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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fountain Grove Conservation Area

Fountain Grove Conservation Area in Meadville, MO is a beautiful wetland area in NW Missouri.
It is located approximately 20 miles southeast of Chillicothe. Last week I helped out with a two day annual event called "A Day in the Wetland." The first day I had a volunteer by the name of Bradley assisting me. We were in charge of the station on food chains and predator/prey relationships. We had a bald eagle nest nearby that allowed us the opportunity to discuss the history of the bald eagle and the ultimate success story that it turned into. This segued into predators and prey. Then we talked about mammals and used different skulls to aid us in showing the skull structures that make them a predator or prey. We even had a snake with us and discussed how they are both predator and prey. Bradley stumbled upon a coyote carcass not too far from where we were stationed. I investigated and discovered lots of living creatures taking advantage of the available food source.

We showed the children the carcass and explained how animals die from various causes and those dead animals provide food for various other animals. We flipped the carcass over and showed them the bugs, including margined carrion beetles that were mating within the cavity of the coyote.

The Margined Carrion Beetle (Oiceoptoma noveboracense) is found throughout the Eastern United States with exception to Florida and can also be found in Texas and Louisiana. Another similar species the American Carrion Beetle is bigger and the pronotum is greenish-yellow instead of pinkish-red. The margined carrion beetle grows to about 3/4 of an inch. They are commonly found near deciduous hardwood forests. Carrion beetles are not the most pleasant insects in the world of bugs, but they certainly perform one of most important services to mankind. They are the clean-up crew. Not only do many species of carrion beetles either in the adult or larval stage feed on decaying carcasses, they also help control insect pest populations. This is done by the habit that many species of carrion beetles have of feeding not on the carcass itself, but on the maggots of the flies that are there to feed. This species is known for such behavior. The adults will sometimes feed on maggots. The larva feed on maggots, decaying fungi and carcasses. The female will lay her eggs on the unfortunate corpse. The young larva will feed on the carcass or the maggots for as long as the food source lasts. Eventually they will fall to the ground and dig themselves an underground chamber. Within this chamber they will pupate and finish their life cycle. The female will continue to fly from carcass to carcass laying eggs and feeding. The very flattened design of their bodies is no accident. This flattened, flexible body allows them to maneuver under dead bodies. While the thought of eating dead flesh is revolting to us humans, fortunately for us carrion beetles thrive on it. Try to imagine a world overrun with rotting stinking dead flesh and no beetles to help in the disposal of the offensive mess. Plus we get the added benefit of nutrients being released back into the soil from the feeding habits of these beetles. Forensic scientists use these beetles as a means of determining the time of death of human corpses. They can often times figure out the time of death just by the beetles or other insects present on the carcass. As each individual species will show up at very specific times to feed in very specific ways. Some are attracted to the carcass itself, still others are attracted to the insects present on the body. Some prefer fresh (if there is such a thing)dead flesh, still others prefer their meat a little putrid.

Other invertebrates were present as well, including two spider species. One was a crab spider and the other a spider in the genus Enoplognatha. 

 I guess the spiders were present to take advantage of the other insects that were there to feed on the carcass. It seems pretty opportunistic to me and certainly can't blame them this time of year when food sources are low. 

All-in-all it was a successful two day event, until the last day, and the last group of kids came through and discovered the coyote carcass and decided it would be fun to play toss-carcass and began throwing it at each other. This eliminated all the bugs that were present and ruined our chances of using it for education....but kids will be kids!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Central Newt

Joey and I made an impromptu trip to Springfield, MO to do some antique shopping and to visit with a fellow blogger and friend named George Sims of Bugs of Booger County. George had told me about a fellow neighbor who has a woodland pond full of newts and tadpoles. I was anxious to see the pond and to capture some newts. Unfortunately I had forgotten my muck boots, but lucky for me George was willing to wade in the pond and capture some for me. 

The setting of the pond is so beautiful and serene. The water was like glass as it reflected the images of the trees on its surface. George worked his way round the ponds shoreline and  used his handy-dandy strainer to scoop up leaf-litter near the shore. Each time he had either a newt, aquatic insect or a tadpole. 

 I enjoyed walking around the pond and photographing the various lichens and mosses that were very plentiful in the woodlands. Their textures are so beautiful.

Here is George sneaking up on his quarry. His technique seems to work because I now have 8 newts to bring home with me. I will keep 5 and 3 of them will be turned over to MWSU for their voucher collection of herps. They will be preserved and used for future classes as a teaching tool. The pond was a brisk 57 degrees as George bravely tromped and sloshed through it in shorts. The air temperature however was absolutely gorgeous at 74 degrees on the first day of MARCH! 

Central newts (Notophthalamus viridescens louisianensis) are a common occurrence in the Southern half of Missouri, but up in the northwest corner where I live they do not occur at all. So these are a real treasure to me. We will be heading home tomorrow with my new little friends. Hopefully they will do well for me and survive. Central newts are small at only 3 to 4 inches as adults. They have a somewhat unusual lifecycle. Males locate females and approach them with the intention of mating. He will grab the female and hold onto her tightly in a position called amplexus. He may remain wrapped around her for several hours all the while using his tail to fan a delectable scent called a pheromone in her direction. He wants to make sure that the smell reaches her nostrils and has the desired affect of making her receptive to receiving his spermatophore. He will release her and perform a dance of sorts in front of her, if she is interested in finalizing the mating process she will rub her nose against his body or tail. It is then that he deposits his spermatophore on the bottom of the ponds edge or other shallow water. He will try to guide her to his packet so that she can take it up into her body via her cloaca or vent. If she is not impressed with his attention she will turn tail and run. 

Once mated she will lay up to 400 eggs one at a time on aquatic vegetation. It will take her several weeks to complete the task of laying eggs.  When the eggs hatch the newly born gilled aquatic larvae will remain in the water. By late in the season (August) they will transform into juveniles called efts, they lose their gills, and have formed lungs. They will leave their watery home and head to land. They will live on land for 1 to 3 years depending upon subspecies and location. While on land they will be reddish or brown in color and have a rounded tail. They also lack any evidence of sexual maturity. Once they return to the water at 2 to 3 years of age they will make a transformation into the adult form and become sexually mature. They will then begin seeking mates. 

The adults are olive-brown  on their back with a bright orange-yellow belly. There are numerous black spots on the belly and there may also be red spots ringed with black on the back or along the tail. The color division between the belly and the back is definitely noticeable. There are some specimens that lack the spots or have very few spots. 

They can be found in woodland ponds, swamps and roadside ditches that hold water. They are rarely found in large numbers in ponds that also contain fish, as fish are fond of the the newly hatched newts and the newts would stand little chance of surviving. Newts feed on worms, small crayfish, tiny mollusks, small tadpoles and even salamander larvae. As terrestrial efts they feed on small snails and insects. On land they hide out under leaf litter and logs or under rock piles. 

These little salamanders are active year around in their aquatic habitat and are often seen swimming around under the ice of the pond they inhabit. They may be active during the day or night. Efts and the adults have few predators because of a toxic secretion they produce from mucus glands located all over their body. These secretions can be deadly to some animals. The efts are thought to be up to 10 times more toxic than their adult counterparts. 

As we walked around the pond and explored the area, we noticed hundreds of tadpoles. We recognized some as Green Frog Tadpoles, but many others were hard to distinguish as they were much smaller, they could have been a younger generation of green frogs. After finishing collecting our newts we left the pond and headed back to Georges house. We sat on the front deck and we treated to a beautiful view of the rolling Ozark hills.

George's dog Dobbie was happy to have company and stayed close by and offered up lots of kisses and affection.

We hope to make a trip back to this beautiful area and visit with George and his wife again. Perhaps kayaking the beautiful streams and rivers that the Ozarks have to offer. Or hiking and searching for bugs or snakes. Our antiquing hasn't proved very productive yet, but as we drive home tomorrow I hope to get in some more shopping. If you would like to read Georges post about our little adventure please visit his blog Bugs of Booger County.