Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month's natural wonder.
Q: I found this strange worm in my parents’ driveway after a night of rain. It is very thin and nearly twice as long as a night crawler. Can you identify it?
A. It sounds like a horsehair worm, sometimes called a hairworm or Gordian worm. They are related to nematodes and they do resemble living hairs, lacking a head or mouth.
The worms can weave their bodies like a snake and tie themselves into knots. As adults they do not feed, but spend their time in running or standing water or on damp soil where they mate and lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larval forms can enter a variety of hosts as parasites, including beetles, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, centipedes, and millipedes. When full grown, they exit the host near water to start the cycle over. Horsehair worms do not injure humans or plants but do help control populations of their host species. One of the strangest encounters is to kill a host insect and see the parasitic horsehair worm come weaving its way out of the body of its dead host.
Q: Are the cedar trees that we have in our state native to the United States? I have always believed that they were not.
A: We have two native cedars in Missouri. Ashe’s juniper is mostly restricted to a few counties of southwest Missouri along the White River drainage system. Eastern red cedar is found throughout Missouri and has become very common and weedy. You were probably thinking of eastern red cedar as nonnative due to its invasive nature, but it is native here. We don’t have any nonnative, invasive cedars in the state.
Eastern red cedar is much more abundant in Missouri today than it was in the past. Prior to European settlement, wildfires were common on the Missouri landscape. Cedars are easily killed by fire until they reach a height where the growing tip is not burned. Fires kept cedars restricted to areas where fires couldn’t reach them, such as steep, broken, rocky areas of bluffs and cliffs along Ozark rivers. The older cedars in Missouri today (many over 300 years old) are found mostly along our Ozark river bluffs. Because of the fire suppression in the past two centuries, eastern red cedar has proliferated, invading old fields, pastures, and other open areas. Birds eat the fleshy female cones (often called berries) and spread the seeds around the landscape.
Q: While walking on our property, my two young daughters found the remains of a terrapin. They wanted to take it home and paint it for a craft project. I wondered if it is legal to keep the turtle shell for such a project.
A: The term terrapin is usually used as another common name of one of our two box turtle species—the three-toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle. It is legal for Missouri residents to have up to five specimens of box turtle shells. It is prohibited to buy or sell them or to transport them from Missouri. The purpose of such regulation is to avoid any commerce in animal parts that might create an incentive for illegal harvest of wildlife.
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.
Missouri statute defines a feral hog as any hog that is not conspicuously marked by ear tags or notches and that is roaming on public or private land. Feral hogs are bad for Missouri. They can carry as many as 32 diseases and many of those can cross into other wild or domestic animals. Some diseases, including swine brucellosis, can even infect compete directly with wildlife species such as deer and turkey for acorns. They will also consume every turkey egg in any nest they come across, and have been known to kill and eat fawns. Feral hogs can start reproducing in their first year and may have two to three litters of six to eight pigs. An area that has just 50 sows could easily see that population grow by 325 hogs in a single year.
The Conservation Department continues to work toward eradication of this invasive species that is threatening our wildlife, habitat, and agricultural crops. In Missouri, it is illegal to release hogs on public or private land that is not adequately fenced to contain them. Each hog released represents a separate offense. Multiple convictions for releasing hogs can lead to felony charges, with fines of up to $5,000 and an additional $1,000 per hog administrative penalty through the Department of Agriculture. Missourians are encouraged to report anyone suspected of releasing hogs through the Operation Game Thief Hotline, 1–800–392–1111.
Brad Hadley is the conservation agent in Shannon County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
Eastern Cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus On Page 1 and left is an eastern cottontail that can be found statewide. While they may venture into the open, cottontails usually don’t go far from brushy or dense, weedy cover. The cottontail’s usual home is a resting place or form concealed in a dense clump of grass, under a brush pile, or in a thicket. Providing good habitat is the key to increasing cottontail populations. Rabbits feed almost entirely on plants. During heavy snow cover, they eat buds, twigs, bark, and sprouts of shrubs, vines, and trees to survive. Breeding season is from mid-February through September. Many wild carnivores feed on cottontails. By converting plant food into animal matter, rabbits constitute an important link in the food chain of life. —Noppadol Paothong
Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler