Native Wildlife in Missouri
Missouri boasts a large amount of native critters, including over 70 wild mammals, 200 species of fish, and over 400 species of birds. This diverse group of animals range from the marsupial opossum to the endangered Greater Prairie Chicken. Take a look at some of the more extravagant animals that you can find in beautiful Missouri.
Mink - Mink are known for their soft, durable, and valuable fur, and have been hunted and trapped since early colonization of the nation. Adults are almost entirely brown. The mink is one of few mammals in which males are larger than females. Males are 27 1/4 inches long and 3 pounds while the largest female may be only 21 1/4 inches long and 2 pounds. Musk glands in the anal region secrete a strong odor considered by many to be more obnoxious than that of either weasel or skunk. This odor is given off particularly during the breeding season but also at any period of intense excitement.
Minks prey upon mice, rabbits and other terrestrial animals as well as fish, crayfish and other aquatic forms. Minks do not kill wantonly. Most food preferably is carried to a den where it is eaten. The surplus is cached in the den but frequently spoils and is not used.
Woodchuck (Groundhog) - A very common Missouri rodent, the woodchuck has short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy, and somewhat flattened tail. The long, coarse fur of the back is a grizzled grayish brown with a yellowish or reddish cast. Woodchucks weigh least in spring when they are just out of hibernation and most in fall prior to hibernation. When alarmed or suddenly disturbed, they can give a loud, shrill whistle.
Woodchucks formerly were trapped for their fur, which was used for fur coats. The flesh of young, lean animals is good food. Because woodchucks are one of the few large mammals abroad in daylight, many people enjoy seeing them.
Gray Fox- Gray foxes resemble red foxes in general build but are distinguished by their grayish coloration, slightly smaller size, black-tipped tail that is triangular (not circular) in cross section, coarser body fur and dark brown (not tawny) iris of the eye.
The fur is coarse, thin and used only for collars and trimming on inexpensive coats. Gray foxes eat many rodents and take far less livestock and poultry than red foxes, so they cause little economic loss. The gray fox is not esteemed as highly by sportsmen as hunting quarry as is the red fox.
Bowfin - Also known as a Dogfish, grinnell, grindle, cypress trout, cotton fish, or mudfish, Bowfin are able to breathe air, using their swim bladder, which is connected to their gastrointestinal tract and allows them to regulate their buoyancy in the water, as a primitive lung. The fish can be seen coming to the surface and gulping air. This limits them to a specific depth range in which the surface is accessible. They tend to utilize shoreline habitats that are not accessible to other predatory fish.
The most distinctive characteristic of the bowfin is its very long dorsal fin consisting of 145 to 250 rays, and running from mid-back to the base of the tail. The caudal fin is a single lobe, though heterocercal. They can grow up to 109 centimeters (43 in) in length, and weigh 9.75 kilograms (21.5 lbs). Other noticeable features are the black "eye spot" usually found high on the caudal peduncle, and the presence of a gular plate. The gular plate is a bony plate located on the exterior of the lower jaw, between the two sides of the lower jaw bone.
Blue Catfish - The blue catfish has smooth, scaleless skin and barbels (“whiskers”) around the mouth like all catfish. It also has a deeply forked tail, like the channel catfish, but can be distinguished by the straight-edged anal fin.
Blue catfish are the largest species of catfish in the United States, and on July 20th, 2010 a yet to be certified new world record blue catfish was caught by Greg Bernal of Florissant, MO, on the Missouri River. Greg's girlfriend, Janet Momphard, a nurse from St. Charles, helped land the world-record fish. The record catfish weighed in at 130 lbs. It was 57 inches long and 45 inches in girth. The previous angling world record, 124 lbs, was caught by Tim Pruitt on May 22, 2005, in the Mississippi River. This record broke the previous blue catfish record of 121.5 Lbs caught from Lake Texoma, Texas.
Blue catfish are opportunistic predators and will eat any species of fish they can catch, along with crayfish, freshwater mussels, frogs, and other readily available aquatic food sources; some blue catfish have reportedly attacked scuba divers. Catching their prey becomes all the more easy if it is already wounded or dead, and blue cats are noted for feeding beneath marauding schools of striped bass in open water in reservoirs or feeding on wounded baitfish that have been washed through dam spillways or power generation turbines.
Shovelnose Sturgeon - The shovelnose sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus platorynchus, is the smallest species of freshwater sturgeon native to the United States of America. It is often called "hackleback", "sand sturgeon", or "switchtail." Switchtail refers to the long filament found on the upper lobe of the caudal fin (often broken off as adults). Shovelnose sturgeon are the most abundant sturgeon, found in the Missouri River and Mississippi River systems, and the only commercially fished sturgeon in the United States of America.
The roe of the shovelnose sturgeon is marketed as "hackleback" caviar. As old world sources of Caspian and Black Sea sturgeon caviar have become endangered, roe from shovelnose sturgeon and paddlefish have recently become commercially important. The flesh of the sturgeon is widely considered a delicacy, especially smoked sturgeon. Poaching of the shovelnose sturgeon is becoming a problem, as they must be 8–10 years old before spawning can occur, and females are only gravid once every 3 years. There is some interest in marketing the shovelnose sturgeon as an aquarium species.
Common Redpoll - As energetic as their electric zapping call notes would suggest, Common Redpolls are active foragers that travel in busy flocks. Look for them feeding on catkins in birch trees or visiting feeders in winter. These small finches of the arctic tundra and boreal forest migrate erratically, and they occasionally show up in large numbers as far south as the central U.S. During such irruption years, redpolls often congregate at bird feeders (particularly thistle or nyjer seed), allowing delightfully close looks.
Redpolls travel in flocks of up to several hundred individuals. They move frenetically, foraging on seeds in weedy fields or small trees one minute and swirling away in a mass of chattering birds the next. Their buzzy zap and rising "dreeee" calls are distinctive.
Summer Tanager - The only entirely red bird in North America, the Summer Tanager is a bird of southern forests. It specializes in eating bees and wasps, both in the summer and on its wintering grounds in Central and South America.
The Summer Tanager is considered a bee and wasp specialist. It usually catches a bee in flight and then kills it by beating it against a branch. Before eating the bee, the tanager removes the stinger by rubbing it on a branch. The tanager eats bee and wasp larvae too. It first catches the adult insects and then perches near the nest to tear it open and get the grubs.
Like most birds that migrate long distances, the Summer Tanager puts on large amounts of fat to fuel the long flight. Tanagers arriving in Panama had enough fat to fly an estimated additional 890 km (553 mi).
Carolina Wren - In summer it can seem that every patch of woods in the eastern United States rings with the rolling song of the Carolina Wren. This shy bird can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazing number of decibels for its size. Follow its teakettle-teakettle! and other piercing exclamations through backyard or forest, and you may be rewarded with glimpses of this bird's rich cinnamon plumage, white eyebrow stripe, and long, upward-cocked tail. This hardy bird has been wintering farther and farther north in recent decades.
The Carolina Wren is a small but chunky bird with a round body and a long tail that it often cocks upward. The head is large with very little neck, and the distinctive bill marks it as a wren: long, slender, and downcurved.
The Carolina Wren creeps around vegetated areas and scoots up and down tree trunks in search of insects and fruit. It explores yards, garages, and woodpiles, sometimes nesting there. This wren often cocks its tail upward while foraging and holds it down when singing. Carolina Wrens defend their territories with constant singing; they aggressively scold and chase off intruders.
These are just a few of the many varied species of animals that you can find in Missouri. So next time you go to Branson, don't forget to keep an eye out for amazing animals!