Into The Wild

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From Xplor: July/August 2019

Loess Hill Prairie



Plains pocket mice can go months without sipping a single swallow of H2O. The gerbil-sized fur balls get most of their water from the seeds they eat. Although Star School Hill Prairie is the best place in Missouri to find a pocket mouse, you’re unlikely to spot one. Pocket mice snooze away the day deep in their burrows and come out at night to feed.

Heads Up!

Cool critters and groovy grasses aren't the only things that love loess prairies. So do ticks. Wear long pants and spray on repellent to keep the bloodsuckers at bay.


Loess soils drain quickly, and the treeless hilltops get tons of sun. Because it’s so dry and hot, many plants that are more common farther west thrive here. How many of these visitors from the Great Plains can you find?

  • Pale Indian paintbrush
  • Soapweed yucca
  • Skeleton plant
  • Purple locoweed

Did You Know?

Locoweed contains selenium, a substance that makes cows go loco — act crazy — if they eat too much of the plant.

What Happened Here?

Long ago, glaciers ground up rocks into a powdery soil called loess (lus). When the glaciers melted, violent storms blew the loess into Missouri. Over time, the soil piled up to make steep hills. In some places, the loess may be over 100 feet deep.

Where to Go

The best examples of loess hill prairies are found in Atchison and Holt counties, which are located in the extreme northwest corner of Missouri.

  • Brickyard Hill Conservation Area
  • McCormack Conservation Area
  • Star School Hill Prairie Conservation Area

Did You Know?

On a clear day atop Star School Hill Prairie, you can see into four states: Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Take a Closer Look

If you see something buzzing above a flower, it may not be a bee. White-lined sphinx moths hover over flowers to sip nectar with their tubelike tongues. Unlike their moon-loving cousins, these moths are out during the day.


With plenty of yummy seeds and bugs, prairies attract birds the same way pizza buffets attract little league teams. Keep your eyes peeled, and you might see one of these grassland-loving birds swoop in for a snack.

Also In This Issue

Raccoon In a Trash Can
Xplor’s fearless reporter braves the forest after dark to chat with Missouri’s most mysterious masked mammal.
Lichen On The Rocks
It takes special superpowers to survive on Missouri’s mini deserts.

This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White