all over Missouri. They can be found in backyard gardens, open fields, prairies, parks, you name the place and these butterflies are sure to be there.These butterflies belong to the family Hesperiidae, which are the skippers. Silver-spotted skippers are the largest skipper in North America with a wingspan up to 2 5/8 inches. This may not seem large, but by skipper standards it is quite huge. Most skippers have a wingspan of one inch or a bit more.

Identifying them is much easier than other skippers which can be confusing even to the experts. Silver-spotted skippers are chocolate brown with orangish blocky spots on the forewings and silvery-white spots on the underwings. It is this silvery-white spot that earned them their common name.

Like all butterflies they are diurnal, flying about during the day nectaring at a wide variety of flowers, including clover, coneflowers, thistles, blazing star and others. They seem to prefer flowers that are red, pink, purple, blue or white. At night they rest underneath leaves of plants or trees which effectively hides them from night creatures that may want to dine on them. It will also shield them from heavy overnight dew.

With few exceptions, butterflies are often part of the diet of many predators including birds, frogs, small mammals, and spiders. Exceptions would be monarchs, pipevine swallowtails, etc. that glean toxins from the plants they consume as caterpillars. Skippers have no such toxins and therefore fall victim to many predators. Spiders in particular are excellent at capturing these butterflies as they hide on flowers waiting for passing butterflies to alight and begin nectaring. The spider will very stealthily approach the butterfly, unseen, and reach out with their front legs and sink their fangs in and give a venomous bite, This bite is designed to subdue the prey and turn the insides of their prey into a nutritious, liquidy, buggy milkshake that the spider will slurp up with relish.

(Flower crab spider feeding on silver-spotted skipper)

Males will perch on branches of low lying bushes or on tall plants to wait for females to fly by. Once a receptive female has been mated, she will lay eggs one at a time on the leaves of the host plant which are black locust, honey locust, and false indigo. With all the honey and black locust trees found throughout the state it explains why these butterflies are so prolific in our state. They certainly have plenty for them to eat. Even the drought we have been experiencing since June did not affect them to the degree it did other butterflies and insects. For obvious reasons, droughts are hard on all animals, even insects. With no rain, plants cannot grow or continue to produce. This causes a lack of food sources available to the females, so therefore there will be no subsequent generations until the rain returns. 

Who knows with the 65 and 70 degree weather we've been having, I might not have to wait until spring to see a butterfly.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Black Blister Beetle

This matte black beetle is a Black Blister Beetle (say that fast three times). These beetles are in the family Meloidae. They are quite common around here, especially in the fall. I find them frequently on the goldenrod around our farm. Some plants will have dozens of these beetles on them.Many of them are mating and creating mirror images of themselves for the next generation. With nearly 7500 species of blister beetles found throughout the world there is no shortage of these noxious bugs to be found. 

(This particular beetle seems to have an injury. Not sure what caused it. I can't imagine that anything would chose to feed on these beetles, but perhaps some predators don't mind the nasty taste. Or maybe the predator discovered the noxious taste after biting a wing off and decided that was enough)

 They have an elongated body with a very narrow thorax. This cylindrical shape is very typical of blister beetles. They are commonly found in  vegetable and flower gardens. Look for them near croplands, especially forage crops. The adults feed on a wide variety of foods like clover, alfalfa, soybean, radish, carrot, beans, cabbage. In the wild they will feed on pigweed. They also will feed on ornamental plants like Hostas. The black variety is especially fond of goldenrod. After mating, the females will lay eggs in clusters in the soil. After the larvae hatches it will seek out grasshopper eggs and young grasshopper nymphs that are beginning to surface from underground. Sometimes they will also feed on bee larva. This makes them an important natural control measure for these often time invasive insects. Blister Beetles aren't always the "good guy" however. They have a dark side. Blister beetles contain a chemical in their legs called cantharidin. This chemical is extremely toxic, especially to horses. The horses come in contact with the beetles in their feed. The beetles feed on alfalfa, then the horses also feed on the alfalfa. As few as 550 beetles can kill a young horse weighing 275 pounds. This chemical is also found in the controversial drug called "date rape drug". 

I myself have had a run-in with these beetles. Several summers ago we had 100's of these beetles all over our farm. They were in the gardens, in the flowers beds. They were feeding in large numbers on my hostas, and had nearly defoliated the hostas before the summer was over. At night they were around the pole lights. I also spent a lot of time near the pole lights, looking for bugs to photograph, or capture for my collection. One night I felt one of these beetles land on my neck, as I went to brush it off me it released some of this awful chemical and blistered my skin. This blister hurt for days and left a welt for over a week. These beetles mean business, this is chemical warfare at its finest.

These beetles are best looked at and not touched. They are common and easily found, some years there seems to be more of them, than other years. In the past two years I've not seen populations of them anywhere near like what I had several summers ago

Friday, September 21, 2012

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Spotted Cucumber Beetles(Diabrotica
undecimpunctata), are small (3 or 4 mm) in size, but bright in color. They superficially resemble ladybugs with those spotted wings, but instead of bright red, pink or orange like ladybugs they are a lemon-lime green. Their head is black as are their legs. Don't let their diminutive size fool you though, these beetles are extremely destructive.They overwinter in leaf litter near fence rows, wood lots and areas near protected buildings. In the spring with the return of warm weather they will become active again. They will seek mates in early spring and the female will lay her eggs in the soil near the base of host plants. When the eggs hatch the young larvae will burrow into the soil to feed on the roots of various plants. It is this activity that has earned them the common name of Southern Rootworm.  After a few weeks they will emerge as adults and it is these grown up beetles you will find in your gardens feeding on the leaves of cucumbers, as well as squash, melons, beans, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, cabbage and a host of other garden favorites. 

As adults they prefer to nectar at flowering plants, but will feed on nearly anything they can find. Although it isn't the adults that wreck havoc, it is the wormlike larvae of this beetle that causes so much irritation and expense to farmers and growers everywhere. Their burrowing action damages the root systems of a vast amount of grain crops, especially corn. They are even known vectors of bacterial wilt. Millions each year in crop loss are attributed to these little spotted beetles. There are two other subspecies of this beetle and each are equally problematic to farmers and growers; Western cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata tenell) and the Western spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata). They aren't typically found in our region, you will instead find them out west as their names indicate. 

As a farmers wife I can sympathize with the farmers in their constant battle to stay one step ahead of an often times unseen enemy. The farmers job is to grow a good healthy crop, and get it to market (hopefully for a profit) so he and his family can make a living. So when these unwelcome visitors make themselves at home in the crops, often times drastic measures have to be taken. All too often this in the form of pesticides. While I am a farmers wife I am far from an advocate of pesticides. All too often they are used in ways that cause more harm than good. Pesticides do not differentiate between helpful insects or harmful insects. So many times the insects that actually benefit us are killed in the line of fire.I will never encourage anyone to use pesticides as I feel the damage they can cause far outweighs the benefits. Often if we will allow mother nature to do her job she will surprise us in many ways. Many other beneficial insects, birds, spiders and other known predators of insects will step up their game and consume the problematic insects. If we spray these chemicals and kill off all our beneficial insects we are defeating our purpose. Approximately 5% of the harmful insects will survive the onslaught of chemicals. These insects will now have a small resistance to the insecticides designed to kill them. They will pass this resistance off to their offspring and within a few generations these harmful insects will have total resistance to the chemicals. Now the chemical companies have to create new insecticides to kill the same insects. We essentially accomplish making the chemical companies richer. Bats, birds and the surviving beneficial bugs will leave your area because it has now become a wasteland of death and there is no longer anything for them to eat.These chemicals leach themselves into our soil and make their way into the water systems, whether that is in the form of ponds, lakes, rivers, or the well water we drink and cook with. What impacts will that have on other wildlife? On humans?

 We have 66 acres of row crops here on our farm. We rotate corn and soybeans each year and we have not used a pesticide, insecticide or fungicide in over 15 years. We have experienced no crop loss due to bugs, because we recognize that there are many insect predators out there taking care of it for us. 

The drought heavily impacted the plants and animals in our region this year. We received early rains, then no rain throughout the summer and some late rain in the past couple of weeks. It seemed to create a perfect situation for these beetles, as I've seen record numbers of these beetles this year. All feeding on the tomatoes and melons in our garden. Thankfully the remaining veggies are not good for human consumption so the bugs can have them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Honey Bees + Wax Worms= Epic Fail

Several week ago I asked a friend of mine, Shannon, to come out and help me open up my hive and see how they were doing. I was concerned as I had noticed an extreme reduction in the number of bees hanging out around the hive. When Shannon arrived we gathered our equipment and headed to the hives. We smoked the larger hive and opened it. I could tell my bees were gone....just gone! I told Shannon, and he said they were out foraging. I knew better. I sit and watch these bees all the time and I know their habits. We began taking the hive apart and discovered a few wax worms. We killed them and removed the damaged comb. As we delved deeper into the hive we found several more wax worms and each one was killed and the contaminated comb removed. We put the hive back together and moved onto the next hive. This hive was young, and wild caught. I've only had it about 6 or 8 weeks. They seemed to be doing well and we saw no evidence of wax worms.
I was still deeply concerned about the older larger hive, but decided to try not to worry too much.

The following week we packed our bags and went to the Smoky Mountains for a family vacation. Eight days later we returned home and I had to plan a large event for work and my time was tied up with last minute details revolving around that event. It was an additional week before I was able to get around to checking on the hive again. To say I got a surprise would be an understatement.  I opened the top on the hive and got a face full of moths. I was so disgusted by what I found, the entire hive was desecrated by wax worms!

Waxworms are the larval stage of the Wax Moth in the family Pyralidae which are the snout moths. There are two species that are often bred for fish bait and are often called waxies by bait shop owners and fishermen. They are favored by fishermen who enjoy catching small game fish like sunfish, but for beekeepers they are a nightmare.  They are a parasite of bees and feed on the honey comb, beeswax, shed skins of bees, pollen and cocoons. They can destroy a weakened beehive in no time. A strong, healthy hive functioning with all members can usually fight off a waxworm threat. A divided hive with no queen is severely weakened and would not be able to deal with a scourge like waxworms. Which is essentially what happened to my hive.

This fall when the weather cools down  I will clean up the mess in the hive and sterilize it. Next spring I will try once again to raise a successful hive. The smaller hive I had I gave to Shannon to hand over to another bee keeper so as not to risk it getting contaminated with waxworms. So hopefully next spring will turn out better.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hayhurst Scallopwing

Tonight while outside photographing the insects attracted to the only thing blooming in my yard, the peppermint, I noticed this dark butterfly. I wasn't familiar with it and at first thought it was a sootywing of some sort. I posted this image to facebook and my friend Betsy Betros was able to identify it for me as a hayhurst scallopwing (Staphylus hayhurstii). 

She said this species is fairly easy to tell apart from the other small black butterflies by the wavy, or scalloped wings. These butterflies belong in the family hesperiidae with the skippers . Most skippers are tiny butterflies with upfolded wings when in the resting position. This species is a spread-wing skipper measuring up to 1 1/4 inches and rests like other butterflies with its wings open. They are dark with checkered fringe and tiny transparent spots on their wings. Those spots are visible in this picture as two tiny dots near the corner of the forewing.

Hayhurst scallopwings can be found throughout the eastern portion of the United States as well as in Texas. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including open woodlands, backyards, roadsides, and weedy lots. The adults nectar at most any flower but seem fond of peppermint,marigolds, clover, cucumber and dogbane. 

Males will perch low in vegetation to attract passing females and will mate with receptive females. Eggs will be laid one at a time on the leaves of host plants such as Lambsquarters, in the goosefoot family, and occasionally chaff flower (Alternanthera) in the pigweed family. In Missouri there will be two broods, one in the spring and one in the late summer.
Thanks Betsy for the ID on this subtly beautiful butterfly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle

Seven-spotted lady beetles (Coccinella septempunctata) are one of the most common ladybugs found in Europe. It was apparently intentionally introduced to the United States on several occasions from 1954 to 1971 to help control aphid populations and each one of these attempts failed. Ironically a successful, accidental introduction was discovered in New Jersey in 1973. They have since established themselves throughout much of North America and often out compete native species of lady beetles for available food sources. In their native home of Europe they are however facing trouble as the non-native Harlequin Ladybird Beetle out competes it.

Even though this insect is not native to North America it has established itself in such a way that it is considered naturalized and many states have adopted it as their state insect, including New Hampshire, Delaware, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Massachusetts. This species occurs throughout Missouri and is quite common in some locations.

Their bright red color is aposematic in nature and is designed to ward would-be predators that they taste bad. They are able to produce a foul tasting secretion that they emit from their legs. These are large lady beetles and may reach lengths up to 1/4 of an inch. In addition to being a bright red, they have three black spots on each wing and a single spot located on the median line near the back of the head. This gives them a total of seven spots from which they get their common name.

 Reproduction takes place in the spring, females will lay clusters of eggs near aphid colonies. When the eggs hatch the newly born lady beetle larvae will have a ready food supply. It takes them several weeks to reach adulthood.

Even though these insects are not native and do compete with native species for available food, they are beneficial because of their voracious appetite for aphids and other soft bodied insects that will damage your veggies and other garden favorites, not to mention your prized roses.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

One of the prettiest butterflies to be found in Missouri is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). These are very distinctive butterflies with wingspans measuring up to 4 1/2 inches with females being larger than males. Males will be bright yellow with black stripes. Females however may be either yellow with black stripes like the male, or black with faint shadows of stripes. This black version of the female mimics the pipevine swallowtail which is poisonous to would-be predators. On the hindwings of each sex there is a prominent orange spot and smaller bright blue spots.

Males will seek out females to mate with and once mated the female will lay her eggs one at at time on the leaves of the host plant which include; leaves of various plants including wild cherry, sweetbay, basswood, tulip tree, birch, ash, cottonwood, mountain ash, and willow. If you want to attract these beauties to your yard try planting any of these host plants. It is far more beneficial to plant the host plants than to plant nectar plants as the female seeks out the proper plants that will provide nutrition for her offspring. The caterpillars resemble bird-poop during the first several instars, and in later instars they develop eyespots that superficially resemble a snake. This protects the caterpillar from predators who have no desire to eat poop or which are confused by the snake-like ruse and avoid tangling with a possible predator themselves.

Adults will nectar at a wide variety of flowers including lilac, cherry, Joe-pyeweed, and milkweed. They will also glean nutrients from manure.
They can be found throughout most of the Eastern United States including as far north as Ontario Canada. Look for them near woodlands, backyard gardens, parks, and anywhere the host plants are found.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was one of the earliest butterflies ever drawn in North America. John White, an artist and naturalist who was part of Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition into Virginia drew the likeness of this species as early as 1587. He adopted the Native American name for butterfly "Mamankanois" for this beautiful species. In 1758 Linnaeus described this species in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae.

This one was photographed in Townsend Tennessee as it warmed itself in the sun after a cool night in the low 70's. It basked for nearly an hour before fluttering off into the tree tops. I also find these butterflies quite frequently here at home in my backyard gardens as they nectar at the coneflowers. With the continuing drought we are experiencing right now I imagine it is becoming difficult for nectar loving butterflies to find adequate food sources as most of the flowers are dead or dying. I pray rain comes soon, as we've only had an inch of rain in 8 weeks here on the farm.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Narrow Searcher

This large shiny black beetle is called a Narrow Searcher (Calosoma externum). They are found throughout Eastern North America near deciduous woodlands. They are often referred to as caterpillar hunters or searchers, which hints at their preferred food choices. They often prey on the caterpillars of a wide variety of moths and butterflies. They will however feed on other inverts as well. They are capable of producing a terrible smelling fluid from glands at the end of their abdomen, which they will spray at potential predators as a form of defense. It is often found in woodlands, grasslands, disturbed lands, river bottoms and near cropland. They typically hunt or "search" for potential prey insects on the ground, but they will occasionally climb trees in search of food. Because of their preference for eating potentially harmful caterpillars they are considered beneficial to both the gardener and farmer.

These are large beetles measuring up to35 mm in length. Their body is black with brilliant bluish-purple margins. Their elytra (wings) are grooved. This beetle is incredibly fast moving and difficult to capture. They often hide under rock or log piles during the day and come out at night to search for food. It is common to find them at lights at night, presumably these are the opportunistic hunters.
The adults of this species overwinter in the ground and emerge when spring returns. At this time they will seek mates.

Because of the voracious appetite this genus has for insects and especially caterpillars, one species was imported; Calosoma sycophanta was brought into the United States in 1905 as a form of biological control against the Gypsy Moth.This species originated in Europe and seems to have a particular fondness for caterpillars.

The Narrow Searcher is a native species and can be found throughout much of the United States. I frequently find them in our implement sheds where they are probably seeking the many insects that seem to live inside the buildings. It is always exciting to find such a large, quick moving beetle.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Toad Bug

Toad bugs in the family Gelastocoridae comprise approximately 100 species found worldwide but, predominantly they occur in the tropics. These little bugs are in the order Hemiptera, making them true bugs and more closely related to assassin bugs than beetles, although they resemble beetles. They also look superficially like the toads they are named after. They are small at 15 mm in length or less, but hop around like mini-toads. They even have a somewhat warty appearance like toads. Nymphs of some specimens of these bugs will pile sand on their backs which allows them to blend in with their sandy surroundings. They are typically found near rivers, ponds, lakes, creeks, streams and other watery locations with muddy or sandy shorelines. They feed on smaller insects, and capture them by hopping onto them and holding on with their front legs.
These little bugs are easily overlooked because of their cryptic coloring. Next time you visit a pond, stream or other body of water, watch closely and you may see one of these little bugs hopping around the shore. Careful inspection will reveal a 6-legged arthropod and not a toad at all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bronze Copper

Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) butterflies are one of the prettiest butterflies to call Missouri home. They are the most beautiful coppery orange with spots of black. They aren't large (2 inch wingspan) and flashy like Monarchs or Swallowtails, but what they lack in size they make up for in bold color and approachable dispositions. Underside of the forewings of both sexes is orange with black spots; underside of hindwings is gray-white with black spots and a broad orange outer margin. 

They are typically associated with marshes and wetlands where the females will use curly dock or smartweed as the host plant for her caterpillars. I photographed this one at Squaw Creek NWR which is a large wetland in NW Missouri. 

Males will perch on low lying plants and wait for passing females. Once mated the females will lay their eggs on the underside of the host plant, typically choosing the largest leaves as a prime feeding area. Depending upon your area and the temperatures, they may produce 1 to 3 broods per year. In Missouri I would suspect two broods in the northern half of the state and perhaps three further south. Their numbers seem to be secure, although not common in Missouri. In parts of their range however they are rare or even considered endangered. This is presumably because of loss of habitat. With more and more wetlands, and marshes being drained for stripe malls, housing additions and agricultural ground, prime real estate for these beauties is hard to come by. Even though their host plant is in abundance, there must be other requirements that this species needs in order to survive and be prolific. Second or third generation offspring will overwinter in the egg stage and hatch the following spring. The adults will die soon after mating and laying the eggs of the final generation that season. 

In 1766 the first Bronze Copper was believed to be collected by the Dutch naturalist Pieter Cramer. It wasn't until 1775 that is was officially described and given a name.This species has suffered somewhat of an identity crisis over the years. It has went from being listed as 

Hylloycaena hyllus,  then Lycaena thoe, and Chrysophanus thoe – and finally Lycaena hyllus. That is one of the most difficult things about learning scientific names, all the changes!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Checkered White Butterfly

This sweet little white butterfly is a checkered white butterfly (Pontia protodice). They are common throughout Missouri as well as their entire range. They occur in Mexico and the southern United States throughout the entire year. In the spring, summer and early fall they will be found further north in the Midwest, western United States and Southern Canada. Rarely are they found in the New England states. Look for them in roadside ditches and near gardens where they nectar at a wide variety of flowers including alfalfa, mustard and other roadside composites. Males patrol for females, and once mated the females will lay eggs two at a time on the leaves of mustard plants, capers and Rocky Mountain Bee-plant. Gardeners often complain about these butterflies as a favorite food source for the caterpillars is cabbage plants. They should not be confused though with another white butterfly that often occurs in large numbers and also favors cabbages and that is the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae).

Cabbage Whites are not native, they are originally from Europe and arrived in the America's sometime in the 1860's.They are found Worldwide and considered cosmopolitan now.  Both species are similar; both are white, both have black markings, but careful examination of the wings will show the subtle differences.

                                                                                                 (Cabbage White)

Cabbage whites are mostly white with yellowish-green undersides. Females have  two black spots on their upperwings whereas males have one spot on each wing. Checkered White's have much more black pattern on their wings than cabbage whites do and females have more pattern than males. The underside of the wings are yellowish-tan. They are similar in size with up to a 2 1/4 inch wingspan. Both species will be encountered in the same habitats. Look for them in gardens, weedy ditches, waste ground, roadsides, railroad beds, meadows, parks and within the city. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bullsnake, Mouth Rot and a Listing

This beautiful patterned snake is the increasingly rare Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi). In years past this snake was quite common and most every farmer boasted of having a resident bullsnake controlling rodents in their barns or bins.

Last Friday, March 30, 2012 I received a phone call from one of our agents, Jason. He had paid a call on one of the residents of the county he patrols. This man had in his possession a large bullsnake. Jason wanted to know if I would like to have the bullsnake to use as an exhibit snake for a period of time. I was thrilled by the prospect and told him "yes, I would definitely like to see the snake and keep it for awhile." The man who found the snake agreed that when we were done with the snake he would re-release the snake back on his property. I knew Dr. Mills our local herpetologist had been on the look-out for this species and had not found one in the entire 14 years he has lived in this area, other than one found on the road dead. I could hardly wait to let him know we had a bona fide bullsnake coming into out office, and not just any bullsnake, but a LARGE one.

That afternoon our herpetology class was planning a field trip to Squaw Creek NWR, so I told Dr. Mills I would bring the bullsnake along so the students could see it. He was anxious to see it and show it off the the class. We all met at 2:30, and as expected the students were impressed with this large snake. When it first came into the office it hissed loudly and rattled its tail, trying very much to sound like a rattlesnake. We could not get it to repeat the defensive behavior they are famous for in front of the students, perhaps he suddenly felt shy?

Dr. Mills took the snake out of its enclosure and showed off his unique snake wrangling abilities.

He gently places the snake between his legs and slowly feeds the snake towards the front of his legs as he feels for the head. When he feels the head he grips it firmly but gently to keep it from biting. A snake as large bodied as a bullsnake can and will give a painful bite. This particular snake however calmed down almost immediately once in hand and did not offer to bite or act aggressive. We were able measure his length, but did not have time to take further measurements before we were confronted with the wildlife biologist and the Massassauga he had captured and wanted to show the class.

Dr. Mills telling the class about the bullsnake.

Students assisting Dr. Mills in measuring the bullsnake, he has a SVL of 171 cm (nearly 5.5 feet)

The bullsnake behaving very calmly as it is being handled. 

Bullsnakes are the largest snake found in Missouri and may reach lengths up to eight feet, with 6 to 7 feet being common.They range in color from yellow, tan to white with approximately 41 dark brown or black blotches. Most of the specimens I've seen in previous years have been yellowish with brown blotches. They occur in traditional prairie habitats  throughout most of Missouri.

In the past 15 years their numbers have drastically fallen and they are becoming difficult to find. Joey and I raised hogs from 1990 until 2000. We had a couple of bullsnakes that hung around near the farrowing house, in large part because of the rats and mice that were there. With all the grain we had around to  feed the hogs, we had no shortage of rodents. These bullsnakes soon learned that an easy meal could be had and they stayed pretty close to the building. When we got out of the hog business, the snakes left  and I have not seen one since. In fact, I have not seen a bullsnake at all anywhere, and I am out looking for snakes all the time. Dr. Mills moved to St. Joseph in 1998 and said he found a bullsnake dead on the road and that has been the only specimen he has seen in all these years. So, to say he and I were excited about this bullsnake that suddenly came into our possession would be an understatement.

Bullsnakes are famous for their large size and the hissing sound they make when disturbed. They puff their body up to look bigger and then let loose with a hiss that will make you take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Do you want to get closer? Is this thing venomous? Will it hurt me? It is doing what Mother Nature designed it to do, mimic a rattlesnake. It will even shake its tail in leaf litter or dry grasses to carry the ruse further. Truthfully this species is harmless, however if you grab one it may earn you a bite. When I was in high school I remember one of my classmates was putting up hay and got bitten by a large bullsnake. He ignored the bite and continued to work in the hay. The superficial mound he received became infected from sweat, dirt, hay and the bacteria from the snakes mouth keeping the wound dirty. He spent some time in the hospital seriously ill from infection. Had he taken a few minutes to wash the bite and wrap it, this most likely would have turned out different for him. A snakes mouth carries bacteria from the things it is feeding on. Anytime you are bitten by a snake, it requires attention. If it is a venomous bite, seek medical help IMMEDIATELY! If it is non-venomous take a few minutes to clean the bite and wrap it. Putting an antibacterial topical ointment like neosporin is a good idea as well.  Better safe than sorry.

Several days after acquiring the snake, myself and several others noticed it was holding its mouth funny, it was slightly agape and he was drooling. Snakes don't drool, Bulldogs do! I contacted Dr. Mills and explained my observations and he said he thought it sounded like Mouth Rot. I had never heard of such a thing, and did some research. I soon discovered this can be quite serious and may even kill the snake. I contacted several local vets, and none knew anything about it or how to treat it. A friend of mine from Squaw Creek NWR suggested a vet named Dr. Roy Wilson from Mound City. He and his wife run Rafter Cross Veterinarian Care. I called him and he knew how to treat it. I took the snake to him and after looking him over, he determined it was indeed mouth rot.

 (Photo By: Carrie Wilson)

 He weighed him (4 pounds) and gave him an antibiotic shot. He sent me home with four more doses of antibiotics to administer and then wanted to see him in a week.

 (Photo By: Carrie Wilson)

Eight days later and 3 more shots later I returned to Dr. Wilson with our patient. He said he thought the mouth looked some better, it at least had better color. The snake however developed thrush (A type of yeast infection of the mouth) brought on by the antibiotic shots. Dr. Wilson cleaned a bunch of dead tissue out of the snakes mouth, gave him another antibiotic shot and an additional shot of an anti-inflammatory. He then tube fed him an electrolyte cocktail. He also applied an athletes foot/jock itch ointment to the mouth to help with the thrush. I will continue to give him another round of antibiotics and apply the ointment for another week then return to the vet in ten days. Hopefully this poor snake will be well on the road to recovery. I will try to feed him a small mouse tomorrow to see if he has any interest in eating. The sooner he eats the better and faster he will heal.

I contacted the man who found the snake and told him this snake could not be returned to him to be released on his farm. Once we began administering antibiotics we have no way of knowing how long those antibiotics will remain in the system of the snake. Dr. Wilson said in good conscience he could not recommend releasing it. If a predator such as a owl, eagle or hawk were to try and feed on this snake and in turn consume the antibiotics we don't know what the affects would be on them. The gentleman was fine with that and was happy for us to give it a home. This snake (should it survive) will be used as an ambassador of his kind in education.

I spoke to our state herpetologist and was told by him that there is a very good chance that this species will be listed as threatened in the state of Missouri as early as next year. This is a decision I support whole-heartedly, as do many of us in the herping/conservation community. We recognize the rarity of this species and know that protecting it may bring it back from the brink of extinction in Missouri. To have this snake extirpated from our state would be sad indeed. With humans encroaching on the habitats of the snakes in their desire for more strip malls, housing additions, agricultural ground and various other human related construction/destruction the snakes are finding it more and more difficult to hold on to what little remains of their natural habitats.

I will update later and keep everyone posted about this snakes progress.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why we Shouldn't Litter

Few things in this World get me as riled as littering. Not only is it unsightly, but it often has detrimental consequences on wildlife. Tonight my daughter was coming in the backdoor and yelled for me to "come quick!" I hurried to see what the problem was and she had found a black snake with a piece of plastic PVC pipe wrapped around its midsection. There as no possible way this snake would have survived had my daughter not found it and we had not been given the opportunity to rescue it.

I picked the snake up and immediately it musked and bit me. Which is exactly the type of behavior one can expect from a snake that has been snatched up by a giant. You can see the blood on my finger. It is nothing more than a superficial scratch.

The snake is probably 3 to 4 years of age and measures nearly 2 feet in length. The piece of pipe had grown into its skin and my fear was that it was so embedded that we would not be able to remove it without causing further damage.

We decided to try and saw the pipe off. My husband helped me, and it took about 20 minutes to finally free the snake of its PVC entrapment. I need you to understand something too, my husband does not like snakes and I really think he secretly fears them. He bucked up and helped me save this snake when he saw the condition it was in and how important it was to me. He really came through for me and for this snake in need.  The wound that was exposed did not look too severe so I made the decision to release it in a safe place in the yard.

I hope this snake heals and goes on to lead a productive snakey life. 

Littering is an ongoing problem faced by wildlife on a daily basis. We as humans often discard our trash without a second thought. We wrongly assume that someone else will take care of it. We throw trash out of our car windows, simply because we don't want our cars littered with trash. For some reason we prefer it laying along the highways, roadways, walking trails and other natural areas. Why can we not take the trash home with us and dispose of it properly? Why can we not pull into the nearest gas station and dispose of it in the trash bin? Do we really need to throw it out for all the World to see? I don't know about you but there is nothing I hate worse than hiking a beautiful trail, only to have it disturbed by fast food packages, pop or beer cans, bottles, plastic bags, etc. 

There are many stories that abound of animals that have been in similar situations including the one here Common Snapper trapped by six pack ring 

In Missouri we have an ambassador of trash by the name of Peanut. Peanut's story can be read here Peanut the Turtle

If you plan to be outside this spring, summer and fall, if you pack it in, please remember to pack it out. Our wildlife will thank you.