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Featured Animal

Woodchuck (Marmota monax)

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Photo Credit: Miroslav Halama

Woodchucks or “groundhogs” are the largest member of the squirrel family in Kansas where they live in shrublands, woodlands, and even uncultivated croplands. Their senses of vision, olfaction and hearing are acute. Their fur has two types of hair: a layer of short softer hair and longer guard hairs that protrude above these. They can both swim and climb trees. During the summer they eat wild forbs, bark and tree buds but may also eat alfalfa and grain crops if available. Their incisors grow continuously as they wear down from gnawing. Woodchucks dig extensive burrows with their flat raccoon like paws. The burrow includes a grass-lined nesting chamber where they hibernate in the winter with reduced heart rates (four beats/minute) and body temperatures close to the ambient temperature of the underground den. A litter of 4-5 kits is born in April or May.

Green Dragonfly

Photo Credit: Neahga Leonard

Dragonflies (Odonata) are winged insects with six legs but we remember their two pairs of wings most with their rapid beat and the elaborate venation.  Their aquatic larvae (nymphs) develop from eggs deposited upon floating aquatic vegetation or in the water. These larvae actually spend as much as two to five years below water feeding upon mosquito larvae and even tiny tadpoles or fish.  They eventually climb out of the water and shed their skin to become an adult. As an adult they live a year unless migrating to climates that do not freeze. While migrating, some dragonflies travel anywhere from a few miles to a hundred miles a day. They can only fly in warm temperatures, coming to rest when temperatures drop, even when it becomes cloudy. They resemble damselflies. But, at rest, dragonflies extend their wings laterally (90 degress away from their bodies) while damselflies hold their wings close to their bodies.

Green Dragonfly:       Photo Credit: Neahga Leonard

Green Dragonfly: Photo Credit: Neahga Leonard

Ring-necked Pheasant (male)

Pheasant,_Common_male_q2c2052a_std Credit by Alan D. Wilson

The Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus Linnaeus) is a chicken-like bird that arrived in North America from China in the 1800s and became established by the end of the 19th century. A critical requirement of ring-necked pheasants is a mixture of different habitats in close proximity to provide for all the foraging, nesting, brood-rearing, roosting, and escape cover. Hedgerows and fencerows along agricultural land provide protective cover as does the leeward side of willows. The combination of thickets and native grasses near agricultural land is very beneficial since pheasants consume seeds and grains. In Kansas, wheat stubble is particularly effective. Pheasant populations have declined in the face of intense fire control, chemical eradication of nesting and protective cover, over grazing, and mowing of vegetative buffers along highways. Consequently, it is not surprising that pheasant populations have responded to improved habitat provided by the USDA Conservation Reserve Program. For more information visit the websites for Pheasants Forever; and, Quail and Upland Wildlife.

Barred Tiger Salamander

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Barred Tiger Salamander. Photo Credit: Michael Ray

The barred tiger salamander was named the State Amphibian of Kansas after being nominated by the second grade class at OK Elementary School in Wichita. It is the largest salamander in Kansas growing to almost a foot in length. Its dorsal surface can be a grey, dark brown or black that is interrupted by yellow spots and stripes. They are nocturnal so don’t expect to find them easily. They eat insects, slugs and worms. Adults are terrestrial but the juvenile larvae are entirely aquatic with six external gills on both sides of the neck. The eggs are laid in temporary water pools to avoid predation by fish that use larger bodies of water. Swamps & marshes are ideal but even spring-time pools that form in shallow ditches or in the concave surface of large rocks may be suitable.