Spanish Needle


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                Anyone that spends time out of doors should be familiar with this plant. Even if one never ventures out of their yard but have pets running loose then I am sure you have picked these seeds out of their fur. What may not look familiar to some though is what these clusters of seeds look like while still on the plant. Normally found sticking to ones socks or soft clothing by the dozens, seeds of the Spanish Needle or Bidens alba, are hated by all outdoorsmen. Other common names include beggar-lice, shepards needle, and a few that can’t be repeated in a family publication.

                The first word in the scientific name Bidens, means two toothed and refers to the two barbed prongs on the tip of the seed that is used to attach itself to passing animals and humans. Alba refers to the white petals on its flowers.

                During the growing season Spanish needles have flowers that measure from one half inch to over an inch across consisting of a spherical yellow center and white petals. The noxious seeds do not develop until late fall. Although they can be quite a nuisance one has to admit that using humans and animals to scatter seed is a very successful dispersal method. We have several other plants in our area that share this same trait.

                Although considered a noxious weed by most people the spanish needle does have its good points. Young leaves can be used in salads, older leaves can be cooked and eaten either fresh or dried, and there are several medicinal uses including a treatment for cancer!

                As usual though, when describing edible or medicinal properties I must add the following disclaimer, neither the paper nor myself are responsible for the mis-identification and/or possible untoward effects from eating or otherwise utilizing wild plants.

by Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 02/04/2015



Chinese Mantis


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                Once leaves drop in the fall one may start to notice egg cases of the Chinese Mantis, Tenodera sinensis. Commonly located in the edges of fields and yards on small shrubs, weeds, blackberry bushes and such these foam egg cases tend to go un-noticed until winter.

                The common name “Praying Mantis” actually includes several species. The Chinese mantid is the one that is most commonly seen in this area and is also the largest. Introduced in 1896 for pest control (depending on what source one reads, some say accidental) these insects have found a niche that they do well in. Growing to a length of up to five inches the adults have few other insect predators. The young however lead a dangerous life. Eaten by other insects, birds, and even each other, few survive.

                Back to the egg cases. Called ootheca, this is mother natures invention of Styrofoam long before man happened upon it. In fall the adult female exudes a foamy froth around her egg catch and this hardens into the case as seen above. Up to 300 young or nymphs will hatch the following spring. I have noticed a preference for black berry briars for the egg case placement, not sure why.

                The common name praying mantis comes from the posture these insects take while looking for prey. Perched in some inconspicuous place the fore-legs are held in a position near the head that resembles clasped hands in a praying posture. In reality, these forelegs are armed with sharp spikes and any hapless prey animals that come within reach are quickly grasped.

                Mantises are voracious predators. If something moves within their grasping range and is large enough to be food worthy but small enough to be overpowered, they pounce. Lightning fast, once the prey is grasped in the fore-legs escape is unlikely and it is then devoured. Unlike spiders and assassin bugs the food is not liquefied and sucked out but rather chewed off bite for bite and eaten. Feeding on mostly insects, the Chinese mantid will eat anything that moves. This includes small lizards, frogs, birds, and snakes!

                Thousands of egg cases are sold annually for insect control in gardens. This is a double edged sword however as the mantis eats all insects, good or beneficial.

                Generally harmless to humans, mantids will always attempt to hide or fly from any disturbance. If caught however they will try to bite and spike one with their forelegs. The bite is negligible but they are quite capable of piercing skin with the spikes on their forelegs.

Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 02/18/2015



Virginia Opossum


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                Well, spring is trying to make its presence felt as is evident with all of the small animals ran over on the road. It is mating season for a lot of our small game and the Virginia Opossum is no exception.  Sexual persuasion however is not the only thing that increases highway kills of the Didelphis virginiana. Not being a very picky eater, all of the other road kill semi preserved by cool weather makes the highway look like a buffet dinner to opossums!

                The only marsupial native to North America, the Virginia opossum is actually quite an interesting little animal. One common trait of marsupials is that they carry their young in a pouch like a kangaroo. When young opossums are born after a gestation period of only 13 days they are about the size of a pea. They must make their way from the birth canal to the pouch or they will soon perish.  Once in the pouch they attach themselves to a teat where they will remain for a few weeks. If there are more young than teats they will not survive as they are born so immature that attachment must be made to the mother. Once the young are old enough to detach from the teat they will begin to crawl in and out of the pouch and may be seen riding around on their mothers back and sides, clinging onto her fur with their mouth and paws. The number of young usually ranges from six to nine.  Average life span for opossums in the wild is only one to three years.

                Like mentioned before, opossums are not picky eaters. Their diet may include rabbit, squirrel, mice, birds, eggs, worms, snakes, frogs, skunk, other opossum, grapes, apples, berries, grains and insects. Freshness is not a requirement!

                When disturbed an opossum will usually attempt to run, if cornered they will snarl, show their teeth, drool, and are quiet capable of inflicting a bite. If the disturbance continue they may “play possum”, feigning death and excreting a foul substance in hopes this will deter the aggressor.

                In the past opossum was considered good table fare. I remember trapping for rabbits as a child using “rabbit gums” and occasionally I would catch an opossum. My grandfather always wanted me to save these for him. He wanted a young, maybe half grown individual and he would put it up and “feed it out” using milk and cornbread for a couple of weeks. He would then bake it in the oven with sweet potatoes and it really wasn’t bad! A very similar taste to pork.

Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 02/25/2015