Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Curious Fawn

     Its a baby deer, a fawn, coming up to inspect us hiding in the darkness of the living room.  Is it abandoned?  Should we take it and try to take care of it?  Take it to someone who can?  The answer to all of these questions is NO NO NO.  But most people cannot stand to hear "NO."  The nurturing instinct is so strong that even usually rational people will do silly things.  In this case, it would be the worst thing for this young deer.  The truth is, this deer is obviously in good health.  It has a couple small bumps on its head, the sites for emergence of the small, first year antler knobs for this "button" buck.  And, its mother, the doe, is about 50 yards away watching from the cover of plum bushes.  But most people feel they have to "save" this fawn.  This is another manifestation of people becoming urbanized and losing any semblance of nature's reality.  Unfortunately, most people get their "reality" from unreal portrayals by TV, movies and other sources.  This fawn, our "pet" yard fawn, will be best raised by its own mother.  To take it in and "help" it survive would mean that it would habituate to humans.  When it grows up with really sharp, pointy antlers, it would someday turn on some human, of which it is unafraid because of its upbringing by a human, and will try to gore that human because its hormones are raging.  Or it will succumb to disease more easily because of some kind of confinement.  Or it could possibly convey some disease from one area to where ever it is delivered for "saving."  
     The truth is the hardest thing for people to accept and it is never truer when it comes to the insatiable "need" to save some child of nature--a nature which is indifferent to compassion.  Nature simply is what it is, the natural order of animals to implement their genetic code and behavior--one which includes birth, life and death.  Our interference in this process many times leads to misplaced passion and sad results.  So, we leave our own "pet" fawn to its own mother and will hopefully watch it grow up as a wild part of the Kansas Outback.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Cowkiller

     This is one intriguing insect.  Usually called a "velvet ant" this is actually a wingless wasp.  In fact it is the wingless female and it can pack a powerful sting.  The sting is so painful, it has earned this insect the name of "cowkiller."  Supposedly it hurts so badly it could kill a cow.  Well I don't want to find out.  But as you can see in the video, they are usually running away from you.  They aren't aggressive so aren't a threat unless you try to step on one barefooted or pick one up.  The close up was of one I had frozen for preservation.  
     These wasps are parasites on other wasps--especially the giant cicada killers.  The cicada killer stings a cicada and takes it to a hole where an egg is laid on the cicada and the young cicada killer then will feed on the cicada.  But, just when the young cicada killer is in a pupae stage, the cowkiller (velvet ant female) comes into the hole and doubles down on the parasite plan by laying an egg on the pupae.  The cowkiller larvae feeds on the cicada killer pupae which had fed on the cicada.  Now isn't that special?!  Oh, one other cool thing about these animals is that if you pin it down with a twig, it makes a squeeking sound.  Nature is so incredibly fascinating in the Kansas Outback.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Armadillo Antics

   Been seeing any armadillos around?  Chances are that you have, particularly if you live in the southern half of Kansas.  The Nine-banded Armadillo has been steadily expanding its range northward in recent years. Out in the southern Kansas Outback, the armadillo has been commonly seen, but even here, this critter has become more prevalent.   According to the Kansas Mammals Atlas (google it), the furthest northern record in Kansas is in Rooks County near Zurich.  Many animals have been demonstrating climate change even before some of the sophisticated science behind such evidence of the Antarctica ice coring.  The northward expansion of this species is another harbinger of this phenomenon.  
   This is a very interesting animal in that it uniquely produces quadruplets, always.  While often a nuisance for well-manicured lawns, the animal does eat grubs so is a natural insect control--and provides some unwanted aeration for the yard.  As seen in the video, they are approachable and have poor eyesight.  However, they have a good sense of smell and often raise up on their hind legs to get a sniff of any intruders.  Then they are likely to jump up a couple of feet before running off.  The Nine-banded Armadillo--another interesting feature of the Kansas Outback.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Killer Snake

     To avid herpetologists who find so much to admire with such fascinating animals as snakes, it seems silly that so many people are afraid of them.  I found this young bullsnake in the driveway this morning.  Since it seemed quite lively, I decided to "play" with it a while.  Better yet, I thought the encounter might yield a good teaching opportunity.  Often, finding a bullsnake on the road results in the snake putting on quite a display of hissing, striking and even rattling its tail as if it were a rattlesnake.  I usually find that after a few seconds of these aggressive attempts, the snake can be easily picked up and calms down immediately.  All of the dramatic aggression is just a bluff--most of the time.  But this young bullsnake was up for a fight.  I wouldn't normally just let a snake bite me but I thought this might be a good demonstration that non-venomous snakes are really quite harmless, even if they do bite.  As you can see in this short clip, I let this one at me but its really not a big deal.  But, they do have very sharp but small teeth and can easily make little cuts and make you bleed.  The biggest threat is possible infection so washing thoroughly is always a good idea when handling any wild animals, especially if they've happened to take a little bite out of you.  
After having some fun with this youngster, I simply picked it up to admire and take some more pictures.  Yeah sure, they cause a stir with some folks.  But, I think they are the most graceful and beautiful of animals--one of the masterpieces of natural selection.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Liz and Julie check a mist net over a small stream for bats.
Big Brown Bat

     Julie (in red) and Liz (in green) were up from Texas Tech University to collect some bats in the Red Hills and I was fortunate to be an assistant.  Both are in their doctorate programs at the university.  Bats are under significant threats from White Nose Syndrome and continued habitat modifications and misinformation about them.  Of the Kansas 15 species, over half of them occur in the Red Hills.  They come out to feed along streams and over ponds at night with peak activities from dusk until about midnight and then again just before dawn.  They live in caves, barns, abandoned houses and outbuildings along with old cellars and cracks in canyon walls.  This Big Brown Bat was among three species caught a few nights ago in these mist nets which are also used to catch birds in daytime by ornithologists.  Night is not a bad time to work in this searing heat but its always a good time to see all the nocturnal creatures.  Armadillos, raccoons, Barred Owls and an interesting assortment of moths, dragonflies, spiders and coyotes also kept company.  You can't ask for more in an interesting night in the Kansas Outback.