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From Missouri Conservationist: Jan 2016

What Is It?

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

What Is It 01-01-2016


Q. This bald-faced hornet’s nest — about the size of a soccer ball — is in our front yard. My grandson wants to take it to school. A friend of mine said when he was a boy, his brother took one to school. When it warmed up, it was full of angry hornets. Is it safe to bring a nest like this one indoors?

A.Yes, but it is a good idea to wait until after a hard frost to collect this specimen.

Bald-faced hornets aren’t actually true hornets at all. They are aerial yellow jackets, members of the genus Dolichovespula, a group of wasps that build round, papery nests attached to tree branches, shrubs, and even utility poles. Made from a paste of wood fiber and saliva, these nests typically have several layers of comb inside them, surrounded by an outer papery envelope.

The easiest way to collect a nest is to wait until after the wasps have abandoned it in the fall, typically after the first freeze, but before inclement weather degrades it. A nest collected late in the year typically has only a few insects left. However, people who prefer to be cautious may want to cover it in plastic and freeze it a few days.

It’s not necessary to preserve the nest with varnish. Once suspended in a dry location free from rough handling, it will last almost indefinitely.

Although these papery hives are frequently included in natural history displays, it should be noted it is not permissible to collect bald-faced hornet nests from Missouri Department of Conservation areas.

Q. I’m interested in viewing minks in the wild. Where is the best place to look?

Because minks are nocturnal, it takes patience and sharp eyesight to catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. They display a variety of fascinating behaviors, so it’s worth the effort.

A. Minks are scarce in Missouri. They occur statewide, but are most common along Mississippi bottomland drainage canals. Permanent water is a basic requirement for mink, which dwell along the banks of streams, ponds, and rivers, often in or near wooded areas.

They’ve been known to playfully slide down snowy slopes on their bellies. They are often aggressive, attacking animals larger than themselves.

Dawn and dusk are the best times to seek them out.

Q. How do gray tree frogs survive the winter?

A. In Missouri gray tree frogs are normally active between April and October. As cooler temperatures arrive, these amphibians — Missouri’s most-common tree frog species — burrow into loose soil under leaf litter for winter dormancy. However, a gray tree frog’s liver produces a type of blood antifreeze (plasma glycerol or glucose) that prevents damage to their tissue, so they don’t have to rest below the frost line.

  • Address: PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180
  • Phone: 573-522-4115, ext. 3848 Email: AskMDC@mdc.mo.gov

cartoon 01-2016

Agent Notes

Reporting Wildlife Crimes

Citizens who report wildlife violations to the Missouri Department of Conservation really aid in the protection of the state’s resources. A community willing to report these crimes can make a huge difference in the quality of Missouri’s fish, forest, and wildlife resources over time.

Reporting wildlife crimes is as simple as making a phone call. Violations can be reported through Operation Game Thief, a hotline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By dialing 1-800-392-1111, citizens can file a report and choose to remain anonymous. Callers also can be considered for a reward. You can also contact your local conservation agent to report suspicious activity. Phone numbers are listed by county under “local contacts” on the Department’s website, mdc.mo.gov.

To make reporting violations easier, enter the Operation Game Thief and your local conservation agent’s numbers into your cell phone. Violations reported quickly increase the odds of successfully prosecuting the perpetrator.

Together, we can conserve our outdoor resources for generations to come.

Tyler Harding is the conservation agent for St. Francois County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

What Is It?

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Nymphalis antiopa
What Is It 02-01-2016Mourning cloak butterflies are most frequently seen in woods. They are attracted to tree sap, decaying fruit, and moist places, only rarely visiting flowers. They are usually seen in late August to October and in April and May, but adults may appear on warm winter days. They need a body temperature of about 65 degrees to be able to fly. Most butterflies bask in sunlight to raise their body temperature, but mourning cloaks can truly shiver, rapidly contracting muscles with only minimal wing movement. This can raise their temperature 15–20 degrees in just minutes.

Adult mourning cloaks have long lifespans for butterflies, often surviving for 10 months. Adults overwinter, then mate in spring. Eggs are laid in rings on twigs of host plants, in groups of up to 200 or more. The larvae live and feed communally in a web. They pupate and emerge as adults in midsummer, feed for a time, then go dormant until fall, when they feed again before winter hibernation. They overwinter beneath loose bark and other tree cavities. The camouflaged undersides of their wings help them evade predators. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong

This Issue's Staff

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