Missouri is on the southeastern edge of this venomous snake’s North American distribution. Voles and deer mice make up 90 percent of adult massasaugas’ diet. Although not aggressive, they will bite if disturbed. Female massasaugas bear four to 10 live young every other year in August or September. Adults are light to dark gray or grayish brown, with two dark stripes edged in white along each side of the head. They can grow up to 30 inches long, but most are much smaller. Massasaugas spend much of their time in crayfish burrows and are most often seen basking in the sun atop clumps of grass or in bushes in or near marshes or moist prairies in the flood plains of large rivers. Small, scattered massasauga populations have been documented in northern Missouri. If you see what you think is a massasauga, take a clear photograph of it and call your regional Conservation Department office.
For such tiny creatures, western chorus frogs pack a powerful vocal punch. Measuring no more than 1.5 inches long, they nevertheless form choirs that fill the air. They are the first frogs to become active across most of Missouri, with males starting to sing when the surrounding air temperature is as low as 35 degrees. Also amazing considering their tiny size, females lay as many as 1,500 eggs each spring.
Eastern and Ozark hellbenders have declined an average of 77 percent since the 1970s. Spurred by this alarming trend, the Conservation Department and numerous partners are moving on several fronts to understand and stop the decline. Besides continuing to check hellbender numbers in various streams, researchers are exploring the roles of the amphibian Chytrid fungus, hormone and heavy metal pollution, hellbenders’ interaction with native and nonnative fish and physical deformities afflicting the giant salamanders. Biologists are working to perfect captive-rearing techniques, understand hellbender genetics and learn how well captive-reared hellbenders survive in the wild. If you see a hellbender in the wild, report it to Jeff Briggler, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, (573) 751-4115, ext. 3201.
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