31 chuckwalla 3125

While hiking the Las Vegas Area, it’s easy to give your attention to the lizards scurrying across the desert floor, but by looking up, you may find another intriguing desert dweller quietly perched high in the rocks.

28 chuckwalla_2838

Unlike most other lizards here in the southwest, the Chuckwalla is strictly a rock dweller and is found in rocky outcrops, lava flows, and rocky hillsides of the Great Basin, Mohave and Sonoran deserts.

chuckwalla 2008 310

This is a large, bulky lizard reaching nearly 16 inches long, with folds of loose skin on the sides of its body. Its original species name, obesus, refers to how fat the reptile looks.

29 chuckwalla_2974

Males tend to be slightly larger than females and are often darker in color. Their color varies considerably by region, but generally includes grey, reddish brown and/or yellow. The banded patterns found on juveniles are often retained into adulthood by females.


These day-active lizards emerge in the morning and before seeking food, bask in the sun until reaching an optimum body temperature of 100-105 degrees F. I often see them out and about when it is too hot for other lizards.

chuckwalla 2008 313

The Chuckwalla is primarily a vegetarian and eats fruit, leaves, buds and flowers from a variety of annual as well as perennial plants. It also occasionally supplements its diet with insects. Its favorite foods are yellow flowers and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.


When the Chuckwalla senses danger, it scurries between rocks and lodges itself tightly into a crevice. Then it inflates itself with air until it becomes securely wedged. This makes it nearly impossible to extract from its retreat.

chuckwalla IMG_4729

This is one of the largest lizards native to the United States. It’s a “classic” desert reptile that I always enjoy seeing in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Western Blind Snake

Western Blind Snake_2775

While driving in southern California one night in late Spring, I saw this tiny creature making its way across the road. At first glance, the Western Blind Snake resembles a worm more than a snake.

Western Blind Snake 022

They rarely measure more than 10 inches in length and no wider than a shoelace. This snake is pink, purple, or silvery-brown in color, shiny, wormlike, cylindrical, and blunt at both ends. It has light-detecting black eyespots.

Western Blind Snake 037

Considered among the most primitive of snakes, slender blind snakes retain tiny remnants of pelvic bones embedded in their muscles as well as rudimentary leg bones. Another curious feature of their anatomy is that they only have teeth in their lower jaw.

Western Blind Snake 259

They frequent rocky hillsides with patches of loose, moist soil suitable for burrowing and canyon washes near streams. I have mainly found them under rocks near creeks in Nevada. Though it is probably quite common, the Western Blind Snake is rarely seen.

Western Blind Snake 263

Western Blind Snakes feed upon soft-bodied insects, especially ants and termites and their eggs and larvae. Its cylindrical shape and solid head allow it to easily enter the nests of its preferred prey. This unusual serpent is also know as the Slender Blind Snake and Western Threadsnake.

Third Eye Herp

Tadpole Shrimp


Tadpole Shrimp118

While hiking in Valley of Fire State Park one morning, I decided to investigate several pools on the desert floor, some no bigger than large puddles.

Tadpole Shrimp108

In the water there were tiny, interesting crustaceans. Tadpole Shrimp are considered “living fossils,” since they have not changed significantly in outward form since the Triassic.

Tadpole Shrimp

Their broad protective shell at the front end, and a long, slender abdomen gives them a similar overall shape to a tadpole, from which their common name derives.

Tadpole Shrimp 107

To complete their lives, these creatures depend on the changing nature of the temporary pools of water that they inhabit. During the dry season (Summer and Fall), their offspring stay inside the eggs and the pools are devoid of water.

Tadpole Shrimp111

As pools fills with rainwater during the Winter and Spring, the eggs hatch and feed on tiny invertebrates as well as algae and other organic debris.

Tadpole Shrimp 106

Not only was it cool to encounter this “mini horseshoe crab,” but Tadpole Shrimp is also considered a human ally against the West Nile virus, since they eat mosquito larvae.

Third Eye Herp


Desert Horned Lizard

Desert Horned Lizard_7861

Perhaps the most bizarre reptile living in the Mojave Desert is the Horned Lizard. We tend to think of lizards here in the United States as sleek and fast-moving, but this creature is an exception.

Desert Horned Lizard_7843

This species has a distinctive flat body with a row of fringed scales down its sides. Although it can run, it’s not particularly speedy.

Desert Horned Lizard

Their coloration varies, but generally blends in with the the surrounding soil; there usually is a beige, tan, or reddish background with contrasting, wavy bands of darker color.

Desert Horned Lizard 358

Horned Lizards are distinctive in appearance by virtue of the pointed, thick, spike-like scales that project from the backs of their heads.

Desert Horned Lizard_7856

When excited, they puff themselves up with air to make them look larger. Their large, flat body surface also works well as a solar collecting panel to maximize their amount of exposure to the sun. They even tilt their bodies to catch more rays when thermoregulating.

Desert Horned Lizard 349

Being slower than other desert lizards, in response to a threat a Horned Lizard may play dead, run away, or in some case it may rupture small capillaries around its eyes and squirt a bloody solution at the would-be attacker.

Desert Horned Lizard 363

This lizard is usually encountered in relatively flat, open, areas with sandy or loamy soil and is less frequently encountered on rocky areas and foothills. It is not a lizard that I consistently find on my trips, even if I go back to spots where they were previously found.

Desert Horned Lizard 361

It feeds on ants and a variety of other insects, including beetles and the larvae of moths and butterflies. It also eats a variety of spiders and some plant material. It laps up small invertebrates with its tongue, much like a toad does.

2009-05-27 346

Some species of Horned Lizards produce live offspring, but the Desert Horned Lizard produces one or two clutches of eggs which are laid in Spring and Summer. Their clutch size ranges from 2 to 16 eggs. Although they are reptiles, Horned Lizards are also known as Horny Toads or Horntoads. No matter what you call them, these reptiles are fascinating creatures and a lot of fun to encounter in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Mojave Rattlesnake

Mojave Rattlesnake_5396

By far the most commonly encountered venomous snake that I’ve come across on my many visits to the Mojave Desert is this one.


This highly venomous pit viper native to deserts in the southwestern United States is perhaps best known for its potent neurotoxic/hemotoxic toxin, which is considered the world’s most potent rattlesnake venom.

Mojave Rattlesnake_0372

The Mojave Rattlesnake’s color varies from shades of brown to pale green. The green version has led to them being known as “Mojave greens” in some areas. Like the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which it closely resembles, it features a dark diamond pattern along its back.

Mojave Rattlesnake 126

This is not a particularly large snake – adults average about three feet in length. It lives mainly in the high desert and lower mountain slopes. Its habitat may vary from the dry desert to grasslands and scrub.

Mojave Rattlesnake_6009

The Mojave Rattlesnake eats Kangaroo rats and other rodents. It is primarily nocturnal, hiding under crevices or in burrows during the hot day. I’ve only encountered one in the daytime, but have seen dozens over the years crossing roads at night.

Mojave Rattlesnake_0433

Like other rattlesnakes, it gives live birth, averaging eight offspring. Baby rattlesnakes are born fully formed, ready to hunt, completely independent from their parents and able to defend themselves.


The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the world’s most venomous snakes; it’s therefore always a thrill to encounter one while exploring the southwest.

Third Eye Herp

Red Pine

Red Pine_0303

This tree (also called Norway Pine) is one of the most extensively planted species in the northern United States and Canada. It is frequently used in Ohio as a reforestation pine tree and is valued for its lumber and pulpwood.

Red Pine_0299

Although a tree of the Northern Forest Region and not native to Ohio, isolated pockets can be found in northern Illinois, eastern West Virginia and Newfoundland. When growing under natural conditions, Red Pine reaches a height of 90-100 feet and a trunk diameter of 30-40 inches, with a tall, straight, clean trunk and an open, rounded picturesque crown.

Red Pine_0244

Red Pine has two medium five-inch long needles per bundle. They persist for up to four years on the twigs and branchlets, giving this pine tree a very dense appearance. The characteristic that sets the needles of this pine apart from other pines in eastern North America is their tendency to snap or break when bent.

Red Pine_0302

The bark of this tree is reddish-brown in color. On older trunks the bark becomes broken into wide flat-topped ridges separated by shallow grooves. This tree looks similar to the introduced Austrian Pine. However its reddish-brown bark helps to distinguish it.

Red Pine_0306

By the end of the first growing season, the green cones turn to tan in color. At maturity during the second season, the brown cones are about two inches long. The cone scales are smooth and without spines. The seeds are eaten by songbirds and small animals.

Red Pine_0247

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, millions Red Pines were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most of the wooden telephone poles in Michigan and surrounding states are made of Red Pine.

Red Pine_0290

Red Pine is noteworthy for its very constant morphology and low genetic variation throughout its range, indicating it has been through a near extinction in its recent evolutionary history.

Third Eye Herp




Also known as a Woodchuck, this is a rodent belonging to the group of large ground squirrels. They are the largest members of the squirrel family. At about 20 inches long, Groundhogs weigh around 13 pounds. These mammals are found only in North America, from Canada down to the southern United States.


Groundhogs have sharp claws that they use to dig impressive burrows in the ground. Their burrows can be anywhere from 8 to 66 feet long, with multiple exits and a number of chambers.


Their favored habitat is woodland areas on the edge of open fields. Groundhogs are solitary creatures that can eat about a pound of food per sitting. A Groundhog’s diet can include fruit, plants, tree bark and grasses. One reason why they eat so much is because in the Winter they hibernate and live off their fat.


While hibernating, the Groundhog’s heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to 5 beat per minute; their respiration reduces from 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2 breaths per minute; and their body temperature drops from about 99 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 37 degrees.


In February, males will come out of hibernation and search for females’ burrows. When he finds one, he heads on in. It is believed that males do this to introduce themselves to possible mates.


Groundhog Day is a popular tradition celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and Winter will persist for six more weeks, and if he does not, due to cloudiness, Spring season will arrive early.

2 groundhogs_3152

The Groundhog is also referred to as a Chuck, Wood-shock, Groundpig, Whistlepig, Whistler, Thickwood Badger, Canada Marmot, Monax, Moonack, Weenusk and Red Monk.

Third Eye Herp

Moth Fly

Recently I found this strange creature in my basement. It is also commonly known as the Drain Fly, Filter Fly or Sewage Fly. Moth flies are frequently found indoors on windows, sinks and walls. The source of the fly infestation is generally from sinks and floor drains.


The adult insect is about one-fifth of an inch long. It has a dark gray body and lighter colored wings. It is densely covered with long hair, which gives the body a fuzzy appearance, hence the name “Moth Fly.”


Their eggs are deposited in moist, decomposing organic materials. These materials, which accumulate in drains, provide an ideal site for metamorphosis. Adults live about two weeks and feed on flower nectar and polluted water.


During the day adults rest in shaded areas or on walls near plumbing fixtures and on the sides of showers and tubs. Most of their activity occurs during the evening. It was neat to make an acquaintance with this unusual insect.

Third Eye Herp

House Sparrow

I have seen these birds throughout my life, whether at my home growing up in Cleveland, downtown, or in my current residence in the suburbs.

house sparrow_9964

The House Sparrow is native to most of Europe, the Mediterranean Basin and much of Asia. Its intentional or accidental introductions to many regions, including parts of Australia, Africa, and the Americas, make it the most widely distributed wild bird.

house sparrow

This bird is strongly associated with human habitations and can live in urban or rural settings. Though found in widely varied habitats and climates, it is rarely found away from human development. It is often seen in city centers, suburbs, farms and around isolated houses or businesses surrounded by terrain unsuited to House Sparrows, such as desert or forest.

house sparrow_0064

Their diet consist mainly of small seeds. They are attracted to corn, oats, wheat and other types of grain or weed seeds. These birds primarily forage on the ground.

house sparrow_1469

Males have black chin and bib with white cheeks and rust colored cap and nape of neck, while females are plainer, with a broad buff eyebrow, brown and buff-streaked wings and back.

house sparrow_9959

Because of its simple success formula of associating with humans, the House Sparrow is one of the most ubiquitous and abundant songbirds in the world today.

Third Eye Herp



I caught one of Ohio’s most colorful sunfish while on a recent fishing outing. Though native to most of the northeastern United States, Pumpkinseed have been introduced into other areas of North America as well as Europe. Their native range extends further north than any other sunfish species in their genus.


They have an orange-to-yellow belly and many small, brown-to-orange spots scattered over their sides. The coloration of the scales of the Pumpkinseed is one of the most vibrant of any freshwater fish. The ear flap features a distinctive red-orange spot at the rear edge.


Pumpkinseed prefer clear, non-flowing water with dense submerged aquatic vegetation. This species resides in places where it can find underwater shelter to hide. Adults are usually 5-8 inches and less than half a pound, but they can reach 10 inches and 1 pound.


They are much more common in lakes and reservoirs of Northern Ohio than in Southern Ohio. Pumpkinseed eat larval insects, some adult insects, snails, and occasionally small fish.


This fish is also referred to as Pond Perch, Common Sunfish, Punkys, Sunfish, Sunny, and Kivver.

Third Eye Herp