Six-lined Racerunner

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While visiting this sandy habitat in Missouri, I came across several of these quick little reptiles. Their ground-dwelling habits and impressive speed are often sufficient to identify them from a distance.

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Growing 6 to 9-1/2 inches, the Six-lined Racerunner is the only lizard in the southeastern United States with six light yellow or white stripes down its back.

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This species is most common in hot, open areas such as fields, woodland edges and sand dunes; it is almost always found on the ground. It is fond of heat and is active even on the hottest of Summer days.

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Six-lined Racerunners rely on sight to hunt small insects, arachnids, other reptiles, and occasionally, even mammals. They are voracious predators that hunt during daylight hours.

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It was fun to observe these fast-moving and agile escape artists that can quickly disappear into thick cover or small burrows when they perceive danger.

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01 Camphorweed_9364

While visiting a sand prairie in Missouri this month, these yellow flowers were quite noticeable.

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Camphorweed is an annual, warm-season native that generally emerges from the ground as a single stem, then branches several inches above the ground.

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As the common name suggests, camphorweed has a medicinal camphor-like aroma (or odor, as some might suggest), particularly when the leaves are disturbed.

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Camphorweed is beneficial for use on sprains or bruises and can reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Camphorweed lessens the reactive inflammation process, making it best for acute and painful injuries.

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This plant typically blooms in Summer and Fall, although in certain conditions it may bloom year-round. Its copious blooms consist of bright yellow ray florets and vivid yellow to orange.

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Sometimes known as Golden Aster, it is commonly found across the southeastern United States. Its daisy-like yellow flowers with hairy stems and leaves are often overlooked in fields and yards.

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Black Vulture

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While visiting southern Illinois, I saw several examples of this impressive bird. With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky with teetering a flight, Black Vultures are compact with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats.

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The two species often associate: Black Vultures makes up for their poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged.

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In the United States Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.

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Vultures are part of nature’s clean-up crew. They rid the landscape of deteriorating carcasses and help curb the spread of dangerous diseases and bacteria. Their stomachs have strong enzymes that kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms.

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Sword-bearing Conehead

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I found this cool creature while looking for snakes in southern Illinois.

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Easily recognized by their slanted faces and pointed cones that extend from their foreheads, the Conehead Katydids look like insect battering-rams, ready to poke holes in whatever gets in their way. Scientists do not know the significance or use of the cones.

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This species has long, slender wings and is a strong flier. At nearly 3 inches in length, it ranks as among among the longest of our native katydids.

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Residing in tall grass, weedy fields and shrubby edges, male coneheads sing mostly at night and have loud raspy or buzzy songs.

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The Sword-bearing Conehead is named for the extremely long ovipositor of the female, which can be nearly as long as her abdomen. In the photo above, you can see the dark brown tip of this female’s ovipositor extending beyond her wings.

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Other types of commonly encountered Conehead Katydids are also cleverly named, such as the Slightly Musical Conehead, Modest Katydid and the False Robust Conehead.

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01 Ironweed_8109

I’ve been seeing a lot of this plant while out on my hikes in recent weeks; it’s kind of hard to miss.

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Named for its tough stem, this plant has excellent posture. Its flowers of are like purple torches in the late Summer landscape and when blooming next to Goldenrod, it creates a picturesque scene.

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This plant prefers to grow in areas such as meadows and pastures where the soil is fertile and conditions are moderately damp. I photographed these at Canalway Center and along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.

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Ironweed has a highly visible dark red stem and grows over seven feet tall. It is widely branched at the top. Loose clusters of quarter-inch flowers give it a burst of vibrant color.

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Attached to the stem are lance-shaped, pointed leaves that have short downy hairs on the lower surface.

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This species flowers in July to September. Not only is it nice to look at, it is also an excellent nectar plant and is visited by many species of butterflies and bees.

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White Crappie

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While fishing in the Ohio & Erie Canal this Summer I caught a few of these fish. They are of a silvery color with green or brown shades along their back and dark lateral bars along their sides.

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White Crappies can be found in large rivers, reservoirs and lakes. They are more tolerant of murky waters than their relatives, Black Crappies. As adults, this species is generally about 9–10 inches in length.

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These fish are neither cruise- nor ambush-feeding strategists. Instead, they swim intermittently and only search for prey when stationary. This strategy is energetically favored to reduce search time for this species.

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As juveniles, they feed primarily on small invertebrates during their first year of life. As adults, they are largely minnow feeders, though their diet can vary based on location and food availability.

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White Crappies are native to the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi River basins expanding from New York and southern Ontario westward to South Dakota and southward to Texas.

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These fish were a fun summertime encounter in Northeast Ohio.

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01 Chanterelle_6858

While hiking at Hinckley Reservation, these eye-catching fungi attracted my attention. Their yellow-orange vase-shaped caps were hard to miss on the dark forest floor.

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This is among the most popularly eaten species of wild mushrooms. There are many species of edible Chanterelle; the most well known is the Golden Chanterelle Mushroom.

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They are often bright in color and funnel-shaped. On the underside, most species have gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down to their stem.

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Chanterelles tend to grow in clusters in mossy coniferous forests. In addition to North America, they can be found in Eurasia and Africa.

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They are mycorrhizal, which means they have a beneficial, symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees. In Ohio they tend to fruit anywhere from June to September.

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The flavor of Chanterelles is often described as fruity or peppery. They’re excellent with meats, fish, or as an entrée topping. They’re also very popular with eggs or as a filling in crêpes.

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Six-spotted Fishing Spider

01 Six-spotted Fishing Spider_5593

This is a cool spider that I often find while exploring the edges of ponds and canals. It is easy to identify because of their distinctive pattern of two white stripes on their front section and 12 white spots on their abdomen. They are named for the six black spots on their underside.

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This species is active in the daytime and waits patiently for hours at a time for prey to come by. Not only can it walk on water, but it can also dive several inches underwater to catch food, which consists mostly of insects, small fish and tadpoles.

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These creatures can walk on water using the properties of surface tension and by spreading their body weight equally where each of their eight legs contacts the water. This arachnid can stay submerged under the water for 30 minutes or more. The hairs on their bodies trap air and provide a protective “diving suit.”

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Spider legs have delicate hairs called trichobothria that respond to vibrations carried through either the air or the water. These hairs provide information to the spider about the presence and location of prey. Six-spotted Fishing Spiders also have excellent eyesight.

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This species belongs to a group known as Nursery Web Spiders. A female will lay her eggs and wrap them in a silken sac. She will carry this sac around in her jaws for protection until the eggs are ready to hatch. Then she builds a nursery tent with silk which she guards to protect her spiderlings against attackers.

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The Six-spotted Fishing Spider is a truly fascinating creature that often goes about its life unnoticed.

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Round Goby

01 Round Gobi_4298

While fishing in the Ohio & Erie Canal, I caught something that I’ve never seen before. This fish is native to Eurasia where it is often found in brackish water. It was unintentionally introduced into Lake Superior from the Black Sea via freighter ballast.

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Since that time, it has spread to all of the Great Lakes, where it is undergoing a dramatic population explosion (densities of several dozen per square meter of lakebed have been reported).

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Round Gobies are small, soft-bodied fish characterized by a distinctive black spot on the first dorsal fin (which this example is seems to be missing). Their eyes are large and protrude slightly from the top of their head and, like most gobies, the pelvic fins are fused to form a single disc (shaped like a suction cup) on the belly.

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These fish feed both nocturnally and diurnally and are believed to detect prey only while stationary. Their primary diet includes mollusks, crustaceans, worms, fish eggs, zebra mussels, small fish, insect larvae and other small invertebrates living on the bottom of lakes and streams.

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The consequences of its accidental introduction are quite complex, as this fish both competes with native species and provides an abundant source of food for them, while consuming other invasive species (particularly Zebra Mussels).

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The Round Goby’s robust ability to survive in degraded environmental conditions has helped to increase its competitive advantage over other fish. Although it is a controversial invasive species, it was neat to come across this unexpected find while fishing.

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Maximilian Sunflower

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While visiting “The Wilds” in south-central Ohio, it was hard not to notice this eye-catching plant.

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This North American species of sunflower is named for Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, who encountered it on his travels in North America.

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Though native to the Great Plains in central North America, is has naturalized in the eastern and western parts of the continent. It is now found from British Columbia to Maine, south to the Carolinas, Chihuahua and California.

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Maximilian Sunflower was one of several plant species used in research to evaluate native perennial wildflower plantings for supporting wild bees and improving crop pollination on farmlands.

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This plant grows in a variety of environments throughout its range including meadows, tallgrass prairies, plains, roadsides, ditches and disturbed sites. It prefers full sun and tolerates a range of soil types.

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Its numerous bright yellow 3-inch flowers are found on the upper half of its unbranched stems. Maximilian Sunflower’s leaves are 4 to 8 inches in length and taper at both ends.

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Its flowers attract a variety of pollinators and the abundant supply of seeds that it produces are hard to resist for many species of birds.

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