Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.
Q. In an area of dry soil in my yard, I have seen a few large, hairy, rusty-red-colored ants. Should I be concerned about them?
A. I expect that you are seeing an insect called the red velvet ant (sometimes also called a “cow killer”). It’s not actually an ant but the wingless female of a species of solitary, as opposed to social, wasp (Dasymutilla occidentalis). The males have wings and fly rather than crawl on the ground. Both sexes eat nectar from plants. The females enter bumblebee nests in the ground and lay their eggs on the bees’ larvae. After hatching, the velvet ant larva feed on the bumblebee larva, so they are parasites of bumblebees.
They are not aggressive, and they don’t kill cows, but you shouldn’t try to handle velvet ants because they can inflict a painful sting. I would advise against anyone walking barefoot in the area where the velvet ants have been observed. As long as you don’t handle them or step on them barefooted, you should have no problems from them. The adults are observed mostly during the warm, summer months.
Q. Is it possible that I saw a roadrunner in Springfield? It surely looked like one.
A. Yes, we receive a few reports of roadrunners in Springfield most years. The species in Missouri is the greater roadrunner, and it is found in the southwestern quarter of the state. Although the heart of their range is in the southwestern U.S., the species has been documented in Missouri since 1956. Roadrunners prefer areas with open forest or glade habitats such as are common in Barry, Stone, Taney, Ozark, and Douglas counties. While uncommon in central Missouri, roadrunners have been observed in Jefferson City on several occasions in recent years. They eat a variety of insects, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents, bats, and young rabbits. Like some hawks, roadrunners have learned that bird-feeding stations are good sites to find small birds to eat.
Q. I saw something hovering in front of the blooming flowers in my yard. At first I thought it was a hummingbird, but it was not. Can you tell me what it may have been?
A. There are several species of moths called sphinx moths or hawk moths that will hover in front of flowers and use their long tongues to sip nectar. The hummingbird clearwing moth has transparent sections of its wings and may remind you of a bee but the body shape is somewhat different. It visits a variety of flowers during the day. Missouri has many species of sphinx moths that are larger, thick-bodied moths that do not have clear wings. Although some species will feed during the day, others feed at night and are usually observed just after sundown, while there is just enough light to see them hovering at night-blooming flowers, such as petunias and evening primroses. The larval stage of one common Missouri moth, the five-spotted hawk moth, is the familiar tomato hornworm that can devour the foliage of tomato plants.
Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions, or complaints concerning the Conservation Department or conservation topics.
With summer winding down, thoughts turn to the fall hunting seasons.
The opening day of dove season on Sept. 1 marks the start of hunting for another year. Hunters all over the state will go afield to hunt these small, erratic-flying birds. But before you head to your favorite field, it is a good idea to head to the range.
According to data collected by the Conservation Department at conservation areas that manage fields for doves, the average hunter shoots five shells for every dove harvested. Spend a little more time at one of the Department’s shotgun ranges, and you could easily earn bragging rights.
A quick search of the Department Atlas, available from the home page at mdc.mo.gov, reveals 34 ranges that allow shotgun shooting around the state. Some of these ranges are managed by the Department and some are managed cooperatively with other organizations. There may be a range fee associated with certain staffed locations. Unstaffed ranges are free. Unstaffed ranges require shooters to bring their own equipment and targets. All ranges require shooters to remove their own trash, including empty shot shells. Alcohol is not allowed on any ranges or in the adjoining parking lots.
We are fortunate to have so many shooting opportunities in Missouri. Following the rules and keeping these ranges clean will ensure these opportunities remain. Safety should be everyone’s top priority. Whether preparing for doves or just enjoying a day of shooting, head to the range, sharpen your skills, and earn the right to brag this season.
Aaron Post is the conservation agent for Platte County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
This insect is easily identified by the coglike “wheel” on its back. As with other members of the assassin bug family, the wheel bug has a clawlike beak with three segments that can fold into a groove beneath the insect’s body. Adult wheel bugs are usually gray or brownish; the immature nymphs are red with black legs, and can look rather spiderlike. Only the adults possess the crest or wheel-like structure on the back. Wheel bugs are North America’s largest assassin bug, growing up to 1½ inches in length. They prowl around flowers, gardens, trees, and grassy areas, hunting other insects. Most people consider them beneficial, as they help control many insect pests, including caterpillars. A wheel bug bites its prey, delivering a subduing venom that causes the prey insect’s tissues to liquify. Assassin bugs are top predators in the world of insects. But in the world of vertebrates, they are prey, and their jagged body armor is one way they avoid being eaten. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong
Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Managing Editor - vacant
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler