Asian Shore Crab

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While visiting New York last week, I flipped a few rocks along the East Coast and encountered quite a few of these small crustaceans; they were often found in dense aggregations.

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Adults are small, measuring about an inch and a half in shell width. They have a squarish shell and light and dark bands on their legs.

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Though native to the western Pacific Ocean from Russia to Hong Japan, it is likely that Asian Shore Crabs were discharged at harbors in the United States as larvae from the ballast water of a cargo ship.

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This creature is not a picky eater, and feeds on a wide range of plants and animals. It can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. These characteristics help to make it successful in areas where it is not native.

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Although undeniably cute, Asian Shore Crabs have displaced both large and small native crabs along the East Coast.

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Buttonbush

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Walking along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I noticed this distinctive white, spherical flower with needle-like projections growing on a shrub.

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This plant is a member of the Coffee Family and is native to eastern and southern North America. Like the Coffee Plant, its leaves are glossy green and up to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide. It’s unusual flowers are a source of nectar, attracting butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds and 20-something other species of birds.

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Buttonbush can be found in wet habitats such as marshes, shorelines, ditches and areas near the rivers and ponds. It is one of the first plants that will appear in areas destroyed by floods.

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This is multi-branched, round-shaped shrub typically reaches 6 to 12 feet in height. Its older trunk bark is attractively diamond-patterned with lattice-like raised ridges. Its fruit is a reddish-brown, round-shaped capsule filled with two seeds. It ripens during September and October. Ducks and other waterfowl eat Buttonbush seeds.

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If you come across a Buttonbush in bloom and patiently observe the activity around it, you’ll be likely to see spiders, bees, butterflies, moths, wasps and perhaps even a hummingbird buzzing around its flowers.

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You’ll understand very quickly why this plant is so important native wildlife and our environment.

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Mountain Chorus Frog

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This amphibian is native to Ohio, yet I have yet to find it in my home state. I have encountered it in West Virginia and Kentucky though.

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Mountain Chorus Frogs are small (1 to 1-1/4 inches long) and can be distinguished from Ohio’s similar Western Chorus Frog by the presence of two dark, curved stripes on the back which look like reversed parentheses.

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They can be heard calling in shallow water near forests or in wooded ponds, typically from February to April. Their call resembles the sound made by rubbing one’s finger over the teeth of a hard plastic comb.

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Outside of breeding season that can be found on damp, wooded hillsides often quite some distance from standing water. It’s always fun to come across this elusive little creature that goes about its life largely unnoticed by humans.

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Eastern Black Kingsnake

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Although this serpent lives in my home state of Ohio, it is uncommon there, listed as a “species of concern” and only found in a few counties. I’ve found several examples on different visits to various parts of Kentucky though.

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This is a shiny, mostly jet black snake with a white, yellow or cream belly. Some spotting may occur particularly along its lower sides. The adult length averages about 3-1/2 feet long. Like other Common Kingsnakes, its head is not significantly offset from its body.

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This species is a habitat generalist and can be found in hardwood and pine forests, bottomlands and swamps, farmlands, hillsides, meadows and suburban areas. Most of the examples I’ve found were under sheets of rusted metal in abandoned fields (including this one which has cloudy eyes because it is going through a shed cycle).

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Eastern Black Kingsnakes are powerful constrictors eat a variety of different kinds of food, including snakes, lizards, rodents, birds and turtle eggs. They are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers and they readily eat copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes.

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Kingsnakes are one of my favorite snakes to find in the wild and encountering these handsome reptiles has always been a herping highlight.

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Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

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At this time of the year it’s not unusual for me to encounter this half-inch-long, metallic green insect with conspicuous sickle-shaped jaws and large, bulging eyes on the sides of its head. I usually see them on dirt paths near waterways during warm weather.

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Adult beetles are fast runners and fliers. When they fly, they usually stay within three feet of the ground. They are very active during the day, moving rapidly in short bursts, often landing several feet in front of you only to take off again when you catch up to them.

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They are predators of other insects and can catch prey on the ground and in the air. These shiny beetles are among the fastest runners in the insect world. The Six-spotted Tiger Beetle pounces on its prey, capturing it with its powerful jaws.

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Because tiger beetles have excellent vision, you might have trouble getting close to one. For best results, sneak up on one very slowly to observe magnificent insect close up.

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The Six-spotted Tiger Beetle’s eye-catching brilliance and fascinating predatory behavior have made it a longtime favorite with naturalists.

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Multiflora Rose

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This is an unavoidable invasive species that I encounter on my northeast Ohio hikes. It is native to eastern Asia, and naturally found in China, Japan and Korea.

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In the 1950′s, it was common to plant Multiflora Rose as a “living fence,” which was more permanent and economical than a wire fence. These days it is common in uncultivated fields, fencerows and open woods.

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This is a perennial shrub with arching, thorny stems that climbs over other plants, reaching up to 15 feet tall and forming dense thickets. It’s flowers are often in clusters and may be pink or white; they tend to bloom here in Summer.

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Typically, they have seven leaflets per leaf, but can they can also have between five and eleven leaflets. The two-inch long leaflets are oval and sharply toothed.

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Their small, bright red fruit, referred to as “rose hips,” develop in the Summer and remain on the shrub through the winter.

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Multiflora Rose spreads aggressively, both by rooting canes (the ends of branches that root when coming in contact with the ground) and by seeds dispersed by birds and wildlife.

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This is a very difficult plant to control. A plant may produce a million seeds per year, and the sseds can remain viable for 20 years.

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This plant is also known as Baby Rose, Japanese Rose, Many-flowered Rose, Seven-sisters Rose, Eijitsu Rose and Rambler Rose.

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Omnivorous Leafroller Moth

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Sometimes you don’t have to go far to find cool things in nature. This creature was on the side of my house, just a few feet from the door. This moth is easily identified by its strongly bell-shaped outline. Its golden brown to dark brown and wing color can vary greatly. It is found in most of eastern North America.

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Its larvae’s favorite food is the leaves, flowers and developing berries of grapes. They may also consume goldenrod, various berries, willow, cherry and other deciduous trees. The caterpillars form feeding shelters by spinning silk webs around young leaves and rolling them together. Single leaves may also be rolled into tight cylinders.

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This species is rather large for a moth in its particular family (Tortricidae), but rather small compared to other moths. It measures less than an inch long.

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It remarkable camouflage and cool shape made encountering this insect a neat experience.

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Henslow’s Sparrow

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Hiking in Bath Nature Preserve in Akron Ohio, I encountered a bird I’d never seen before. Though to me several species of sparrow look remarkably similar, the Henslow’s Sparrow can be identified by its combination of chestnut brown wings, intricately patterned olive-green head and back of neck, black and brown streaked back, and flat-headed, short-tailed profile.

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A grassland species, this bird historically bred in the tallgrass prairies. It now nests mostly in neglected grassy fields, where it dines on insects and seeds. This is a is a remarkably inconspicuous bird that very few people get a good look at. In addition, Henslow’s Sparrow populations have declined, and this species has been identified as the highest priority for grassland bird conservation in eastern and midwestern North America.

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Unlike the tuneful Song Sparrow, which it closely resembles, the Henslow’s Sparrow’s dry, thin, insectlike song is often described as a “feeble hiccup.” When it sings, it sharply throws its head skyward and then utters its quiet song.

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Though its call is unimpressive, it was a cool experience to observe this secretive grassland bird.

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Dark Fishing Spider

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Fishing Spiders are similar to the larger Wolf Spiders in size, shape, and coloration. They get their common name because most live near water and have been reported to catch small fish and aquatic insects from the water as they walk on the surface.

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I tend to find them in and around my shed, which is close to a creek that runs through my backyard. This creature is frequently associated with wooded areas and I’ve seen them in the local Metroparks, especially in damp areas.

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This is a fairly large spider, with females being twice as large as males. When outstretched legs, one can measure over 3” long. Both sexes are brownish-gray in color with black and lighter brown markings. The legs have dark rings and long spines.

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Ohio hosts five species of fishing spiders, all members of the nursery web spider family. These arachnids don’t spin conventional webs, instead they ambush and pounce on prey.

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Young spiderlings may be found from July through September. The young are guarded by the female in a nursery web and may number 1,000 or more.

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As horrifying as fishing spiders might appear, they are utterly harmless to people and are quite shy. They also play a pivotal role in controlling insects, which would otherwise surge out of control.

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Brown Russula

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While hiking in Hinckley Reservation, it was hard not to notice this large-capped mushroom that in some cases seemed to be turning itself inside-out.

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Not only is it interesting looking, this organism has a waxy, benzaldehyde odor, kind of like a maraschino cherry.

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These, like many fungi, are mycorrhizal, meaning they have are a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with plants. The mushroom has fibers that surround a tree rootlets.

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The mushroom fiber’s helps the tree absorb water and nutrients while the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the mushroom. It is estimated that about 85% of plants depend on mycorrhizal relationships with fungi.

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Brown Russula’s 4-inch cap becomes broadly convex or flat, and sometimes even gets a shallow central depression (in this case holding water).

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This was a fun fungi find on a summertime walk through the woods.

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