With fish to catch, turkeys to hunt and mushrooms to find, sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do in April and May. To help, here’s a list of Missouri’s best outdoor activities for you to discover.
You can see moths from spring through fall, but late May is when the big ones come out. With huge wings, bright colors and velvety bodies, giant silk moths are flutterly fascinating! Summon a few to your backyard by hanging up a white sheet and lighting a lantern behind it. You’ll have to stay up late to see these moths. Most don’t come out until after midnight. For help identifying what comes calling, visit nature.mdc.mo.gov/moth.
Crappie (crop-ee) taste yummy. It’s easy to catch a stringerful in the spring. Just flip a small jig or minnow-baited hook out from shore. If the water is clear, send your lure sailing to deeper water. If the water is murky, fish the shallows. When you hook a crappie, keep fishing the same spot and you’ll likely land more. For fishing rules and more crappie-catching advice, visit huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing.
Trees offer cool shade in summer, pretty leaves in fall and homes for animals all year. On April 2, celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree. It takes time for an itty-bitty seedling to grow into a towering tree, but it’s worth the wait. Someday, when you return to find your tree stretching its leafy branches into the sky, you’ll be able to tell your kids, “I planted that.” For tree-planting tips, visit mdc.mo.gov/trees-plants/tree-care.
Nothing makes your pulse pound faster than watching a big gobbler fan out and strut into shooting range. But even if you don’t bag a bird, sitting out in the turkey woods in spring is fun. You’ll hear owls hoot, see raccoons scurry back to their dens, and maybe—if you’re lucky—run across a few morel mushrooms. Youth turkey season runs April 10–11. The regular season is from April 19 to May 9. For details, visit huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/turkey.
Watching chicks hatch is quite a sight. But find a few frog eggs, and you’ll get twice the show. You can watch these amphibian magicians change from gooey eggs to squiggly tadpoles to hopping frogs. This process, called metamorphosis, can take from eight weeks to more than a year, depending on the kind of frog. To follow the law, never collect more than five frog eggs from the wild, and don’t remove eggs from public places such as conservation areas and state parks. Tips for keeping your little hoppers happy can be found at nature.mdc.mo.gov/frog.
Wrens weave whatever they find into their nests, including rubber bands and paperclips. Chickadees pluck hair from sleeping raccoons. And watch out for tufted titmice. They’re known to pull hair from people! You can make it easier for birds—and your scalp—by leaving bits of yarn outside. Cut it into pieces no longer than your index finger so birds don’t get tangled. As the yarn disappears, look for it in nests. Report what you find to www.nestwatch.org.
There’s a fungus among us and, boy, does it taste good. In mid-April, mouthwatering morel mushrooms begin popping up on forest floors throughout Missouri. Searching for them is Mother Nature’s version of an Easter egg hunt. A word of warning, though: Make sure it’s morels that you pick. If you eat the wrong mushroom, you’ll get sick. To avoid the emergency room, check out nature.mdc.mo.gov/safety-concerns/poisonous.
Find out about Discover Nature events in your area at www.xplormo.org/xplor/stuff-do/all-events. Who can resist roasting marshmallows over a campfire, telling ghost stories by flashlight, or sleeping under a blanket of twinkling stars? Whether you pitch a tent in your backyard or backpack the Ozark Trail, spring’s mild weather is the perfect time to live outside for a few days. For tips to make your camp-out comfortable, visit nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/activities/camping.
In spring, male turkeys, called toms, gobble, fan out their tail feathers and strut around to attract a mate. Most toms have a beard of hairlike, gray feathers sticking out from their chest. During spring turkey season, only bearded turkeys can be hunted. This way, females are left to sit unbothered on nests and raise their chicks.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer
Earthworms may be slimy, spineless and blind, but they’re also really useful. As a worm ploughs through the soil, bits of dead plants and animals go in its front end, pass through its body, and are excreted out its back end as castings. This worm poop provides nutrients that help plants grow. More than a halfmillion worms could be wiggling through your backyard—enough to fill 30 minivans with castings.
What has ears like a pig, looks like a walking football and is about the size of a really fat house cat? It’s the nine-banded armadillo, one of Missouri’s strangest mammals. Most mammals have lots of fur, but not armadillos. They’re covered from snout to toe with tough, leatherlike skin. Although perfect for predator protection, the armor is heavy. You’d think this would be a challenge in water, but armadillos have a secret weapon— built-in life jackets. To cross wide rivers, armadillos gulp air until their stomach blows up like a balloon, then they float across. To cross narrow streams, they hold their breath and walk along the bottom.
Nichole LeClair Terrill