Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer

01 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8183

I found a couple examples of this serpent while visiting the “Show Me State” last month. Although it is capable of reaching 5 feet, the average adult tends to be about 3 feet in length.

02 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8129

The color of this smooth-scaled, slender snake is uniform but variable — from olive, tan, brown, or blue to gray or nearly black. The belly may be yellow, cream or light blue-gray.

03 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8132

Like other American Racers, juveniles are tan or gray and marked with gray or brown blotches and spots on the back, and smaller, alternating spots on the sides. As the young snakes grow, the markings fade and eventually disappear by the third year.

03 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8138

Active during daytime, these reptiles live in prairies, grasslands, pastures, brushy fields, open woods and along the edges of forests. In Spring and Fall, they are often seen on rocky, wooded, south-facing hillsides, which is where they overwinter (if they do not overwinter in a mammal burrow in an open habitat).

05 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8926

Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racers hunt frogs, lizards, snakes, small rodents, birds and insects. Despite the Latin name, Coluber constrictor, racers are not constrictors. They simply overpower their prey. They use their speed and agility to catch prey — as well as to escape their own predators.

06 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8139

It was an awesome experience to find an adult and juvenile version of this snake, which I had never encountered in the wild before, while on my trip.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Western Slimy Salamander

01 Western Slimy Salamander_8065

I came across several of these cool creatures on my visit to Missouri last month. The Western Slimy Salamander is a black to blue-black, medium-sized woodland salamander with a long, rounded tail and numerous silvery flecks irregularly distributed over the head, back, limbs and tail.

02 Western Slimy Salamander_8061

This amphibian is in a group of some 13 closely related species called the Plethodon glutinosus complex; at one time these were all considered a single species, the Slimy Salamander. The Western Slimy Salamander is the only member of this group that occurs in Missouri.

03 Western Slimy Salamander_4846

They are most active on the surface during cooler, wet conditions in the Spring and Fall. During the hot Summer months they are difficult to find, since they retreat underground into cool, moist caves, or find damp places by burrowing into large piles of leaf litter.

04 Western Slimy Salamander_8064

Western Slimy Salamanders feed on a wide variety of arthropods, including ants, beetles, flies, worms insect larva and pill bugs. They can reach nearly 8 inches in total length, but most individuals vary from about 4 to 7 inches. Much of that length is because of its long tail.

05 Western Slimy Salamander_4780

This salamander has an interesting defense mechanism. When handled, it produces a thick, sticky substance from glands in its skin. The substance is not only extremely sticky, but is also very difficult to clean. This ploy prevents it from being eaten by snakes and other potential predators.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Predaceous Diving Beetle

01 Predaceous Diving Beetle_0847

Although they are found in my home state of Ohio, I most often see these cool beetles when I retrieve my minnow traps in southern Illinois.

02 01 Predaceous Diving Beetle_B7830

This is a decent-sized insect with an adult maximum length of about 1-1/2 inches. It’s body is streamlined and oval in shape.

03 Predaceous Diving Beetle_4S2B7834

Predaceous Diving Beetles prefer quiet water at the edges of ponds and streams, where they float gently among weeds. Before diving, they trap air between their wings and body, which prolongs their time spent under water.

04 Predaceous Diving Beetle_4S2B7831

Their hindlegs are fringed with hairs and flattened for swimming; when swimming, they kick both hind legs simultaneously. Not only are they good swimmers, but they are also strong fliers that can fly away to a new waterway if the pond they live in dries up.

05 Predaceous Diving Beetle_4S2B783

Fierce predators, these beetles do not hesitate to attack prey larger then themselves, including small fish, tadpoles and frogs. Their sharp jaws inject enzymes that digest their prey, so that the juices can be ingested by the beetle.

06 Predaceous Diving Beetle_4S2B783

Species in this genus of beetle are edible and were enjoyed both in pre-settlement days and on tacos in present-day Mexico. They have been “farmed” for human consumption in various parts of Asia and have been used medicinally in China.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Mist Flower

Mist Flower 01

This is a cool member of the Aster Family that I saw on my visit to southern Illinois last month. It is a late Summer-to-Fall blooming herbaceous perennial that is native to the Eastern United States.

Mist Flower 02

Also known as Wild Ageratum, it bears fluffy-looking, delicate flowers that are colored in pastel shades of pink, lavender or blue; it often occurs in large stands.

Mist Flower 03

Mist Flower occurs in bottomland forests, swamps, the banks of streams and rivers, the edges of ponds and lakes, marshes, ditches, gardens, railroads, roadsides and shaded-to-open disturbed areas.

Mist Flower 04

Butterflies, Skippers and Long-tongued Bees are strongly attracted to the flowers. Other insects eat the foliage. Not many mammals eat this plant, because of its bitter taste.

Mist Flower 05

Other occasional visitors include Short-tongued bees, various flies, moths and beetles. These insects primarily seek nectar, although the bees often collect pollen as well.

Mist Flower 06

Mistflower is often grown as a garden plant, although it does have a tendency to spread and take over a garden. It is recommended for habitat restoration within its native range, especially in wet soils.

Mist Flower 07

This plant is closely related to the white-flowered Bonesets.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Lined Snake

01 Herp Habitat_8104

This month when visiting the “Show Me State,” I came across my first-ever Lined Snake while exploring a glades habitat in Missouri.

02 Lined Snake_9354

This small, secretive serpent looks similar to a Garter Snake. It is mainly brown to grayish brown with three light stripes, one along the middle of the back, plus two on the sides. The belly is white with two distinct rows of half-moon shapes.

03 Lined Snake_8439

Normally active from April through October, Lined Snakes hide during the day under rocks, logs, and other debris, becoming active at night.

04 Lined Snake_9369

This snake lives in a wide variety of habitats, such as prairies, glades, empty lots in towns and suburbs, near old trash dumps, along highways where there is abundant debris for shelter, and in open, rocky woodlands.

05 Lined Snake_9359

This species, which is typically about a foot long, feeds almost exclusively on earthworms. It was very cool to see this snake “in person” for the first time while on my herping trip.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Bantam Sunfish

01 Bantam Sunfish_8847

While exploring waterways in southern Illinois this month, I caught a few examples of the smallest of all sunfish species that can be found in North America.

02 Bantam Sunfish_8672

This 3-inch fish occurs in swamps and mud-bottomed, heavily vegetated ponds, lakes and sloughs. It is perhaps the least colorful member of its genus.

03 Bantam Sunfish_8669

Like all sunfish, its body is deep and compressed. The symmetrical shape of its body gives the Bantam Sunfish the scientific species name symmetricus.

04 Bantam Sunfish_8667

Scattered populations of this fish exist in the southcentral United States. Adults have vertical bands of irregular brown spots often with scattered spots between the bars.

05 Bantam Sunfish_8848

The Bantam Sunfish feeds on a variety of freshwater invertebrates. It is considered to be the least studied sunfish in the United States and is also listed as “Threatened” in Illinois.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Prairie Lizard

01 Victoria Glades_4775

While exploring this glade in Missouri, I can across a small, grayish brown, rough-scaled lizard that I’ve never seen in the wild before.

02 Prairie Lizard_4793

This is a common species of open forests or along edges of woods and fields. It often lives around country homes and rock gardens, split rail fences and stacks of firewood.

03 Prairie Lizard_7423

Adult range from 4-7 inches in total length, with their tail being over half of their total length. Males are easily differentiated from females by two bright blue patches on their underside that females lack.

04 Prairie Lizard_8175

These lizards are extremely fast. When startled, they will often seek refuge in nearby vegetation or burrows. They also commonly escapes capture by running up trees.

05 Prairie Lizard_4801

The Prairie Lizard eats a wide variety of insects and spiders. It was neat to see these cool creatures while visiting the “Show Me State.”

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Fairy Inkcap

01 Fairy Inkcap_4717

While looking for snakes in southern Illinois, I noticed a large number of tiny mushrooms at the base of a tree. This species derives its nutrients from decaying wood and is usually found on or near dead tree stumps or decaying logs.

02 Fairy Inkcap_4718

These gregarious little fungi occur from early spring until the onset of winter, and they are at their most spectacular when the caps are young and pale – sometimes nearly pure white.

03 Fairy Inkcap_4714

Common in Britain and Ireland and throughout Europe and North America, the Fairy Inkcap is truly a cosmopolitan mushroom, being found also in most parts of Asia and in South America and Australia.

04 Coprinellus Disseminati_4715

For most types of inkcap mushroom, the gills and caps melt into an inky black ooze – which is what gives the inkcaps their common name. Though this is not a feature of the Fairy Inkcap.

05 Fairy Inkcap_4716

Rather than melt into mush, the caps of the Fairy Inkcap remain brittle, and easily teared, hence their alternate common name of Trooping Crumble Cap.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

American Bird Grasshopper

01 American Bird Grasshopper_6944

I happened to flush one of these creatures out of its hiding spot while walking through a field in southern Illinois. It did not just hop a few feet in front of me, like most grasshoppers, rather it took wing, flying several hundred feet and landing in high up in a tree.

02 American Bird Grasshopper_6942

Although these large insects have two generations a year, they are most abundant in the Autumn. Mature females are approximately two inches in length, and the males are only slightly smaller. They are North America’s largest flying grasshoppers.

03 American Bird Grasshopper_4544

While most grasshoppers overwinter as eggs in the soil, American Bird Grasshoppers overwinter as adults and lethargically active adults can be spotted on warm Winter days in meadows and along wooded edges throughout the colder months.

04 American Bird Grasshopper_4549

The American Bird Grasshopper is found in fields and open woodlands in eastern and central North America, south into Mexico and South America. Somewhat migratory, in the northern part of range it may be an immigrant only and not breed.

05 American Bird Grasshopper_4546

This species was the source of a newly discovered class of chemical compounds called caeliferins. When the grasshopper feeds on a plant, its caeliferins induce the plant to release volatile organic compounds. Caeliferins also play a role in defense, as the grasshopper expels large amounts of it when attacked.

Not only is its large size impressive, I found its detailed Art Deco-like pattern really neat.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Central Mudminnow

01 Central Mudminnow_7013

While catching tadpoles in roadside ditches this Summer, I came across this really neat fish that I have never encountered before.

02 Central Mudminnow_6997

When the oxygen in the water insufficient, the Central Mudminnow can gulp air at the surface and use atmospheric oxygen to breathe; as a result, it is sometimes the only, or one of a very few, fish species present in waters susceptible to Winter or Summer kill.

03 Central Mudminnow_9441

It burrows tail-first in mud and its ability to tolerate low oxygen levels allows it to live in waterways unavailable to other fish. Its coloration matches its habitat, being brownish above with mottled sides and a pale belly.

04 Central Mudminnow_6996

This 2-to-4 inch fish eats both aquatic invertebrates and land insects that fall into the water. In Winter, Central Mudminnows can remain surprisingly active, even under ice, and turn their attention to other small fishes, which become more sluggish and vulnerable as the temperature drops.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail