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From Missouri Conservationist: Mar 2015

What Is It?

What is it 01 03-2015

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


Q. We came across this strange pattern inside a tree we cut down. The tree was about 5–6 inches across, and the pattern was about 2–4 feet above the ground. I don’t know what type of tree it was. We kept a slice because we thought it was pretty. What made the pattern?

A. That is most likely bird damage from one or two years ago made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker. This is a type of woodpecker that often pecks small, even, and closely spaced holes in trees to extract the sweet sap. Sapsuckers eat the inner bark, drink the sap, and catch insects such as ants that are attracted to the sap. Although sapsuckers defend their sap wells, several other animals, such as squirrels, other birds, and insects, take advantage of the sap pooled in the holes. Hummingbirds may find their first meals of the season at sapsucker holes, which are usually available before flower nectar. The holes can damage trees and cause internal decay. A few more years of growth and the pattern would have merged into one large discoloration and would not have been visible unless you were really looking for it. Learn more about sapsuckers through our online Field Guide at mdc.mo.gov/node/20097.

Q. What are the white-flowering trees I see blooming in the woods in March? They are not dogwoods.

A. They are most likely a native species called serviceberry. This shrub or small tree typically grows in open, rocky woods and bluffs, usually on well-drained slopes. It is one of the first of Missouri’s woody plants to bloom in spring, with showy white flowers that appear before the leaves. In autumn, the leaves turn gold and orange, often with some red. The bark is smooth and gray on younger trees but develops some long grooves as it ages. Serviceberry is in the rose family and is therefore related to apples and plums. The fruit of the serviceberry is edible and somewhat resembles small apples that turn from green to reddish-purple in June or July. It has a narrow, rounded crown that can reach about 40 feet high with a spread of about 35 feet. The serviceberry is increasingly used in landscaping for its showy white flowers, attractive summer foliage, autumn color, and red fruit. At least 35 species of birds eat the berries, and at least a dozen types of mammals eat the berries or browse the twigs and foliage. Serviceberries bloom for only a few weeks, but as early bloomers, they provide nectar to bees and other insects just emerging from winter hibernation. Learn more at mdc.mo.gov/node/6249.

Q. On a walk around our pond during a recent warm spell, we saw a bunch of big tadpoles near the shore next to melting ice. Is this normal?

A. You probably saw bullfrog tadpoles. Bullfrogs are Missouri’s largest species of frog and the most aquatic. They are typically active from late March to October. Breeding happens mid-May to early July and females can lay more than 20,000 eggs, which hatch in only 4–5 days. But it takes the tadpoles up to about 14 months to transform into frogs, and adult size isn’t reached for another 2–3 years. The warm weather probably made the tadpoles active. The bullfrog is the official Missouri State Amphibian. Learn more at mdc.mo.gov/node/3961.

cartoon 03-2015

News & Events

A Recipe for Family Memories

We all have favorite childhood memories. Many of mine center on times spent hunting and fishing with family and friends. Now I have children of my own, and much of my free time is spent making memories with them in the outdoors. Helping to bag their first bird, seeing them nearly land the “big one,” or making our way to that secret mushroom hideaway have all proven to be great experiences that helped our family connect and refocus in the midst of a busy schedule.

Throughout Missouri, conservation agents are involved in hosting hundreds of outdoor clinics each year. With topics ranging from fishing and fly-tying to turkey hunting and outdoor cooking, something will be sure to capture you and your family’s interest. Other opportunities for great outdoor experiences include youth hunting seasons, Kids Fishing Dayand Free Fishing Days, and the Discover Nature Girls Camp.

Now is a great time to start planning your spring and summer schedule. For more information on these and other family friendly outdoor events, contact your local conservation agent or regional office (regional phone numbers on Page 3).

Spending time with your family and friends in the outdoors won’t soon be forgotten. After all, “The best thing about memories is making them.” (Anonymous)

Jade Wright is the conservation agent for Holt County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

What Is It?

Ondatra zibethicus What is it 02 03-2015
Muskrats are semiaquatic, living statewide in marshes, sloughs, streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. They dig homes in a stream or pond bank or build large houses out of vegetation in the shallow water. The nest, or den, is reached by means of a tunnel that usually opens under water. Muskrats breed from late winter to mid-September, with three peaks at the ends of March, April, and May. Pregnancy averages 28 days; usually a female produces two or three litters annually. The litters usually contain four to seven young, which are born blind and nearly helpless and naked. After a week they have coarse gray-brown fur. In another week, their eyes open and they start to swim and dive. At 3 to 4 weeks old they are weaned. Most breed for the first time in the following spring. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler