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.

Species Profile: Lepomis microlophus – Redear Sunfish

Scientific Name: Lepomis microlophus

Common Name(s): Redear Sunfish, Stumpknocker, Shellcracker, Bream, Cherry Gill, Sun Perch

Identification:  

The redear sunfish, Lepomis microlophus, is easily distinguished from all other sunfish by the spot of red on the “ear flap” and the long, pointed fins on its sides. Redear sunfish are olive-green on the back with silvery sides mottled with greenish brown spots. The sides may have dark vertical bars, especially in younger fish. The ear flap is short with a crescent-shaped red or orange spot on the border. The belly is yellowish and their mouth is small in comparison to their large body. The dorsal fin has 9-11 sharp spines and no dark blotch at the end (like in bluegill). Redear sunfish are Arkansas’ largest species of sunfish, often ranging from 8-10inches in length and around 1lb in weight in farm ponds and reservoirs.  Although, 1-1.5lbs is not uncommon. When caught in streams and rivers they are usually much smaller.  The current state record is 2lbs 14oz and 15 inches long from Bois D’Arc Lake.

                     

Range:

Lepomis microlophus is native to the southeastern United States and has been stocked in water bodies all over North America for its popularity as a sport fish.  In Arkansas, it is native to all major water bodies, and is stocked extensively in ponds and lakes all over the state.

Ecology: 

The redear sunfish is considered to be a warm water fish, preferring water temperatures around 73-77°F.  They prefer clear, calm water with plenty of logs, stumps, brush, and aquatic vegetation.  Its attraction to submerged timber is what inspired its nickname “stumpknocker.” They are normally found in calm water that has a mud bottom, but can sometimes be found in pools of streams.  The redear sunfish is a popular game fish although its bottom feeding habits sometimes make it harder to catch than other sunfish species.

Redear sunfish spawn multiple times from April to August when water temperatures range from 66-70°F.  Males build nests by fanning their tail fins, making a circular indention in the substrate.  The males gather and create nests close together in colonies, and the females visit to lay eggs.  A female 9-10inches in length can lay 35,500-64,000 eggs.  Males guard the nests after spawning until the young start to swim off.  Sexual maturity is usually reached around 2 years and maximum life span is 6-7 years.

Redear sunfish consume mainly snails and other small mollusks and crustaceans.  They have broad, flat teeth in the back of the mouth (pharyngeal teeth) that are excellent at crushing shells, which inspired their nickname “shellcracker.” There propensity for eating aquatic snails limits the spread of fish parasites that use snails as intermediate hosts.  They are also know to feed on insect larvae and other material taken near the bottom.  The best angling success is with natural baits fished near the bottom.

Special Notes: 

Here in Bella Vista, redear sunfish can be found in all of the lakes and Little Sugar Creek.  Fishermen hoping to catch a redear sunfish should use natural bait like earthworms, crickets, grubs, maggots, catalpa worms, or freshwater shrimp, because redear rarely take artificial bait.  Fishing near the bottom around logs, stumps, and other submerged timber or vegetation would be helpful.  Known gravel beds at 15 to 20 feet in depth can also productive.  Our lakes grow redear sunfish to trophy size especially on lakes Windsor and Lomond.  The redear sunfish is our most likely candidate for a state record of all species here in Bella Vista.

Species Profile: Yellow Grub & Black Spot

Scientific Name:               Clinostomum marginatum & Neascus spp. (Genus)
Common Name(s):         Yellow Grub & Black Spot

Left: Yellow Grub; Right: Black Spot
Source: Michigan.gov

Identification:                                                                          
Yellow grub Clinostomum marginatum is a parasitic flatworm, known as a fluke. It appears yellow when buried in flesh and can develop up to 0.25 inches in the flesh or on the fins of freshwater fish. In its second stage of life, the parasite has 3 eyespots located on the middle of the back in a triangle pattern.  They can look different depending on what type of habitat. Some yellow grub found in herons appeared to be smooth and thick.

Black spot is caused by another flatworm larvae in the Genus Neascus that develops in freshwater fish.  It develops a black cyst around 0.04 inches in diameter on the skin, fins, or flesh of the fish.

Range:
Yellow grub and black spot are both found in many freshwater fish, snails, and birds all across North America.

Ecology:
Parasites feed on the host by draining nutrients from blood and fluids or attacking specific organs or body parts for nutrients. These parasites are no exception. No fish are known to be resistant to these parasites, although fish generally tolerate them without issue.

The life cycles of yellow grub and black spot are very similar. The life cycle involves two transitional hosts (snail and fish) and a final host (bird). Eggs are first released by mature parasites living in birds by the mouth of the bird (yellow grub) or by bird droppings (black spot). The eggs hatch and free-swimming larvae pierce the foot of snails for further development. If they cannot find a snail host, death occurs in a few hours. Once they have further developed in the snail, they exit and become free-swimming again in search of a fish host. Once burrowed inside the fish, the parasite grows into yellow grubs, or form a black cyst in black spot. The parasites can live inside the fish for several years until the fish is eaten by a bird. The parasites mature in the final bird host, and the cycle repeats.

In general, infestations of these parasites do slight damage to adult fish, although, heavy infestations around the eyes can cause blindness. Juvenile fish are more susceptible to these parasites. Stress can lead to secondary infections causing death in a small percentage of individuals. These parasites are unable to infect humans and infected fish can be consumed without issue, so control is normally not necessary.

Special Notes:
In Bella Vista, both yellow grub and black spot can be found in fish, but they are relatively rare. Fish taken out of Tanyard Creek were found with black spot, and both parasites have been witnessed in our reservoirs. Many people find an infested fish unappealing to eat, but these parasites are not harmful to humans, and cooking an infested fish will kill any parasites. It is also easy to pick out yellow grub with tweezers or the point of a knife while cleaning.

Snail eating fish effectively break the life cycle of these parasites. Our large and abundant redear sunfish, or “shellcrackers” as they are commonly called, consume our snails and limit these parasites.

Species Profile: Great Blue Heron

Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
Common Name(s): Great Blue Heron

 

Photo by Dustie Meads

Identification:
The great blue heron (Ardea Herodias) is the largest North American heron. It can easily be distinguished from the tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) by its larger size and darker belly. The massive size of the great blue heron makes it easily distinguishable from the reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) and the little blue heron (Egretta caerulea). From head to tail, the great blue heron ranges from 36-54 in. Its wingspan is 66-79 in.; height is 45-54 in.; weight is 4-8 lbs; and stride of 9 in. Great blue herons are huge, long-legged, long-necked waders. They usually hold their neck in an “S” shape at rest and at flight, and they have a long, thick, yellow tipped bill. Adults have a white face with black extending from the eye to beyond the back of the head. The neck of adults is brownish with a black-bordered white stripe down the center and can have shaggy feathers. Two of the three front toes are generally closer together, with small talons on both the front and back toes. The yellow bill and grayish legs become orange briefly at the start of breeding season. Young great blue herons lack shaggy neck feathers and black marking that extends from the eye.

Range:
The great blue is found throughout much of the United States year-round, and in parts of Canada during the summer months. In winter, great blue herons can be found in most all of Mexico and as far south as the Caribbean to South America. Great blue herons are year-round residents in the southern United States and the lower Pacific coast. However, some individual birds may stay through cold winters in northern areas, if fish-bearing waters do not freeze over.

Ecology:
The great blue heron can adapt to almost any habitat in its range. It can be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, swamps, flooded areas, lakes, or shorelines. It may be seen in urban areas as long as there are water bodies that support fish. They tend to stay near water bodies, although they can sometimes be seen flying over highland areas. Except when breeding, great blue herons defend their feeding territories from other herons with intense displays, approaching intruders with their head thrown back, wings outstretched, and bill pointed upward.

Breeding occurs from December (warmer climates, to March, (colder climates) in colonies that are called a heronry. The size of the colonies can be huge, averaging 160 nests. Great blue herons make nests in trees that are usually close to ideal feeding spots. Any type of tree can be used, but when trees are not available, they may nest on the ground, on artificial platforms, on beaver mounds, or duck blinds. Nests are made out of sticks and are often reused for many years. Great blue herons mate with one partner for a breeding season, but usually choose new mates each year. Males arrive at the colonies before the females, choose a nest, and then court females as they pass through. Females lay 3-6 pale blue eggs at two-day intervals. Eggs are generally laid from March-April and are incubated around one month by both the males and females. They hatch over a period of several days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitating. Parents eat up to 4 times more when they are feeding chicks. At 45 days, the chicks are nearly fully grown. It takes 60 days for chicks to get their flying feathers. After their first flight, the young return to the nest where they are fed by their parents for another 3 weeks. They gradually disperse away from their nests and parents. As with humans, fishing is a learned art. It takes up to two months for the young to approach the fishing efficiency of adults.

Great blue herons consume primarily small fish, though they are also known to feed on shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, rodents, reptiles, and amphibians. The prey consumed depends on accessibility and quantity. Herons find their food by sight, stalk their prey, and swallow it whole. They normally feed alone, foraging while standing still in water or dropping from flight, or from a perch into water. Sometimes they feed in loose flocks to spot schools of fish easier. Great blue herons prefer shallower waters around 20 in. deep. They feed both night and day, but popular times are around dawn and dusk. The most common feeding method is wading and spearing fish with their sharp bill. Feeding habits can be variable as the great blue heron adapts to different environments easily.

Great blue herons have several calls for different situations. They are most vocal on breeding grounds, giving a “landing call” when they arrive at the nest to greet their partner. They make croaking or honking calls as well that can be a reaction to a disturbance or threat. Chicks will give a call within minutes of hatching and when they are hungry.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, great blue herons can be seen on all lakes year-round. Many birdwatchers love to watch herons in their natural habitats. The herons are usually by the shoreline and if spooked will probably give a honking or croaking call and fly to a different part of the lake. A local ‘resident’ can be found hanging around the heated fishing dock on Lake Avalon that does not get spooked easily. He is a known thief, so protect your catch. In fact, this bird was observed attempting to consume a 3 pound largemouth bass.

Species Profile: Nine-Banded Armadillo

Scientific Name: Dasypus novemcinctus
Common Name(s): nine-banded armadillo, long nosed armadillo, Hoover hog, hillbilly speed bump

 

Identification:
Nine-banded armadillos are medium sized mammals with a hard armor covering their body, head, and tail. Their armor does not cover their stomach or inside of their legs, instead, they have tough skin and course hair. Armadillos are tan-gray in color and often look blotchy. Nine armored bands surround the middle of their back and tails appear segmented. They have a long, skinny head and pointed nose. Claws on their front middle toes are longer for digging. Scent glands are found on the eyelids, nose, and feet. Armadillos weigh 5.5-14 lbs., are 25-42“ long, and stand 6-10” tall. It is possibly the most easily identified mammal in North America.

Range:
The nine-banded armadillo is native to South America. Over time it migrated north to Mexico. Prior to 1850, there were very few to no armadillos north of the Rio Grande. After the colonization of Texas, some factors limiting natural armadillo migration were alleviated: lack of river crossings and hunting by native peoples. Since 1850, the nine-banded armadillo has rapidly expanded its range to include nearly all the southeastern United States, and has been reported as far north as southern Nebraska. They are unique in that they are a natural invasive species, as opposed to being artificially transported by people. It is thought that they are approaching the northern extent of their potential range as they cannot tolerate long periods of extreme cold.

Ecology:
Armadillos are most known for digging. They are considered a nuisance to homeowners and farmers because they can destroy lawns and fields when digging for burrows and searching for food. Other species like skunks, rats, and snakes benefit from abandoned burrows. Armadillos will not survive in areas where the soil is too hard to dig so soft soil is essential for burrows and finding food. An armadillo may maintain up to 12 burrows up to 25 ft. long throughout its territory.

Armadillos are nocturnal and normally solitary. They mark their territory with urine, feces, and excretions from scent glands. Males can become aggressive during breeding to keep other males out of their home range in order to increase their chances of mating with a female. Kicking and chasing is typical territorial behavior. Armadillos are very slow, but when in danger can run away quickly in short bursts. Their eyesight is poor, so they rely on their keen sense of smell.

Biology:
Nine-banded armadillos are insectivores, consuming grubs, beetles, ants, and termites. They use their sense of smell to detect insects through up to 8” of soil. Their sticky tongues help remove insects from soil. Occasionally they will eat bird eggs or berries.

Reproduction is very unusual in this species. Mating occurs from July-August with one egg being fertilized. Implantation is delayed for 3-4 months while the egg divides twice creating 4 identical quadruplets. The young are born in March each weighing about 3 oz. Baby armadillos nurse for 3 months in burrows before they emerge to forage on their own. Young will leave their mothers between six months and one year of age and become sexually mature soon afterwards. Armadillos can reproduce rapidly, perpetuating their status as a nuisance. Natural predators include coyotes, black bears, cougars, bobcats, and large birds; however, cars are responsible for more deaths than predators in many areas.

Special Notes:
Here in Bella Vista, nine-banded armadillos are normally seen at dusk or dead on roadways. Cars are one of the biggest threats to armadillos. Many are killed even when drivers attempt to straddle them because of their propensity to jump when startled. They often dig in yards and will most likely run away if threatened. Armadillo activity in lawns is often a sign of high numbers of grubs which could cause damage themselves if left untreated. Natural treatments for grub control are available. It is often believed that all armadillos can roll into a ball, however, the nine-banded armadillo cannot.

The armadillo has been identified as a carrier of leprosy. This is true, but transmission to humans can only occur by direct contact and is rare. They should only be handled with a gloved hand and hands should be thoroughly washed afterwards. The meat is said to be very good tasting like pork. During the Great Depression, people were encouraged to eat them, hence the term “Hoover hog”. Bon Appetit!