Posts tagged ‘Houston County’

Lizards in Minnesota? The well-named Six-lined Racerunner

July 20, 2020

Lizards in Minnesota? We have three species that are found in the state: Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) across all of MN except northeast and north central, Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) found in extreme southeast MN and along the MN River Valley, and my target for the day—Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata), which is almost exclusively found in the southeast counties bordering the Mississippi River.

Six-lined Racerunner? Yes, this lizard is incredibly speedy (it can run up to 18MPH!) and it has six greenish-yellow stripes…three running down each side of its body (with a darker middle stripe…so it could technically be called the “Seven-lined Racerunner” but nobody asked me).

And this lizard needs that kind of speed to ambush grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies and other insects who can be quite quick to take wing at the first hint of danger.

Range of Six-lined Racerunner in the U.S (from NatureServe.org)

Thanks to a tip from a herpetologist friend I searched this spot along the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota (the southeastern most county in MN). He said to only go on a sunny and very warm day since these guys are only active in the heat of midday. In fact, their ideal air temperature for activity is 93 degrees F! (Fitch, 1958). They won’t even come out of burrows on cool days (below 72?). Mid May is when they emerge and they go back underground for the winter in late August.

Check out the unique scales on the Six-lined Racerunner’s tail. They can “drop” their tail if in danger, or if a predator grabs them by the tail, but it is much more unusual than with the skinks.

My first “sighting” was just a line of grass moving as an unseen lizard raced away from me. The site was sandy with a surprising amount of forb cover. I would have thought I’d find them in more open sandy country. A line of jumbled rocks is where they would scurry to for cover.

After about two hours, and about six lizards speeding away from me to the shelter of the rocks, I finally found a Racerunner that wasn’t racing. I was able to sloooowly creep towards him (see below on how I knew his gender) and get a few shots through the grasses.

The blue throat/chin and lime green face tells me that this is a male who is still in breeding “plumage.”

Much of this information about the natural history of Minnesota’s herps was gleaned from Moriarty and Hall’s excellent Amphibians & Reptiles of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). You can buy it here. Or purchase from Amazon here.

In this Blog Post from summer 2019, I searched for the Five-lined Skink along the rocky landscape of the Minnesota River Valley, but instead found a juvenile Prairie Skink.

Colossal Wildflowers of the Mississippi River backwaters: Part 1—Houston County, MN

July 20, 2020

When the description of a wildflower uses feet instead of inches, you know you have a colossal plant! And at this one spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota I found 3 stands of blossoming behemoths! Where am I? The Amazon?

Backwaters of the Mississippi River above the Reno, Minnesota dike (Reno Landing)

I was meandering back from Iowa where I had dropped off the boys for a week of “Nana Camp” at Bridget’s mom’s. The night before I camped at Minnesota’s Beaver Creek Valley State Park. It is in Houston County which is the southeasternmost county in the state. This is in the “driftless” region, an area that was missed by all of the last glaciers of the Ice Age and retains its high hills, meandering creeks, coulees and valleys. It is an area pockmarked with limestone caves in the karst topography. The hardwood forests have more in common with the southern midwest than the rest of Minnesota. As a result there is a plethora of unique species to Minnesota in this region.

I stopped at the Reno Landing on the Mississippi River to explore the dike and look for Minnesota’s rarest lizard (future blogpost!) when I noticed my first “mega-flower.”

The massive size of the flower is hard to comprehend without something to compare it to. But unfortunately I didn’t have my kayak with so I couldn’t get near the flowers.

It was the huge blossom of the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea). The flower itself can be as big as your head (4 to 8 inches across) and the leaves dwarf the flowers at one to two feet across!

At first I wasn’t even sure this was a native plant, but a quick check of my Minnesota Wildflowers app on my iPhone confirmed that it is indeed Minnesota’s largest native wildflower. This was Lifer Number 1 (a species I had never seen in my life before).

The American Lotus is only found along backwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and a few inland lakes (Lake Minnetonka) in Minnesota. And their populations seem to be ephemeral, and not blooming every year.

I wish I would have brought my kayak to actually get up close and personal with these aquatic mammoths. Next summer!

I then spotted a flower I had never seen before. Lifer Number 2. I didn’t even know where to start looking in my Peterson Field Guide nor my iPhone app to identify this monster. It emerged in a cluster from the backwaters to a height of three feet. Atop a stalk was a showy umbell of stunning magenta blossoms with 6 petals (or was it 3 sepals and 3 petals?) maybe half a foot across.

Blossoms of Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus) are held in an umbel of stalks.

Once I got home, my copy of Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams came to the rescue; the plant was Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a non-native species that is in the Flowering-Rush family (Butomaceae)

Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)
Flowering-Rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Then on the way out I spotted a huge and robust stand of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Hundreds of purple-blossomed spikes stood a couple feet above the dense tangle of large arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Dense stand of the large and robust Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
The spike of blossoms of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

In the next post I will show a few photos of the lizard I found at this site.