Sunday, September 17, 2017

Spiders Snakes and Mushrooms

           One of the bad things about this time of year is all the spider webs that are across woodland trails.  I don’t get bothered much with mosquitoes or ticks or  poison ivy, but I hate spiders with a passion.  Still have two scars on my arm resulting from spider bites back when I was a kid… likely a brown recluse.  But what I hate most is how a doggone spider web feels across my face when I walk into them.   Makes me itch all over.

            Also this time of year I warn readers that copperheads, and cottonmouths and rattlesnakes are more dangerous at the close of summer than they are in the spring, because this is the time they are molting and moving.  At night as it cools, they come out onto surfaces that hold the days warmth, like sand, concrete, gravel and asphalt.  Beware when you are out at night.  Do you know why there are no poisonous snakes in the Ozarks?  It’s because they are ‘venomous’—not poisonous.  Living creatures which kill with a bite or sting inject venom into their prey, not poison.  Things that are poisonous are certain plants and certain mushrooms, and man-made chemical compounds. But truthfully, poison ivy is not poisonous!

           I notice that some conservation departments put out little pamphlets which list ‘non-poisonous’ snakes.  Well, it does convey the message, but it is a little inaccurate.  In some of those publications the harmless hog-nosed snake, also known as a spreading adder, is inaccurately portrayed as non-poisonous.  Hog-nose snakes have a venom in their bite which is deadly if you are a toad.  Their small fangs are in the rear of their mouth and they do indeed have that venom back there.  But they do not bite anything in defense, and cannot get those fangs into a person unless you put your finger back there and jerk it into the fangs.  Believe it or not, a herpetologist did that once and his finger swelled up and he got fairly ill.  A herpetologist is a snake biologist… someone who studies reptiles.

            As you may have heard they found a two headed timber rattlesnake down in Arkansas recently and it is now alive and well in a Game and Fish Commission nature center at Crowley’s Ridge, near Jonesboro.  It is not a small one, obviously has lived through a few winters.  I got to thinking that if one rattlesnake head could be really dangerous in the amount of venom it could inject, think how awful it would be to be bitten by two different rattlesnake heads… four fangs and twice the venom.

            And then I got to thinking, what if one head ate one rat and the other head swallowed another rat at the same time.  Two rats in one snake belly might present a problem. I say that because no snake I ever heard of eats more than one rat or one rabbit or one gopher at a time.  True, they will often eat several eggs at one visit, but an egg ain’t a rat.  Rats have legs that stick out and claws and teeth and hair.  So if they each ate a rat at the same time, which head would suffer if the body developed a case of indigestion. 

            Because of my scientific background I am forced to think of things like that and answers are not easy to come by.  But if I came across a rattlesnake like that I wonder if I cut off one head if it would kill the whole snake.  Or would the other head crawl off with the body and live out it’s life thanking me for getting rid of the other head, or would it get mad and try to get revenge.  I guess it depends on the personality of each head.  I have seen a pair of brothers, or a brother and sister, get along very well their whole lives, but then there are those who have been at each other’s throats since they were big enough to walk.

            Whoever found that snake, or those snakes, whichever the case may be, sure passed up a golden opportunity by giving it away.  He could have taken it to fairs and carnivals around the Ozarks in the summer, set up a tent and charged a quarter to anyone who wanted to go in and see it.  Then he could just put it out in the shed in the winter under a pile of rocks and not have to worry about spending anything on it in the way of snake food until next April.

            My daughter Christy is a science and biology teacher who followed in her ol’ dad’s footsteps, working several summers as a park naturalist in a Missouri State Park.  She roams the woods up here on Lightnin’ Ridge looking for mushrooms, and this is a good late summer-early fall for mushrooms.  There are many that are edible, and many which are very,very poisonous.  I think if we’d get a good rain that we’d soon have lots of coral mushrooms, which I really like to cook with venison or other wild meat.  Christy has found an assortment of mushrooms so variously and vividly colored that they make a good rainbow.  Every color you can imagine is out there.  If you would like to see a couple of her photos of them, go to the end of this column and you can see them.  You will be amazed!

            The fall issue of The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal is coming up soon.  I would love to get you a subscription fixed up before it does, but you need to arrange that before the first of the October because if your magazine doesn’t get mailed out with the whole big bunch of them mailed then, the post office charges four times as much to mail one individually.  Isn’t that a heck of a note? The Post Office makes more money out of my magazines than I do!  So does the printing company!  If you want to subscribe, or order one of my books, just call me at 417 777 5227.  But if you are wanting to talk about fishing, I have to limit the calls to one hour.  You can also email me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613

Bright-colored mushrooms, all found by my daughter, Christy, on Lightnin' Ridge

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

This poisonous mushroom is called Fly Agaric  (photo by Christy, found on Lightnin' Ridge)

This is an edible mushroom... the Coral mushroom.  (photo by Christy, found on Lightnin' Ridge)
Amanita arkansana buttons. The Yellow Caesar.

These two photo are of  The Yellow Cesar. The second, is one that hasn't fully opened. (Photos by Christy, found on Lightnin' Ridge)


This beautiful white mushroom is called White Brain.  

White Brain - Tremella fuciformis

  The Golden Ear - Tremella aurantia is an orange parasitic fungus of the shelf fungus Stereum hirsutism or False Turkey Tail.

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