The Ozark mountains offer some of the best outdoor adventure opportunities in the Midwest, including state parks, wilderness areas, nationally recognized scenic riverways, conservation areas, caves and one of America’s premier long distance hiking trails: the Ozark Trail.
Did you know we share these outdoor spaces with an incredible diversity of unique creatures, including one found nowhere else on our planet? With a bit of extra awareness and curiosity, these denizens of the forests and glades will amaze you with their beauty.
Springtime is when many will emerge from their underground winter homes, so grab your daypack and camera and get out there. Just remember to always use caution when approaching unfamiliar animals.
Eastern Collared Lizard
Rocky glades and their surrounding hardwood forests are prime habitat for a chance encounter with this colorful lizard. Habitat loss is of specific concern, but thanks to glade restoration efforts by the Missouri Department of Conservation, your chances of encountering one of these beautiful reptiles has never been better. Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Bell Mountain Wilderness Area are prime locations for a sighting. Find a glade, have a seat, and wait.
Striped Bark Scorpion
The Striped Bark Scorpion is the lone species found in the Ozarks. Although venomous with a painful sting, the venom is mild. Caution should be observed by people with severe allergies to stings from bees, wasp, etc. The scorpion will spend most of the daytime under rocks in glades, escaping the heat of summer and predators.
Texas Brown Tarantula
Tarantulas in the Ozarks? Surprise! The Ozarks’ largest spider spends the day in small burrows, often under rocks in glade areas. They use the cover of darkness to emerge for feeding at night. The tarantula species found here is quite docile and will only bite if squeezed or handled roughly. Never squeeze a tarantula!
Often mistaken for the venomous Coral Snake (not found in the Ozarks), the nonvenomous Eastern Milksnake is considered by many to be the most beautiful snake in the region. Seldom seen, this secretive critter spends it’s time under rocks and logs in rocky glades and the surrounding forest edges. The milksnake kills prey by constriction. A bite to humans is harmless and rarely breaks the skin.
Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
With a heavy body and upturned snout, this harmless snake, if approached, will hiss loudly and spread its head like a cobra in a defensive posture. This is followed by a theatrical rolling over on its back, mouth open, motionless, appearing dead. Active by day and found virtually statewide, consider yourself lucky to witness the antics of this reptile.
Your best opportunity to see one of the many salamander species found in the Ozarks is at night after a good rain. These shy creatures find shelter under rocks and logs and are rarely seen on the move. Fishless ponds are the most common breeding ground, and they can be seen by the hundreds if your timing is right. The Ringed Salamander is only found in Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma — nowhere else on our planet!
Trust me, this one you won’t find under a rock or log. Although native to Missouri, until recently they could not be found here. But thanks to the 2011 reintroduction effort of the Missouri Department of Conservation, they’re back! If seeing this majestic beast or hearing its haunting bugle is of interest, then head for Peck Ranch Conservation Area in south-central Missouri and the surrounding counties of Reynolds, Carter, and Shannon.
Author: Mark Nettles is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.