From burly bears to tiny birds, Missouri’s critters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The animals here are shown life size. How do you stack up?
Hardly bigger than a soda can, these itty-bitty owls are Missouri’s smallest bird of prey. They visit the Show- Me State in winter to feast on forest mice and voles. Although a deer mouse is barely a snack for a bigger owl, it makes two meals for a tiny saw-whet.
Eagles are known for being eagle-eyed. Evidence suggests that Missouri’s largest bird of prey can spot a rabbit 2 miles away. An eagle’s excellent vision has a lot to do with the size of its eyes. Although the bird’s head is smaller than yours, its peepers are about the same size as your eyes.
Barely as big as a glue stick, short-tailed shrews possess venomous saliva, ninja-like speed, and oversized attitudes. Although they eat mainly insects and earthworms, the pintsized predators aren’t afraid to tangle with larger animals such as mice and snakes.
Black bears use their furry, burly, claw-tipped paws to rip open rotten logs so they can slurp up the yummy bugs hiding inside. Claws also come in handy (or paw-y) for gripping bark when the bear wants to shimmy up a tree squirrel-style. And bears use their claws to scratch up tree trunks to let other bears know where they’ve been.
At first glance, you might mistake this snake for an earthworm. The Show-Me State’s smallest serpent rarely grows more than 8 inches long. It lives throughout the southern half of Missouri, hiding in burrows on wooded, south-facing hillsides.
When hunting, a bat bags bugs in its wings then passes the morsels to its mouth for an in-flight snack. The wings are made of skin stretched between the bones of a bat’s arms and its freaky long fingers. Although this little brown bat is much smaller than you, its 3-inch-long digits are about as long as your fingers.
They’re big. They’re hairy. But, are they really scary? Missouri’s largest spider looks ferocious, but it’s actually quite shy and spends most of its time hiding in burrows. When threatened, tarantulas sling arrow-sharp hairs off their bellies at attackers. The barbed bristles pepper a predator’s skin and eyes, giving the spider time to scurry away.
During the day, these super-sized salamanders hide under rocks in cold Ozark streams. At night, they slink slowly along the stream bottom, looking for crayfish to gobble. Their wrinkly skin helps them blend in, and it also helps them breathe. The wrinkles wave in the current, allowing blood vessels at the skin’s surface to absorb oxygen from the water. Once common, hellbenders are quickly disappearing from Ozark streams, and biologists are trying to learn why.
Missouri’s largest moth is bigger than some songbirds. But size doesn’t make this mega moth any less edible than its smaller cousins. To keep from becoming bird food, cecropias have a sneaky trick. Spots on their wings look like the glaring eyes of a snake. When a cecropia unfolds its flappers, the eyespots show, startling would-be predators and giving the moth time to flutter away.
Missouri’s smallest bird flaps its wings at blinding speeds — about 50 to 70 times each second. To keep their wings revved up, hummingbirds eat two to 14 times their weight in insects and nectar every day. An average-sized 10-year-old would need to drink 160 to 1,100 cans of soda a day to keep up with this teeny-tiny bird. What a sugar rush!
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill