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From Missouri Conservationist: June 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 06-2016


Q. How can I tell the difference between northern and midland watersnakes?

 A. Northern watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) and midland watersnakes

 (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) are two closely related subspecies that can be difficult to differentiate. Although northern watersnakes can be found in almost every county in the upper two thirds of the state, they are gradually replaced by midland watersnakes the farther south you go.

 Because their color varies and darkens with age, correctly identifying northern and midland watersnakes can be tricky. However, knowing a few traits can help.

 A northern watersnake tends to be gray to brown with numerous dark brown bands along the first third of its body. The bands lose definition toward the tail, resembling blotches. Its dorsal cross bands are reddish brown, dark brown, or nearly black. The color of the belly varies, but generally is a combination of cream or yellow, marked by irregularly spaced half-moons.

 The midland watersnake is tan or reddish brown with similarly colored cross bands and blotches. Some are almost orange with brown markings. The belly is usually yellow with irregularly spaced orange, red, or brown markings.

 Watersnakes prefer aquatic habitats, such as creeks, rivers, sloughs, ponds, lakes, and swamps. Midland watersnakes particularly enjoy the clear, cool gravel bed creeks typical of the southern Missouri Ozarks.

 As with all harmless watersnakes native to Missouri, both northern and midland watersnakes are often misidentified as venomous western cottonmouths or copperheads and needlessly killed. The cottonmouth and copperhead are pit vipers, so they have distinct facial pits between the eyes and nostrils and diamond-shaped heads. In contrast, watersnakes have rounded heads and lack the facial pits of their venomous counterparts. Also, cottonmouths are not good climbers, while watersnakes bask in the sun, high on tree limbs.

 Q. What kind of salamander is this?

 A. This is a mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). Totally aquatic their entire lives, mudpuppies have slender brown to gray bodies and feathery pink or red gills fluttering from their necks. Unlike most other salamander species that lose their gills as they mature, mudpuppies retain their gills permanently.

 Mudpuppies live in permanent bodies of water, such as lakes, large creeks, and rivers, including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

 Although they live throughout the state — with the exception of northwestern and north central Missouri — they are not easy to find. They tend to remain hidden under rocks and logs until night when they can hunt for food. They eat almost any aquatic creature they can find, including crayfish, small mussels, small fish, worms, and insects.

 They are often mistaken for hellbenders. However, mudpuppies are much smaller in size, lack prominent folds of skin along their sides, and retain gills as adults.

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

cartoon 06-2016

Agent Notes

Get Out and Catch Those Cats

There is nothing better than being outdoors in the early summer. This is my favorite time of year. The air is warm, the birds are singing, frogs are croaking, and the best part is the catfish are biting.

Missouri offers incredible opportunities to fish for channel, blue, and flathead catfish. Whether you are a serious angler out for the monster cats or just want to spend a lazy day on the dock, bank, or boat, the options are endless. If you prefer fishing on the river, the mighty Mississippi is quite the experience. If you are like me and enjoy fishing impounded waters, visit one of the state’s many lakes and reservoirs, such as the Lake of the Ozarks, Bull Shoals, or Table Rock.

The Missouri Department of Conservation offers another popular option — stocked lakes. For example, August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area, located in the St. Louis Region, has more than 30 lakes, many stocked with channel catfish.

There are many methods used for catching catfish. I am a pole-and-line gal myself, but that is just the beginning. Trotline, throw line, limb, bank, and jug lines are all acceptable methods. Check out huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing

for specific regulations and areas.

 Lexis Riter is the conservation agent for Jefferson County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

What Is It?

what is it 02 06-2016

Common Milkweed

Asclepias syriaca
The common milkweed blooms from May through August in upland fields, prairies, pastures, glades, and along roadsides and the edges of wooded areas. Its pink or lilac flowers are very fragrant, while its leaves are broad. It usually reaches a height of 3–4 feet, but can grow as tall as 6 feet. Of the 17 species of milkweed found in Missouri, this variety is most commonly seen. The common milkweed is extremely important in conserving the monarch butterfly, whose numbers are plummeting. Adult monarchs lay eggs on milkweeds, and once hatched, the caterpillars eat the milkweed’s foliage. The caterpillars store the milkweed’s toxic sap, making them unpalatable to would-be predators. —photograph by David Bruns

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