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Featured Animal

Green Toad

The Western Green Toad (Bufo debilis insidior) is often less than 2 inches in length. It is found in the more arid climates of Kansas, Colorado Utah and Texas. In Kansas it is only found in the southwest corner of the state. It is pale green with small black spots and bars on the dorsal surface. Some of these spots sometimes interconnect to form a reticulated network. Green Toads also have very large parotid glands (salivary glands) that extend from immediately behind the eye all the way to its forearm. Green Toads are secretive and may only be sighted immediately after rainfall. Breeding can occur from March throughout the summer. During this time males find aquatic breeding sites where they form choruses to attract females.

Muskrat

Muskrat: Photo by Luke Ormand

Muskrat: Photo by Luke Ormand

Muskrat: Photo by Luke Ormand

The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is found throughout Kansas. It is a large semi-aqautic rodent that lives near slow moving streams, marshes or ponds. They dig entrances into the banks along these waterways to three-feet tall push-ups composed of vegetation and mud. They can remain underwater for fifteen minutes. Muskrats are protected from cold water by a thick fur consisting of two layers of hair. Their tail is flattened vertically. They are smaller than beavers with whom they share an environment and amicable relationship. Muskrats are most active at night but also near dawn and dusk. Muskrats mostly eat cattails, bur reed and other aquatic vegetation like water lily. Because of their eating habits, they play a significant role in determining the vegetation of prairie wetlands. They don’t store food for the winter. They also occasionally eat freshwater mussels, frogs, clams, snails, crayfish, fish, and small turtles. Large hawks and owls, foxes, coyotes and mink prey upon muskrats. Pike may take baby muskrats. Muskrats normally live in groups consisting of a male and female and their young. During the spring, muskrats may fight over preferred territory and potential mates.

Ring-necked snake

Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) Photo from National Park Service.

Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) Photo from National Park Service.

Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) Photo from the National Park Service.

Ring-necked snakes are nocturnal although they may be seen sunning themselves for warmth on cloudy days. They are only slightly venomous and non-aggressive. They are conspicuous for the red or yellow ring around their neck. Dorsal coloration can vary between brown, black, gray & olive. When threatened, they react by exposing their red/orange posterior underbelly. Ring-necked snakes are often only10-15 inches long but they may grow to 2 feet long. During the day they are found under rocks, logs & leaf litter. They mate in the fall with delayed implantation. Three-five eggs are deposited in loose soil, rotten logs or ground litter in early summer.  The young hatch in late summer or early fall. They prey on small worms, smaller salamanders, frogs & juvenile snakes.

Katydid (Pterophyla camellifolia)

Katydid. Photo from  http://www.leaps.ms

Katydid. Photo from http://www.leaps.ms

Katydid (Pterophyla camellifolia) Photo from http://www.leaps.ms

The katydid’s wings resemble a leaf that operates as excellent camouflage in the tops of deciduous trees (especially Oak & Hickory) where they spend most of their lives. They can only fly short distances. They eat leaves, flowers, bark and seeds but some species are omnivorous and also eat other insects. In Kansas they are found mostly in the eastern third of the state.

Its “Katy-did, she-did” chirping is created by the male rubbing its wings together (stridulation). The male uses wingstrokes to rub a scaper on the base of one front wing over a file on the base of the other front wing. They are capable of hearing through a tympanum located just below the knee on their front leg.

Before dying in the early frost of October or November, the female lays rows of dark grey, oval-shaped eggs on vegetation.

The eggs survive the winter and hatch in the spring. The young are similar to adults but have less-developed wings. They begin chirping around July. Although they resemble grasshoppers, katydid are more closely related to crickets. Katydids have much longer antennae than grasshoppers.

Topeka Shiner

Topeka Shiner photo by Joel Sartore.

Topeka Shiner photo by Joel Sartore.

Topeka Shiner (Notropis topeka)  Photo by Joel Sartore

The Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka) is a small minnow, less than three inches in total length. It is an overall silvery color, with a well defined dark stripe along its side, and a dark wedge-shaped spot at the base of the tail fin. Males develop additional reddish coloration in all other fins during the breeding season.

The Topeka shiner occurs primarily in small prairie (or former prairie) streams in pools containing clear, clean water. Most Topeka shiner streams are perennial (flow year-round), but some are small enough to stop flowing during dry summer months. In these circumstances, water levels must be maintained by groundwater seepage for the fish to survive. Topeka shiner streams generally have clean gravel, rock, or sand bottoms. It is currently listed as Federally-endangered.

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) photo by Harvey Henkelmann

Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) photo by Harvey Henkelmann

Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) photo by Harvey Henkelmann

The cottontail has a stubby tail with a white underside. They have flat molars for grinding food. Their eyes are located on the sides of the skull for a wider field of view to locate predators. At birth, they are blind and deaf. But after a week, they can see and hear; and, after roughly two weeks they leave the nest. Although mainly nocturnal, rabbits are active in the early morning and at dusk. During the day, cottontails often remain hidden in vegetation.Predators include coyotes, foxes, weasels, eagles, owls and hawks. Cottontails are herbivores that eat grasses, clovers, sedges, legumes, fruits asters, fleabanes, sedges, horse nettle, cinquefoil, strawberry, clovers, & alfalfa, sumacs, foxtail, tall thistle, timothy, dandelion and even poison ivy. In agricultural areas, they’ll eat corn and soybeans.In the winter they’ll eat the bark and buds of shrubs and trees. The best rabbit habitat includes dense vegetation for escape cover like sumac and blackberry & plum thickets. Unfortunately, agricultural land today doesn’t often retain this kind of vegetation required for optimal habitat. Vast areas planted with single crops and modern tastes for mowed grass landscapes have reduced cottontail populations. Rabbits make a great pet for teaching responsibility to kids. The Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation is an excellent source of information about rabbit habitat. http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/4H1004.pdf

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing-owl-portrait

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

http://www.arkive.org/burrowing-owl/athene-cunicularia/image-G51960.html

Although burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) can be found within the western third of the United States, in Kansas Burrowing owls spend the summer in the western third of the state. Their yellow eyes, white eyebrows and lack of ear tufts are distinctive features in addition to their small size. Because burrowing owls live in abandoned burrows of small mammals like black-tailed prairie dogs (and other burrowing mammals), programs to eradicate prairie dogs are likely to degrade habitat for burrowing owls. Since burrowing owls forage over tall grass but nest and roost in short grass, prairie land with both these habitats are important for their success. Consequently, pesticides and herbicides have an adverse impact on their success also. To here the Burrowing owl’s song visit Larkwire.

American Bison (Bison bison)

American Bison (Bison bison) image from the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

American Bison (Bison bison) image from the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Once thriving in untold numbers on the Great Plains, the American bison was nearly hunted to extinction by 1890. Only 541 bison survived in North America when a few ranchers collected remnants of existing herds to prevent their extinction. The bison’s main food is grass. Bison grazing increases the proportion of forbs in grasslands and increases plant diversity. Some ranchers interbred bison with cattle to produce “beefalo” leaving only four true genetically pure American Buffalo herds remaining today. Some ranchers are currently using DNA testing to cull residual residual cattle genes from their bison herds. In Kansas, two excellent locations to view bison are the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near McPherson State Fishing Lake and Finney Game Refuge south of Garden City, Kansas. The Finney Refuge is on sandsage prairie and remains one of the few tracts of native sandsage prairie not converted to irrigated cropland. Several tall grass species thrive there including sand bluestem, giant sand reed and sand love grass. These tall grasses plus sand sagebrush makes this ecosystem truly unique. There are also approximately 16 bison at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas. These bison came from the genetically pure herd at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl: Photo credit: Willistown Conservation Trust.

Snowy Owl: Photo credit: Willistown Conservation Trust.

Snowy Owl:

The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is an unusual selection to feature because it is not a resident of Kansas and seldom visits. But every 3-5 years, complex factors that cause the decline of Arctic lemmings (the snowy owl’s primary food) force these owls to venture south beyond their normal Canadian & Alaskan tundra in search of prey. This extensive migration away from their home range is referred to as an irruption. Many of these birds were observed in Kansas this past winter (2011-2012). Most of them were underweight and desperate for food. They are attracted to the Kansas prairie since it is similar to the broad expanse of tundra Snowies find suitable for hunting. However, some were killed flying into objects like cars, barbed wire fences and power lines that are uncommon in the arctic tundra. The Snowy Owl is a dramatic bird with piercing yellow eyes and its mostly white plumage concealing a black beak. The last Snowy Owl irruption occurred in 2009. A graph showing Snowy Owl sightings south of the arctic from 2008-2012 is available at ebird.org http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/the-winter-of-the-snowy-owl.

An excellent video is available at http://magblog.audubon.org/northern-states-see-rare-invasion-snowy-owls.

Spotted Bass

Spotted bass by Eric Engbretson

Spotted bass by Eric Engbretson

Spotted Bass: Photo by ERIC ENGBRETSON

The Spotted bass (Kentucky bass) (Micropterus punctulatus) is a freshwater fish belonging to the Perch family. In Kansas it is native to many eastern streams, especially those streams in the Flint Hills with limestone bottoms that also have some aquatic vegetation. The male will form a nest by sweeping silt from the bottom for the female’s eggs that he then guards. Spotted bass consume other small fish, crayfish and aquatic insects. It spawns in smaller tributaries of larger streams and reservoirs in early spring. It resembles the Largemouth bass in general appearance and coloration but with the presence of irregular spots along the lateral line. There are also small black spots along the belly. By comparison, the white bass has a more linear lateral line. Also the Spotted bass has a smaller mouth that extends just below the eye.