Monday, March 28, 2011

Cutting the Mustard

Garlic Mustard season is here and Mother Nature needs your help.  We wrote a blog story last April discussing our experience with the first invasion on Bull Creek.  It is now time for the annual battle against this highly invasive species.

First the good news.  Garlic Mustard has relatively shallow roots and pulls easily so you don't have to "cut the mustard".  It is distinctive in appearance so you can easily identify it.  Best of all, it is a tasty herb with a faint taste of mustard and the odor of garlic, great on sandwiches or as a salad green - and it is FREE!  (See below)

Now the bad news.  To quote from this MDC link, "Garlic mustard aggressively has invaded numerous forested natural areas and is capable of dominating the ground layer in many areas. It is a severe threat to many natural areas where it occurs because of its ability to grow to the exclusion of other herbaceous species."  Translation- it spreads voraciously, overwhelming the wildflowers and small tree seedlings on the forest floor.

This excellent video tells you everything you need to know about its growth, spread, and control.  In addition to tolerance to shade and a wide variety of habitats, it grows tall enough to shade out other wild flowers and small trees.  It is a prolific seed producer and these seeds are easily spread by contact with clothing, shoes and animal fur.  Also, it's roots produce an allelopathic chemical that kills the fungi that many native plants and trees require for survival, clearing room for more of it's seeds to sprout.

Garlic Mustard is a biennial, with tiny first year plants, most of which don't reach maturity.  The second year the remainder shoot up, flower and develop their numerous seed pods, (siliques) which will produce voluminous seeds.  It is critical to pull these plants before they seed as the spread over the next years can become massive.  Once that occurs, it requires prescribed fire or herbicide for control which also destroys the native plants and wildflowers.

How can you help?
  • Learn to identify it from pictures at this site. 
  • Pull all visible plants and dispose of them in plastic bags.
  • Seal the plastic bags tightly.  Pulled plants continue to provide energy to the flowers which can produce viable seeds weeks later.
  • Sealed bags should go to the landfill, never composted which doesn't destroy the seeds.  Burning the plants where allowed is another option.

Garlic Mustard is a native European herb which was brought by immigrants for its culinary qualities.  Its mild garlic flavor is popular in salads and on sandwiches and the leaves are also cooked in sauces.  Garlic mustard with exceptionally large leaves is said to have taproots with a horseradish taste. You can cook with it using these Garlic Mustard recipes.

Two Garlic Mustard Pulls
Springfield Conservation Nature Center.
Conservation Crew: Garlic Mustard Pull
Friday, April 15, 1-4pm
Do you have what it takes to cut the mustard? Qualifications include the ability to identify garlic mustard, a willingness to ruthlessly pull this invasive plant by the roots, a sense of competitiveness, and a strong desire to rid the area of this exotic plant. After a quick identification lesson at the nature center, we’ll divide into teams to spread out at the nature center and on nearby lands to conquer garlic mustard. A little friendly competition will be added to this unique Earth Day recognition. Ages 12-adult. Registration required. Call 888-4237.

2010 Garlic Mustard crop
Master Naturalists Bull Creek All You Can Eat Garlic Mustard Pull
(Time and Date to be announced by email)
The entertainment will be Barbara ripping it out by its roots with a blood-curdling scream and vicious grin on her lips.  You are welcome to share in our bounty.  The last part will be preparing bags to take home.  Let me know if you are interested and we will put you on the contact list.   This offer is limited to the first 50 who email me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Moving with Climate Change

Scientists Chris Field and Scott Loarie
We frequently worry about the effect that climate change will have on where we live.  If it changes enough, we can move (or adjust the air conditioner).  If you are an animal with specific food needs that are climate dependent, you may move to find them.  Unfortunately, your plants can't move as fast.

Climate change is moving also across the landscape.  The temperature drops as you go up a mountain but if the climate is warming, the temperature is going up at every altitude which may be a short distance.  "In the Amazon Basin you might have to move up to ten times faster to keep pace with future changes in climate."*  If you are a plant or fungus, that move may take more time than climate change allows.

Dr. Chris Field and Scott Loarie from Stanford University have been studying climate velocity, the time that different areas require for adaptation.  Their studies show the following:
"The researchers found that as a global average, the expected temperature velocity for the 21st century is 0.42 kilometers (0.26 miles) per year. But this figure varies widely according to topography and habitat.

In areas of high topographic relief, where species can find cooler temperatures by climbing a nearby mountain, velocities are relatively low.  In flatter regions, such as deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas, species will have to travel farther to stay in their comfort zone and velocities may exceed a kilometer per year.

Can the planet's ecosystems keep up?  Plants and animals that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures may not need to move.  But for the others, survival becomes a race.  After the glaciers of the last Ice Age retreated, forests may have spread northward as quickly as a kilometer a year.  But current ecosystems are unlikely to match that feat, the researchers say.  Nearly a third of the habitats in the study have velocities projected to be higher than even the most optimistic plant migration estimates."
Dr. Fields says that you can think of climate velocity as "a kind of sprinting capacity that these plants and animals need if they're going to stay in the climate zone that they're in now."  If you want to see the velocity of climate change in a particular area, click on their Climate Velocity Tool and select an area on the map.

A bigger danger yet is habitat fragmentation.  If the change in temperature velocity is a quarter mile a year but you are a rare plant in a small isolated prairie with fescue fields on all sides, you have no way to spread into a favorable climate.  As the song said, "Whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant."

* For a more detailed explanation, download the PDF file "Making the Paper" at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bradford Pears Go Bad

Bradford Pear - Wikimedia
Bradford Pear trees are in bloom - everywhere!  The beautiful blossoms seem to have captured the hearts of home owners both urban and rural.  Driving down the four mile stretch of rural Highway W southeast of Ozark, Barb stopped counting after the the first 200.

Their spring blossoms make them an appealing tree to line a long rural drive to the house or surround your pond.  Unfortunately, they are as appalling as they are appealing.  If you look around neglected fields and unused commercial sites, you will start to see them scattered, sometimes 10 or 12 over an area, other times in clusters like a shrub.  They are the latest invasive tree species that we are aware of having created.

The Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana) is a species of pear native to China.  They were developed to meet an aesthetic need of home owners.  The initial variety produced sterile fruit and therefore could not reproduce.   The most frequently planted were the Bradford variety.   Their dense upward growth, so desirable in urban plantings, is because of the narrow weak crotches of their branches.  This leads to their short life spans and excessive damage from wind and ice storms.

New cultivars were developed to produce stronger trees but crossbreeding has produced seeds which are fertile.  Wikipedia reports that the species has escaped and naturalized in 152 counties and in 25 states in the United States.  They are officially declared an invasive species in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Illinois.  An MDC article explains how this happened.
"There are two causes. One is due to the fact that ornamental pears have been over planted in our communities. Although each different kind of callery pear cannot reproduce by itself, it turns out that when these many types of pear are all planted close together (like they are in our towns) they can cross-pollinate and produce fruits.
The other method of ornamental pears reproducing is if the sprouts that sometimes grow from the base of pears are not pruned they can flower and crossbreed with the flowers of the tree itself.  These small fruits are eaten by birds and are then scattered along fences and roadways, pastures, abandoned fields, natural areas and under power lines.  Wild trees then sprout from these fruits and begin reproducing quite quickly. In fact, wild callery pear trees start producing flowers and spreading themselves after just three years. 
Some of the characteristics of wild callery pears are similar to the callery pears they originate from.  They grow quickly, flower prolifically and will tolerate a wide variety of soils, character traits typical of an invasive weed.  Moreover, some of the new wild trees are bringing back characteristics of the original trees from China like very large, stout thorns, making a field filled with wild callery pears difficult to clear."
 What should we do about Bradford Pears?  The MDC article has complete suggestions for managing existing Bradford Pears as well as alternatives to plant when your trees decline.  Another comprehensive resource is the Columbia Missouri "Stop the Spread" website which shows pictures of 10 varieties of flowering native trees.

You may want to forget about this when you are out driving in the country or around Springfield.  Otherwise you too may start driving passengers nuts by counting trees like Barb.

2012 update at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Zombie Fungus

Cordyceps- Wikimedia
The title Zombie Fungus got my attention.  This Planet Earth Video describes how a Cordyceps fungus takes over the body of a jungle ant species.  As is seen in other social insects, the worker ants carry the victim far away from the colony before the fungal spores extend out of the victim's body, ready to attack other ants of the species.
So what does this mean to us as Master Naturalists beside the morbid interest?  The more than 400 Cordyceps fungal species are a good lesson in why the study of various weird species is important.  Many of these species attack just a single species of ant or other arthropods.  What if that animal were to become extinct along with its Cordyceps parasite?

In at least one case, it would have been tragic.   Cyclosporin A, is an immunosuppressive drug used to treat many diseases as well as in organ transplantation.  Without finding a particular fungus, we would never had this valuable drug.
"Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties, like cordycepin; the anamorph of Cordyceps subsessilis which was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system."*
Whenever we lose a species, we lose a tiny ecosystem, many times without ever knowing it exists.  Did the Ivory Billed Woodpecker have a parasite of importance?  We will never know.  Who knows how many medical possibilities may have disappeared right before our eyes?

* Wikipedia

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring- MDC
The Harbinger of Spring is out.  I am not referring to ticks but to the flower.   Erigenia bulbosa, also known as "Pepper and Salt", is one of the first wildflowers out in the spring.   I am always surprised when I find it, usually while doing the road cleanup.  The picture here is deceptive as the plant is usually less than a half inch tall, best found when searching the roadside for cigarette butts.

The Fresh Afield blog by MDC by Tim Smith will whet your appetite for a walk in the woods with a lot of the bending over necessary to see these early flowers.  Barbara refers to Linda Ellis as her favorite "bottomist" because that is what you see when botanists are looking at plants.

Tim's article has a set of pictures to get you started, as well as the link to where you can begin identifying wildflowers by color and leaf arrangement.  For the Master Naturalists, we hope to have Linda with us at the first of two Wildflower Field Trips to Bull Mills next Saturday, March 26 at 1:00 PM.  Directions are on the Springfield MN calendar.

Harbinger of Spring is also a reminder that it is time to get your hummingbird feeders sugared up.  The Hummers are reported in mid-Arkansas and are bound to be hungry when they hit the Missouri Ozarks.  Check the map for their progress at

Friday, March 18, 2011

Black Fawn

What is the rarest color abnormality in whitetail deer?  I would have guessed albino deer, the lack of pigment - and I would have been wrong.  The answer is melanism.  This mutation creates a darker deer, varying from dark shades of brown to almost totally black.

The website of the photographer R. M. Buquoi  has an array of beautiful nature photographs including these pictures taken from his urban home.
"I took the photos of the black fawn near Austin, TX. That area of central Texas seems to have a concentration of black "white-tailed" deer, although it is still extremely rare to find them. This is a wild deer, but resides in a greenbelt near a neighborhood. I took the images when the deer were roaming through the neighborhood. The two fawns in the photos are twins, but only the one is black."
Family- Click to Enlarge
Melanism, the production of excess melanin, is usually genetic but occasionally occurs from environmental conditions or diet.  Melanistic deer can run the spectrum from a darker brown to almost black.

Pigment variation in animals can range from none to excessive.  Albinism is a congenital lack of pigmentation and is known to effect all vertebrates.  This is a disadvantage because the animal lacks protective coloration and the loss of eye pigmentation allows unfiltered light into the eyes, impairing the vision in bright light.   Both are a disadvantage when you are trying to avoid predators.

Melanistic deer are very rare unless you are living close to San Antonio, Texas.  There the variation is very uncommon although they have more melanistic deer than the rest of the country combined.  Unlike albino deer, melanistic deer may have had a survival advantage, living in the deep shaded draws where a dark color would help them hide from predators. 

One question unanswered by the information at is about breeding.  What do the "normal" whitetail deer think about this variant?  Do they become attracted by appearance or other factors?  The fact that they are more common in an area of Texas suggests that they breed successfully.  The fact that melanistic deer continue to propagate in the region of eight counties suggests that appearance isn't an important factor.

One thing seems sure - their momma's and siblings don't care.  They are treated as family, suggesting that smell and other traits overrule the fact that they look different.  If only humans could get along as well. 

Visit the website R. M. Buquoi for other beautiful photographs. Thanks to Larry Whiteley of BassPro sending me the story.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Site to Expand Your Mind

Guest Column by Bob Ranney

I read an article in Newsweek today “Can You Build a Better Brain?” (Newsweek January 10, 2010) that spoke to how we can improve our mental abilities.  It made two points that really stuck out for me.  The first was that we can achieve up to a 20% improvement in memory and thinking ability simply by walking 45 minutes three days a week.  The second was that as we use brain cells to learn new skills or consider new ideas, the area of the brain that is involved in that activity actually expands.

In discussing how the process works, the author recommended a YouTube page called Kahn Academy.  Watch the Gates introduction.  I haven’t researched who the speaker is on this site, but he is an amazingly knowledgeable individual who is capable of expressing complex ideas in easily understandable terms.  Also, it seems to me that at least one of his lines of subject matter would be of great interest to most Master Naturalists, and that is biology.

This being YouTube, all the discussions are on videos.  The speaker illustrates his talk on the virtual blackboard with line drawings that are entertaining, sometimes humorous and always enlightening.  The first screen on the page provides a list of subjects to choose from.  I watched and listened to his first four videos under Biology.  They included: “Introduction to Evolution”, “Intelligent Design and Evolution”, “Evolution Clarification”, and “Natural Selection and the Owl Butterfly”. The next in the series is “DNA”.

You might start with the Biology presentations at the Khan Academy.  Then choose the series you want to watch from the long list on the right side of the screen.   Biology is right on top, and I‘m sure any Master Naturalist will enjoy that, but if you’re an intellectual giant you might want to peruse the list and choose something else, too – maybe calculus or statistics or physics or - you name it and it’s probably there.

Try this site. It’s a real treat.

Editors Note:  A good way to sample this is the Evolution and the Owl Butterfly Video.  Not perfect - he mentions an injured butterfly wing might grow back - but his teaching of concepts is very lucid.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Antlers For Your Valentine

What makes a female Master Naturalist happy at Valentines Day?  Finding whitetail deer sheds makes a very memorable and inexpensive gift, especially when she finds them by herself.  You may be thinking that this is a cheap trick, but actually a set of high quality sheds may sell for thousands of dollars. *

The Wild Mammals of Missouri ** describes antler growth which starts around April as the increasing hours of daylight stimulate the pituitary gland.  The initial buds are covered with soft skin and short hair, referred to as "velvet", which covers the antlers as they grow to full size by early fall.

Testosterone surges at the beginning of the rut or breeding season.  The blood supply to the antlers is cut off, and the velvet starts to shed.  Bucks finish the grooming process to get ready to mate, rubbing off the last of the velvet and polishing the antlers on small trees, much like a teenage boy standing in front of the mirror before prom.  Interestingly, the sight of buck rubs on saplings has the same testosterone-laden effect on fully grown male hunters of deer.

In December, decreasing testosterone levels lead to reabsorption of the bone at the antler base and eventual shedding.  The best time to find sheds is January and February, before they are covered with the new plant growth of spring.  It is important to get them before rabbits, squirrels and other rodents find them as they will chew them up for their minerals and protein.  "Up to 1/2 of a whitetail antler cast in an oak forest in the Midwest can be consumed by calcium-craving squirrels in a three-day period." *

Consider hunting antler sheds for your wife's next Valentines Day.  You will be happy you did, save a lot of money, and she might enjoy it too.  Taking her to dinner might help too.

*  For details on the antler industry go to
** The Wild Mammals of Missouri, Schwartz and Schwartz, University of Missouri Press and Missouri Department of Conservation, 1981.

Whitetail facts at Wikipedia,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Missouri Native Grapes

from Wikimedia
Many of our Master Naturalists will recall the program that Patrick Byers presented in February of last year on how the Missouri native grapes saved the European wine industry.  Now there is an opportunity to learn about the man who made it happen.

This is a historical and scientific exhibit about Hermann Jaeger, the naturalist, grape breeder, and viticulturist of Neosho, Missouri, whose wild and hybrid grapes helped Europe recover from an economic disaster during the 19th century.

Overcoming the phylloxera invasion was one of the greatest triumphs of natural sciences of the times, and Hermann Jaeger was a key part of that victory. Through his work, plant biodiversity from the Ozarks helps make grape cultivation cleaner, and more environment friendly all around the world.

The exhibit opens with a public and free, catered reception on Friday, April 8 at 6:00 p.m., with a program of speakers at 7:00 p.m., at The Discovery Center of Springfield, 438 E. Saint Louis Street in downtown Springfield, Missouri. For more information on the display visit this link.

To read an excellent article written by Kay Hively on Hermann Jeager's Horticultural Work visit this link to the Neosho Daily News:

Thanks for the story written by Dr. Chris Barnhart of MSU and forwarded by Friends of the Garden.

First Tick of Spring

My compulsive wife always comes in first, this time by collecting the first ticks of the year.  Even the tiny one, the size of a period, had eight legs, indicating a degree of maturity.  When ticks emerge from the egg they have six legs.  After a blood meal they molt and develop the structure they will carry through the next molt to a sexually active adult.  The only solace we can get from this is that after they mate and lay eggs they die.

Ticks are tough.  Their hard shell resists squeezing unless between your fingernails- (Barb just bites their heads off).  In one study of the nymph stage they kept them underwater at near freezing temperatures for 160 days, then let them out and they found a blood meal.  Lone Star ticks have been shown to live as long as three years before finding a meal.  It is therefore no wonder that they hang on so tenaciously once they find us.

Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders and scorpions, thus the eight legs.  Many articles make a point of saying that we are not their desired host.  In spite of this, I have never had one apologize for its error. 

According to Conservation magazine, ticks find us by questing, hanging on vegetation with their back legs while reaching out with their hooked front pair of legs.  They sense our presence by "exhaled carbon dioxide and emitted body odors".  I do not intend to speculate which sense they used to find Barb.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has a good source for avoiding and treating tick bites at this site.  Insect repellent and careful observation of all body areas after being outside are important.  The rapid removal of a tick will decrease the likelihood of their transmitting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, etc.  Removing them with clear tape while they are crawling on your skin makes it easier to differentiate dog ticks, deer ticks and Lone Star ticks, the sign of a hard core Master Naturalist.

Tick anatomy and mouthparts- see this site.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Story of Stuff

Story of Bottled Water
Someone sent me an fascinating cartoon video on bottled water a while back and I shared it with some of you.  It summarized the industry of selling individual water doses and the costs to our environment.  You can see it at
I am revisiting this after a trip to see my son's family in California and visiting with their friends, Michael and Laura.  It turns out that he works at Storyofstuff where he is Associate Director. 

Let me warn you about the website  It is highly addictive as you are likely to go from the Story of Bottled Water to Stuff, Cosmetics and Electronics, losing considerable time.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rock Snot

Didymo - MDC
David Casaletto just beat me to the punch in posting an excellent article on Rock Snot, aka Didymo in Ozarks Water Watch.  As a native Kansan, I want you to know that "Rock Snot"has nothing to do with the KU "Rock Chalk - Jay Hawk - KU" cheer.  When I was in the 5th grade, there was a saying like "I thought that it was mucus but its not" (say it fast) that we thought was a really funny risque joke.  Unfortunately, rock snot is no joke if you are a critter living in a stream.

Rock snot is also called Didymo, short for Didymosphenia geminata. It is an algae whose infamy comes from its ability to rapidly proliferate and cover the bottoms of streams in dense mats, choking out the normal macroinvertebrates which are important links in the food chain for the fish we love to catch. In addition, it forms dense slimy sheets which cling to waders and fishing lines, eventually making fishing and swimming unpleasant or even impossible.

"Didymosphenia geminata is a diatom, which is a type of single-celled algae unique for their silica (SiO2) cell walls. The life history of diatoms includes both vegetative and sexual reproduction, though the sexual stage is not yet documented in this species.
The stalk can attach to rocks, plants, or other submerged surfaces. When the diatom cell divides, through vegetative reproduction, the stalk divides too, eventually forming a mass of branching stalks. The nuisance build-up is not the cell itself, but their massive production of extracellular stalks." *

While invasive species are frequently defined as non-natives or exotics (i.e. brought in from other regions), Didymo is a native to the Northern Hemispheres of both Asia, Europe and America. Over the last 20 years it has been proliferating in its native range as well as slowly expanding into other waters. It first appeared in New Zealand in 2004 and its spread there is documented in Wikipedia.

Once in the water, it is impossible to eliminate.  Prevention is focused on preventing the spread of the moist diatoms from one watershed to another.  Felt soled waders and moist boats and containers are the mechanism of spread and the article defines steps to avoid spreading the algae.  The steps of Check - Clean - Dry are outlined in today's News-Leader article on Didymo.

At last Rock Snot is getting the disrespect it deserves.

* The science of Didymo is in this Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tooting our MN Horn

The 2010 Annual Report of the Missouri Master Naturalists is out * and the results are impressive.
  • During 2010, 180 new volunteers participated in training that was conducted by 8 Chapters
  • Through December 2010, with combined efforts of 11 recognized Chapters, 981 volunteers have been trained as Missouri Master Naturalists;
  • Approximately 8,400 hours of advanced training and continuing education were obtained by Master Naturalist volunteers;
  • A total of 524 volunteers have become Certified Missouri Master Naturalists;
  • During 2010, volunteers provided 36,410 hours of community volunteer service
  • Over 110, 000 hours of volunteer service have been provided to local communities since 2004;
  • Approximately 150 organizations have partnered with Master Naturalist chapters at the local level to accomplish natural resource education efforts and service projects within the community
  • The economic impact of Missouri Master Naturalist volunteer service during 2010 is valued at $850,247.001
  • The cumulative economic impact resulting from volunteer service provided by the Missouri Master Naturalist Program is valued at $2,531,129 **
Give yourselves a big round of applause with your hands, your paws,  your fins or "anything you got."

*  For the full 25 page report, email me with"Report" in the title.

** The value of volunteer service calculated using Independent Sector’s $20.85 per hour for 2010.  The hourly value is based on the average hourly earnings for private nonagricultural workers as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This figure is then increased by 12 percent to estimate fringe benefits. The cumulative economic impact results from the value of volunteer service during the years of  2004-2010.

Ambrosia Beetle- Part II

The Ambrosia Beetles (Xylosandrus crassiusculus) that we discussed  in last week's blog is only a tenth of an inch long.  Unlike the beetles causing Thousand Cankers which bore just under the bark, the Ambrosia Beetle bores tiny tunnels deep into the wood and carries a fungus which eats into the xylem.  The beetle and its larvae then eat the fungal mycelium and clusters of its spores, their only source of food.   The relationship is symbiotic in that the fungus is totally dependent on the beetle to spread its spores and reproduce.

How does the fungus make the trip?  It travels in the beetle's mycangium, specialized structures for the transport of symbiotic fungus.  Many beetles with this feeding strategy can eat other things or even digest wood along with their fungal meal.  Some types of beetle mycangium are simple pits on the surface of their body where the fungi hangs on seemingly by chance.  Since the Ambrosia beetle won't survive without its fungal friend, it goes to greater lengths to make sure it survives the trip.

Ambrosia Beetle's mycangium have deep and complicated pouches.  They may have glands which secrete substances to support and feed the fungus.  Some even have fine setae (hairs) to scrape the fungal spores and mycelia from the tunnel walls into the pouch.

The spring and summer flights of the beetle can be monitored by the use of traps.*  The bait is ethanol which is normally extruded in tiny amounts by sick or dying trees.  The Ambrosia beetles are lured in to have a drink at their equivalent of the neighborhood bar and succumb to the soapy water at the bottom.   You might say that they get "really bagged".

*  More on traps at this site.
The Ambrosia Beetles article has detailed information about this creature.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ambrosia Beetle- Part I

Gallery, larvae, and an adult beetle Wikipedia
I just came across an interesting article in the Missouri Environment & Garden Newsletter.*  In it, Christopher Starbuck, Associate Professor of Plant Sciences at Missouri University describes another doggone invasive species, this one with wings, legs and a bad case of fungus.

The Granulate Ambrosia Beetle (Xylosandrus crassiusculus) hitched a ride to South Carolina from Asia in the 1970's on packing crates.  It has gradually spread across the Gulf States and has now been found in Missouri on the MU campus. It seems to prefer ornamental trees such as dogwoods and fruit trees, but can be found on some oaks and walnuts. There are 30 plus Ambrosia Beetles found in the US but this Asian visitor is more successful than the others and can kill trees when present in numbers.

The diagnosis is made by finding tiny white "toothpicks" extending out from the bark (see picture). These are columns of frass (insect poop) extruded when the beetle is boring its tunnel. This is just debris as the beetle doesn't digest wood for nutrition.   Its sole food is the Ambrosia fungus that the female transfers into the tunnels.

There are several dozen species of Ambrosia fungi, all of which are only found in tunnels created by the Ambrosia beetle.  Their relationship is pure symbiosis, each dependent on the other for survival.

According to Wikipedia there are around 3000 beetle species in many different families which use this same fungus feeding strategy.  Many are not related and have developed this adaptation independently, an example of convergent evolution.

When the Ambrosia beetle larvae become adults, their next challenge is to go find a tree of its own.  The problem is how do you pack your lunch when you only eat a fungus growing in a tree that you mother planted it in?  The answer will be in Ambrosia Beetle- Part II, the next post.

* Dr. Starbuck's article is available at this site.  Select Volume 17 No.2 and click on "Granulate Ambrosia Beetle: Another Exotic Pest of Ornamentals to Watch For" to download the PDF.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Red Shouldered Hawk

Bob and Ruby Ball are genetically programed birders in addition to his professional photography.  They shared this story about their backyard hawk sighting.
RS Hawk with Mole (Bob Ball)
"We returned home after a birding outing yesterday and found no birds in our backyard.  Ruby quickly discovered a large hawk, which we first thought was a Coopers.  A few birds gradually began to move back into the yard.
We couldn't understand why the hawk didn't attack.  Suddenly, it flew to the ground and came up on our back fence with a MOLE in it's talons.  I can't begin to describe Ruby's jubilation!  She has been working on getting rid of those moles for several years and hasn't found a good solution.  She's hoping the Red-shouldered Hawk will come back soon.  It is a life bird for our back yard list."

While uncommon on the open plains to the north and west, we see Red-shouldered Hawks commonly along Bull Creek.  They prefer wooded streams and rivers, leaving the open fields and prairies to their commonly seen Red-tailed cousins.  Their "Red shoulders" are very hard to see while their banded tail is prominent in flight.  (See picture)

They have a distinctive call, repeating "Ker-yah" insistently at two to three second intervals as they circle in the sky (hear it here).  The Blue Jay has learned to mimic this call, scaring birds off their nest so it can fly in and feast on the abandoned eggs.

Red-shouldered hawk nest
You are more likely to see the Red-shouldered flush from a tree limb perch in the forest.  Their distribution follows their prefered habitat, extending from Missouri on to the East as well as along the West Coast, avoiding the Great Plains.

They either hunt from a perch or circle high in the sky, then folding their wings back to rocket to earth, spreading their wings at the last second as they nail their prey with their claws, a behavior called "stooping".

Red-shouldered Hawks are known to over-winter in the Ozarks along our streams.  Several years ago we had a pair build a nest along Red Bridge Road where we could monitor it all spring until the little fuzzy headed chicks finally fletched.  They hung out in our woods all summer like teenagers with a Nintendo before finally taking off to get their own apartments.

Red-shouldered chicks
Ruby's hawk perched on a low fence was both unusual and a highly successful strategy for a mole feast.  I am planning on building a perch in our mole infested front yard to recruit her hawk - sorry Ruby.

More at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring is Humming

We are preparing for an attack on our natural resources at Bull Creek.  A highly mobile force will soon be attacking our deck, fighting among themselves as they suck up our carbohydrate resources.  I am speaking of the pending Attack of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.  While there are occasionally other varieties such as Anna's and Rufous, most of us will see only the Ruby-Throats. 

You can follow the invasion on the maps at  I have always assumed that the appearance is random but one scientific source says otherwise.  It is even possible that the hummingbird that left last fall (was it just a few months ago?) is the same one that you will see this year.
"Banding studies suggest that individual birds may follow a set route year after year, often arriving at the same feeder on the same day. We do not know if any individual bird follows the same route in both directions, and there are some indications that they do not."
These birds originated in the tropics but with the ending of the last Ice Age, they began to expand their summer range, now making the long trip north each spring.  They begin in Panama and Southern Mexico and migrate as individuals rather than flocks.  They fuel up on insects and spiders for high energy stores of fat - can you picture a fat hummingbird? 
"Some will skirt the Gulf of Mexico and follow the Texas coast north, while most apparently cross the Gulf, typically leaving at dusk for a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18-22 hours depending on the weather. Although hummingbirds may fly over water in company of mixed flocks of other bird species, they do not "hitchhike" on other birds. Some hummingbirds land on offshore oil rigs or fishing boats to rest."
There is more detailed information on the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird migration at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The Greater Ozarks Chapter of the Missouri Mycological Society has scheduled its first Mushroom Forays. 
  • Valley Water Mill at 9:00 AM on April 10th.
  •  Bull Mills on Bull Creek at May 8th at 9:30 AM.

Click here for Foray directions, either as a Doc file or a PDF.