Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of outdoor Missouri. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.
Q. I thought I saw a trumpeter swan. I later learned it was a mute swan. Can you help me understand the differences between these two species?
A. Three species of swan — the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), tundra swan (Cynus columbianus), and mute swan (Cygnus olor) — can be seen in Missouri.
To tell the difference, look at the beak. Mute swans have orange bills with prominent black knobs on their foreheads, while trumpeter and tundra swans have nearly all black bills.
Trumpeter swans hold their heads aloft while swimming, while mutes generally hold their necks curved gracefully, with their beaks pointed downward.
The differences between trumpeter and tundra swans are less obvious, but not difficult to identify. Trumpeter swans are larger than tundra swans, if seen together, and tundra swans’ bills usually show a yellow spot at the base.
Trumpeter swans migrate to Missouri from northern states as open water freezes. Tundra swans are rare and seen only occasionally while passing through in the winter. Mute swans were introduced from Eurasia and now breed in the wild.
Q. Last June, all the leaves on some of my oak trees dropped quickly and the trees died. How can I save the rest of my oak trees?
A. This sounds like a case of oak wilt, one of Missouri’s most destructive tree diseases.
In red oaks, the first symptom of oak wilt is usually the browning and wilting of leaves in the upper crown in early summer. Rapid defoliation can occur within two to six weeks of initial infection, and death occurs within a year. While a single tree may be affected initially, symptoms may occur in adjacent trees the following year. Once an infected tree shows symptoms, it cannot be saved. But treatments can help protect nearby healthy oaks.
A fungus that spreads when sap-feeding beetles carry spores to fresh wounds during the early part of the growing season causes the disease. Once established in a tree, the fungus can move via root grafts connecting nearby oaks.
To prevent the spread of oak wilt, forest health experts ask landowners to avoid pruning trees from mid-March through June. Instead, try to trim trees during winter dormancy.
Oaks become more susceptible to wilt a few weeks before bud break. Fresh wounds at this time attract insects that spread the disease. If pruning is absolutely necessary during this window of time, the immediate use of wound dressing — available at garden centers — is a must. These wound dressings are not recommended to protect tree wounds at other times.
For more information, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3i.
Q. Do all snakes hatch from eggs?
A. No, but most do. About 70 percent of the world’s snakes lay soft, leathery eggs.
The remaining species give birth to live young. Nurtured within the mother’s body, the embryo is often enclosed in a clear, thin membrane with a yolk sac for nutrition. Scientists are still in the process of learning more about the physiology of reptile reproduction via live birth.
About half of Missouri’s snakes — including species such as ratsnakes, kingsnakes, and racers — lay eggs. The remaining species bear young that emerge active and fully developed. This group includes watersnakes, gartersnakes, and all venomous snakes.
Typically, egg-laying snakes live in climates where warm weather helps incubate the eggs. Many live-birthing snakes reside in colder or arid locales where this adaptation helps protect the young until they are born. However, exceptions always exist in the natural world.
As a teenager growing up on the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec rivers, I vividly remember the first time I went snagging for paddlefish or “spoonbill.”
A common misconception amongst some anglers is that snagging is limited to impoundments, but most snagging is done on Missouri’s popular river systems. Snagging is an art that can be difficult to master, but as a 17-year-old, I remember how quickly I learned the skill. All the casting and reeling practice paid off when I hooked into a 38-inch spoonbill. The fight and power that 3-foot paddlefish had amazed me! This was really something to appreciate, as it took nearly 15 minutes to haul in the fish.
Paddlefish season is designed around their spawning season, which is typically from March to the end of April. The best snagging conditions occur when water temperatures reach 50 to 55 degrees and there is an increase in water flow and a rise in the river. For successful snagging, find a deep hole where the fish stage.
When snagging from a boat, remember to wear your personal floatation device. It is important to know the rules and regulations, which can be found in 3 CSR 10-6.525 of the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
Kyle Dunda is the conservation agent for Jefferson County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
Henbit is a branching, soft, weedy plant with square stems. This nonnative weed blooms from February–November, and can be found statewide, but is most common south of the Missouri River. Its flowers are small, bright lavender with red spots, and have an unpleasant odor. Except for the leaves right beneath the flower clusters, all leaves are rounded, scalloped, and close to the ground. Henbit can grow up to 10 inches tall. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees drink nectar from these early-blooming flowers, and some species of birds consume the minute seeds. The plants can play a role in binding soils that are otherwise bare and prone to erosion. —photograph by Jim Rathert
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler