A Spotlight On Missouri Wildlife
From the nine banded armadillo to the spiny softshell turtle, Missouri is home to over 70 species of wild mammals, 200 species of fish, and over 400 species of birds. You’ve probably seen a variety of different animals scurrying through your backyard or grazing peacefully on your morning hike. Here at MCE we’ve picked out a few of our favorite species for you to learn about and look out for.
Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly
This emerald eyed two and a half inch long dragonfly used to roam all along the Midwest and Southern United States. Today, they can only be found in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. These little critters typically reside on wetlands and marshes, keeping a source of water nearby so that the females can lay their eggs. More than 500 eggs can be laid by the females dipping the tip of their body into shallow water as many as 200 times! The baby dragonflies, called nymphs, typically spend 2-4 years in the water before emerging as a full grown dragonfly. Adult dragonflies spend most of their time flying around eating smaller flying insects, including mosquitoes, biting flies and gnats but unfortunately only live for 4-5 weeks.
The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly is also unique in that it is the only dragonfly to be on the endangered species list due to habitat loss and destruction from wetlands being drained and converted to urban and industrial areas. Currently, habitat protection programs have sprung up in places where the Emerald Dragonfly has been spotted but no long term protection programs by the state are in place.
If you think it’s odd that you have never seen or heard of the Pallid Sturgeon it’s because they can only be found in the waters of the Missouri and lower Mississippi river basins. But what they lack in abundance they make up for with age. The Pallid Sturgeon has been around since the Cretaceous Period, around 70 million years ago, when T-Rex and Triceratops still roamed the land. These creatures maintain lengthwise rows of bony plates instead of scales and their mouths are toothless, used for sucking small fishes and invertebrates from the river bottom. Pallid sturgeons can also weigh up to 80 pounds and reach lengths of 6 feet!
These ray finned fishes have been listed as endangered since 1990 due to all of the man made changes to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. From modifications through river channelization and construction of impoundments to commercialized fishing and the use of sturgeon eggs for caviar, it’s pretty rare to spot a Pallid Sturgeon these days. Due to the sturgeon’s extensive eight year time span to reach sexual maturity, raising them in hatcheries and releasing them back to the wild only brings mild success as well. Currently, the Missouri Department of Conservation has an action plan for Pallid Sturgeon protection on their website dated from 1995 but no updates since then. Ideally, more federal and state-led programs to conserve their habitat will continue to spring up so that we can keep these underwater dinosaurs around.
With its slimy skin, flatheaded appearance, and nicknames such as “snot otter” and “devil dog”, you might think that the Hellbender Salamander is not a creature you ever want to lay eyes on. In reality, these (fairly large) critters are relatively harmless and stay to themselves, choosing to live under large flat rocks during the day and only coming out at night to feed. As the third largest aquatic salamander species in the world and the largest in North America, Hellbenders are a part of the Cryptobranchidae family, more commonly known as the giant salamanders. The Hellbenders are known not only for their size though, but for their unique choice in habitat as well. They require cool, clean, fast moving streams where there will be a constant flow of water and oxygen. This is because these salamanders actually obtain most of their oxygen from thousands of capillaries in the folds of their skin. Interestingly enough, these amphibians contain a set of lungs as well. In fact, an experiment was performed where a Hellbender’s lungs were removed to see what the effect would be and the individual continued to live comfortably. Other fun facts about the Hellbender include the male being the one who guards the eggs after chasing the female away and that these salamanders in captivity can live to be in their fifties.
We also should highlight that the Hellbenders are currently endangered due to habitat loss as well as poor water quality and siltation. The downside to breathing through your skin is that if the water around you is filled with piled up sediment and harmful chemicals it makes it very difficult to breathe properly. If you would like to learn more about the Hellbenders and what you can do to help preserve them visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service page for Endangered Species or the Missouri Department of Conservation.
If birds were as competitive as humans and raced to see which species could achieve the fastest speed, the Peregrine Falcon would win pretty handily. Averaging around 30 miles per hour in traveling flight, 69 mph when pursuing prey, and a stunning 200 mph in high speed dives, these falcons are the fastest in the world. These fierce hunters primarily prey on other smaller birds, are recognized by the distinct black stripe on each cheek, and live mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, and coastlines.
Unfortunately, around the mid 1970s Peregrine Falcon numbers dropped dramatically due to unusually high concentrations of the pesticide DDT found in their tissue. The falcons would often prey on birds that ate DDT-contaminated insects or seeds, which caused their eggshells to be too thin and break during incubation or fail to hatch all together. Thankfully, due to large scale reintroduction programs for peregrines in the 1970s and the EPA banning the use of DDT in 1972, these majestic raptors have been making a slow but steady recovery.
If you would like to learn more about different types of Missouri Wildlife and how they live, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website to explore all of the hundreds of species in your backyard. It’s important to learn about endangered species in your area so that you can be sure to avoid endangered habitats and animals while hunting, fishing, or hiking! We also want to encourage you to always speak up if you see unique and vital habitats being threatened in your local area. Thanks for reading!