Nature events in Missouri this August

Old turtle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Step away from the office and go outside this August. This helps renew the mind and inspires creativity.

Late summer provides a great deal of activity for wildlife, plants and even space. This August you’ll need to be on the lookout for young skunks in the fields, turtles slowly crossing roads, and snakes hidden on trails.

The annual late-summer songs of the cicadas have already picked up at night in Kansas City. Expect to see squirrels in your neighborhood; they’ll gorge on food to puff up for winter. Deer will rub their antlers on trees to remove materials they no longer need and then they’ll lose their antlers in the colder months.

Also, certain plants fall prey to summer temperatures and pests and need extra attention. Berries will ripen and wild black cherries make for a sour ingredient for rum, jam, or syrup.

Read below to learn more about the schedules of animals, plants, and events in the sky coming up this month.

(Photo by ARNO BURGI/AFP/GettyImages)

Time of Year to See Baby Turtles

Snapping turtle eggs begin hatching this month. The common snapping turtle lives in habitats throughout Missouri. The turtles live anywhere near permanent water bodies such as farm ponds, marshes, swamps, sluices, and rivers.

This reptile rarely causes damage to humans, but the snappers occasionally swallow up small ducks and goslings. They also enjoy chomping down insects, crayfish, snakes, and worms. Snapping turtles eating habits help keep aquatic animal populations in check.

Hatchlings emerge from their soft shells 55 to 125 days after the mama snapping turtle lays her eggs. Incubation lasts about 75 to 95 days, and hatchlings emerge between August and October. Sometimes they don’t emerge from their eggs until the following spring.

Baby snapping turtles are only about an inch long when they crack through their shells. The snapping turtle has a big pointed head, a long thick tail and a small lower shell. These turtles have tan, brown or somewhat black shells. They have strong jaws and long necks.

If you need to move a large snapper, call a wildlife professional first. It’s not easy to handle these little dudes. Their bite can live behind a memorable scar or worse.

The alligator snapping turtle is a protected species. It only occurs in the state in small numbers. Hunters are not allowed to shoot or trap these turtles under Missouri law. The Missouri Department of Conservation urges hunters to identify common snapping turtles correctly before taking control action. The rare turtle’s upper shell has three prominent ridges, one along the center line and one on either side.

Drive slow if you see adult sized turtles or hatchlings this time of year. It takes several years for turtles to reach sexual maturity, making it challenging for snapping turtles to reproduce and survive.

The Annual Serenades of the Cicadas

At night when trying to go to sleep, you may have noticed the distinct, raspy calls of the cicadas. The bugs usually start their choir rehearsals during the hottest days of summer.

Both female and male cicadas have membranous structures to detect sounds, but only males produce those distinctive calls. The winged insects have a variety of songs: for courtship, distress, calling songs, and songs to set up boundaries. Male cicadas can produce very loud calls that can damage human hearing.

You can find the insects in forests, wilderness, parks, and brush. For a fishing trip, cicadas make for excellent fishing bait.

The largest Missouri brood of cicadas is expected to come to Missouri in 2024. The last time this happened was in 2015. Cicadas have a life cycle average of two to five years.

Thirteen-Lined and Franklin’s Ground Squirrels Enter Gorge Fest Season

Time to fatten up for the colder months. Squirrels will appear in large numbers in neighborhoods and forests to scrounge for tasty treats. They forage for both plant and animals foods, including grains, cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers. They eat until their body weight doubles with stored fat.

Thirteen Lined ground squirrel | Wikipedia

The Thirteen-Lined ground squirrel hangs out mostly in northwest Missouri; the species also lives throughout central United States.

Franklin’s ground squirrels live in a smaller region. They also live in northwest Missouri. The animal lives north of our region and in northern Kansas.

Thirteen-Lined squirrels only appear above ground for about 3-4 months out of the year. Spring is mating season. The young are born in May. The young nest for about 5 to 6 weeks after birth, then they venture out of their home burrows to start their adult careers.

The squirrels will enter their nests in October. The rodent goes from the hyper-caffeinated creatures we see in the spring and summer months to a slower-than-sloth hibernator. During winter, squirrels breathe about every five minutes and have about 5 heartbeats every minute. They roll into stiff balls to assume their hibernation position.

Skunks Ready to Party Like Its 1999

Smell something strange? In August, young striped skunks ready to show off their fur will head out into the open. At birth young skunks appear naked looking. They possess the beginning of the adult’s black and white markings.

As it gets colder, skunks spend more time in dens. When it’s near freezing, skunks go into a drowsy mode, and they sleep randomly… but they do not truly hibernate like squirrels.

The cat-sized mammal prefers to live along forests, in brush field corners, along fence rows and open grassy fields broken by wooded ravines and rocky outcrops. The skunk has several real estate options for dens including: stumps, caves, rock piles, cliff crevices, farming sheds, wood piles, and haystacks.

The disagreeable musk they wear protects them from intruders. They can aim their weaponized-tail and spray it at will. Prior to blasting off the stench, skunks warn intruders by stamping their feet and holding their tail high in the air.

Skunks travel all around Missouri. They are least likely to be found in the Bootheel where there isn’t enough high land for dens.

White-Tailed Deer Rub off their Velvet

Time to rub the velvet off the antlers. Male white-tailed deer will head into the woods to rub off the material. Small buds form on the buck’s ears around April or May.

As the antlers develop, a nourishing coat of blood vessels, skin, and short hair known as velvet covers and protects them. This material supplies nutrients and minerals to grow and strengthen bone.

Rabbits and mice will gnaw on the fallen antlers to absorb the minerals contained in the bones. Age, nutrition, and genetics determine the size of the antlers.

Check out the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium in Springfield to see a large collection of antlers with detailed explanations on how the antlers formed along with rare finds. The resident Boone and Crockett Heads and Horns exhibit details the ways in which record-setting game animals came out of conservation and wildlife management systems.

Badger, Badger, Badger

August is the season of love… for badgers. Badgers are not super common in Missouri, but they hang out throughout the state.

Badgers eat up mice, squirrels, lizards, snakes, birds, and turtles. An extensive poisoning campaign for burrowing rodents reduced the food supply for hungry badgers, which is one reason why their numbers have dwindled. Despite this, their conservation status is of least concern.

Badgers party at night and hit the snooze button in the daytime. During the winter, they occasionally leave their burrows unprotected to hunt for grub.

They dig impressively fast to capture their prey. Badgers can move up to 15 miles per hour. They also are ferocious swimmers. Badgers mate in late summer and give birth in early spring. The young stay with their mothers through the summer months.

Snake! Eastern Copperhead Newborns Emerge

Watch your step outside. Eastern copperhead females give birth to their babies in August.

Enjoy watching the slithery critters from a safe distance. Copperhead venom is mild compared to other venoms, but anyone who ends up with a snake bite needs to seek medical attention immediately. The odds of dying from a snake bite are low as long as people go to a doctor.

Missouri has two subspecies of eastern copperhead: the Osage copperhead, found in the northern two-thirds of the state; and the southern copperhead found in the southern third.

These snakes have a healthy diet of mice, lizards, frogs, small birds, and insects. Young copperheads use their yellow tail to attract small frogs, toads, and lizards into their mouths.

The snake is pretty common to the state, so it’s possible that if you’re out in the wild you’ll come face to face with a copperhead. All snakes native to Missouri have laws that protect them.

Copperheads bask on warm sunny days; they especially like morning sunlight. In the hottest months, they become nocturnal avoiding the sauna like conditions. In fall, they congregate at south-facing rocky ledges.

Kingsnakes are immune to copperhead venom and will eat them.

Bats Take Flight for the First Time

Baby bats will soon take to the bat signal. They’ll learn to fly this month. You might spot them at dusk as they hunt for insects.

Eight of our 14 types of bats are Missouri Species of Conservation Concern, ranging from vulnerable in the state, to globally endangered, to extinction. Bats struggle to survive as they lose habitat territory, deal with cave disturbances, and die from pesticides.

Another problem for bats: wind turbines. Wind powered energy unfortunately kills bats and birds. White-nose syndrome is also creating problems. The fungus likely came over to North America from Eurasia. The fungus infects the skin of cave-dwelling bats, disrupting hibernation and ending in death. The first fully developed case of white-nose syndrome was confirmed in Missouri in March 2012.

The bats usually mate in late summer or fall. During a cold winter in Missouri, some bat species may hibernate.

Bats are one of the few animals to regularly move in and out of caves. After eating insects outside their caves, they fly back and excrete organic nutrients into the cave ecosystem.

Shorebirds Migrate South

Shorebirds start traveling south in August. Many follow a path called a flyway. Some birds may travel a long distance each season. Shorebirds in Missouri include: American white pelicans, American woodcocks, lesser yellowlegs, and upland sandpipers.

The white pelicans fly with their heads back on their body, not with their necks extended. They hang out in western Missouri. The woodcocks live in open forests, they prefer young woodlands near water, moist pastures, and forested floodplains.

Lesser yellowlegs have bright-colored feet. The females tend to leave their chicks early, leaving the male birds to defend the young before they’re ready for flight.

The upland sandpipers spend their summers mostly in the United States and Canada. They pass through Missouri on their way to South America during the winter months.

Purple martins will group together this month to fly to their preferred South American resorts away from home.

Wild Cherries Ripen

The wild black cherry, or rum cherry, makes for an excellent additive to rum or crushes down into a delicious red jelly.

The fruit is found in the woods along streams. It has leaves with rounded teeth, fruit in grape-like bunches, and turns dark when ripe.

Nature lovers will find the cherries statewide. The cherries turn from white or greenish to red before reaching the dark purple or black hue. The cherries are about the size of a pea and are rather sour to eat raw.

A mature black cherry tree is easily identifiable in a forest. The tree has broken, dark grey to black bark. It looks like burnt cornflakes. During the first decade of the tree’s life the bark will appear thin, smooth, and banded, resembling a birch tree.

The seeds of black cherries, apricots, and apples contain cyanogenic glycosides. Those compounds under the right circumstances convert into cyanide.  The flesh of cherries also has these compounds, but it does not contain the enzymes needed to produce cyanide, so the flesh is safe to eat.

A fallen cherry tree with wilted leaves needs to be cleared up so animals don’t eat the leaves and get poisoned. Black cherry is a leading cause of livestock illness, and grazing animals access to it should be limited.

Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers

For gardeners and farmers, taking care of certain activities this month will ascertain you have the best flowers, fruit, and vegetables.

Here are some tips to follow for gardeners:

  • Protect ripening fruit from birds by covering plants with netting.
  • Spray ripening fruits and roses to prevent brown rot fungus.
  • Roses do not need anymore nitrogen fertilizer after August 15th.
  • Thornless blackberries, red raspberries, sumac fruits, hawthorn fruit, wild grapes, and elderberries ripen now.
  • Cultivate strawberries. If using weed prevention, apply it immediately after fertilizing.
  • Spray peaches to protect against peach tree borers.
  • Sow seeds of beans, beets, spinach, and turnips now for the fall garden.
  • Cure onions in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks before storing.
  • Set out broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower transplants for the fall garden.
  • Plant lettuce and radishes now.
  • Feed mums, asters, and other fall-blooming perennials for the last time.
  • Do not be alarmed if lilacs have powdery mildew. It causes no harm. Common rose fungicides will work on it.
  • Divide and replant madonnas, bearded irises, lilies, bleeding hearts, and bloodroots.
  • Prune to shape hedges for the last time this season.
  • Order bulbs for fall planting.

August Pests & Problems

Fescue lawns struggle to stay in shape this time of year. Dead spots result from disease and summer heat. Patches need to be reseeded to overcome this.

The Missouri Botanical Garden website suggests reseeding between September 1 and mid-October. If reseeding also involves killing existing grass, start killing these areas in mid-August with glyphosate. Read herbicide labels closely for instructions and caution.

Tomatoes Struggle in August

Tomatoes decide to go haywire in late summer. Blossom-end rot is exceptionally common, as well as septoria leaf spot, fusarium wilt, late blight, stink bug, and spider mite damage. Some tomatoes will crack from water fluctuations or get invaded with bacteria. Tomatoes also get harmed by too much sun exposure, and hornworms will feed on the fruit.

Place cages around tomato plants to shield them from hungry animals. Read up on tomato strategies ahead of time to protect the crops.

Another tip for tomato care: raised beds that are 18 inches high or higher are difficult for rabbits and other smaller animals to enter. It is also a good idea to have 6 inches or more of wood planks below the soil level. This prevents small animals from burrowing underneath the raised beds.

Plants Need Extra Water and Attention

Scorch is a common problem in hot, dry weather. Make sure to regularly water plants during droughts. Stressed plants are more susceptible to attack by insects and disease. Many plants will wilt or turn yellow without enough water.

Star trails captured during the Perseids Meteor Shower, Aug. 12, 2014 (Credit: Paul Tashlykov)

Perseids Meteor Shower

Keep your eyes on the sky. The Perseids meteor shower is visible starting in mid-July each year, with the peak activity between August 9-14.

During the peak, viewers could see as many as 60 meteors at once. The Perseids associate with the comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteors are called the Perseids because they show up in the constellation Perseus.

Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the “tears of Saint Lawrence.” The saint was burned alive on a gridiron on August 10. The canonical date of the saint’s martyrdom is 258 AD.

The story goes that the shooting stars are sparks of fire and that during the night of August 9-10 — its cooled embers appear in the ground under plants, which are known as the “coal of Saint Lawrence.”

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