About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reptiles and Amphibians in the first week of February

 This Thursday it felt like spring, many reptiles and amphibians agreed. The naturalist notes I have noticed lately inspired me to start posting weekly Naturalist Notes for the Ozark Natural Science Center's blog. Owls' Knob already has regular naturalist notes, but expect to see even more as spring emerges.

While walking out at the Ozark Natural Science Center early Thursday afternoon with a group of 5th graders from a Rogers school, we discovered many unexpected animals. The first was a leech, which a boy spotted swimming in the pond. The children did not know what it was at first and I let their obliviousness and curiosity lure them in close. When I told them it was a leech, they all jumped back in horror. I went on to explain that these leeches only feed on fish and frogs so they would not bit us. Soon I convinced a few of them to touch and hold the strange creature.
As we entered the forest. I heard a scuttling sound in the leaves. In a flash we saw a large fence lizard (also called a prairie lizard). It was well camouflaged on an oak log, except for its bright blue belly. I explained my students that it was a male because only the males have bright blue bellies. Many of my students, being from the city, had never seen a lizard so close in the wild like this one, even though they are very common. Further down the trail we found bobcat tracks. Slowly and carefully we tiptoed through a muddy glade, tracking the large cat. As we reached the end of the mud and began walking in leaves, my tracking skills failed me and we lost its trail. The Ozark bob cat has become a rare species, so I told my students we were very luck to be seeing the cat's tracks.

Next I spotted a red bellied snake slithering across the path. Quickly a grabbed it, which wasn't hard because the cool weather kept the cold blooded animal moving slowly. I held the snake as it wrapped its body, which was about 8 inches long around my fingers. The warmth of my hand seemed to comfort it  because it did not try to escape, instead it coiled around and between my fingers. None if the children had ever touched a wild snake before. At first they were a little afraid. After a lifetime of being told that snakes are venomous and dangerous, it was hard for them to grasp the concept that this little snake would not get much bigger than a large night crawler worm, would not bite, and did not have venom. But before long they all grew to like it so much that they wanted to hold in in their own hands. We voted on names for our new found friend and decided on Fire Belly Spring (nickname "Early"). Then we watched as the tiny snake slithered away quickly, now that it had been warmed by our hands, and disappeared among the leaves.
Once we got back to the science center for dinner, we shared our stories with other students. They in turn shared their discovers, which included a Zig-Zag Salamander found under a log and a Cave Salamander found in a spring near the mouth of a cave. Also, hepatica was seem blooming and spring beauties were starting to pop up. Later on, during a class that we call "creek critters" the children examined live benthic macroinvertabrates (BMIs)in fresh water samples collected from a nearby creek. Among the BMIs, we also found a few immature salamanders, which were so tiny they made their arthropod friends seem huge.
I love sharing spring with children. It is a magical time. I hope you can share spring with others as it emerges in the coming months.


  1. Sounds like you and the children had a productive outing -- much more like early spring than what one would normally find in mid-winter. Finding those bobcat tracks was extra special.

    BTW: Yes, like the Redbellied Snake, lizards are ectothermic and must hibernate to survive cold temperatures. Hibernation is more or less an automatic process as their body temperature falls. Likewise, they come out of hibernation when temps rise. Normally, that wouldn't be January in the Ozarks, but hey, this winter has been anything but normal. (Source: The Lizard Lounge)

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