By MDC | October 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: October 2023

Got a question for Ask MDC? Send it to or call 573-522-4115, ext. 3848.

Q: What are the differences between gooseberry and prickly gooseberry?

Missouri is home to two types of fruit-bearing gooseberry shrubs — prickly gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) and Missouri gooseberry (Ribes missouriense). Prickly gooseberry sometimes goes by the name “dogberry” and Missouri gooseberry is sometimes called “wild gooseberry.” Both are in the currant family.

The primary difference is the prevalence of spines. As you can easily deduce, prickly gooseberry has far more sharp barbs on its flowers, leaves, stems, twigs, trunks, and fruits. It is much easier to tell the difference between prickly gooseberry and our more common Missouri gooseberry by looking at the fruit — prickly gooseberry has barbs on the fruit whereas Missouri gooseberry does not.

Despite their sharp barbs, prickly gooseberry fruits are eaten by several bird species, squirrels, and chipmunks. Missouri gooseberry fruits are commonly gathered for pies and jellies.

For more information on Missouri gooseberry, visit For more information on prickly gooseberry, visit

Q: What kind of snake is this?

This is a western pygmy rattlesnake, one of the smallest species of rattlesnake in North America. This mostly gray snake usually has 20 to 30 dorsal blotches, an orange-brown dorsal stripe, and a slender tail with a tiny rattle.

This species lives or inhabits southern Missouri — specifically the Missouri Ozarks, the St. Francois Mountains, and the Arkansas border. Its preferred habitat is south-facing, rocky, and partially wooded hillsides. During the late spring and early summer, this snake will bask in rocky, open areas, near brush piles or along roadsides near forests and glades. During the heat of summer, it tends to be nocturnal. By mid-October, this species seeks out sheltered sites for overwintering.

It prefers to eat lizards, skinks, small snakes, mice, and occasionally small frogs and insects.

Very few individuals have been bitten by this venomous species, which is rarely encountered by humans. Even though it is small and rarely bites people, its venom is toxic. They should be respected and left alone.

Q: What can you tell us about red lichen color? I took this picture at Johnson Shut-Ins, but I had never seen it before?

This is a type of Cladonia lichen referred to as “British soldier.” Cladonia is a genus found in Missouri that includes cup lichen, reindeer moss, and British soldiers. British soldiers are a species of lichen with erect hollow branches that end in the red fruiting bodies that look like red hats — hence their name — which are part of the lichen’s reproductive cycle. Standing up to an inch tall, they are greener and redder in early spring and can be found on the ground or on dead wood.

Unlike most animals and leafy plants, lichens are a fusion of two unrelated organisms. Every lichen is a combination of a dominant fungus and algae or algae-like bacteria, sometimes all three, living together in a symbiotic relationship for nutrient intake and growth.

For more information, visit

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation – Marcia Hale