Before winter’s whiteness drifts in, Missouri’s trees paint our state with dazzling colors. But pretty leaves aren’t the only things you’ll find in a fall forest.
Did that bit of bark just move? No, you’ve likely spotted a tiny forest bird called a brown creeper. Creepers fly to the bottom of a tree and spiral up the trunk, around and around, snapping up insects as they go. When they reach the top, they fly down to a new tree and start the dizzying climb again.
The orange and yellow colors that leaves display in autumn are there all the time, you just can’t see them. A green colored substance called chlorophyll (klor-o-fill) covers up other colors most of the time. Chlorophyll has an important job. It uses sunlight to make food for the tree. But when days get shorter in the fall, leaves quit making chlorophyll. The green fades away, allowing orange and yellow colors to shine.
If you find a tree with knobby black bark, look up. You’ll probably see orange, golf-ball-sized fruits hanging from its branches. Persimmons taste yummy — if they’re ripe. If they aren’t, one bite will make your mouth pucker like you drank a whole jar of pickle juice. When a persimmon is slightly squishy, it’s ready to eat.
The Show-Me State’s forests turn showiest in mid-October when oaks and hickories blaze with color. To plan a leaf-peeping adventure, check out fall color reports at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4E. Then, head to one of these fine forests:
Owls eat their prey whole. Once the unlucky victim lands in the bird’s belly, its soft, meaty parts are quickly digested. Bones, fur, and teeth — which are too hard to digest — are barfed up a few hours later as a hairy gray pellet.
In the fall, chipmunks have just one thought in their furry little heads: storing food for winter. The hardcore hoarders forage on the forest floor, stuffing their cheeks like grocery sacks so they can scurry home and stash their loot. A single chipmunk may pack its winter pantry with enough seeds and nuts to fill nine 2-liter soda bottles.
Deer season starts in the fall. Be respectful of hunters and wear hunter orange when you’re in the woods.
Katydids are green, shaped like leaves, and active at night — they’re basically invisible. To help a mate find them, males “sing” by scraping the smooth edge of one wing against the rough surface of another. Some katydids say their name when they sing. Others sound a bit like a sprinkler: pssst ... pssst ... pssst. Listen for them in treetops from early fall until the first hard frost.
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill