Friday, August 31, 2012

Walking Sticks

      One of the coolest wild hand pets is the walking stick.  Kansas is favored with a couple of species.  By looking like a stick, they are able to easily conceal themselves from predators, earning them their name.  While they can be found on various grasses and broad-leaf plants, they really like multi-flowered scurfpea (wild alfalfa).  

     Scout the countryside.  Find a pasture with some taller grass and forbs (broadleaf plants) and search for this leggy insect.  Sweeping the vegetation with an insect net is an easy way to collect walking sticks.  These are great amusements for kids of all ages.  Harmless, they are fun to allow them to explore their temporary human habitat.  These are just another of the very interesting wild creatures of the Kansas prairie which are very easy for handling--another simple cure for nature deficit disorder.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Traveling Tarantulas

Its nearly September and time for the Texas Brown Tarantulas to begin their annual fall dispersal.  Typically, the males are seen crossing roads in the Red Hills and other parts of southern Kansas this time of year.  Stan Roth was kind enough to correct my mistake (thank you) on description of the sex originally as female in my first posting.  It is, indeed, the males that do the roaming.  

These large spiders can raise up on their hind legs and act very menacing but it's generally just a big show.  Not totally harmless, they do have fangs although it takes a lot of harassment to get them to fang you.  Its not a strong venom though and cannot kill you.  They do have hairs on their abdomen which can be somewhat irritating to skin.  They do have enemies though.

The Tarantula Hawk is actually a wasp.  They were also hunting this blacktop road this evening, looking for a tarantula to sting and then carry off to a hole.  It will bury the tarantula in the hole with an egg so that the young wasp will have a first meal as it emerges.  Its always an entertwining and exciting drama in the Kansas Outback.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Look What I Caught!

      It's really hard to match the excitement of actually holding a Texas Horned Lizard you caught yourself.  These are some of the coolest live hand pets a kid can experience.  Totally harmless, the misnamed "horny toad" is an incredibly interesting lizard.  While their populations are under threats in other states and on special lists of concern, the horny toad is still quite numerous in the Kansas Outback.  Preferring sandy or rocky soils with sparse cover, they  eat mainly ants.  They flatten and spread their bodies when approached by predators and humans.  Their cryptic camouflage makes them hard to see unless they move, which they don't very much.  Hawks will eat them as well as the Greater Roadrunner which is quite common in the Red Hills and other parts of southern Kansas.  

     Named for the sharp spikes around their head, the Texas Horned Lizard, will try to twist its head and neck to discourage holding.  They are fun to temporarily play with but are very hard to keep in captivity.  They will play dead when turned over and twitch to make it seem they are dying.  On rare occasions, they may squirt a drop of blood from their eyes.  This is not known to occur in the wild but has been observed by handling them.  In hand and flattened, their sides can be pushed up and down where they will "hold the pose."  Nothing in the cyber world can come close to matching the joy and amazement a kid can experience through a real life encounter with a horny toad!