Archive for the 'Critters' Category

Autumn caterpillar

Friday, November 14th, 2008

This image is a bit of a cheat. I took this photo nearly a month ago when Libby and I were at Roundrock. I don’t think it’s representative of what’s creeping about in the forests of the Ozarks right now.

To my best guesstimate, this is a Striped Garden Caterpillar (Trichordestra legitima). The little I could find about it online suggested that my woods are just within its range. It’s a general feeder, finding many plants (and apparently flowers) it will eat. I suppose it is an evolutionary adaptation that the colors of this caterpillar match the predominant colors in the forest right now. They are commonly found in clearings and edges, which is where this little one turned up. Libby spotted it in the grassy area just above the lake despite its clever coloring.

These caterpillars turn into gray and brown spotted moth, and because these moths are nocturnal, I’ve never seen them at Roundrock.

Unfortunately for this caterpillar, though, it never got the chance to realize its full potential. I carried the tight bundle of protein to the water’s edge and tossed it in. Slowly it began to sink, but we saw a dark shape approach it in the water and then gobble it up.


Years and years ago, when Libby and I stayed in our very first bed and breakfast (A Little Log Cabin in the Woods near Hermann, Missouri — we were looking for land to buy), we were out walking the trails they had behind the cabin. Along the trail was a small spring-fed pool that had fish in it. The big entertainment at the bed and breakfast was to take along a bag of kibble and feed the fish. While were sitting there — the kibble all gone — I saw an inch worm hanging from a thread before me. Well, I thought this might be nutritious for the fish, so I plucked it from its thread and tossed it in the water.

To my surprise, the tiny green worm didn’t break the surface tension of the pool. Instead it managed to inch across the water, eventually making it to land and a well-deserved liberty.

Those are the only two times, folks, that I’ve ever feed fish in this way. I don’t think that’s pathological, is it?

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • On this date in 1968 the Democrats in the Missouri Senate chose Earl Blackwell as their president pro tem. This was the beginning of 14 months of fighting and maneuvering as Blackwell positioned himself as the most powerful man in the state, only to be ousted by his own party for having “stepped on too many toes.”

Look me in the eye

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Big faker! Even when sitting on the bright red hood of the Prolechariot, this walking stick thought it could convince me that it was no more than an actual stick. But I looked this critter in the eye and said I wasn’t convinced at all. Actually, I wasn’t convinced that I was looking in its eye either. Which part of it is the eye?

I’m sure our forest at Roundrock is filled with these insects, but we rarely see them, of course, because they are such masters of mimic and disguise. I don’t think I could ever go out and find one if I wanted. It is only when they enter our domain and stand out (on a bright field of red) that we ever see them.

Here’s another view:

I’ve read that there is a species of this walking stick insect that can grow to be more than a foot long. I think if I ever came across one that size, I’d mistake it for a piece of fire wood.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • In 1861 the Battle of Belmont in the Missouri Bootheel ends in a Federal victory (disputed). A certain General Grant escaped a certain death by mere inches when a Confederate bullet ripped through the head of the bed he had been on only seconds before.
  • Mellcene T. Smith and Sarah Lucille Turner became the first women elected to the Missouri state legislature, in 1922, only two years after Missouri women receive the vote.

Toppled turtle

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Libby and I came upon this bleached turtle shell on a recent walk at Roundrock. It was in the tall grass on the slope just above the pecan plantation, and though it may have been there a long time, it may also have been recently left there by some predator. Speculation without facts is generally dangerous, as Sherlock Holmes pointed out.

We find such shells all the time in our rambles about the woods. Sometimes we carry them back to the shelter to add to our ever-growing collection. Other times we leave them where we found them, often to come upon them again on a later hike.

This shell was a bit different from the others though. Have a look at at top:

Could that be a bullet hole? I realize there are some people who are contemptible enuf to shoot a slow moving and completely harmless turtle, but the idea of it seems so unhuman to me that it’s hard to imagine it actually happening.

There were some bones rattling around inside the shell. If I remember the next time I’m out there, I’ll have to retrieve the shell and see if there is a slug in it too.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Stephen Austin, the Father of Texas, who spent many of his impressionable boyhood years in Missouri, was born on this date in 1793.

Last climb of the chiggers

Monday, October 6th, 2008

You may remember seeing a similar photo in this post. This is a close-up shot of my pants leg after I had taken a walk about Roundrock on a recent visit. Those are chiggers on the fabric. Chiggers are just about the worst thing when it comes to Ozark hiking. (You can see why it makes sense to wear light-colored clothing when hiking the woods.)

There is a difference this time though. All of these chiggers are dead. They are ex-chiggers. (Reference, anyone?) Far too late in the season this year, Libby and I finally soaked our going-to-the-woods clothes in a solution of permethrin. This poison is supposed to be fatal to the touch for insects (though — they tell me — it’s perfectly safe against human skin). It seems to have worked.

These chiggers were no longer moving. They had made their last climb.

I’ve made an occasional observation about the effectiveness of this chemical approach to pest management in clothing. Mostly it has involved the times when I am sitting in the comfy chair and happen to look at my pants. Chiggers don’t stand a chance. Larger insects, though, seem to do better. I’ve seen ticks crawling woozily through a forest of fallen chiggers before. That’s not so bad since ticks are more readily seen and dispensed. I’ve also seen a few ants racing across my clothes. Normally these ants around the shelter tarp appear to be foraging, but the ones I’ve seen on my treated pants generally look as though they are in a hurry. Spiders don’t seem affected at all. I’ve always heard that spiders are the hardest to kill, and that’s good since I guess I want spiders about in my woods (even if I must manually remove all of their webs).

The buggy season is coming to an end in the Ozarks. A couple of frosty nights will draw the curtain closed until about May. We do sometimes see a lone tick on our clothes, even in the iron cold of February, but no chiggers are about.

Missouri calendar:

  • Cardinal flowers bloom along Ozark streams.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missouri’s first regiment of volunteers for the Seminold War was mustered in for its tragic tour of duty on this date in 1837.

Hickory tussock caterpillar

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

I’m glad I keep discovering things at Roundrock. I hope I never get bored of the place. In all the years I’ve been going to my woods, I had never seen this caterpillar before. And now, in less than a month, I’ve seen two of them.

This is commonly known as the Hickory Tussock caterpillar (and more technically known as Lophocampa caryae). What you see is the front end in the photo above. Libby spotted this crawling on the side of my boot when we were taking a break on her island. I instantly remembered it as being the same as one Seth and I had seen near the pine plantation some weeks ago. I had taken a picture of it and intended to make a post, but that photo went away with my broken hard drive. So it was heartening to make the acquaintance of the little critter once again.

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the moth this thing becomes either in my woods. The site that link takes you to certainly seems to state that there are no recorded instances of this caterpillar or moth in Missouri. I suppose my identification could be wrong. Maybe I have some local variant of the species. Or maybe that map on the linked page is out of date. What does it take to make a valid report do you suppose?

Missouri calendar:

  • Timber rattlesnakes enter hibernation.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missouri’s first two Senators were selected by the territory legislature on this date in 1820. One delegate had himself carried on his deathbed to the capitol so he could cast his vote.

The 800

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Libby and I came upon this turtle when we were doing our spider web clearing project in the woods at Roundrock a few weeks ago. Understandably, I was looking down as I was walking (to avoid planting my face in further webs), and I spotted this turtle going about its business.

The weather has turned now, perhaps for the season, and I think turtles like this one are probably busy making their winter arrangements now. But on the day of our hike, it was miserably hot, which I guess is decent weather if you’re a turtle.

We pretty much see turtles in all sections of Roundrock. Even the grassy areas have turtles. I’d read somewhere (probably a Conservation Department website) that in Missouri with ideal habitat, up to ten turtles per acre can coexist. Now, given that Roundrock is 80+ acres, my meager math skills tell me that we could have up to 800 turtles in our woods and fields.

I have yet to spot them all.

Missouri calendar:

  • White-tailed deer breed now through November.

Today in Missouri history:

  • In 1848 Francois Xavier Aubry begins an 800-mile horseback sprint from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri in 5 days and 16 hours. He is supposed to have slept only two and a half hours in that time.

The 2nd International Rock-Flipping Day

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Yesterday was International Rock-Flipping Day. In my recent trips to Roundrock, I’ve been flipping (and replacing) rocks everywhere I’ve been to see what I might find. I even went back to my lucky rock from last year wondering if I might uncover the same resident. (I didn’t.) But I did find the fellow you see above at a very different site.

I flipped this rock near the overflow outlet drain below the dam. #1 Son and I were gathering rocks to throw into the bottomless pit of water that has formed just below the drain pipe and I yanked up the rock above. It gave way with a slurping sound, and below it was coiled the small snake you see.

The snake was annoyed at my rude intrusion and quickly slipped into the tall grass nearby. In the moments I had to try to identify the snake (and you’re seeing the critter’s belly in this photo), I managed to see the characteristic band of yellow behind its head suggesting to me it’s a ringneck snake. (Ringnecks are also known for their yellow or orange bellies.)

I’d found one of these at the other end of my woods where it is much drier, but that was on a visit after it had been raining for days and the water was flowing. It turns out, ringneck snakes prefer moist woodlands, so both sightings have made sense.

For a collection of links to this year’s many Rock-Flipping posts (including, yes, an Elvis sighting), go to Dave’s blog here. And you can see lots of great photos of the things that lurk in the dark under rocks at the Flickr site here.

Missouri calendar:

  • Caspian terns migrate in flocks across Missouri, feed in wetlands.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Manual Lisa, fur trader, explorer, fortune hunter, government agent, and backwoods aristocrat, who based his empire in Missouri, was born on this date in 1772.
  • Cardinal Mark McGwire hits his record-breaking sixty-second home run at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 1998.

Back to the earth

Friday, September 5th, 2008

One fine day at Roundrock, as we were sitting in the comfy chairs over by our campsite, Libby commented on the cone of dirt on the ground at our feet. I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting, so I just assumed it was the chat pile of some industrious ants and then went back into my stuporous bliss.

Some time later, when we rose and thought it was time to hike back to the lake and have a swim, I finally saw what she was talking about. It sure didn’t look like dirt. It looked more like sawdust, just piled there out in the middle of the trail.

There were actually several of these lined up near each other. There were some oak branches far overhead, but it didn’t seem possible that wood dust could fall from such a height into such a compact pile. Libby used a small stick to break apart one of the piles, thinking it might contain something interesting. It didn’t. The sawdust pile seemed to be one of those mysteries in the forest.

But this mystery has a mundane explanation. As we were gathering ourselves to depart, I remember that a limb had fallen across the path in this spot. I had thrown it into the forest before we sat down and fell in our stupors. Something had been boring into the branch as it sat on the ground, and I had uncovered the sawdust piles when I removed the branch.

Simply explanation. I’m glad I didn’t come up with some exotic explanation instead.

Missouri calendar:

  • Freshwater jellyfish may be abundant in reservoirs.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Constructions began on this date in 1808 on Fort Osage, sitting on a bluff over the Missouri River north of where Kansas City would eventually grow.
  • Outlaw Jesse James was born on the family farm in Clay County, Missouri on this date in 1847.


Thursday, September 4th, 2008

The field north of Roundrock is easily more than a hundred acres. This year my neighbor has grown maize there. The stalks are yellowing and papery, but the cobs haven’t been harvested yet. I don’t know about these things, and maybe it’s too soon for harvesting.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t being taken though.

When Libby and I made our walk to the northeast corner on a recent visit (to find the source of the mysterious sound that continue to come from that direction, which we failed to do) part of our hike was along the fence that separates the maize field from our woods. And about ever ten feet along there, we saw what you see in the photo above. Some forest critter is stripping cobs from the stalks and eating them.

I don’t suppose that is surprising, and I suppose the farmer must tolerate some amount of that, but why is the critter bringing the cobs onto my land to eat? The empty cobs were lined up neatly all along my side of the fence. It looked as though the critters knew that the farmer couldn’t come after them if they just crossed the property line.

I don’t want to be abetting vandals and thieves but I don’t know how to stop them, especially if they wear black masks as I suspect these vandals and thieves are.

Missouri calendar:

  • Jewelweed seedpods explode when touched.

Today in Missouri history:

  • A future Missouri senator, Thomas Hart Benton, and a future U.S. president, Andrew Jackson waged a shootout in a crowded hotel hallway on this date in 1813. Had either man’s aim been better, American history might have been much different.

There are no spider webs at Roundrock

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

There are no spider webs at Roundrock. The reason I can say with emphatic assurance that THERE ARE NO SPIDER WEBS AT ROUNDROCK is because I have removed all of them.

With my face!

In recent walks in the woods, Libby has graciously let me take the lead, going wherever I wished to go. She would follow my steps exactly. I think I was being used.

Between the deadfall and the thickets of trees and scrub, there are often only a few obvious avenues through the trees. I presume the deer use these, but on second though, perhaps not. If they did, why would there be so many spider webs stretching across them to wrap around my face? No, the forest animals (and Libby) let me do the clearing work.

Of course I can hear you saying right now that I need only carry a stick and wave it before me to meet with the webs before I do. Yeah, that works about one-third of the time. Perhaps because it works so well, I get complacent. Because I go for a while without taking a web in the face, I think that this part of the forest must be web free. So the stick hand falls to my side . . . until the next web across the face. And let me tell you, carrying the pole saw in this way is no picnic.

So I walk into spider webs and accumulate the webbing on my head, but at least I know I have cleared one path through the trees. (Until the webs are rebuilt the next day.)

And that, my friends, is why there are no spider webs at Roundrock.

Missouri calendar:

  • Peak of fall shorebird migration continues through mid-month.

Today in Missouri history:

  • On this date in 1850, poet Eugene Field was born in St. Louis.