Featured Animal

Red Harvester Ant

Red Harvester Ant Queen: Photo by Alex Wild Photography

Red Harvester Ant Queen: Photo by Alex Wild Photography

Red Harvester Ant Queen: Photo by Alex Wild Photography


Pogonomyrmex barbatus is a species of red harvester ant so named for its diet that consists of seeds collected from nearby plants. The ants leave the hulls of seeds outside their tunnels and grind the seeds into a gruel with their mandibles for storage in underground chambers. The ants benefit nutritionally from the fats and other nutrients that are part of the seed in an elaiosome. Since the rest of the seed is not eaten, it may survive and germinate. Therefore the plants benefit by having their seeds dispersed. Foraging ants rely on chemical signals that alert other outgoing ants to the location of a lucrative seed producing plant. Red harvester ant colonies are highly cooperative and organized with respect to roles. There are worker castes and reproductive castes plus the queen that may produce eggs for anywhere from a single year to decades.

Greater Sage Grouse, male

Photo by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Photostream

Sage-Grouse are an iconic bird of the west evoking images of wild prairies. Their mating dance is among the most unique in the animal kingdom. Living in open sagebrush plains, the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is the largest grouse species in North America.

Greater Sage-Grouse are notable for elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate in leks to perform a “strutting display” that sounds like a coffee percolator. Females observe these displays and select the most attractive males. Females make nests on the ground at the base of a sagebrush plant or grass patch. After her clutch of 6-13 eggs hatches, the young are immediately able to follow her.

Greater Sage-Grouse are totally dependent on sagebrush-dominated habitats where they forage on the ground. Lacking a muscular crop they are unable to digest hard seeds like other grouse. Sagebrush is a crucial component of their diet year-round, with leaves, buds, stems, flowers and fruit, as well as insects, the primary food of the Greater Sage-Grouse.

Currently, Greater Sage-Grouse occupy approximately 56 percent of their historical range in the western U.S. They were never native to Kansas. Evidence suggests that habitat fragmentation and destruction has contributed to significant population declines over the past century. If current trends persist, many populations may disappear in several decades, with remaining fragmented populations vulnerable to extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the Greater Sage-Grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act but is precluded since the needs of other species facing more immediate and severe threat of extinction take priority. Greater Sage-Grouse live in wilderness areas of western states that are also home to mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. We need to protect Sage-Grouse habitat from irresponsible off-road vehicle use, damaging drilling, mining, transmission and other energy development activities.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark by Mia McPherson

Western Meadowlark by Mia McPherson

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta); Copyrighted Photo by Mia McPherson


The Western meadowlark is the state bird of Kansas. It has a yellow chest with a black “V” below its throat. Meadowlarks are ground nesting birds. They create nests covered with a roof of grass and bark that is woven into the surrounding vegetation. The nest may be connected to a grass tunnel several feet long. Consequently, untimely mowing, hay cutting or burning may destroy eggs and young. Meadowlarks are most abundant in native grasslands. They forage on the ground on low to semi-low vegetation eating mainly insects, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and snails plus seeds & berries in winter. They will also consume waste grain on cultivated land. However, habitat has been lost to intense agricultural development. It is still abundant but slowly declining throughout much of its range. A short video captures its song at:

For a kinetic map of the distribution of Western Meadowlarks during the year visit:

To view more of Mia McPherson meadowlark photos visit

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): Photo by ForestWonder

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): Photo by ForestWonder

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): Photo by ForestWonder Nature Photography


The white head and tail feathers of an adult Bald eagle are conspicuous identifying features. Females can weigh 14 pounds with wingspans of 8 feet. Male eagles weigh less, 10 pounds with a wingspan of 6 feet.

At one time its historic range (Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico) supported 500,000 birds. Its numbers declined dramatically when DDT was introduced after World War II to kill mosquitoes and other insects. DDT rendered eggshells of Bald eagles, peregrine falcons and brown pelicans too fragile to survive incubation. Some eagles also died from lead poisoning probably ingested from prey. Since Bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, toxic chemicals are concentrated in the contaminated fish or other ingested prey. Habitat destruction and illegal shooting also played a crucial role in their decline. From a low of 417 breeding pairs in 1963, populations in the lower 48 states grew to a high of 9,789 pairs today. Habitat protection provided by the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency’s banning of DDT, and other conservation actions sparked a dramatic recovery of bald eagles. During winter, migrants are found near large reservoirs and rivers in Kansas. Bald eagle nests have increased in Kansas since 1989. A bald eagle’s can lift a 4-pound fish out of the water. An eagle’s vision is at least four times that of a person with perfect vision. In 2007, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced the recovery of the Bald eagle and removed it from the threatened and endangered species lists. Bald eagles will continue to be protected by the federal Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that prohibit killing, selling, or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs.

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

Muskrat Photo by Peter Stahl

Muskrat Photo by Peter Stahl

Photo by Peter Stahl

The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is found throughout Kansas. It is a large semi-aqautic rodent that lives near slow moving streams, marshes or ponds. They dig entrances into the banks along these waterways to three-feet tall push-ups composed of vegetation and mud. They can remain underwater for fifteen minutes. Muskrats are protected from cold water by a thick fur consisting of two layers of hair. Their tail is flattened vertically. They are smaller than beavers with whom they share an environment and amicable relationship. Muskrats are most active at night but also near dawn and dusk. Muskrats mostly eat cattails, bur reed and other aquatic vegetation like water lily. Because of their eating habits, they play a significant role in determining the vegetation of prairie wetlands. They don’t store food for the winter. They also occasionally eat freshwater mussels, frogs, clams, snails, crayfish, fish, and small turtles. Large hawks and owls, foxes, coyotes and mink prey upon muskrats. Pike may take baby muskrats. Muskrats normally live in groups consisting of a male and female and their young. During the spring, muskrats may fight over preferred territory and potential mates.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing eating berries from Eastern Red Cedar (Ted Beringer photo)

Cedar Waxwing eating berries from Eastern Red Cedar (Ted Beringer photo)


Cougar      Photo Credit: Art G. (Flickr)

Cougar Photo Credit: Art G. (Flickr)

Cougar     Photo Credit: Art G. (Flickr)

 The following text is from Wikipedia:

The cougar (Puma concolor), also commonly known as the mountain lion, puma, or catamount, is a large felid of the subfamily felinae native to the Americas. Its range, from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America, is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the second heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar. Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is properly considered both nocturnal and crepuscular, although sightings during daylight hours do occur. The cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat (subfamily Felinae), than to any subspecies of lion (subfamily Pantherinae).

An excellent stalk-and-ambush predator, the cougar pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range. It will also hunt species as small as insects and rodents. This cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While large, it is not always the apex predator in its range, yielding to the jaguar, gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly avoids people. Fatal attacks on humans are rare, but have been trending upward in recent years as more people enter their territory.

Prolific hunting following European colonization of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida panther subpopulation. However, in recent decades, breeding populations have moved east into the far western parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Transient males have been verified in Minnesotta, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan & Illinois.

Fairy Shrimp

Redtail Fairy Shrimp from

Redtail Fairy Shrimp from

Redtail Fairy Shrimp (female)  from

Fairy shrimp are a class of crustacean that is usually a quarter of an inch to a inch in length. Their exoskeleton is thin and flexible. Most species have a highly segmented body with three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. The head has two compound eyes, each located on the end of a prominent stalk, and two pairs of antennae. The second pair of antennae is longer. In males these longer antennae are specialized for holding the female during mating although few species reproduce by parthenogenesis. Fairy shrimp have 11 pairs of leaf-like phyllopodia (swimming legs) along their thorax that move in a synchronized rhythmic manner (metachronal) to propel them gracefully through the water. They live in vernal or ephemeral pools but can survive in hypersaline lakes, desert pools, and even icy waters. They swim “upside-down” (ventral side facing the water’s surface) either filtering organic materials from the water or obtaining algae from the surface of submerged rocks. According to Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, Fairy shrimp could be found in eastern Kansas before 1950 in “small pools in roadside ditches, along railroad fills, in drainage canals in floodplains and in pastures and woodlands are of frequent occurrence; these pools are richly supplied with vegetation which makes excellent culture media for small crustacean animals.” They are an important food source for fish and birds. Pintails and mallards feed on them in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Great Plains. For a more interesting details about Fairy shrimp visit the

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow photo by Simon Pierre Barrette

White-throated Sparrow photo by Simon Pierre Barrette

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) Photo Credit: Simon Pierre Barrette

The White-throated Sparrow is a good looking passerine bird that you should be seeing in eastern Kansas from October through November as it migrates southward from the Boreal forests. It has a white throat or bib that distinguishes it from other sparrows. It eat seeds, insects and various berries. Its song is recognized by the mnemonics “Po-or Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or “O-oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”. You can see its animated migration map on ebird.