Species Profile: Agkistrodon contortrix – Copperhead

Scientific Name: Agkistrodon contortrix

Common Name(s): Copperhead, Northern Copperhead, Southern Copperhead

Identification: Copperheads are heavy bodied venomous snakes in the pit-viper family. They have tan-brown bodies with dark brown hourglass shapes lining the length of the body. The hourglass shapes are narrower toward the top of the back and get wider as they go down toward the stomach. These make them highly camouflaged in forested areas, especially with abundant leaf litter. There are pit glands in the head between the eye and nostril that sense heat and help identify prey and predators. Their eyes blend in well with the color of their skin and they have dark black vertical pupils (cat eyes).  Juveniles resemble adults but have yellow tails. Copperheads can range in size from 20-40 in. with males being larger than females.

Range: Agkistrodon contortrix is found in the eastern and central United States, except most of Florida.

Ecology: Copperheads mostly prefer forests with rocky, wooded hillsides that have plenty of logs, leaves, or rocks for cover. They can also be found near streams, wetlands, urban and suburban habitats. Although copperheads are adaptable to different habitats, they do avoid areas that are open like pastures or fields used for farming. They can be found at any time, day or night. In the warmer seasons they mostly forage at night. They can be seen basking during the day or coiled in ambush positions.  In forest areas with a lot of leaf litter, they are almost impossible to see, especially when coiled and still.

Copperheads are venomous, although their venom is not very potent compared to other pit vipers. Deaths from copperhead bites are very rare and most bites occur from stepping on or harassing a snake. Many times, a copperhead will “dry bite” when harassed or disturbed, meaning it does not inject any venom. Symptoms of a copperhead bite include pain, tingling, swelling, throbbing, and nausea. A large dose of venom can cause damage to muscle and bone tissue.  Medical attention should be sought from any bite in case an allergic reaction or infection occurs. There are anti-venoms used to treat snake bites, although sometimes the symptoms from them are worse than the snake bite itself. The best thing to do when seeing a copperhead is to leave it alone and give it space. It is also a good idea to pay special attention to where you are walking, especially in forested areas where spotting snakes is difficult.

Copperheads feed on a variety of prey. They eat primarily mice, but also small birds, lizards, other snakes, amphibians and cicadas. They are primarily ambush predators, staying coiled and camouflaged until prey comes within striking distance, although they will actively prowl for some prey items, like cicadas. Their main predators are humans and vehicles.

Mating occurs in the spring. Males move in search of females and will fight each other in a vertical stance where the top thirds of their bodies entangle. Females give birth to 7-10 (up to 20) live young in the summer.  Females do not reproduce every year. The young are born at around 8 inches in total length and resemble the adults but are lighter in color and have yellow on the tips of their tails. The young use their tail color to lure in prey such as lizards and frogs until they get close enough to attack.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, copperheads could potentially be seen anywhere. Remember that their hourglass bands are narrower on the top of their back and then widen as they move toward their stomachs. This patterning helps distinguish them from the northern water snake which are much more common here. Many snakes are mistaken for copperheads, which gets them killed. The hourglass bands, triangular head, and pit glands can all be used for identifying copperheads. While many people dislike snakes and want to kill them, remember that most snake bites occur because humans try to interact with the snake in some way. They also perform the important ecological function of keeping rodent populations down. It is best to leave these snakes alone and give them plenty of space if seen in the wild.

Species Profile: Chelydra serpentina – Common Snapping Turtle

Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina

Common Name(s): Common Snapping Turtle, Snapping Turtle

Identification: Common snapping turtles are large freshwater turtles with strong jaws that look like a beak. Alligator snapping turtles are similar in appearance but have a much more ridged shell. The older the individual, the smoother the shell. Common snapping turtles have a flat, fleshy tongue while alligator snapping turtles have more of a worm-like tongue used to lure prey. Common snapping turtles have a large head and large eyes. Their tail is long with ridges on the top and they have webbed feet with large claws.  Nostrils positioned on the tip of their beaks makes it possible for them to stretch their long necks up to the surface for air when in shallower waters. They range in size from 8-14 inches in shell length and weigh 10-35 pounds. The world record is for a captive turtle measuring 19.5 inches in length and 86 pounds.

Range: Snapping Turtles are found from southern Canada in the north to south Texas and Florida and is present as far west as the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Ecology: Common snapping turtles are mostly found in freshwater but can be found in brackish water. These aquatic turtles prefer slow moving water and muddy bottoms with vegetation. They do not normally bask in the sun like other smaller turtles. Instead, they bask by floating just under or on the surface of the water. They are mostly found under aquatic vegetation or buried in muddy or sandy substrate in shallower waters.

Common snapping turtles are normally calm when in the water. However, when threatened or cornered they can be very aggressive. This aggression is mostly seen when the turtle is out of the water. It is quite clumsy on land, and therefore feels it must defend itself. They will strike with their powerful jaws to protect themselves. They cannot retract all the way into their shells and their stomachs and limbs are fleshy, so they use aggression to protect themselves from predators.

Common snapping turtles are omnivores that consume fish, frogs, aquatic vegetation, and a wide variety of other vertebrate and invertebrate prey. They are important aquatic scavengers as well as active predators.

In the wild, common snapping turtles can live up to 30 years. Hatchlings are very vulnerable, although adults have few natural predators. Predators of hatchlings and eggs include crows, mink, skunks, foxes, raccoons, herons, and snakes. Adults are most vulnerable out of water. Many are struck by vehicles while moving between water bodies.

Mating occurs from April-November. Females can hold onto a male’s sperm for several seasons if needed. The female will construct a hole to lay the eggs in and can lay up to 83 eggs. Eggs will hatch between 9-18 weeks depending on weather. There is no parental care for hatchlings.

Many people think it is OK to pick these animals up by the tail, but this can cause series injury to the animal, as it pulls on their vertebrae. It is also not a good idea to get the animal to bite a stick and drag it across the ground, as this can lead to scrapes which can become infected. If an animal must be handled, it can safely be picked up by holding the shell above the hind legs (demonstrated below).

 

 

Chris Fuller with an adult male common snapping turtle at a Berksdale golf pond.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, common snapping turtles can be found in the lakes, streams, or in golf course ponds, and are mainly active April-November. You should always be cautious around these animals, especially if seen out of water where they feel more threatened and become aggressive. If approached in water, they will normally just swim away and avoid confrontation. Vehicles are a major source of adult deaths when moving between water bodies, so be cautious when driving.

Species Profile: Rubus (Genus) – Blackberry

Scientific Name: Rubus (Genus)

Common Name(s): Blackberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ripe,_ripening,_and_green_blackberries.jpg © Ragesoss

Identification: The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by plants in the genus Rubus. Since there are many species in this genus that all hybridize with each other, it is hard to tell species apart. The blackberry plant superficially resembles the raspberry, although it can be easily distinguished by the removal of the fruit. When picking a blackberry off the stem, a part of the stem will often come with the fruit. When picking a raspberry, the stem remains on the plant and leaves a hole on the inside of the raspberry. For a first-year blackberry cane reaches a full length of 3-20 ft. depending on species. The leaves are large with 5-7 leaflets. A two-year-old blackberry cane grows side stems that will flower and have smaller leaves. Stems are covered with short, curved prickles that are extremely sharp. The blackberries appear to be bumpy on the outside and have numerous large seeds. When ripe, they are black, juicy and delicious. Before the blackberries become ripe, they are red, which caused the saying “blackberries are red when they’re green”. The flowers of a blackberry plant have white or pale pink petals, usually 1 inch across.

Range: Species of Rubus are found in Europe, North America and Mexico. Mexico is the primary cultivator of blackberries, especially in the off season for North America and Europe. The blackberry may have up to 700 species within the genus all of which hybridize regularly.

Ecology: The leaves on a blackberry plant are food for several caterpillars and deer. The blackberries are eaten by many mammals including the red fox, badger, black bear and small birds. These animals also help in dispersing the seeds of the blackberry plants. Plants grow rapidly almost anywhere and can thrive even in poor soil.  Flowers bloom in late spring or early summer. In many countries where blackberries are not native; like Australia, Chile and New Zealand, they are considered invasive and a weed.

Blackberries have many uses for all the nutritional benefits they contain including dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K and antioxidants. Some people do not like them because of their abundant and large seeds, although the seeds contain oil rich in omega-3 and 6 fats, as well as other nutrients. Blackberries are popular to eat as-is, or to use in jams, desserts, wine and candy.

Since blackberries are in the same genus as raspberries, they often get the same diseases as well. Anthracnose is a disease causing the berry to ripen irregularly and also slows sap flow. A cure for this disease is the Bordeaux mixture which contains lime, water and copper sulfate. A major nuisance of the blackberry plant is the spotted-wing drosophila Drosophila suzukii, a small fruit fly that lays eggs under the skin of the blackberries. The eggs will eventually hatch and grow in the fruit, causing it to be useless for commercial value. The blackberry aphid, Amphorophora rubi, will eat the berries of both plants.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, blackberries occur along roadsides, power line right of ways, wood lines, and nearly everywhere that doesn’t receive regular mowing. Many Bella Vista residents enjoy foraging for these berries in early summer. When engaging in this activity, use insect repellents to minimize contact with ticks and chiggers.

They make great jellies, pies and cobblers, but the wild form is small and very seedy. Much larger cultivated varieties are available, and many do not have thorns. The newest varieties bare on first year canes giving two distinct crops per year. They are easy to grow and a much tastier and cheaper alternative to buying them at the supermarket.

Species Profile: Canis latrans – Coyote

Scientific Name: Canis latrans

Common Name(s): Coyote

Identification: The coyote, Canis latrans, is a medium-sized carnivore commonly mistaken for its close relatives, gray wolf, eastern wolf and red wolf. The coyote is smaller, has longer ears, and has a thinner face and nose than the gray wolf. A coyote’s size and fur color vary by region. Northern subspecies are larger than southern subspecies, and coyotes living at high elevations tend to have more black and gray coloration. On average, male coyotes weigh 18-44 lbs. while females are slightly smaller, weighing 15-40 lbs. Body length ranges from 3-5 ft., and tail length 16 inches., with females being shorter. Scent glands are located around the base of the tail and are bluish-black. Fur color is predominantly gray and red, with black and white scattered around the body. The fur consists of short, soft underfur and long, coarse hair.  Albinism has been found in coyotes but is extremely rare. Coyote tracks can be distinguished from domesticated dog tracks by their more extended, less circular shape.

 

 

Range: The coyote is native to North America and is commonly found from Alaska through Central America. Since they can easily adapt to environments modified by humans, coyotes have been expanding their range eastward over the last 100 years. The elimination of wolves in the east by early European settlers left a niche that the coyote was able to fill. They prey upon foxes which are direct competitors for food. Consequently, areas with high coyote numbers tend to have depressed red and gray fox populations.

Ecology: Coyotes are mainly active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) when they make their unique howls that can be heard from quite a distance. They are more often heard than seen. They make dens in brush piles or near abandoned buildings and prefer to hang around fields or clearings with forest edges, tall weeds and thickets.
Coyotes normally hunt alone or as mated pairs. They are very adaptable and can form loose packs when pursuing larger prey such as deer. They take down prey by the head or throat, attacking from the front. They are considered a nuisance to farmers who have cattle, sheep and goats because of their opportunistic feeding behavior which includes livestock. Coyotes cause more predation losses than wolves because their range is more widely distributed, and their populations are greater. Guard dogs used to protect farm animals help mitigate economic losses.

The coyote consumes mainly meat with prey species including deer, sheep, rabbits, rodents, birds, amphibians, lizards, snakes, fish, crustaceans and insects. They also feed on berries and fruits including blackberries, apples, persimmons, peanuts and peaches. During the winter and early spring, coyotes will eat grass if no other food is available. Some garden vegetables and fruits like watermelon and cantaloupes are occasionally eaten. Although coyotes prefer fresh meat, they will scavenge when they have the opportunity.

Breeding occurs from late December through March. Coyotes have one partner that they are constant companions with. When females are pregnant they will stay at the dens and line it with dried vegetation while the male hunts. On average, six pups are born per litter depending on population density and food availability. Pups depend solely on their mother’s milk for their first 10 days. After that, both male and female parents will regurgitate food for pups. By the time they are 4-6 weeks old, pups can eat small mice, rabbits or pieces of carcasses and are weaned off their mother’s milk. Males have an active role in parenting the young if the female is present. If the female abandons the pups, the male will also. By June to July, the parents and pups leave the den and roam their territory while hunting. Pups can depart from their families by August, but some stay longer.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, coyotes can be commonly seen and heard at night. Day sightings are rare, but possible. They are a common vector for mange and many other canine diseases and conditions. Coyotes are one of the most vocal mammals and have a variety of calls. They can be mistaken for foxes, although they are much larger.

Species Profile: Anas platyrhynchos – Mallard, Wild Duck, Greenhead, Suzie

Identification: The mallard Anas platyrhynchos is a medium sized duck. They are 20-26 inches long and have a wingspan of 32-39 inches. Mallards normally weigh around 1.5-3.5 lbs. Breeding males, called drakes, are distinctive with their iridescent green head, white collar, purple-tinged brown breast, grayish brown wings, and a pale gray belly. The back of the male is black with white borders on the tail. The bill of the male is yellowish orange with a black tip. Females, called hens or ducks, have a mottled body with each separate feather having distinction from cream to very dark brown. They have a cream-colored head and neck with a darker brown on the top of the head and a stripe through their eye. The bill of the female is normally darker than that of the male ranging from black to mottled orange. Both males and females have feathers on their wings that are shimmery purplish-blue, edged with white. These feathers are most often seen at flight or rest. During annual summer molt they temporarily shed these feathers.

 

Range: The mallard occurs across North America. In the northern parts of their breeding range, they are intensely migratory, moving farther south in winter.

Ecology: Mallards reside in many different habitats and climates, from Arctic tundra to subtropical regions. They can be found in both fresh and salt waters. They are also found in the open ocean as long as they can see the coastline. Mallards favor waters with depths less than 3ft and abundant aquatic vegetation.

Mallards usually find mates for breeding around October and November. They will remain together until the female lays eggs in early spring. Males then join with other males forming groups through the molting period in June. Females lay more than half their body weight in eggs, which is very stressful. They require a lot of rest and a feeding area away from predators. Nesting sites that are hidden and unapproachable by ground predators are preferred. They lay 8-13 eggs and incubate them for 27-28 days. It takes 50-60 days for ducklings to get their flight feathers. Ducklings are fully capable of swimming when they hatch, however, they instinctively stay near the mother for warmth, protection, and to learn where to get food.

Mallards are omnivores, consuming invertebrates, crustaceans, worms, seeds, plant matter, small fish, frogs, snails, and roots. Plants normally make up more of their diet during migration and in the winter.  They usually feed by dipping for plant food or browsing.

Mallards are successful at coexisting with humans because of their docile nature. They are desirable because of their beautiful shimmering colors. Because of their adaptability, they can live in urban areas which may have supported more localized, sensitive species of waterfowl. Mallards sometimes create problems through interbreeding with indigenous waterfowl. Mallards are one of the largest and most easily recognized ducks common to Arkansas. Males are sometimes called “Greenhead” and females are known as “Suzie.” Mallards are popular with waterfowl hunters for their meat.

Special Notes: Mallards are the most familiar duck to most people, and well adapted to living around human activity. Many are even semi-domesticated and have learned to live on handouts around city parks and lakes. Feeding waterfowl is unhealthy for the birds and should be avoided.

Species Profile: Castor canadensis – North American Beaver

Scientific Name: Castor canadensis

Common Name(s): North American Beaver, American Beaver, Canadian Beaver, Beaver

Identification: The North American beaver, Castor canadensis, is the largest rodent in North America. They could be mistaken for a nutria, but nutria do not have the large flat paddle-shaped tail like beavers. Adults weigh from 24-71 lbs. and their body length ranges from 29-35 inches and the tail adds 8-14 inches. The beaver has many adaptations that lend them to a life in the water. The beaver has webbed hind feet and smaller, un-webbed, front clawed feet. When underwater, beavers’ eyes are covered by a membrane that allows them to see and they can also close off their ears and nostrils when underwater. Their fur consists of long, coarse outer hairs and short, fine underfur for insulation. Fur is normally dark brown, and they have large, strong, incisor teeth used for cutting down trees. These teeth grow continuously so they do not get worn down. Scent glands located next to their genitals secrete an oily substance called castoreum, which makes their fur waterproof. Beavers also have a flap in their throat that makes it impossible for them to accidentally breathe through their mouth while underwater.

Range: The beaver is native to Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico. It’s found throughout North America except the arctic tundra, peninsular Florida, and deserts in the southwestern United States. Beavers have been introduced in many other countries around the world.

Beavers were nearly extirpated due to the fur trade in North America during the 1800’s. By the end of the 1800’s, beavers were eliminated from most of Arkansas and were reintroduced in the 1940’s. They are now considered a pest in many areas because of flooding caused by dams and felling of trees.

Ecology: Beavers are active on land and in water and are mainly nocturnal. They inhabit permanent water-bodies including lakes, streams, ponds and rivers. They are excellent swimmers and can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes. Due to vulnerability to land predators, they prefer to stay in the water. Their large paddle-like tail is not only used for swimming, but also as fat storage and to signal danger by slapping it on the surface of the water. Common predators include coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and black bears.

Beavers construct their homes, or “lodges,” out of sticks, twigs, rocks and mud. These mounds have underwater access and are surrounded by water. Lodges can also be burrows dug into banks. They are well known for building dams across streams and then constructing their lodge in the pond that forms. Lodges normally have several entrances underwater and two platforms above the water surface that they dry off on. Towards winter, beavers cover their lodge with mud, which is like concrete when frozen, helping keep predators at bay. A small air hole is left in the top of the lodge. The purpose of the dam is to create deep water allowing the beaver to escape from terrestrial predators. If deep water is already present in a water-body, the beaver will burrow in the bank and make an underwater entrance.

Beavers mate between late December and May, commonly in January. Beavers are monogamous, mating with one partner for multiple breeding seasons, usually for life. Females have one litter per year and the young “kits” typically remain with their parents for up to two years. Females have an average of 2-3 kits per litter.

The North American beaver consumes bark, twigs, leaves and aquatic vegetation, because, unlike most mammals, beavers can digest cellulose.

Beavers are considered pests in many areas because of their destructive nature, however, they help many waterfowl and fish species by creating habitat. Trumpeter swans and Canada geese often depend on beaver lodges as nesting sites. Their dams and lodges also provide habitat for many fish species. The presence of beaver dams has been shown to increase either the number of fish, their size, or both, in studies of trout species.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, beavers usually do not cause many major problems. Occasionally, beavers chew the bark from land owners’ trees, or they may chew through a wooden seawall to make a lodge in the bank. Beaver numbers are low as is resulting damage.

Species Profile: Diospyros Virginiana – Persimmon

Scientific Name: Diospyros Virginiana

Common Name(s): Persimmon, American Persimmon, Common Persimmon, Possumwood, Sugar-plum, Eastern Persimmon

Identification: Persimmon refers to several species in the genus Diospyros. The species present in Arkansas is the American persimmon. The American persimmon Diospyros virginiana is a small tree usually 30-80 feet in height, with a short, slender trunk and spreading branches that form a rounded covering. Large specimens can grow to 115 feet. The roots are thick, and the bark is dark brown to dark gray with a rough surface.

The wood from a persimmon is very dark, heavy, hard, close grained, and strong: a true ebony and a valuable decorative wood. It remains a favored club head for golf clubs. The leaves are 4-6 inches long, oval, and thick. They are dark green when fully grown and pale underneath and in autumn turn orange or reddish. Persimmons produce fragrant flowers and fruit, called persimmons or “Simmons.” The fruit is round, being 0.8-2.5 inches in diameter, pale orange to red in color, and contains 1-8 seeds. When ripe, the fruit is sweet and delicious, but bitter when green.

 

Range: The American Persimmon is native to the eastern United States, ranging from southern Connecticut to Florida, and west to Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa. Persimmons grow wild but have been grown for both fruit and wood. They reach their largest size in the basin of the Mississippi River.  Other species of persimmon grow around the world, including several in Europe, Asia, North and Central America.

Ecology: Persimmons favor light, sandy, well-drained soil, but will grow in other soils. Individual trees vary in the quality, appearance, and size of fruit, with some producing inedible fruit. A common myth is that persimmon fruit needs frost to ripen. While frost can stimulate the ripening process by breaking down cell walls, it is not required, and can lead to damaged crops.

Persimmons are valued for both wood and fruit. The fruit is a berry that, when ripe, is sweet, juicy, and delicious. A common joke is to have someone eat an unripe persimmon as it is very bitter and likely to make them pucker. The fruit ripens in late autumn and can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked. It is rich in vitamin C, and is used for many things, including molasses, coffee substitutes, pie, pudding, candy, beer, wine, and brandy. Tea can be made from the leaves as well. The dark ebony heartwood is valued as an ornamental wood; it is hard and has a smooth, glossy finish when polished.  However, it can take 100 years to grow any of the dark heartwood.

Because of the many uses of their fruit, wood, and leaves, persimmons are important economically.  Many species and cultivars of persimmon are grown commercially all over the world. Some of these cultivars include early golden, woolbright, and the ennis, a seedless variety. Many species of Diospyros bear fruit inedible to humans. Commercial species are grown in Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, China, and Korea that produce edible fruit.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, persimmons can be spotted in the fall by looking for the fruit as it turns from green to bright orange. Persimmons are a favorite fruit of many animals including the opossum, raccoon, squirrel, fox, skink, deer, turkey coyote, and quail. Residents should be on the lookout for animals traveling to and from known persimmon stands during fruit drop. Harvest for human consumption is best timed around Thanksgiving when the fruit begins to turn soft. By doing so, you avoid the bitter taste and astringent qualities of unripe fruit.

In the Ozarks, farmers traditionally sliced persimmon seeds in half to look at the white embryo in the center. A spoon-shaped embryo suggests heavy snow, a knife-shaped embryo suggests a colder or windier winter and a fork-shaped embryo suggests a warmer winter.  A cursory survey indicates more spoon-shaped embryos in this year’s crop so dig out the snow boots!

Species Profile: Morone chrysops x Morone saxatilis – Hybrid Striped Bass

Scientific Name: Morone saxatilis (Striped Bass) x Morone chrysops (White Bass)

Common Name(s): Hybrid Striped Bass, Wiper, Whiterock Bass, Palmetto Bass, Sunshine Bass, or Cherokee Bass

Identification: The hybrid striped bass Morone saxatilis x Morone chrysops can be distinguished from the white bass by the incomplete/broken horizontal bars on the body. Hybrid striped bass have very distinct lines down the length of their body, with some breaking present. White bass have fainter lines down their body and are unbroken. You can also tell these fish apart by their teeth as white bass have a single patch of teeth in the center of their tongue, while striped bass and hybrid striped bass have two medial tooth patches on the back of their tongues. The other parent species, striped bass, also have unbroken lines down the sides, with the top few lines having offset segments near the head. In terms of body shape, white bass are short from head to tail and deep from back to belly, while the striped bass is long from head to tail. The hybrid striped bass is in-between the body shape of the parent species. Hybrid striped bass are commonly 2-10 lbs., although they can reach 20 lbs. The back and top of their sides are greenish-dark silver fading to silver down the sides and white on the belly; they have two fins on their back with sharp spines in the front fin. The current state record is 27 lbs. 5 oz. (Greers Ferry Lake).

 

 

Range: Morone chrysops x Morone saxatilis is an artificial hybrid, so it is not native anywhere per se, although it does occur naturally in Arkansas. Hybrid striped bass have been stocked in many rivers and reservoirs all over the United States. Populations are maintained through stocking programs, and about 10 million lbs. are produced every year in the United States.

Ecology: Hybrid striped bass have been widely raised since the late 1980’s and can be made in two ways. Some are produced by fertilizing eggs from a white bass with sperm from a striped bass, called a “sunshine bass” or “Cherokee bass.” Others are produced by fertilizing eggs from a striped bass with sperm from a white bass, called a “palmetto bass.” The most common hybridization is the female striped bass with the male white bass (“palmetto bass”) because female striped bass produce a high number of eggs.

Spawning occurs artificially in hatcheries where the female striped bass is injected with a hormone that stimulates her to lay eggs. Usually there are several male white bass in the tank when spawning occurs.  After the eggs are fertilized by the males, the adult fish are removed, and the eggs are kept in artificial current around 48 hours until they hatch. Natural hybridization can occur in the wild, although it is mainly the opposite cross (male striped bass with female white bass) because white bass eggs do not require any flotation to survive and hatch. The eggs of white bass normally settle to the bottom of a waterbody and become attached to substrate. If the eggs of a striped bass sink to the bottom, they become silted over and die. Therefore, white bass eggs normally hatch easier in the wild than those of striped bass.

The hybrid striped bass will consume crayfish but are mainly piscivorous preferring a diet of shad and other open water forage fish species.

Hybrid striped bass are easier to catch and grow faster than striped bass. They are known for their fight, making them popular with anglers. They are more aggressive than both the striped bass and white bass, making them easier to catch for anglers who use artificial bait. Hybrid striped bass serve as popular food; therefore, they support both recreational and commercial fisheries.

Special Notes: Here in Bella Vista, hybrid striped bass are normally stocked every other year (most recently in September 2018) in Lakes Ann, Windsor, and Lomond.  These popular sport fish can easily be caught with a wide array of lures and baits. Some popular lures include casting spoons and inline spinners. The most likely place to find them is when fishing off shore as they are usually chasing schooling minnows and shad.

 

 

 

Species Profile: Procyon lotor – Northern Raccoon

Procyon lotor – Northern Raccoon

Scientific Name: Procyon lotor

Common Name(s): Raccoon, Northern Raccoon, North American Raccoon, Coon

Identification:

The northern raccoon (Procyon lotoris) is a medium-sized mammal most recognizable by its “mask”; the black fur around the eyes that contrasts with their white face and distinct ringed tail. Raccoons measure 16-28 inches in length, not including their 10-inch tail. The shoulder height ranges from 9-12 inches. They can weigh from 4-60 lbs. but are commonly 10-30 lbs. Raccoons in the northern limits of their range tend to be larger. This is an adaptation seen in many mammals to combat heat loss in cold weather. Raccoons also have a dense underfur that insulates against cold weather, making up almost 90% of their coat. Their bushy tails have alternating light and dark rings, and their slightly rounded ears have a white border. The body is various shades of gray and brown. They are extremely dexterous and are able to stand on their hind legs to inspect objects with their nimble front paws.

Range:

Raccoons are common within their range and occur from southern Canada through central America.  They inhabit nearly all the continental United States. Because of deliberate introductions and escapes, they are now found in several European and Asian countries. Raccoons are extremely adaptable and occupy diverse habitat from mountains, deserts, to costal marshes and urban areas.

Ecology:

Raccoons have comparable movement speeds to humans: 10-15 mph for sprinting and 3 mph for swimming. Being able to climb down a tree headfirst is unusual for a mammal of its size, but raccoons manage this feat by rotating their hind feet backwards for a better grip. Raccoons sweat and pant which aid in the dissipation of heat in summer.

The raccoon’s sense of touch is very important. Their front paws are hyper sensitive and are protected by a thin horny layer that is flexible when wet. For raccoons, nearly two-thirds of the brain’s sensory portion is specialized for touch, more than any other studied animal.

Raccoons have gender-specific social groups. Females share a mutual area and sometimes meet when feeding or resting and are often related. Males not related to each other form groups to protect their territory and mating status against rival males. These male groups are small, consisting of up to four individuals. Raccoons’ home ranges vary depending on age, sex and habitat. Adult home ranges are double that of juveniles. Odor marks using urine or feces establish home ranges and are used for identification.

The diet of raccoons is highly variable and can consist of insects, worms, fruits, nuts, fish, amphibians and bird eggs. They will occasionally eat birds and other mammals, although they prefer easy to catch prey. They are typically nocturnal, but will sometimes be active during the day as they are opportunistic feeders.

Raccoons usually mate from January – March, but there can be differences depending on location. Raccoons in southern states tend to mate later. Males will constantly roam their home ranges to court females. Females can mate with more than one male over several nights. A litter usually ranges from 2-5 young called “kits” or “cubs,” which are blind and deaf when born. The young are weaned from their mother by 16 weeks and begin to split up. The females stay close to their mothers’ home range, but the males sometimes move more than 12 miles away. This natural behavior inhibits inbreeding. The life expectancy for wild raccoons is 2-3 years, although captive raccoons have lived for more than 20 years.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, raccoons can be seen commonly at night and are considered pests by many residents. They routinely overturn small waste containers or tear garbage bags apart in search of food.  The increasing number of raccoons in urban areas has resulted in different reactions from homeowners, from frustration to deliberate feeding. Feeding raccoons may cause them to become more of a nuisance and dependent on humans as a food source. Raccoons in search of food can break into poultry houses to feed on chickens, chicks, their eggs or feed. They will also feed on domestic cat and dog food. If raccoons become a problem, all food and garbage cans should be tightly sealed or locked in a container.

Additionally, where raccoon populations are high, associated diseases and parasite outbreaks increase.  Raccoon roundworm, leptospirosis, salmonella, rabies, distemper and mange are just a few that can be transferred to humans and/or pets.

Raccoons can be a nuisance, they are neat mammals to see and watch due to their high intelligence and problem-solving skills.

Species Profile: Lepomis gulosus – Warmouth, Goggle-eye, Red-eyed Bream

Lepomis gulosus – Warmouth

Scientific Name: Lepomis gulosus

Common Name(s): Warmouth, Goggle-eye, Red-eyed Bream

Identification:                                                                          

The warmouth Lepomis gulosus is commonly mistaken for the rock bass Ambloplites rupestris; however, the two species can be easily distinguished from one another.  The warmouth has 3 anal spines, as opposed to 5 or 6 found on the rock bass.  Warmouth can be distinguished from other sunfish by the 4-5 dark lines that radiate backward from the eye and looks like “war paint.”  Adult warmouth are olive-brown on the back, sides, and fins and mottled heavily with dark brown, while juveniles and smaller individuals can have a purple tint.  The belly is a light yellow, and the iris of the eye is red-brown.  There are 10-11 sharp spines in the fin on their back.  Their mouth is large and they have a small patch of teeth located on the tongue.  Adults rarely get larger than 8inches in length or 0.5lb in weight.  The current state record is 1lb 8oz (Black Dog Bayou).

 

Range:

Lepomis gulosus is native to the Great lakes and Mississippi River basins from western Pennsylvania to Minnesota, and south to the Gulf Coast.  In Arkansas, it is widely dispersed in all major water bodies, but it is more common in the coastal plain lowlands.  In mountainous areas, it is more common in lakes and ponds as it prefers slack waters.

Ecology:

The warmouth is considered a warm water fish, preferring summer water temperatures of 80-85°F.  They favor calm, clear water bodies with mud bottoms, thick growths of aquatic vegetation, and submerged timber.  Although not preferred, warmouth are able to tolerate reasonable levels of turbidity and rocky bottoms found in many reservoirs.

In Arkansas, warmouth spawn multiple times from April to August when water temperatures range from 65-80°F, with peak spawning usually in June.  Warmouth do not spawn in colonies unless nesting habitat is limited.  The male will build a nest by fanning his tail and making a circular indention on the bottom near submerged timber or other objects.  The female will deposit eggs while the male fertilizes the eggs and guards them.  The male aggressively defends the nest until the fry swim off, usually around a week after spawning.  Maximum life span of warmouth is about 7 years.

Warmouth are strongly predacious and consume smaller fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects.  The warmouth is commonly known as a “goggle-eye” to many anglers and are important game fish in lowland waters.  Warmouth are quick to attack natural or artificial baits, but they tire quickly after a strong initial strike.

Special Notes:

Here in Bella Vista, warmouth can be found in the lakes, most commonly Windsor, Lomond, and Avalon.  They also occur in larger pools in Little Sugar Creek.  Fishermen hoping to catch a warmouth can use a variety of natural or artificial bait, including earthworms, grubs, small fish, crickets, jigs, and small spinners.  Fishing near logs, stumps, and other submerged timber or vegetation would be helpful.  Remember to always be careful of the sharp spines on their back when taking them off a hook.