Membership/Donate

Featured Animal

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)  Photographer: James Getman

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) Photographer: James Getman

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)  Photographer: James Getman

The Virginia opossum is found throughout Kansas in woodlands, croplands and urban yards. It is a marsupial, meaning the female has an external pouch (marsupium) that the newborn must enter to get nourishment from the teats located there. As they grow and develop, they may chose to temporarily leave the pouch, sometimes clinging to the mother’s back as in this photo. Opossums have semi-prehensile tails that allow them to grip tree branches for leverage. However, these prehensile tails are not strong enough by themselves to suspend the animal. As they walk, their tail is often seen grasping leaves to line their nests in the holes of trees or abandoned animal burrows. Their hind feet have an opposable digit that lacks a claw. They can climb trees with ease and spend much of their time there.

They eat small rodents, fruits such as berries, insects, various seeds, snails, crayfish, frogs, lizards, and the eggs of ground nesting birds. Dogs, cats, owls, and other predators kill them but many are killed by cars as they attempt to cross roads.

Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Dogbane Beetle on a Black-eyed Susan.

Dogbane Beetle on a Black-eyed Susan.

Dogbane Leaf Beetle:  Photo by George Grall

The dogbane beetle (Chrysochus auratus) is primarily found east of the Rocky Mountains. It is easy to spot with its iridescent colors of blue-green, metallic copper, with golden or crimson. It has a convex shape. It eats milkweed and dogbane. Dogbane is relative of milkweed and toxic to dogs.

National Geographic states: “This iridescent dogbane leaf beetle, found on a black-eyed susan in Frederick, Maryland, can trace its ancestors to the lower Permian, some 260 million years ago. Beetles survived the massive Permian and Triassic extinctions as well as two subsequent global extinctions, and now, with some 350,000 identified species, they are the animal kingdom’s most successful members.”

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)  Photo Credit: http://www.raccoonfactshub.com

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Photo Credit: http://www.raccoonfactshub.com

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Photo Credit: http://www.raccoonfactshub.com

Raccoons are highly intelligent & inquisitive. They are easily identified by the black mask around their eyes and by the vertical black stripe between their eyes. They have a ringed tail and pointed muzzle. They are excellent swimmers and good climbers. Molecular studies indicate raccoons are related to the bear. Raccoons are most abundant in the eastern part of Kansas where there are more mature deciduous and mixed forests, waterways and agriculture. Since amphibians, crustaceans and other animals found around the shore of lakes, rivers and marshes are an important part of the raccoon’s diet, lowland deciduous and mixed forests sustain the highest population densities of raccoon. The exceptional tactile sensation on their front paws helps them detect food in streams. Being omnivorous, they also eat corn, milo, acorns, mulberries, fruits, nuts, berries plus grasshoppers, fish, frogs, clams, crayfish and eggs. Although they do not hibernate, they will den to avoid cold weather or deep snowfall. Dens are hollow trees, rock crevices & burrows of other animals including abandoned beaver lodges. Fossils found in the Great Plains date back to the Pliocene era. Today raccoons are expanding their range north into Canada as temperatures continue to rise. Oh yes, since they are nocturnal, if they get into your attic they will keep you up all night. Since raccoons have the potential for carrying rabies, programs exist for trapping, vaccinating and releasing animals to reduce the spread of the disease.

Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Walleye photo from http://www.fastactionfishing.com/walleye/

Walleye photo from http://www.fastactionfishing.com/walleye/

Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Photo Credit: http://www.fastactionfishing.com/walleye/

 

Walleyes are large freshwater predatory fish with sharp teeth. The dorsal side of a walleye is olive, graduating to golden hues on its flanks and white on its belly. The body also has five darker saddles extending partially down its flanks. The first dorsal fin, the anal fin and the bony gill cover (operculum) are spiny. The first dorsal fin lacks spots and the membrane between the spines is opaque. Although not native to Kansas, the Walleye was introduced during the 1960’s by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks. This highly prized fish naturally spawns during March and April when water temperatures approach 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, fishermen benefit from artificial spawning conducted by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl Photo by Judd Patterson

Burrowing Owl Photo by Judd Patterson

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)   Photo by Judd Patterson

Although burrowing owls 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 have an adverse impact on their success also.

Prairie Rattlesnake

083V#4

Prairie Rattlesnake.     Photo by Shaina Niehans

The PRAIRIE RATTLESNAKE (Crotalus viridis) is 3-4 feet long. It is especially common in western Kansas in open rocky areas, prairies and even agricultural land. The prairie rattler eats mostly small rodents such as white-footed mice, shrews, voles, house mice plus prairie dogs, small birds & young rabbits. Its fangs deliver an hemotoxic venom that circulates through the bloodstream causing tissue damage and internal bleeding plus very intense pain. It is active in the daytime. It has an infrared (heat) sensing pit located between the eye and nostrils. This feature is shared by cottonmouths and copperheads collectively referred to as pit vipers, although cottonmouths and copperheads lack a rattle. After being bitten, it is important to get immediate attention at a hospital where anti-venom can be administered. An excellent source of information is The Kansas School Naturalist http://www.emporia.edu/ksn/v05n3-feb1959/index.html. Also a booklet entitled “The Snakes, Lizards, Turtles, and Amphibians of Fort Riley and Vicinity” by Busby, Collins & Suleiman is available from the Kansas Biological Survey in cooperation with the U. S. Department of the Army. It includes photos by Suzanne L. Collins of the Center for North American Herpetology.

Firefly

Firefly (Photinus pyralis): Photo by Terry Priest. http://www.frfly.com/tutorial/firefly-photography.htm

 

 

Firefly photo by Terry Priest

Firefly photo by Terry Priest

Fireflies or lightning bugs are nocturnal, winged beetles that produce a yellow, green, or pale red light from light-emitting organs in their lower abdomen by a process called bioluminescence. Even their larva emit light, hence the name glowworm is occasionally used but should not be confused with another distinct beetle family. Larval bioluminescence is a warning to predators that fireflies are distasteful and may be toxic. In some fireflies, even the eggs are bioluminescent. After mating, a female will lay her eggs on the ground amongst leaf litter, for example, or just barely below the surface of the ground. Three to four weeks later the eggs hatch and the young larvae feed all summer on slugs, snails, worms and other insects. Firefly larvae hibernate during the winter and emerge

in the spring to feed for a few more weeks before pupating into adults that we see during darkness. Firefly populations seem to be declining probably from loss of natural habitats like meadows and woodland edges by homes with landscaped lawns. Pesticide use on lawns and gardens as well as the use of DDT to kill mosquitoes has also had a damaging effect on fireflies.

Western Ornate Box Turtle

 

Photo from Catcher in My Eye

Photo from Catcher in My Eye

 

Western Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate) is the Kansas State Reptile.

The following comments are adapted from Catcher In My Eye’s Flicker album.

The Western Ornate Box Turtle is 4-5 inches long with a flattened-dome carapace (top shell) that is dark brown or black with bright yellow lines that radiate to form a starburst pattern. The plastron (under shell) is marked with yellow and brown lines. The head is dark brown with spots of white or yellow. I have found her enjoying Mulberries fallen off the Mulberry tree on my property. A mature female box turtle will lay 3-6 eggs each spring in a shallow nest. The unguarded eggs hatch in late summer or early fall. Box turtles commonly reach 25-30 years of age (some have lived 40-50 years).The habitat of a Western Box Turtle is grasslands and open wooded areas of the Plains states. Generally male box turtles have orange or red eyes and a slightly concave plastron, while females have brown or light orange eyes and a nearly flat plastron.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon by Bob Gress

Peregrine Falcon by Bob Gress

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).        Photo Credit: Bob Gress The peregrine falcon has a distinctive black head with a “moustache” over its beak, continuing onto a blue-grey back. Its white underparts are barred. They nest as far north as the  Arctic tundra and winter in South America. Homing instincts lead them back to their nesting sites (aeries) that have often been used by uninterrupted generations of falcons. Peregrine populations became endangered because of the widespread use of DDT during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s but have responded to curtailed use of DDT and other pesticides. DDT was believed to reduce the amount of calcium in their eggshells. Thinner shells broke prematurely resulting in poor hatching success. The peregrine falcon was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list on August 25, 1999 and from the Kansas list in 2009. In natural surroundings, the peregrine falcon nests in a scrape on cliff edges. The female scrapes a shallow depression in loose soil, sand or gravel in which to lay eggs. No nest materials are used. In cities, man-made structures like bridges and building ledges have become substitutes for the cliffs as nesting locations. The peregrine is renowned for its speed, reaching more than 200 mph during high speed hunting dives known as stoops (wings tucked in close to the body). These dives take many different waterfowl and shorebirds plus pigeons, doves, flickers and meadowlarks. Their dramatic courtship flights showcase aerial acrobatics, spectacularly steep dives and precise spirals.

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch, U.S.D.A.

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

The yellow perch has a yellow to brass-colored body with a distinct pattern of 5-9 olive-green, vertical, triangular stripes on its sides. Its fins are lighter in color with orange margins. The anterior portion of the body tapers to a slender caudal peduncle. Yellow perch have two dorsal fins and a forked caudal fin.

They spawn in the spring at night when water temperatures are between 2.0 and 18.6°C. Eggs are fertilized externally. Egg strands are commonly draped over submerged vegetation. Yellow perch are found in shallow water such as shorelines of lakes and slow-moving rivers and streams where the water is clear and cool. In summer, as the water warms, perch seek deeper, cooler water. Trout populations suffer in lakes where perch have been introduced since they cannot compete successfully for food.

Yellow perch are an important food source for birds such as double-crested cormorants, eagles, hawks, herons, kingfishers, mergansers, loons and white pelicans.