Volume 3 • Issue 10 • October 2009

Caves and Springs of Oklahoma

The Creatures of the Dark

The study of cave and spring faunas is important because of their connection with groundwater and mineral resources, their interest to science and their rarity. Animals that only survive in caves and those that only survive in groundwater represent a large portion of the imperiled animal species listed in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Species of Greatest Conservation Need.  Several spring-dwelling species are also included in the Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

In order to conserve springs, caves and groundwater habitats and their associated animals, additional information is needed about the distribution, ecology and taxonomy of the animals of these habitats. This project addresses this need by investigating key subterranean and spring habitats. 

Biological surveys were conducted at 41 springs, most of which were located in the Ozark and Arbuckle Mountains. Four species of crayfish and seven species of fish were recorded, including three species of darters, but none of these were restricted to spring habitats. Over 200 species of aquatic insects and other invertebrates were located and most of these were relatively common or widespread species. However, the study did document the first records in Oklahoma for an aquatic polychaet worm and a rare eastern species of amphipod. Also, four new sites were found for the Oklahoma Cave Amphipod, a rare subterranean crustacean that is found only in the groundwater aquifer of the Arbuckle Mountains.
Fifty-one caves were surveyed during this study. Photo courtesy of Jay Pruett- The Nature Conservancy.

Fifty-one limestone caves in the Ozarks and Arbuckles were surveyed under this project by biologists G.O. Graening and Dante Fenolio. In the Ozarks, these surveys located four species of bats, two species of cave-dwelling salamanders and a host of insects and other invertebrates. New locations were documented for the rare Grotto Salamander as well as two species of isopods and two species of amphipods that are found only in Oklahoma and adjacent states. One new species of amphipod (a small aquatic crustacean) was discovered in a cave system in central Delaware County. In the Arbuckle Mountains, four caves were surveyed and no crayfish, cave fish or salamanders were discovered. However new populations were found for an aquatic isopod found only in these mountains.

Written by Liz Bergey. Liz is an associate professor of zoology at the University of Oklahoma.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species. For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

The Land of Water and Wildlife

Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area

Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area covers 250,000 acres in McCurtain County in southeast Oklahoma.  Located north of Hwy. 37 and west of Hwy. 259, north of Broken Bow, Three Rivers WMA is a mixture of pine and hardwood forests.  Loblolly pine plantations are the main forests of the WMA.  Interspersed within the pine plantations are hardwood benches and streamside management zones dominated by oaks and hickories. The only free-flowing river in Oklahoma, the Glover, runs through the WMA. 

The land encompassed within the Three Rivers WMA is privately owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company and available to the public by purchasing a Land Access Fee permit available at all hunting and fishing license vendors. The permit, $40 for Oklahoma residents and $85 for nonresidents, is for all persons accessing the WMA for any recreational purpose.
Bobcats are relatively common furbearers that can be viewed at Three Rivers WMA.

Many species of watchable wildlife are seen on the WMA.  From squirrel to waterfowl, deer to turkey, a person can almost see it all at Three Rivers. Many species of birds can be viewed. These include pine warbler, summer tanager and brown-headed nuthatch in forested areas and prairie warbler, blue grosbeak, yellow-breasted chat and orchard oriole in clear-cut areas. Bald eagles are always seen in the wintertime at Broken Bow Lake and sometimes visit the creeks and rivers. 

For more information about Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area contact the area biologist.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is a wildlife diversity information specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

How to Help the Bluebirds

Report Those Nestboxes!

November 30th is the big day!  The day we have all been anticipating.  That’s right, it’s the deadline for turning in your Bluebird Nestbox Survey.  Are you ready?

Since 1985, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has had great success in increasing the population of Eastern bluebirds.  The project was started to enhance habitat for cavity-nesting birds in Oklahoma and reverse the population decline noted for the Eastern bluebird.  The project depends entirely upon volunteers to place the boxes in suitable habitat, monitor usage, control competition from house sparrows, alleviate predation problems and report the nesting season’s results.

Since the bluebird survey is almost over for the year, why not get ready for the next?  So what do you need to do?

Bluebirds start nesting around the end of March or early April. Under favorable weather conditions and in good habitat, bluebirds can raise as many as three broods of chicks per year, so nesting can continue from late March through late July. The nestboxes should be cleaned out from last season and inspected for any damages before nesting season starts.

Once nesting starts, you can check the eggs until they are about 12 days old.  Be sure to leave them alone after that so they do not leave the nest too early.

When the fledglings have left the nest it is recommended to clean out the nesting material from the nestbox. 

Please remember to turn in those surveys.  We always need your participation in order to continue the success of this program.  Lastly, enjoy your bluebirds!

For more information, visit wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is a wildlife diversity information specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.