Thursday, December 24, 2009

Foriegn Ant Visitors

  Springfield is hosting a new species of aggressive Japanese ants.  The scientific name for these invaders is Tetramorium tsuschimae. It’s unlikely any of us could tell one ant species from another, but Dr. Lloyd Morrison can.  He is an ecologist with National Park Service at Wilson’s Creek Battlefield.
   Lloyd believes the ant species are being transported in potted plants, where they nest and proliferate like – well ants.
   The newly arrived ants were first identified in St. Louis and Columbia. Dr. Morrison found them marching purposefully around in his back yard and used DNA testing to confirm his observations.  These ants are 1/10 of an inch long, polygynous (male mates with more than one female) and prefer warm weather.
   In spite of the picture, you and I won't be able to distinguish them from our native species.  Before you declare war on ants, you should know that they do a lot of good in nature or your garden, although they can certainly be annoying pests. Ants are like earthworms; they till the soil and collect insects that they turn into fertilizer. They also attack many seed-eating insects, interrupt their courting and egg-laying. Then again, Lloyd says some ants have a sympathetic relationship with aphids, protecting them from other insects. And carpenter ants are another story.
   The best solution: create a barrier, and if you find ants in all the wrong places; destroy their map-making pheromone trail.
   You can learn more about insects at
Story by George Freeman adapted from the Friends of the Garden Fog Blog

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Springfield Plateau Chapter Christmas Party, as designed by Karolyn Holdren, was a success as measured by the babble of voices and the intake of food.  The Master Naturalist Choir was led by Bob Tosca-ninney Ranney in his Christmas Cantata "The Barber of Jay".  The White Elephant gift exchange had everything including a kitchen sink, and the last minute silent auction raised over $670.

Since plants just grow without feeling or reacting to the environment, it makes sense that they don't mind being eaten... or do they?  Bob Ranney sent me this New York Times Link which makes you think twice about that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blooming in December

The morning after the temperature dropped to 10 degrees on Bull Creek, the edges of the field and roads blossomed with white flowers.  Well, sort of flowers.  Frost flowers are ribbons of ice which split the stems of three types of Missouri wildflowers as the sap freezes.  The spirals may extend more than eight inches up the stem or curl around the base in complex rosettes up to 8" in diameter.  The individual ribbons are so thin that you can see your fingerprint through them.
Our frost flowers form on the stems of White crownbeard (Verbesina virginica), also known as Frostweed.  They can also be found on Yellow Ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia), Hoary Frostweed (Helianthemum bickmellii) and Dittany (Cunila origanoides).

Frost flowers typically are seen with the first hard freeze but may reappear with the second or third freeze as well, typically with smaller displays of ribbons.  Technically they should be called Ice Flowers as they are formed from freezing water rather than freezing water vapor which forms frost.  (For more on this, check out this link
 Some of the our frost flowers from Bull Mills as well as their parent wildflowers can be seen by clicking on this from Missouri Conservationist.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Undersea Marvels

Nintyseven percent of our planet is under the sea, the vast majority of it never explored.  Although this is currently out of range for a Master Naturalist field trip, there is a lot to learn there.  Recently there have been a number of stories highlighting a variety of new discoveries, such as those described in the article at LiveScience.  Who knew that Dumbo could swim!

If you have six minutes to burn, a great way to spend it is at the site of TED underwater.  The deep water bioluminescence is amazing by itself, but wait until you catch the camouflage of the cephalopods.  Check out the squid behaving as lounge lizards and the amazing disappearing octopus.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some members of the 2009 Class of Master Naturalists hit the ground (or creek) running by forming a stream team to adopt 5 miles of upper Swan Creek in Christian County.  On November 11, 2009, they started with a cleanup. 

Merrill Dubach organized the team and reports the following:

"The creek itself is pristine.  It is nestled in a primarily gravel riparian zone in a forested and pasture flood plain.  One tributary was trashed and we cleaned it by collecting about 40 large trash bags, 14 tires, and about 200 pounds of fence, car body parts, and other metal objects.  We also walked about a mile of Swan Creek and picked up a trash.  In addition to meeting some fine folks who own the adjacent property, we have recruited a new stream team member.  Her name is  Mary Wigton and she wants to get into the next class of Master Naturalists."

The team included Jennifer Ailor, Rose and Dwayne Atchley, Merrill Dubach, Caryn Fox and Jim Trotter, Larry Maggard,Vicki Sears, Marlyss Simmons, Gala Solari, and Sherryl Walker.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quail Count

A bleary eyed group of Master Naturalists headed out of Springfield at 5 AM on four different days to complete quail covey counts for MDC.  They surveyed Sloan, Stoney Point, Niawathe and Shelton prairies, counting quail calls before sunrise.  Each of the ten count points heard one or more coveys.

They were rewarded by seeing three prairie chickens fly out of one prairie.  On another prairie they watched as more than 30 Northern Harriers flushed out of their communal roosting site. (Click for more on Northern Harriers)   More potentially shocking, they had to lay low on a wet prairie once as a lightening storm passed over. 

The intrepid band was led by Charley Burwick and included Kristen Riggs, Bob Ranney, Joe Kleiber, Dave Sturdevant, Charles Stewart, Richard Stiefvater, Carl Haworth and Dan Liles from Audubon.  They ended up at Cookies in Golden City where Charley bought their breakfast!

This just in from Dan Crane.  What can get hit by a car going 75 miles an hour and be found alive and well in the grill 600 miles later?   Click here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Springfield Plateau is Expanding

New and Improved

We will literally double the Springfield Plateau Chapter with the addition of the talented and enthusiastic new class. There are occupations from A (Attorney and Architects) to Z (Zoo Keeper). We have trained biologists, writers and Artist/Designers. We even a guy who bangs rocks. I am known for my napping, but my wife Barb points out that when Larry Maggard knaps he produces flint points- a very subtle difference in my mind.

The "old guys" and the new graduates need to get to know each other. Sharing interests and working together is what MN is all about. There are a lot of great capstones underway. Look over the Photo Directory and find who has an interest that fits with yours and contact them.

Staying in contact

Monthly meetings are the main way we get to know each other. Another new way is through the Blog. Email or call me or Bob Ranney with capstone progress, volunteer projects you have done, or any other news you want to convey. Photographs are particularly welcome.

Need help with a project? The Blog is a good way to get the word around the Chapter. Send it in and we will send it out.