Awesome Armadillos!

The nine-banded armadillo invasion of Missouri is over. Armadillos have now been found near the Missouri-Iowa border and in the St. Louis metro area they are now almost as common roadkill as are racoons. I find these animals fascinating and Sarah and I once kept one as a pet for a brief time. Casey and I found several armadillos digging up plant bulbs in the fields of Peck Ranch while looking for elk last winter.

One of several nine-banded armadillos we found at Peck Ranch C.A. during mid-December, 2020.

There are all sorts of interesting bits of information that can be shared about these guys. Here are a couple of my favorites. 1) Twenty five years ago you would not find armadillos anywhere in the state. 2) The armadillo is the only other known animal, besides humans, to carry the disease leprosy. These two factoids are related because they likely have the same underlying cause behind them – the lower body temperature of armadillos. Armadillos have a lower working body temperature than most mammals, maintaining it at about 89 °F. The increasingly warmer winters over the past few decades has allowed the armadillo to get through the previously limiting winters, allowing their northward expansion. Their lower body temperature also allows them to be carriers of the bacteria (Mycobacterium leprae) known to cause leprosy. This bacteria thrives in tissues of lower temperatures, such as the tips of our noses and fingers and within the armadillo.

Much like most mammals in our state, the nine-banded armadillo has famously bad eyesight. They rely primarily on their keen noses to sense the world around them.

-OZB

Styrax americanus (American Snowbell)

Found in approximately nine counties in southeastern Missouri, Styrax americanus can be found in low-lying wet habitats. This individual was found at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. This plant is one of many different hosts of the promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea).

Styrax americanus – the American Snowbell. Photographed on May 22, 2021 at Mingo NWR near Puxico, MO.

The Last of the Ladies Tresses

This year I was able to find and photograph the last two of the Spiranthes (ladies tresses) orchids that can be expected to be found in Missouri.

First up is a plant that Casey and I found in Nevada County, Arkansas on May 9th. To my knowledge, S. praecox (grass-leaved ladies tresses) is found in only one location in the Show Me State. However, after checking for it on a few occasions, it looks as though the plant(s) did not bloom this year. Hopefully this population is still there and will bloom in a future year. The couple of blooming spikes Casey and I found in Arkansas were very striking, with deep green venation on the labellum.

Spiranthes praecox, grass-leaved ladies tresses

It is interesting to me that the final two Spiranthes orchids I had to add to my list are the largest two species by far. While S. praecox can reach heights of up to 75 cm, S. vernalis (spring ladies tresses) has been recorded at a meter in height! This species is distributed throughout the state, but is considered locally rare. This plant was found at Otter Slough C.A.

Spiranthes vernalis, spring ladies tresses

Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina sp.)

Here we have a few shots of a small carpenter bee that was very cooperative this past April at Beckemeier Conservation Area as it nectared from a spring beauty blossom. This is one of the bees that nests and overwinters in old broken pithy stems that it excavates. So here is who you might be helping by leaving your dead stems sit through the winter.

Back to the Prairie Platanthera

We really lucked out this past June when Casey and I took a trip to the northwest of Missouri in search of the two state-endangered prairie-fringed orchids. We were not sure if we would find Platanthera leucophaea (eastern prairie-fringed orchid) at all and chances were iffy to find both species flowering simultaneously. During some years, there may be gaps in the phenology of flowering of these two species in the state, which would require at least a couple of these long trips. As mentioned above, we not only found both species in our search but found them both at near-peak bloom.

First up is Platanthera praeclara (western prairie-fringed orchid) that we found in a reliable spot in Harrison County.

The state-endangered and federally-threatened Platanthera praeclara was photographed with a backdrop of tallgrass prairie in Harrison County, MO
Naturally pollinated by nocturnal sphinx moths, some state programs are now hand-pollinating prairie-fringed orchids in efforts to increase populations and reintroduce the plants to new areas.

We were thrilled to find a population of approximately 40 Platanthera leucophaea (eastern prairie-fringed orchid) plants at a Grundy County location.

A pair of Platanthera leucophaea stand tall in a wet prairie in Grundy Co, MO.
The long nectar spurs require an insect with a long proboscis to act as pollinator of Platanthera leucophaea.
A pair of grasshopper nymphs feeding on Platanthera leucophaea. This was the only plant we observed with heavy arthropod feeding pressure like this.

Hottonia inflata (American Featherfoil)

Many thanks to Stephen, Pete and Casey for introducing me to this special plant this spring. Hottonia inflata, or American featherfoil, is ranked as imperiled (S2) in the state of Missouri and is a species of conservation concern in most states within its range. The destruction of wetlands habitats in the U.S. is the cause of the scarcity of this winter annual member of the primrose family (Primulaceae). The stems of this plant are spongy organs filled with air pockets and are the characteristic described in the specific name – inflata.

The gas-filled stems and leaves of Hottonia inflata allow this aquatic member of the primrose family to keep its flowers above the water’s surface.