Q: On a recent rainy night, I observed a large number of salamanders crossing a rural highway. Can you explain their behavior?
A: Like other amphibians, many salamanders are dependent on water for the reproductive stage of their life cycle. In the Missouri Ozarks, several salamander species make massive migrations to wetlands to reproduce. For example, ringed salamanders make their way to fishless ponds for breeding, usually between September and early November. This secretive forest species spends much of the year under logs or rocks, or in burrows made by other animals. The salamanders move across country to breeding ponds, but paved roadways represent barriers to their fall migration, except during nights with heavy rain when they use swimming movements to cross the road. Hundreds of individuals can move toward a single breeding pond. Courtship, mating and egg-laying take place at the pond, with fertilized egg masses attached to submerged vegetation or the pond bottom. It’s a fascinating natural drama that plays out without much notice from humans.
Q: I found an odd-looking structure on sandy soil on my property—a small, papery sphere resting on a star-shaped base. Do you know what that is?
A: It sounds like you found a type of fungus called an earthstar, which is related to puffballs. It starts out as two leathery spheres, one inside of the other. The outer sphere splits and peels back into the star-shaped base. The inner sphere, or spore sac, is where the fungal spores develop. At maturity, the spores exit through a hole in the top of the sac, like puffs of smoke, and disperse to grow into new fungi. The leathery fungal tissue eventually dries into a grayish-white, papery texture. There are several related species that occur in Missouri, differing slightly in their structure.
Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions or complaints concerning Department of Conservation programs. Write him at PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, call him at 573-522-4115, ext. 3848, or email him at Ombudsman@mdc.mo.gov.
Our state constitution charges the Conservation Department with “The control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the bird, fish, game, forestry and all wildlife resources of the state.” Conservation agents do their job through a combination of enforcing Wildlife Code regulations and educating the public about the importance of following those regulations. It is a daunting task for a conservation agent to effectively cover an entire county. Fortunately, we do not have to do it alone. We rely on help from the citizens of Missouri.
Hunting and fishing are activities that come with a great deal of responsibility. One of those responsibilities is to follow the rules that govern those outdoor pursuits. We encourage outdoors enthusiasts to not only follow the rules, but also to not tolerate others who break the law.
Conservation agents, no matter how many hours they work, are rarely in the right place at the right time to catch many of the Wildlife
Code violators. Our best cases almost always start with a phone call from a concerned citizen. The public is the best tool that an agent has to stay informed. It takes all of us working together to have a positive impact on Missouri’s wildlife resources. Please get involved. Call your local conservation agent or the Operation Game Thief Hotline (1-800-392-1111), if you observe a violation.
Jeff Scott is the conservation agent for Bollinger County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
Early information from a study of Missouri’s growing elk herd shows that the big animals are adapting to their new home in the eastern Ozarks. Every elk brought to Missouri from Kentucky is fitted with a GPS collar. When possible, calves born here also are fitted with collars that periodically transmit their location to a database. The information reveals what habitats the elk use at different times of day and in different seasons. The ultimate goals are to learn how to help elk prosper, minimize the potential for conflict with people, and help determine when carefully regulated hunting is appropriate to keep the elk herd within the carrying capacity of the 221,000-acre Elk Restoration Zone.
The GPS collars have captured more than 55,000 locations for elk since 2011. Locations are clustered around small home ranges near release sites. Food plots and other open areas in the restoration zone are most attractive to the elk.
In the summer, when food normally is most plentiful, cows typically spend about half of their time in areas of less than a square mile. Bull elks have slightly larger home ranges than cows, and both range more widely in the winter.
The elk sometimes are seen around low-traffic gravel roads at Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) but avoid paved roads. Elk moved only short distances to avoid deer hunters in the fall and returned to their accustomed haunts when hunters left. Examination of elk droppings showed average diet quality and moderate levels of stress hormones except for a brief period during the managed youth deer hunt at Peck Ranch CA.
Only a tiny fraction of the recorded locations were outside the designated restoration zone. Most of those were on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service or other groups that welcome the elk.
Like other wildlife, Missouri’s elk suffered some setbacks during the summer’s extreme heat and drought. Several elk that arrived in Missouri this year or were born to this year’s elk cohort died in July. The group of elk brought to Missouri in 2011 is doing fine in spite of drought and heat. As of mid-August, more than 70 elk still were in the restoration zone.
MDC, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri Veterinary Services are working to learn why the elk died. Stress from relocation, extreme heat and drought appear to be contributing factors.
Autumn is an excellent time to try to catch a glimpse of elk at Peck Ranch CA. Some of the area’s gravel roads are accessible only to vehicles with high ground clearance and may be impassable after heavy rainfall. If you are lucky enough to see elk, take care not to disturb them. The Wildlife Code of Missouri prohibits disturbing, pursuing or enticing elk.
Directions to Peck Ranch CA and area maps are available through the Conservation Area Atlas database at mdc.mo.gov/node/15985. Area maps and additional elk information are also available at the Peck Ranch CA office.
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