American Coot


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                Almost anywhere one goes in this area around water the American Coot or Fulica Americana is present. They can be easily recognized by a solid black body with white bill and sometimes a small red spot on their forehead.  Another common name is Mud Hen.

                 Although commonly seen floating around with several species of puddle ducks the coot isn’t really a duck at all. Coots lack the wide bill and fully webbed feet of ducks. They have flaps of skin on each toe that help in swimming and support them on muddy flats. These flaps retract when they lift their foot though so as not to hinder in walking.

                Primarily vegetarian, coots eat a wide variety of aquatic vegetation including algae. They will also take small insects and crustaceans. Right at home in the water or on land they are able to dive for food and are more agile on land than ducks.

                After building a nest out of reeds or cattails the hen will lay anywhere from six to ten eggs. These eggs will hatch in twenty one days just like a chicken. Although the female does most of the nest building, the male takes over and does most of the incubation. Sometimes several nests are constructed before the fussy female decides which one she wants to lay eggs in. Nests are large floating structures that are usually well hidden in thick foliage.

                Newly hatched chicks are covered on the front half of their body with orange tipped plumes which may aid in parents recognition of their own chicks. If these youngsters survive to adulthood they can look forward to a pretty long life span for a bird. Coots have lived up to twenty two years in captivity.

                Not considered a good food source by most hunters they are not commonly taken during duck season, at least not locally. In some regions this is not the case. Some Cajun recipes call for coot to be used in making gumbo.

By Jack Glisson

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 05/06/2015


Black Locust

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                In full bloom throughout our area now is the Black Locust tree, or Robinia pseudoacacia.

                Today thickets of locust are generally considered to be a nuisance by farmers but this was not always the case. Called the “hardest wood in America” timbers from this tree formed the heart of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in American. Due to its hardness and rot resistance it has been used extensively for fence post, ship building, and Native Americans crafted bows from it. It has been suggested that the deciding factor in the war of 1812 was the fact that American ships were put together with locust pins whereas the British ships were not which made them more susceptible to cannon fire. Whether this wood played that important of a role may never be known but the fact remains that in the following years there was a thriving export market to the British of locust wood.

                Belonging to the legume family locust trees tend to improve the soil where they grow by fixing the nitrogen. Once they mature they are very susceptible to disease and insects so are commonly hollowed out by several species of wood peckers. This time of year the quantity of blossoms makes it an important source for honey bees making honey.

                Black locust blossoms are an excellent food source. They can be eaten raw or combined in salads or even cooked in a variety of dishes. It is possible to eat the seed pods but they must be harvested while still green.    As usual though, neither the paper nor my-self are responsible for the mis-identification and possible untoward side effects from eating unknown wild plants.

By Jack Glisson

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 05/13/2015


Periodical Cicada

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                There here! For the ones of you that have been following my column, I have made mention at least a couple of times that the Periodical Cicada is due here again in 2015. I found and captured the first ones on 05/12/2015.

                Commonly called “13 or 17 year locust” this insect isn’t really a locust at all. That would be a grasshopper and we don’t have the species that cause those swarms here.  Instead, they are cicadas. Periodical cicadas differ from annual cicadas in that they have a several year life span (either 13 or 17 years) whereas the annual cicada has a lifespan of 2 to 3 years, they are considered annual because there are always a few that emerge each year. Periodical cicadas can easily be distinguished from annual species. They are much smaller and all 7 species have bright red eyes. The different broods of periodical cicadas are well documented and maps exist of the years of emergence as well as the areas that will be affected. What we are seeing this year is Brood # XXIII, the Lower Mississippi Valley Brood. This is a 13 year cicada.

                There are 7 described species of periodical cicada, 4 thirteen year and 3 seventeen year. All of them are in the genus Magicicada. The emergence of brood XXIII this year should be nothing short of spectacular. This brood contains all 4 of the 13 year species and covers areas of AR, IL, IN, KY, LA, MO, MS, and TN.

                Cicadas are harmless to humans. They have piercing mouthparts to suck sap from twigs and an ovipositor to pierce bark and lay eggs, but do not use these for defense.

                After digging an emergence tunnel, mature nymphs will crawl up some structure and shed their skin, this process is called ecdysis. Adults only live for 4 to 6 weeks during which time they call, mate, and lay eggs. The female makes a slit in a twig and deposits eggs. Around 20 eggs are laid in each slit and individuals may lay up to 600 each! Many of these twigs later will die beyond the pierced site and dead twig tips or “flagging” will be evident of many trees in the area. When the young hatch they are about the size of a small ant and will fall to the ground and burrow in which is where they will spend the next 13 years before emerging again in the year 2028! During these 13 years the nymphs will undergo 5 stages of growth while feeding on sap and juices from plant roots.

                While generally considered harmless, sometimes the sheer numbers of insects laying eggs may damage young trees. About the only protection from this would be to cover smaller trees with some type of screening or netting.

                For most of us, just set back and enjoy one of nature’s shows!

© 2015 Jack Glisson of

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 05/20/2015