Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of outdoor Missouri. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.
Q. What is this insect?
A. It’s a candy-striped leafhopper (Graphocephala sp.). These insects sport a bold color palette infrequently seen in nature. They are members of the order Hemiptera, a group that includes thousands of species of cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, shield bugs, and others. Leafhoppers feed on the foliage of many kinds of plants by piercing the plants’ cells and sucking out the contents. These agile insects can move forward, backward, and sideways, like a crab. When threatened, leafhoppers cock their legs and leap — sometimes 40 times their body length — so viewing them can be challenging.
Q. While fishing the lower parts of Truman Lake during the summer, I often see large paddlefish jump completely out of the water. Why do they do this?
A. According to Fisheries Program Specialist Andrew Branson, scientists have offered several theories to explain why paddlefish jump from the water. Some researchers think they jump to rid parasites from their bodies. Others believe that paddlefish appear to jump out of the water when they rise to feed on zooplankton, which school near the water’s surface. Yet another theory is that weak electrical impulses from boats can disorient the fish, causing them to jump.
Q. Is this snake eating another snake?
A.Yes. In this photo, a young speckled kingsnake is eating an adult midland brownsnake. Speckled kingsnakes — which kill their prey by constricting it — dine on rodents, bird eggs, small birds, lizards, and other snakes, including venomous ones. They are immune to the venom of Missouri’s pit vipers. Generally speaking, a snake’s lower jaws are loosely joined to the skull and its upper jaws are movable. A snake usually grasps its prey by the head and engulfs it by advancing first one side of the jaw and then the other. Their teeth — sharp and curved toward the rear of the mouth — help them hold their victims firmly, preventing escape. In this photograph, the speckled king snake will use its own spine, ribs, and muscles to force its prey’s spine and body to bend into waves and compress like an accordion so it can be swallowed. It will then go off to a hiding place to digest its dinner away from predators and other threats.
Many sportsmen and women in Missouri wait for the month of September with great anticipation. Most of them will have Sept. 15 circled on their calendars. For anglers, it signifies the opening day of gigging season for nongame fish on Missouri’s rivers and streams.
For gigging enthusiasts, ample opportunities abound for successful outings. We are fortunate to live in a state where ideal stream conditions often prove to be suitable for an exciting and memorable gigging experience.
However, Missouri waters should be respected, and not taken lightly. I cannot stress enough the importance of making safety your number one priority throughout your gigging activity, from planning your trip to returning home safely afterward.
Unfortunately, some years we experience accidents associated with gigging. Sadly, most of these incidents are boating accidents that can be avoided by simply checking and updating your equipment, wearing life jackets, and putting a seasoned boat driver in charge.
For more information on gigging seasons and limits, visit on.mo.gov/1MpTZqg. Life is precious, so wear a life jacket. It could just save your life. Good luck and see you out there!
Patrice Reese is the conservation agent for Crawford County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
The largest crayfish in Missouri, this colorful crayfish is characterized by long, slender, blue-green pincers that are studded with prominent yellowish knobs. The favored habitat is moderately deep pools along bluffs where rock slabs and large rubble provide crevices for hiding during the daylight hours. At dusk, it emerges to forage over the stream bottom. This species is omnivorous and does not hesitate to capture and consume other crayfish if the opportunity arises. The long-pincered crayfish occurs only in the White River basin of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Substantial populations of this species also occur in Table Rock Lake.
—photograph by Chris Lukhaup
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