Great White Trillium

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Trillium is also a much-loved native wildflower in the United States. Its presence above ground is just for a short time each year – after the snow melts, but before the woodland trees leaf out and completely shade the forest floor.

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The name “trillium” derives from the plant’s repetitions of three. Each plant produces a whorl of three broad leaves with a three-petaled blossom on a single stem.

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Like many other Spring wildflowers, the seeds of the trillium are dispersed by ants. The plant’s seeds contain a food that is attractive to ants. The ants carry the seeds to their nests to feed their larvae, then discard the undamaged seeds. This allows the trillium to produce new plants in nearby locations.

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This plant has a lifespan approaching that of a human – it requires some 17 years to reach maturity and may reach 70 years of age.

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In 1986, Great White Trillium took its place alongside the Ohio state flower, Red Carnation, as the state’s official wildflower. Ohio’s General Assembly chose this plant because it grows in each of the state’s 88 counties.

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Black Widow

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This dark cobweb weaver is easily identified by the bright, hourglass-shaped mark on its abdomen. It is wildly feared due to its venom.

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In humans, bites can cause muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage – let alone death.

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Like many other spiders, Black Widows puncture their insect prey with their fangs and administer digestive enzymes. The enzymes liquefy their prey’s bodies and the spiders suck up the resulting fluid.

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Black Widows are found in temperate regions throughout the world. In the United States, they exist primarily in the South and West. They may be found in dark, man-made dry shelters like barns, garages, basements and outdoor toilets. I have occasionally found them under rocks and logs.

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These spiders are primarily solitary, with the exception of late spring when mating occurs. Female Black Widows can live up to three years, while males (which are half the size of females and lighter in color) typically live for one or two months.

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Although Black Widows get their name because females practice cannibalism after mating, this has mostly been observed in laboratory situations where the male could not escape being eaten.

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Widely considered the most venomous spider in North America (the venom of the female black widow spider is 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake), Black Widows are not aggressive and tend not to bite unless thoroughly disturbed.

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Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

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This is a super cool reptile that I’ve occasionally seen on my visits to Nevada. It inhabits arid and semiarid areas with vegetation such as like bunch grass, sagebrush, creosote bush and other scattered low plants.

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The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard prefers flat areas with open space for running and avoids densely vegetated habitats. Most of the times when I’ve encountered them, they were on dirt or gravel roads basking in the sunshine. They allowed me to take photos of them if I stayed in the car, but as soon as I got out, they ran for cover.

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Like its namesake, it is characterized by dark spots. A color-changing reptile, the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has a light coloration in which the spots are very visible, and a dark coloration in which the spots blend in. In addition, during breeding season, females develop orange spots.

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This reptile is a fierce hunter that preys on mainly on smaller lizards, though it will also consume insects, rodents and snakes. This lizard supplements its diet with berries, small leaves and flowers. As an ambush predator, it waits in the shadows underneath a bush or small tree, where its spotted pattern blends in with its surroundings.

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When a food item comes sufficiently close, it uses a rapid pouncing movement to capture the prey in its strong jaws.The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has been documented to jump up to two feet in any direction, including into the air, in order to catch its food.

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This reptile can reach more than 15 inches in total length and has the ability to stand up and run on its hind legs when being pursued by predators, such as kit foxes, badgers and birds.

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Queen

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While hiking in the Mojave Desert, I sometimes come across this fine creature in the vicinity of cattle watering troughs or natural springs where there is green plant life in the surrounding area.

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This insect is part of the subfamily Danainae, known as the Milkweed Butterfly Group. It is a close relative to the Monarch Butterfly, though it tends to be more chestnut in color, rather than orange. It is also more solidly colored and only faintly veined.

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Like those of Monarchs, the caterpillars of Queens feed on several different species of poisonous milkweed. The caterpillars acquire the milkweed toxins, and as a result both they and the adult butterflies are rather poisonous.

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Birds will avoid these orange (or rust), black and white butterflies and any other butterflies with similar markings like the deceptive, non-poisonous Viceroy.

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Queens have a wingspan of almost four inches and can be found in open, sunny areas including fields, deserts, roadsides, pastures, dunes, washes and waterways in the southern United States.

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Two-striped Garter Snake

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While visiting southern California, I had a specific garter snake that I was hoping to find that I’d never seen “in person” before. This rocky creek looked to be an ideal habitat to explore while searching for it.

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An adult Two-striped Garter Snake measures two to three feet long and is an olive, brown or dark gray color. Most garter snakes have a stripe running down their backs, but Two-striped Garter Snakes lack this dorsal marking.

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This species is more aquatic than most garter snakes; it inhabits streams and ponds in chaparral, oak woodland and forest habitats. Its ideal environment is in aquatic areas that are bordered by vegetation with open areas for basking.

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This reptile’s diet consists of fish, fish eggs, tadpoles, small frogs and toads, leeches and earthworms. Two-striped Garter Snakes forage for food in and under water.

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Loss of wetland habitats have contributed to a reduction in the range of this snake by about 40%. It is designated a California Species of Special Concern and protected by the state.

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It was a thrill to explore the Golden State find one of these fine serpents.

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Canyon Tree Frog

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While visiting Zion National Park in Utah I was able to see and hear this interesting amphibian.

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It is relatively small (at just over two inches), plump and warty, with a toad-like appearance. A distinctive feature is its suction-like adhesive toe pads for climbing.

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They can vary in color and pattern considerably, but Canyon Tree Frogs usually match the soil or rock color of their native habitat to serve as camouflage.

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As its name implies, it is an amphibian of canyons and arroyos, particularly rocky, intermittent or permanent stream courses.

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Despite being called “tree frogs,” they prefer to perch on boulders and rock faces overlooking pools of water. During warm weather they spend the day hiding in rock crevices.

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The Canyon Tree Frog’s call is a loud, rattling series of short trills that sound like they’re coming from inside a tin can. The call is surprisingly loud given the small size of this creature.

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This was a neat find and the first time the I got to see Canyon Tree Frogs “in person.”

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Arizona Blond Tarantula

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After making quite a few trips to the Mojave Desert, I finally came across my first wild tarantulas. This species has a limited distribution in the deserts of the southwestern United States and adjacent parts of Mexico, but can be common within its range.

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Tarantulas rarely venture far from their burrows unless it is mating season. In Winter they plug their burrows with soil, rocks and silk to survive in a relatively inactive state. During this time they live off stored fat reserves.

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Soft blond hair covers female Arizona Blond Tarantulas, while males are typically black. Female tarantulas have larger, stockier bodies than males. Living as long as 25 years, female tarantulas live twice as long as males. Males mate only once and die shortly afterwards.

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Tarantulas have an interesting defensive capability in addition to their bite. Some of the hairs on the top of the abdomen are tipped with backward pointing barbs. If a tarantula is threatened, it uses its legs to flick these hairs at its attacker. Once these hairs are embedded, they are irritating and very difficult to remove.

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Arizona Blond Tarantulas burrow 8 to 12 inches into the desert ground, line the burrow with silk webbing, and call it home. The silk webbing helps to prevent their burrow from caving in.

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These nocturnal hunters have a diet consisting mostly of grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, other small spiders and even small lizards, snakes and frogs. They rely on ambush and pursuit to catch their prey, which they subdue with a bite from their fangs.

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This is an awesome arachnid and it was thrilling to find my first examples of it in the wild.

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Yerba Mansa

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This is a neat plant native to the southwestern United States, though I’ve only seen it in Nevada. It is a perennial herb and its genus only has one species.

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Yerba Mansa, also known as Lizard Tail, prefers very wet soil or shallow water. I’ve only encountered in in areas of the desert where there are natural springs.

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This plant is showy in Spring when in bloom. It forms a compact group of tiny flowers that grow in an unusual, conical flower head and are surrounded by white petal-like leaves.

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Yerba Mansa is commonly pollinated by bees and other insect pollinators. Once it has finished blooming, the entire cone-like flower structure develops into a hard fruit that falls off the plant travels down waterways to spread the plant’s seeds.

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The leaves growing nearest to the ground have a rounded tip, and are often heart-shaped at the base, while the stem leaves are much smaller.

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Historically, Yerba Mansa was used to disinfect and treat open wounds and sores, as well as to treat colds, coughs, and ulcers. Today it is still used to treat a variety of medical ailments.

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I always enjoy coming across this odd, yet very cool plant on my hikes.

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Cactus Wren

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While hiking in a desert wash in Nevada I had my first-ever encounter with one of these boldly marked birds. Not only is it distinctive in pattern, but it also has a harsh, rasping voice.

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The Cactus Wren lives in a variety of low, dry habitats, but is mainly found in cactus, yucca, mesquite and arid brush deserts. This bird is very different from our other temperate-zone wrens. It represents a tropical group of large, sociable wrens, mainly living in Mexico.

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This is the largest wren in the United States. It is chunky, with a long, heavy bill, a long, rounded tail, and short, rounded wings. It is a speckled bird with bright, white eyebrows that extend from the bill, across and above its eyes. Males and females look alike.

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Male and female Cactus Wrens build large, football-shaped nests with tunnel-shaped entrances. These bulky nests are conspicuous in cholla cactus and desert trees. After the breeding season, the wrens may sleep in their nests at night.

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Cactus Wrens feed on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, ants, wasps, true bugs and grasshoppers. They forage on the ground and in low trees, probing in bark crevices and leaf litter in their search for food. The have been known to pick smashed insects from the front ends of parked cars.

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Unlike other wrens that tend to be inconspicuous and hide in vegetation, Cactus Wrens seem to have no fear. They perch atop cacti and other shrubs to announce their presence and forage out in the open.

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The Cactus Wren is the state bird of Arizona. It was super cool to experience this fine bird while on my travels through the Mojave Deseret.

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Wild Burro

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There have been several times in my visits to the Las Vegas Area when I’ve encountered these hoofed mammals. The Wild Burro was first introduced into the southwestern United States by Spaniards in the 1500s. Originally from Africa, these pack animals were prized for their hardiness in arid country. They are sure-footed, can locate food in barren terrain and can carry heavy burdens for days through hot, dry environments.

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A “Wild Burro” is simply a wild donkey. Used by miners during the Gold Rush of the 1800s, many of these tough animals were later abandoned, but found ways to survive some of the most extreme, unforgiving terrain in the American West. Wild burros have long ears, a short mane and reach a height of up to 5 feet at the shoulders. They vary in color from black to brown to gray.

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An average weight of an adult is 400 pounds for males (jacks) which are slightly larger than the females (jennies). These animals have been known to live past 30 years when well fed and cared for by man. In the wild, their average lifespan is about 10 years.

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A Wild Burro can tolerate a water loss of about 30% of its body weight. Is feeds on a wide variety of plants but prefers grasses. It survives the apparent lack of water by seeking out the natural springs and hidden waterholes.

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The Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (passed in 1971), states that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages Wild Burros with other plants and animals in the environment. The BLM currently manages Wild Burros so that they and other animals and plants can share the area with minimal competition.

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