California Kingsnake

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This reptile is a subspecies of Common Kingsnake, which have an extensive range that stretches from coast to coast.

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This species lives in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, along rivers or farms and even in bushy suburban areas.

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California Kingsnakes have food items that include rodents, other reptiles, birds and amphibians.They are powerful constrictors. The “king” in their name refers to their ability to hunt and consume other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes.

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This reptile is more active during the daytime in the colder regions of its range, but with higher temperatures, the California Kingsnake becomes night, dawn and dusk.

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Adults tend to be about three feet long. Although the distinctive banded pattern is common throughout its range a striped version occurs naturally as well in coastal southern California.

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I enjoy coming across this snake on my travels to California, Arizona and Nevada.

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Sierran Treefrog

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During my recent visit to California, I came across several examples of this small frog with a big head, large eyes, a slim waist, round pads on the toe tips and limited webbing between its toes.

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The name “treefrog” is not entirely accurate. This frog is chiefly a ground-dweller, living among shrubs and grass typically near water, but occasionally it can also be found climbing high in vegetation.

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Its large toe pads allow it to climb easily, and cling to branches, twigs, and grass. Like most frogs, its primary food is insects and other invertebrates.

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These amphibians can be a number of different colors, including green, tan, reddish, gray, brown, cream and black; most are a shade of green or brown, with pale or white bellies.

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They have a variety of dark markings on their backs and sides and a black or dark brown eye stripe that stretches from the nose, across the eye, and back to the shoulder.

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Adult Sierran Treefrogs are generally 1 to 2 inches long. On average, females are larger than males.

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The Sierran Treefrog makes its home around creeks, as well as woodlands, grassland, chaparral, pasture land, and even urban areas – including backyard ponds. It’s always fun to come across these charming and cool creatures.

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California Night-stalking Tiger Beetle

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These are really neat beetles which have sickle shaped mandibles and live in open habitats. They reside mainly in California, but there also have been sightings of this insect in southwest Oregon.

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The California Night-stalking Tiger Beetle inhabits areas between meadows and forests where there are an abundance of pine trees.

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This is a carnivorous beetle both during the larval and adult stages of development. Larva wait near the entrance of the burrow for passing organisms and quickly grab prey and drag it back into the burrow.

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Adults are mainly nocturnal and roam about during cloudy days or night in search of prey, which is mostly insects. Their diet depends heavily upon what organisms are available; they are rather opportunistic.

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Although fast-moving like the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle from my home state of Ohio, this species is unable to fly. I’ve been glad to come across this intriguing creature on my last two visits to California.

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Arboreal Salamander

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This species is found both on the ground as well as in trees. On the ground it often hides in logs and stumps or beneath bark and rocks. I enjoy coming across this amphibian when I visit California. Here’s one that I found yesterday.

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It is also well known for its climbing abilities. “Back in the day” many individuals were found on the University of California Campus at Berkeley occupying cavities in trees, some at a height of 30 feet above the ground. This is a juvenile that I encountered this week (the rest of the photos in this post are from previous visits to California).

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This is a fairly big salamander (the largest examples reach 7 inches, including the tail) with a large head and angular jaws. The eyes are prominent. Its stout legs undoubtably aid it in scaling trees. It is often chocolate-brown in color and sprinkled with pale yellow spots.

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This is one of the very few salamanders with vocal abilities. When handled it may bite and squeak.

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The Arboreal Salamander is mostly nocturnal and eats insects such as crickets and termites (as well as other invertebrates) found underneath leaf litter at night. These are lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin, so they are restricted to areas with plenty of moisture.

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Not only do these amphibians have a interesting “look” to them, but their unique lifestyle makes them and enjoyable herp to find and observe in the wild.

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Pacific Gopher Snake

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This large constrictor is native to the western coast of the United States. It is just one of the several subspecies of Gopher Snakes that we have living in the United States. I look forward to seeing more of them on my current visit to California.

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Although they can grow seven feet in length, most adults that I find are about half that size. I tend to find them in habitats such as meadows, fields and agricultural farmland; they are seldom found in dense forests.

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Pacific Gopher Snakes range from cream to light brown and have dark blotches on their backs and smaller dark spots along their sides. Young examples tend to be more boldly patterned than adults.

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Their keeled scales caused their skin to have a bit of a rough texture. Thier pointed head and enlarged scale in the tip of the nose are adaptations for burrowing.

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The Pacific Gopher Snake can produce a loud hiss when agitated or fearful. This species will also inflate its body, flatten its head, and vigorously shake its tail, when threatened.

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These snakes are primarily active during the day, though are sometimes seen moving and hunting at night – especially during warm weather. They are good climbers and burrowers.

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Harmless to humans, these reptiles are important to keeping the rodent population in check and maintaining their local ecosystems.

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Mourning Dove

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This graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove is common across the continent. The Mourning Dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. They like to hang out on the deck rail, ground and backyard maple tree at my house.

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Part of the reason for its significant increase in population is that many forests have been converted to farmlands, pastures and towns – which provide ideal habitat, as this is an open-country bird.

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Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments (mourning). When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying sound. Mourning Doves have coloration that matches their surroundings. They are brown to tan overall, with black spots on the wings and black-bordered white tips.

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Seeds make up 99 percent of a Mourning Dove’s diet. It tends to feed busily on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop. Once they’ve filled their crop, they fly to a safe perch to digest their meal.

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Although this is primarily a bird of open areas with scattered trees, and woodland edges, large numbers roost in woodlots during Winter.

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False Turkey Tail Mushroom

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Like the “true” Turkey Tail, this has a colorful, somewhat fuzzy cap which displays patterns of brown, red, orange, buff and green.

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The stemless fruiting body is shell-like, tough and inedible. It grows on tree bark. This fungus is native to North America, where it is widespread and grows all year round.

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Both Turkey Tail and False Turkey Tail are highly variable in appearance and look strikingly similar. So how do you tell them apart? The answer can be found by looking at the underside of the cap. Turkey’s Tail has tiny holes for its spore tubes, while False Turkey Tail has a smooth to slightly wrinkly underside with no visible holes.

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While an imposter, False Turkey Tail Mushroom plays a crucial role in woodlands by breaking down dead wood, recycling nutrients back into the soil and creating space for new growth.

It also provides color to woodlands on Winter days.

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Yellow-soled Slug

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Also known by its common name the “Garden Slug,” “Small Striped Slug” or “Black Field Slug,” this species is small (about 1 inch). The “Yellow-soled” part of its name comes from its colorful foot.

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This creature lives in gardens, fields, pastures and similar habitat and consumes agriculturally important crops; it often inhabits disturbed sites like roadsides.

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Their food is eaten by means of a rasping tongue known as a radula. Slugs are related to snails; in this species the shell is reduced to a group of calcareous granules below the mantle, which appears as a bulge on front part of the animal.

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Yellow-soled Slugs emerge at night and spend the day in moist places beneath stones, logs and other objects. Although not a favorite of many people, I didn’t mind coming across this little creature on a warm Winter’s day.

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Melanistic Eastern Gray Squirrel

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The black form of Eastern Gray Squirrel occurs as a “melanistic” subgroup. It is particularly abundant in the northern part of the mammal’s range.

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This is due to black squirrels having a considerably higher cold tolerance than that of gray colored squirrels.

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In addition, because the northern forests are more dense and therefore darker, dark colored squirrels have the benefit of better concealment in their dimly lit habitat.

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The black color is most likely the result of a mutation, which probably occurred by chance. As it turns out, the color mutation was favorable to the survival of the squirrels, became passed down through generations and spread.

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Although somewhat common in northeast Ohio, the rarity of the black squirrel has caused many people to admire them, and they enjoy great affection in some places as mascots.

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Smallmouth Salamander

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As Spring approaches here in northeast Ohio, I await the annual migration of mole salamanders and frogs as they leave their underground hibernation hideouts and head to vernal pools to lay their eggs. This week it happened.

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One of the less common of these creatures around here is the Smallmouth Salamander. It is best identified by its short snout and small head. It usually grows to about five inches in total length.

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The Smallmouth Salamander’s dark, earthtone ground color is occasionally accented with light flecks of blue pigment, especially along its sides and belly.

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This amphibian’s habitat is forested floodplains, swampy areas and deciduous forests. It spends most of the year hidden in underground burrows or under logs, leaf litter and other debris.

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Like the other mole salamanders in northeast Ohio, the Spotted Salamander and the Jefferson Salamander, the Smallmouth Salamander typically eats insects, slugs and worms.

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I look forward to searching for and coming across this oddly proportioned amphibian each Spring and it was exciting to see one this week.

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