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From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2014

What Is It?

Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month's natural wonder.

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Ask The Ombudsman

Q. Are wild rabbits safe to eat at the start of the rabbit season? My grandpa would not allow us grandchildren to hunt rabbits until a hard frost had occurred. He told us they had “wolves” and were not safe to eat until after a hard frost.

A. The term “wolves” is used for cutaneous warbles, which are the larvae of a certain group of flies in the genus Cuterebra, called botflies. The flies lay their eggs on rabbits, squirrels, and other mammals and, upon hatching, the larvae burrow into the skin. The larvae are most abundant in late summer and fall, so early season rabbit hunters may encounter rabbits with warbles. It is usually not a serious health concern for the rabbits, and the warbles do not impair the edibility of the meat. The lesions caused by the larvae are usually restricted to the skin and connective tissue. The lesions may look bad, and some hunters will discard such a rabbit, but it is usually not necessary to do so. The prevalence of warbles will decrease as cold weather arrives because the adult flies will not be around to lay eggs. The greater threat from rabbits is the bacterial disease tularemia. Regardless of the season, we recommend that hunters wear gloves while dressing rabbits, cook the meat thoroughly, and be aware of symptoms of tularemia (cdc.gov/tularemia).

Q. I’ve noticed a lot of leafy twigs on the ground under my pecan tree recently. They seem to have been cleanly cut part of the way to the center of the twig and then broken off. Can you tell me what is causing the damage?

A. Leafy twigs on the ground under trees can result from several causes, but what you described sounds like the work of a beetle (Oncideres cingulata) called a twig girdler. A female beetle will chew a groove all the way around a small twig but not all of the way to the center. Then she lays several eggs in the twig beyond the groove. The twig, with the eggs inside, falls to the ground when the wind breaks the remaining center of the cut section, or it falls under its own weight after drying. The eggs hatch into larvae that will live and feed in the broken twig, spend the winter there, and continue to develop until the following summer when the adult beetles emerge to start the cycle again. The damage to trees is usually minimal. You can reduce future populations of the beetle by destroying the fallen twigs.

Q. Why do leaves change color in the fall?

A. Tree leaves have cells that create food for the tree. Those cells use chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color. Through photosynthesis, chlorophyll absorbs energy from the sun to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and starches — food for the tree. There also are hidden yellow and orange colors in the leaves, called carotenoids. When shorter fall days and cooler fall nights cause chlorophyll to break down, the carotenoids start showing. Red and purple colors are newly created in the fall when sugars are made during warm days, then trapped in leaves during cool nights. The trapped sugars change chemically into red and purple anthocyanins. Learn more at mdc.mo.gov/node/4566.

Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions, or complaints concerning the Conservation Department or conservation topics. Address: PO Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102-0180. Phone: 573-522-4115, ext. 3848. Email: Ombudsman@mdc.mo.gov

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Agent Notes

Be Bear Aware This Fall

Many folks may not think about encountering a bear on their fall outings, but black bears are becoming more abundant in Missouri.

The Department of Conservation began a black bear study in 2010 to better understand these native Missouri mammals. To date, 88 bears have been trapped, tagged, collared, and measured. We have learned that there are approximately 300 bears in Missouri, and they usually head into their dens between mid-November to mid-December.

We encourage people to be bear aware. Some people reporting bears are excited to get a glimpse of one, while others seem nervous. Black bears are typically docile and rarely show signs of aggression. They can usually be scared away easily.

Bears are adaptable and intelligent. They may begin to associate human homes or camps with food. People living or camping near the woods are encouraged to keep food in sealed containers. Common bear attractants left out by humans are bird feeders, pet food, and garbage. Most nuisance bear problems can be resolved by eliminating these sources of food.

Black bears are protected in Missouri. We encourage everyone to help with bear management by reporting bear sightings. This helps determine areas with more bear activity. To learn more about bears or to report sightings, visit our bear page at mdc.mo.gov/node/973.Mark Henry is the conservation agent for Douglas County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

What Is It?

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Pyrrharctia isabella

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Called “woolly bears” or “woolly worms,” these caterpillars are the larvae of Isabella tiger moths. They are usually black on the ends of the body and rusty red or brownish in the middle. Woolly bears graze on a wide variety of vegetation, including maple and elm trees, grasses, sunflowers, clovers, and more. In autumn, they are commonly seen crossing roads as they search for sheltered places to overwinter. Isabella tiger moth caterpillars have a remarkable capability to withstand freezing temperatures. They pupate within cocoons made from their hairs and emerge as adults in the spring. Folklore has long maintained that the varying widths of the caterpillar’s bands are useful for predicting the harshness of the next winter, adding to this animal’s mystique. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong

This Issue's Staff

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