Monthly Archives: October 2014

Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)

Blanding's turtle

Photo by Pamela Freeman

Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a long-lived, medium-sized turtle. Its conservation status in Minnesota is threatened and it is listed as a species in greatest conservation need. Threats include habitat degradation and road mortality. It occurs mostly in the eastern half of the state but also in scattered locations in western Minnesota. It is seldom seen because it is the first turtle to submerge when disturbed and the last to emerge after being disturbed.

This species is identified by the smooth, high domed shell and by the bright yellow chin and throat.

Ottawa Bluffs

Ottawa Bluffs

The 62-acre Ottawa Bluffs Preserve consists of a patchwork of dry hill prairie and oak woodland on a steep bluff of the Minnesota River Valley. Visitors who undertake the steep and strenuous climb to the top of the bluff will be rewarded with an expansive view of the Minnesota River Valley and the town of St. Peter. An American Indian burial mound is at the top of the bluff. Western harvest mouse and a species of jumping spider, both species of special concern, and five state listed plant species have been found on the preserve.

The site has been owned since 1975 by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The hill prairie, unsuitable for farming or pasture, remains mostly undisturbed by man. The previous owner began building a road from the bluff top to the base, but abandoned the effort less than half completed. The former roadbed is now grassy prairie and an eroded ravine. Decades of fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on and eliminate parts of the native prairie. Since 1989, volunteers for TNC have been working to remove juniper and other invasive woody species; check further erosion of the ravine; and restore a small part of oak woodland to its pre-settlement condition, oak savanna.

Maculated dung beetle (Aphodius distinctus)

maculated dung beetle

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Maculated dung beetle (Aphodius distinctus) is a small aphodine dung beetle native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. It was introduced into and is now common and widespread in North America. Adults are seen on cattle dung, often in large numbers, from March to May and again from August to October. Some evidence suggests that the larvae may be an agricultural pest, eating the roots of crop plants, but further study is needed to confirm this.

This species is identified by the elongated body; three projections at the tip of the antennae that can be tightly closed; variable yellow markings on the forewings; and keel-shaped ridges on the middle and hind legs.

northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus)

northern paper wasp

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) is a common and widespread, medium-sized, predatory, social wasp. It is found in woodlands and savannas and around wood structures built by humans. Adults feed exclusively on plant nectar produced by flowers and glands (nectaries). Larva are fed caterpillars and other insects captured and softened by workers. The liquids of the softened (malaxated) insects are fed to the youngest larvae, the solids to the older larvae.

The uncovered nests are often built by two or more queens. In these nests one queen is always dominant. She will eat the eggs laid by the other queen(s). After the nest is built the non-dominant queens may be driven off or become workers.

This species is identified by extremely short hairs of the head and abdomen; by the antennae that are orangish-yellow below, black above; and by the first abdominal segment that is wider than long, not stalk-like, and is gently rounded in profile.

Kasota Prairie

Kasota Prairie

Kasota Prairie, a 90-acre remnant of native prairie, is a private preserve but is open to the public. It is owned by Unimin Minnesota Corporation and managed with the cooperation of Save the Kasota Prairie, a nonprofit organization. The west boundary of the site is the Minnesota River bluff. North of the site is a 60-acre Unimin-owned prairie that is off limits to visitors. There are two miles of natural surface hiking trails.

Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons)

eastern yellowjacket

Photo by Bill Reynolds

Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) is the most common yellowjacket in eastern North America. It often nests in urban and suburban environments. It aggressively defends its nest. It is able to sting multiple times but the barbed stinger sometimes becomes detached in the victim.

This species of yellowjacket is identified by distinctive black and yellow markings on its head and body. The yellow band behind the compound eye is not notched, narrowed, or broken. There is no yellow “eye loop.” The thorax has no longitudinal stripes. The first abdominal segment has a broad, black, anchor-shaped mark. The workers do not have isolated black spots on the remaining abdominal segments.

Pin Oak Prairie SNA

Pin Oak Prairie SNA

This 183-acre SNA lies within the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. Despite its small size, it sits across two ECS subsections and three land type associations (LTAs). The north part of the site, adjacent to the Middle Branch Root River, is a 72-acre lowland with wet meadow on the Alluvial Plain LTA of The Blufflands subsection. This area also contains a sedge meadow native plant community, where there is always at least some standing water. South of the lowland a 108-acre slope climbs 250 feet in elevation on the Elba Slopes LTA of The Blufflands subsection. This slope is mostly wooded but includes a large area of dry prairie. In late summer much of this prairie is dominated by little bluestem. The wooded slope was once a brushland that, through decades of fire suppression, has developed into an oak woodland. The southeast corner of the site is 3 acres of oak woodland on the Stewartville Plain LTA of the Rochester Plateau subsection. Wild Turkeys nest in the wet meadow and Northern Bald Eagles have been seen circling above the SNA.

Western fox snake (Mintonius ramspotti)

western fox snake

Photo by Brian Johnson

Western fox snake (Mintonius ramspotti) is a medium to large, nonvenomous, rat snake. It is one of the four largest snakes in Minnesota. Adults are usually 36″ to 56″ in length. In Minnesota it occurs mostly in the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota River valleys. It can be found from April to October in prairies, agricultural fields, woodland openings and edges, lowland meadows, river bottoms, and rocky outcroppings near water.

In the spring and fall adults move about during the day. In the hot summer they move about at night. When confronted they will often vibrate their tails producing a buzzing sound. In leaf litter or dry grass the sound resembles that of a rattlesnake. The reddish head resembles a copperhead. For these reasons the snake is often mistaken for a poisonous one and killed by humans. Redesign Completed

After almost nine months the redesign of was finally completed on October 10, 2014.


  • All species and destination pages are now tabbed, reducing page length and allowing the visitor to focus on their interest.
  • Thumbnail images have been replaced with much larger preview images.
  • Full size photos are now presented in a light box, not on a separate page.
  • A new Video tab has been added to every species and destination page. The embedded videos are from YouTube, from other sources, and from visitors to (you).
  • A slide show has been added to every destination page.
  • All species pages now include IUCN Conservation status and NatureServe Conservation status.
  • All plant pages also include wetland indicator status, if assigned; and weed status, if appropriate.
  • All species and destination pages include links to allow visitors (you) to upload photos, videos, species sightings, and observations.

German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica)

German yellowjacket

Photo by Bill Reynolds

German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica), a common and widespread social wasp, is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It was unintentionally introduced into Canada in the 1960s and the eastern United States in the 1970s. It quickly spread and by 1989 it had reached California. It is now found throughout North and South America. It usually nests in the ground but often nests in voids, such as tree stumps, attics, roofs, and hollow walls. It rarely builds a hanging nest like the bald-faced hornet.

This species of yellowjacket is identified by distinctive black and yellow markings on its head and body and by three small black spots on its face.