My brother came to visit me over Labor day weekend. He is a tarantula enthusiast and so we went hiking around various places in Missouri looking for them (they aren't found in northern Illinois where he lives). I like to think of our trip as the tale of three arachnids
1. Aphonopelma Hentzi, the Texas Brown Tarantula. This is what we were looking for. They appear in glades in southern Missouri under rocks. At least that's what we heard. We failed to uncover any even after flipping many rocks.
The first place we looked was fairly close to home. The Valley View Glades Natural Area in Jefferson county was rumored to have tarantulas. It's a small glade complex but it did offer us with a view of the second arachnid.
2. Centruroides vittatus, the Striped Scorpion or Plains Scorpion. This is apparently Missouri's only scorpion. They were quite plentiful under the rocks in the glades. However I think we only saw young scorpions because they were sort of a yellow color rather than the dark brown color that the adults are supposed to have. We also saw several skinks and several small snakes which I think are Western Worm Snakes. They are really small and hide under rocks.
After spending several hours we decided to head to southern Missouri to the Hercules Glade complex. Here is a picture of the glade top trail which I stoke from the forest service web site.
We camped in an area called the Tidwell area which is very nice. During the night it rained really hard. So much so that we had to abandon our tarp and retreat to the car. Wind blown rain was getting in. We were trying to share an 8x10 tarp with me in a hammock and my brother on the ground. The tarp didn't provide enough coverage for two.
Although the Hercules Glades are nice looking we thought we might have better luck a little further east at Caney Mountain Conservation Area. We enjoyed hiking in this area but failed to find any tarantulas. We saw a few more snakes but I'm not sure which species they were. However the patches of grasslands provided an enounter with the third arachnid.
3. Trombicula alfreddugesi, Chiggers! I don't normally encounter many chiggers when I hike. But that's because I tend to stay in woodlands. Chiggers infest grassy areas. You never see them (they are tiny) or even feel them bite. You just begin to itch after a few hours. This scratching dislodges the chigger but that is just the beginning. Chiggers do not burrow into your skin or suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject a saliva that dissolves skin cells. It also causes the nearby cells to harden into a tube that the chigger can drink through. It is this tube that causes the discomfort later on. Your body will eventually break down this tube but until then you have an itchy welt. At the moment I have something like 100 on my feet, ankles, and the backs of my knees. Oh well.
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