Smooth Earth Snake

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I had my first encounter with this very cool species while visiting southern Illinois. It is a small (7 to 10 inches) somewhat heavy-bodied, brown-to-gray snake with smooth scales and a pointed snout.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is found in a variety of forested habitats with plenty of ground cover, but is most common in moist deciduous forests and edge habitats. Smooth Earth Snakes mainly live underground and are most often found hiding beneath rocks and logs.

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This species feeds primarily on earthworms, but takes other small invertebrates such as insects and snails. It gives birth to to live young, producing as many as 14 offspring in the late summer.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is an uncommon secretive serpent with a scattered distribution, so I was glad to finally come across one in the field.

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Upland Chorus Frog

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While on my visits to southern Illinois, I occasionally come across these small (about an inch) brown or gray frogs, with a light line across the upper lip and a dark stripe running through the eye. This is a species with an extremely variable pattern.

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The Upland Chorus Frog was recently separated from the Western Chorus Frog (which I sometimes find in my home state of Ohio), being identified as an individual species rather than a subspecies.

These are secretive, nocturnal amphibians, and are rarely seen except immediately after rains. They spend their days hiding in damp places such as under logs or rocks, emerging at night to hunt for food.


These are secretive, nocturnal amphibians, and are rarely seen except immediately after rains. They spend their days hiding in damp places such as under logs or rocks, emerging at night to hunt for food.

They are an almost entirely terrestrial species, and found in a variety of habitats, such as moist woodlands, meadows and wooded habitat within swamps and the edges of marshes.

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Upland Chorus Frogs are members of the frog family Hylidae, which makes them relatives of the tree frogs, cricket frogs, and other chorus frogs. The male’s mating call is a regularly repeated “creeeek” resembling the sound of running a finger along a comb.

In many parts of its range, the Upland Chorus Frog is the first amphibian to start calling in the year, and is often viewed as a symbol of the arrival of spring.

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Mississippi Green Water Snake

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Here at Snake Road in southern Illinois, I am enjoying searching for a reptile that I have found on several occasions previously; it is only found in Union County and is listed as State Threatened.

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A medium-sized, dark-colored, heavy-bodied snake, the Mississippi Green Water Snake is greenish brown with numerous small, obscure olive-brown or dark brown markings. One might describe it as “drab”. The belly is dark gray with yellow half-moon-shaped markings.

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Although not venomous, like other water snakes, it may bite viciously to defend itself as well as secrete a strong-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail.

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A unique characteristic that differentiates Mississippi Green Water Snakes from other types of water snakes in the United States is the presence of a row of scales between the eye and upper lip scales.

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These snakes prefer large, permanent bodies of water, especially in open country and around open cypress lakes and marshes. Compared to other water snakes, they are more abundant where there’s heavy vegetation and water currents are slow.

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It’s diet is a variety of fish, frogs, toads and salamanders. Mississippi Green Water Snakes are primarily nocturnal, searching for prey along banks of ponds or slow moving bodies of water at night.

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Like other North American water snakes, they give birth to live yong, usually numbering from 8-34, though as many as as many as 101 offspring were recorded in a single litter.

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Toothache Tree

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This intriguing native plant is covered with thorns from its compound leaves right down to its twigs and bark.

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Because of its content, it has used throughout the world in medicine and folklore. It is most widely known in Louisiana for its use by both Indians and settlers, not only as a toothache remedy, but they also mixed the inner bark with bear grease and applied it to treat ulcers.

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Native Americans used this plant for a wide range of other ailments as well. Ripe berries were thrown in hot water to make a spray used to treat and throat for chest ailments. The inner bark was boiled in water to produce a lotion used to treat various itches.

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This tree’s berries have historically been considered tonic, stimulant, anti-rheumatic, and effective in relieving gas, colic, and muscle spasms.

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Modern herbalists specify the bark and berries of Toothache Tree as a treatment for rheumatism and as a stimulant for blood circulation.

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The conical to flattened bark projections are especially interesting, each with prominent layers of cork tipped with a sharp, delicate spine. Its large, compound leaves form a umbrella-shape at the tip of the poles.

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Toothache Tree has a number of common names, such as: Hercules’ Club, Southern Prickly Ash, Sea Ash, Pepperwood, Prickly Orange, Sting Tongue, Tear Blanket, Pillenterry, Prickly Yellow Wood, and Wait-a-bit.

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No matter what you call it, few woody plants have had such a varied and widespread use in American folklore.

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Turkey Vulture

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Turkey Vultures are majestic but unsteady soarers. Their teetering flight with very few wingbeats is an identification characteristic. Their ability to ride thermals enables them to move from one destination to another.

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These birds occupy a diverse range of habitats like roadsides, suburbs and farmlands. They are found in forested as well as open environments; they can be found just about anywhere they can effectively find a carrion food supply.

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Turkey Vultures usually roost in large community groups, but search for food independently during daylight hours. They are talented scavangers with an acute sense of smell.

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They have a well-developed sense of smell and are one of the only species of birds worldwide that uses smell extensively. Their sense of smell is so remarkable that they can even locate a dead mouse under a pile of leaves.

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Several Turkey Vultures may gather at a carcass, but usually only one feeds at a time.This large bird species has a six foot wingspan and has been around since prehistoric times.

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Turkey Vultures act as nature’s ultimate garbage collector and recycler.

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Furrow Spider

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These spiders are most often found in moist areas, especially near water. Their orb webs are typically low to the ground in shrubbery or between grasses.

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This creature can be extremely common near the shores of lakes, particularly Lake Erie (where the examples in this blog were found), but also occur in other parts of Ohio and in fact are are common throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

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Furrow spiders are known to overwinter as adults: this is noteworthy because typical orb weaver species live for only one year, dying before winter. Orb weavers comprise a huge family of spiders, with 3500 species worldwide, 180 of which call North America home.

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Individuals ingest their web each night, recycling silk material to rebuild daily damage. When food is scarce, these spiders may make more or larger webs in a single night, in an effort to catch more prey.

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Orb weaver males are generally much smaller than the females and commonly lack the showy coloring of their fairer sex, but that is not so with this species; the males are only slightly smaller, and are equally gaudily-decorated. This creature is also commonly known as the foliate spider, after its prominent folium, or pigmented design on the abdomen.

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This is a wildflower that I frequently see blooming along roadsides at this time of the year. It produces sky blue flowers after living through one winter. These plants actually prefer being near hot rocks or other debris in the soil – this is one reason it thrives along edges.

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Around here Chicory seems to spring up everywhere with its bright blue dandelion-like flowers that open and close with the sun. It has a long blooming period from mid-Summer into Fall.


Its stems are thick and strong and 2 to 5 feet tall with few small long, narrow, and often upright leaves. This plant is not native to the United States, but has distribution all around the world.

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Chicory has been in cultivation since the days of ancient Egypt. Horticulture enthusiast and president Thomas Jefferson planted Chicory in his gardens, recommending it in a letter to George Washington as “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have.”

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Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, in addition, its roots can be baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive.

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Chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, and wild endive

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Channel Catfish

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While doing a little summertime fishing, I hooked one of these fine creatures. Channel Catfish are North America’s most numerous catfish species. In the United States, they are the most fished catfish species; their popularity for food has contributed to the rapid expansion of aquaculture of this species.

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Like other catfish, they have no scales, a single bony spine in each pectoral fin and the dorsal fin, and 8 barbels (whiskers) around the mouth.

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Channel Catfish live in a diverse array of habitats, including four of the five Great Lakes (Lake Superior excluded), inland lakes and medium to large rivers. Adult catfish typically inhabit deep pools with log jams or rocks for cover during the day and move into shallow water at night.

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They are capable of living more than 15 years, and individuals up to 24 years of age have been reported. In ideal habitats, Channel Catfish often grow to over 30 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds.

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Like all catfish, they will eat pretty much anything. Their diet includes insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, small fish and clams, snails, worms and seeds. Channel Catfish mainly feed at night, and use their barbels to find food in the deep, dark water. Their impressive size and high quality flesh make these catfish deservedly popular as a sport fish.

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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This is Ohio’s largest skipper. It is long-winged and brown, with band of yellow-orange rectangular spots on forewings and unique, silver-white patch at center of hindwings.

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These butterflies are named for their quick, darting flight habits. Most skippers have antenna tips modified into narrow hook-like projections.

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The Silver-spotted Skipper is found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. In the West, it is more restricted to mountainous areas.


The odd-looking caterpillar has an enlarged head capsule and a pronounced neck collar, making it look a bit like a cartoon alien. When disturbed, the caterpillars regurgitate a greenish, bitter-tasting, defensive chemical.

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Silver-spotted Skippers frequent edges of forests, swamps, brushy areas, and other open areas where nectar plants are found. We often have them visit our deck garden. Adults have long “tongues” and feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.


I enjoy seeing these summertime creatures both at home and while out hiking.

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Cooper’s Hawk

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While doing yard work this week, I noticed this creature perched on a tree in my front yard. Copper’s Hawks often visit suburban homes to pick off songbirds from feeders.

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I have also seen them in Brecksville Reservation – they among the bird world’s most skillful fliers – their short wings allow them to navigate through cluttered trees at high speeds in pursuit of other birds.

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Cooper’s Hawks are forest and woodland residents, but suburbs with enough trees are a favorite habitat as well.

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These crow-sized raptors mainly eat birds. Small birds tend to be safer around Cooper’s Hawks than medium-sized birds. They sometimes rob rodent nests and mammals are more common in diets of Cooper’s Hawks in the West.

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While they can soar in classic hawk fashion, when in pursuit of prey, their flight changes. It becomes becomes powerful, quick, and very agile, allowing the bird to thread its way through tree branches at top speed.

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Other common names for the Cooper’s Hawk include: big blue darter, chicken hawk, flying cross, hen hawk, quail hawk, striker, and swift hawk.

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