Fauna: Geomys fontanelus 

Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center

Geomys fontanelus
Southeastern pocket gopher

You might never have seen a pocket gopher as they live almost entirely underground. They are fossorial creatures, meaning they are excellent diggers and prefer to burrow. They flourish in the type of soil found under the longleaf pine, which makes them very happy in the Ogeechee River basin. With giant front teeth and long claws, they look threatening, but are mostly harmless rodents.

They can be annoying for farmers as they dig up mounds of dirt in their fields, but they are ecologically significant in the aeration and mixing of the soil. They are particularly helpful in restoring forests after a prescribed burn by eating subterranean roots and preparing the land for a new planting of pine trees.

You are also unlikely to see a pocket gopher due to their threatened status and declining number. They were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989 and were even thought to be extinct for a number of years. Scientists are now finding small, locally-abundant populations but they are overall quite scarce.

A very annoyed gopher. Photo by Jim Ozier, GA DNR Wildlife Resources

There are a handful of subspecies in the Ogeechee River basin. G. p. cumberlandius is found only on Cumberland Island in Georgia. G. p. fontanelus is an isolated population near Savannah, and G. p. colonus is restricted to coastal plains in Camden Co., Georgia.

Fauna: Dolichovespula maculata

By Beatriz Moisset – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bald-faced hornet
Dolichovespula maculata

The bald-faced hornet, also called the bald hornet or the white-faced hornet, is technically a wasp and only a close cousin to the true hornet. It gets its name for the black and white coloring (rather than the typical black and yellow) of its body.

Still, it behaves much that same, living in colonies of several hundred and building paper nests created from chewed wood pulp mixed with saliva. Nests high in trees or rocky overhangs are common. These beautiful nests can be up to two feet long.

A bald-faced hornet nest in a tree along the Ogeechee River. Photo by Samarra Mullis

The nests include many layers of hexagonal combs inside of an outer layer protective paper. They also create air vents in the upper portion of the nest that heat to escape.

The adult hornets are omnivores, eating other insects as well as fruit, meat, spiders and plant nectar. Perhaps more fierce and frightening than butterflies or bees, they are also important pollinators.

This species lives throughout most of America and Canada but are most commonly found in the American southeast. They are a stinging insects, though rarely do so unless disturbed. When found in urban or suburban areas it is recommended the nests be moved by professionals.

Fauna: Lepomis auritis

Redbreast sunfish by Duane Raver, 1975

Redbreast sunfish
Lepomis auritis

The redbreast sunfish is native to eastern North America and makes its home in freshwater rivers. A relatively small fish, it is considered full grown by the time it is two inches long. The largest one on record measured just 12 inches. They primarily eat immature insects.

Usually olive colored with dark fins, the male’s breast and belly will turn bright orange when spawning. The male makes a nest in sandy material, then guards the eggs and fry after the female lays. Auritis means “big-eared” in Latin and refers to the long tabs that extend behind their eyes.

Redbreast sunfish, caught in Georgia. Shared via Wikimedia Commons.

The redbreast sunfish thrive in waters with flowing current and a stable pH. They like to live in natural structures near riverbanks, like overhanging branches which offer shade and protected habitats. Clearing bank debris, lack of current, or a change in pH levels quickly and dramatically affect the population.

Flathead catfish, an invasive species, is a predator and decimated the redbreast sunfish in other nearby watersheds. Thus far, the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers have not been infested with flathead catfish.

Citizens are asked to report sightings of these detrimental catfish to Ogeechee Riverkeeper or the Georgia Environmental Protection Division immediately. Snap a photo and email to info@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org with the approximate location of the sighting.

Flathead Catfish, (Pylodictis olivaris): Mississippi River @ Goose Island across from Northeast Power ramp, Marion County, Missouri.

Fauna: Odonata

Odonata anisoptera

Odonata zygoptera

Dragonflies and damselflies are closely related insects. Sometimes called ‘mosquito hawks,’ they are aerial predators that feed on insects such as midges and mosquitoes. They don’t have a stinger, but they can bite. None are known to be harmful to humans.

Wings of odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, Manual of Entomology, Maxwell Lefroy, 1923

Dragonflies and damselflies can be distinguished by the shape of the their wings. Anisoperta means “unequal wings” as dragonflies have slightly different pairs of wings. Zygoperta, meaning “equal wings” refers to damselflies. Both sets of wings are the same size and shape.

In the world there are about 5,000 species of odonata, with about 450 in North America. The Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers are home to a few species, including some uncommon ones.

Sparkling Jewelwing (Calopteryx dimidiata), Santa Rosa County, FL, USA

Sparkling jewelwing
Calopteryx dimidiata

A damselfly (note the aligned wingsets in photo above), it is large and easily found in Georgia and across the southeast. It’s typically found in sandy forest streams, particularly acidic ones like the blackwater Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers.

Blackwater clubtail, Gomphus dilatatus, Big Hammock Natural Area, Tattnall Co., Georgia

Blackwater clubtail
Gomphus dilatatus

This dragonfly is fairly uncommon and only found in the coastal plain regions. They tend to live near slow-moving rivers or streams with sandy or silty bottoms and perch on leaves or branches close to the water. The genus gomphidae is noted for its club-like tail and clear wings. There are fourteen of this genus in Georgia, but are difficult to study due to their rarity and short season.

*click any image for source information

Fauna: Passerina ciris

Painted Bunting by Dan Pancamo

Passerina ciris

The brightly colored bird is a member of the cardinal family and lives in the southeast and south-central United States, including coastal Georgia. Females and immature males are a parrot green color. At about two years old, the male’s feathers turn multiple tones of red, indigo, yellow, and more.

Color engraving by R. Havell, after drawing by John J. Audubon – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

They breed in maritime hammocks, scrubland, briar patches, woodland edges and swampy thickets. The females typically lay 3-4 eggs, twice a year. The fledglings take just a couple of weeks to leave the nest after hatching. The population is estimated at about 4.5 million, but that number is decreasing.

Painted Bunting (Female) by Dan Pancamo

The painted bunting was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his eighteenth-century work Systema Naturae. The Swedish naturalist did a taxonomy of plants in 1753 and followed up with animals in 1758 and 1759.

Cover of Systema Naturae, 10th edition

Painted buntings are territorial and can be seen throughout the Ogeechee River watershed and nearby areas like Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge.

Listen to the call of the Painted bunting.