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From Missouri Conservationist: September 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?


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

Q. The coloration of this butterfly is interesting. Do you have an explanation for what might have caused it? Could it be a hybrid?

A. This eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) isn’t a hybrid of two species, but rather a gynandromorph, a term used to describe an organism with both male and female characteristics.

Swallowtails are part of a group of butterflies that typically have elongated points or “tails” on their hindwings. Tiger swallowtails get their name from their coloration — males and most females are yellow with black, tiger-like stripes on their forewings. Some females are nearly black, a less common dark form with only faintly visible stripes. You can tell male tiger swallowtails from yellow females by the amount of blue scales on a specimen’s hindwings. Males are more modestly marked than females.

With this particular butterfly, the coloring on the left side is typical of a dark form female. The right side, however, is a different story. Some features are clearly those of a female, including the streak of black on the forewing and the patches of blue on the hindwing. But closer inspection of the hindwing subtly suggests the presence of male genes, primarily in the areas where the blue scales appear to be missing. This individual literally has patches of male and female DNA, making it a mosaic gynandromorph. Not only is this bizarre, it is also very uncommon.

What causes gynandromorphy? In butterflies, the likely cause is double fertilization of a binucleate egg — a fancy way of saying an egg has two copies of genetic material that are both fertilized during mating. A normal egg has one copy of genetic material that, when fertilized, develops into either a male or female butterfly. A binucleate egg, on the other hand, can result in an individual that has both male and female tissues.

Q. We found this bird’s nest and realized the eggs are different. Why would this happen?

A. A brown-headed cowbird likely visited this nest.

Relying on a breeding strategy called “brood parasitism,” brown-headed cowbirds do not build their own nests. Instead, they deposit their eggs in the nests of more than 140 species, especially targeting flycatchers, warblers, finches, and vireos.

Adult cowbirds thrive not by rearing their own young, but by turning other species into unwitting foster parents. Although some of these other species have learned to reject cowbird eggs, other vulnerable groups end up raising the cowbirds’ young — most of the time to the detriment of their own nestlings. Not only do cowbirds usually hatch earlier, they also tend to grow faster than their hosts’ young.

Cowbird eggs can be identified by their white to grayish-white appearance and brown to gray speckles.


Agent Notes

Squirrel Hunting in the Fall

Squirrel hunting has always been one of my favorite outdoor pastimes. As a young boy, I spent many days in the woods with my dad and my bolt action .22 rifle. Fall has always been my favorite time to squirrel hunt — temperatures are cooler, ticks are not as numerous, and squirrels tend to be more active.

Squirrel hunting is a great introductory hunting activity. Due to their small size and athletic ability, squirrels can help teach a novice hunter about the importance of good marksmanship and patience. I owe a lot of my shooting and stalking skills to the many hours I spent hunting squirrels as a youngster.

Here are some regulations to keep in mind while squirrel hunting: Hunters may pursue fox and gray squirrels from May 28 through Feb. 15, 2017, with rifles, shotguns, or other legal firearms methods, archery equipment, slingshots, or atlatls. The daily limit for hunting and trapping is 10, with a possession limit of 20. To legally harvest squirrels, a hunter, age 16 to 64, is required to have a small game hunting permit, or must be a landowner or lessee, as defined in the Wildlife Code of Missouri, hunting on their qualifying property, or must be hunting on an archer’s hunting permit. There are exceptions to these permit requirements listed in the Wildlife Code. For more information, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4o.

What Is It?

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata
A blue jay is a relatively large songbird, measuring 11 inches from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. A blue crest on its head can be raised or lowered, depending on its mood. Its back is nearly lavender, and its wings and tail are sky blue with black bars and white highlights. Its strong bill and feet are black, while its face is white and nearly surrounded by a black collar. The blue jay’s voice varies from soft murmurs to loud screams to clear, chime-like whistles. Blue jays are common statewide in forests, woodlands, parks, and suburbs — wherever there are trees in our state. Although they are present year-round, they do migrate. Often found at bird feeders, a blue jay’s diet consists mainly of seeds, acorns, and fruits. It will also feed on insects, eggs, young birds, and carrion. Blue jays usually form lifelong monogamous pairs and breed in spring to the middle of summer. Typically, four to five eggs are laid in a cup-shaped nest. Eggs hatch in about 16–18 days, and the young fledge about three weeks later. Family groups travel and forage together for the rest of the season, with the young dispersing in wintertime. —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