Orange-winged Grasshopper

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While visiting a Pine Barrens habitat in Maryland this Summer, I came across this very cool creature.

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Grasshoppers jump to get around and to escape from predators and several species enhance their leaps by having the ability to fly.

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This species prefers old fields, meadows and open woodlands, where it is almost always grassy, sunny and near (but not usually under) trees. It is more often seen in upland areas than in valleys and prefers areas where there are patches of bare soil.

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True to its name, my specimen had orange wings, but the inner wing color can also be yellow or pinkish. The Orange-winged Grasshopper belongs to a group of insects known as Band-winged Grasshoppers, as evidenced by its black wing borders.

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These grass-eating insects are heavy-bodied and equipped with enlarged hind legs. Their head too, has an appearance of being over-sized. It’s bright, intricate, cryptic colors make for a neat looking invertebrate.

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Reindeer Lichen

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Although I’ve encountered this lichen occasionally on my travels, while visiting Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland, I saw quite a bit of it.

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Lichens are “dual organisms,” made by mutualistic associations between fungi and algae. They grow in some inhospitable environments – on rocks, trees and man-made objects – yet they are very sensitive to air pollution and are natural indicators of air quality.

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These organisms are important to the environment because they break down rocks into soil and they help to stabilize soil that’s already there. There are several different species known as “Reindeer Lichen” and this is Grey Reindeer Lichen, which is also known as True Reindeer Lichen.

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It features hollow intricate branches coming out its main stem. The branches have a dull, cotton-like look and feel. Grey Reindeer Lichen can form extensive carpets over the ground in open pine forests, especially on sandy soils and in open areas.

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This organism has a range extending into the tundra and is a important food source for Caribou. Reindeer Lichens grow slowly and mature clumps are often around 100 years old.

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Six-lined Racerunner

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What’s the fastest lizard in the land? Some would say that it’s this one, which has been clocked at sprinting 18 miles per hour. Six-lined Racerunners are wary, energetic and fast moving.

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It gets the first part of its common name from its yellow stripes. As I hiked through a Pine Barrens habitat in coastal Maryland, these reptiles could be seen darting across the path on front of me.

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I’ve encountered Six-lined Racerunners in the southeastern states and they seem to have a preference for sandy areas. They are fond of heat and out and about on the hottest of Summer days, catching insects, spiders and other invertebrates.

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It was cool to see this reptilian speedster on my forays into the wilds of The Old Line State.

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Osprey

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While staying in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, I observed several of these fish-eating raptors. Sometimes known as a Fish Hawk, this very distinctive bird was once classified with other hawks, but is now placed in a separate family of its own.

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The Osprey’s head is distinctive, with a white crest and a face bisected by a dark eye-stripe. This bird has yellow eyes. Its feet (talons) are uniquely adapted for capturing and carrying fish; the surfaces are rough, and their toes can be held with three forward and one back, or with two forward and two back.

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Its habitat is along coastlines, lakes and rivers. Its distribution is almost worldwide. The Osprey can often be seen flying over the water, hovering, and then plunging feet-first to catch fish in its talons. After a successful strike, it tends to fly away carrying the fish so that its head faces forward in a streamlined position for transporting it through the air.

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When diving in pursuit of fish, an Osprey can completely submerge itself under water and still be able to fly away with its catch. it has Osprey a third eyelid (called a nictitating membrane, which is semi-transparent) that acts like goggles and helps the bird see clearly beneath the water.

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Most of their nests that I saw had babies, which usually number three. The female Osprey remains with her young most of time, sheltering them from sun and rain, while male hunts and brings back fish, which the female feeds to her offspring. This bird feeds almost entirely on fish that are less than a foot long.

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The Osprey was seriously endangered due to effects of pesticides in mid-20th century; since DDT and related pesticides were banned in 1972, Fish Hawks have made a significant comeback in many parts of North America.

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Although on previous trips to the coast I was able to see Ospreys from afar, this was the first opportunity for me to get a close-up look at them – and they were fascinating to watch.

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Wild Potato Vine

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While hiking in a Pine Barrens habitat in coastal Maryland, the flowers of what looked like an over-sized Morning Glory caught my attention.

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Wild Potato Vine is a twining plant which features heart-shaped leaves and funnel-shaped white flowers that are 2 to 3 inches across with maroon centers.

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This plant gets its “potato” namesake because its large, tuberous roots can be roasted and eaten. Some of the tubers can reach 30 inches long, be 5 inches thick and weight over 20 pounds.

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Wild Potato Vine habitat includes upland woods, the edges of prairies bordering woodlands, thickets, stream-sides and disturbed ground, like railroad and highway borders.

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It is host to Long-tongued Bees, Bumblebees and Digger Bees as well as nectar-seeking butterflies and moths. Tortoise Beetles, the the Sweet Potato Flea Beetle and the Sweet Potato Leaf Beetle feed on its leaves.

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Wild Potato Vine is also known as known as Man of the Earth, Manroot, Wild Sweet Potato and Wild Rhubarb.

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Emerald Euphoria

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While hiking through the woods while on a visit to Maryland, an insect “crash landed” onto a log that I was approaching.

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This is a type of scarab beetle that as an adult feeds mainly on sap from wounded trees – especially oaks. Most scarab beetles in the eastern United States, such as June Bugs, are nocturnal – but this species in active in the daytime.

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The Emerald Euphoria not only has the ability to fly, but is also has the unusual characteristic of doing so using its more-often-than-not hidden membranous hind wings, while it hard outer wing covers remain closed. They are fast and powerful fliers, though somewhat erratic while airborne.

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This species falls into the category of “Flower Scarabs” and sometimes visits Dogwood, Sumac and Thistle. It’s moderate size and metallic sheen of its green color make this a distinctive and enjoyable insect to encounter on a Summer hike.

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Northern Diamondback Terrapin

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While visiting Maryland this Summer, I came across a reptile that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Its common name refers to the diamond pattern on top of its shell, though its overall pattern and coloration can vary greatly.

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Females tend to be larger than males and have a shell length of 6 to 9 inches, while males are typically 4 to 5-1/2 inches. Their beak is typically light in color and is often white.

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The Diamondback Terrapin is the only turtle that inhabits coastal marshes with brackish water (a mix of salt and fresh water) for its entire life.

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This reptile mainly eats mollusks and crustaceans, including snails, fiddler crabs and mussels. They are usually most active during high tide, when the marshes they inhabit are often flooded.

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Diamondback Terrapins were once used as a main food source, first by Native Americans and then by European settlers. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s they were hunted so extensively that they almost faced extinction.

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During the early 1930s, when terrapin numbers decreased, the popularity of this turtle as a food item faded. Its populations have since rebounded due to the lack of harvesting pressure. The Northern Diamondback Terrapin is Maryland’s State Reptile.

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Indiana Bat

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This is a creature that I’ve only seen while visiting Cater Caves, Kentucky. The Indiana Bat was listed as endangered in 1967. They are vulnerable to disturbance because they hibernate in large numbers in only a few caves.

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Other threats to their existence include commercialization of caves, loss of Summer habitat, pesticides and other contaminants, and most recently, a disease known as White-nose Syndrome.

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Although in flight they have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches, Indiana Bats only weigh about one-quarter of an ounce (about the weight of three pennies).

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Indiana bats are social and tend to be found clustered in groups. Their average lifespan is 15 years, which is surprisingly long for such a small mammal.

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Like other bats in the United States, they are insectivores and feed on beetles, flies, moths and other flying invertebrates. To locate their prey, they utilize echolocation, which is similar to sonar used in ships.

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It was neat to see this uncommon and very cool mammal while visiting the Bluegrass State.

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Morel Mushroom

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Morels are one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world. They are not farmed like most grocery store mushrooms, but instead gathered in the wild.

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Their most identifiable characteristic is what’s typically described as a honeycomb-like exterior. I saw a few of these distinctive fungi recently while in Carter County, Kentucky.

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Despite their popularity as a food item, relatively little is known about this particular fungal complex or its lifestyle in the wild. What we call mushrooms are actually just the fruiting body of the organism.

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Most of a mushroom is threadlike like fine roots, and branches and burrows extensively through the soil or wood in a manner similar to the roots of plants.

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The roots (called a mycelium) spread underground for an indeterminate length of time – perhaps months or even several years – before they store enough food to produce a fruiting body – the actual mushroom.

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In the United States Morel Mushroom season generally lasts for about three weeks in April, which adds to the craze for mushroom hunters, as this delicacy can only be obtained for a limited time.

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Zebra Swallowtail

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This a butterfly that I see more-often-than-not when visiting Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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Its distinctive wing shape and long wing tails make it easy to identify; its black-and-white-striped pattern is reminiscent of a zebra.

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The main reason I don’t see Zebra Swallowtails very much on northeast Ohio (where I live) is that their caterpillars feed on Pawpaw (a southern tree) leaves, and are rarely found far from these trees.

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The adult butterflies feed on flower nectar and minerals from damp soil. They frequently congregate with other butterflies – in this case, a Red-spotted Purple. This behavior is known as “puddling.”

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The tongue of the Zebra Swallowtail is much shorter than other swallowtail butterflies, so they are attracted to shorter, flatter flowers rather than long, tube-shaped blooms.

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This is a “classic” American insect that I enjoy seeing when I am out and about.

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