Blushing Rosette

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Sometimes you can find crazy things in your backyard – all you have to do is look. This week I can across this strange organism.

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Abortiporus biennis is a true oddball – a gnarled, messy-looking mass of irregular white pores that exude a reddish juice and bruise reddish brown. There is hardly a cap or a stem to speak of, and as it grows it engulfs sticks and blades of grass.

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This gnarled form of this species is sometimes given the separate species name of “Abortiporus distortus;” it is apparently the most commonly encountered form of the species, though it does have a more normal looking variety with an identifiable cap and stem

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This ground-dwelling polypore often puzzles collectors with its mixture of “normal” shelving clusters and “aberrant” cauliflower-like fruiting bodies.

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Despite the common name “Blushing Rosette,” which refers to the hues seen in many fruiting bodies, the color is actually quite variable, ranging from cream, reddish, ochre, to brown.

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Fire-colored Beetle

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This was a neat insect find that I saw while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Adult Fire-colored Beetles tend to be slow-moving, so they are easy to capture and photograph.

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Most have dark wing covers and orange or red on the head, legs and body. They have long, straight antennae; the antennae of males are often distinct and comb-like.

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The larvae for Fire-colored Beetles can sometimes be found by overturning logs. They look completely different than adult beetles and are long and worm-like with distinct, flattened bodies and horn-like projections on their final segment.

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Little is known about Fire-colored Beetle larvae, but they are believed to be predators and likely feed on other wood-dwelling invertebrates like worms, termites, ants and other beetle larvae. Even less is known about the adult beetles, but they have been observed visiting flowers where they probably feed on pollen and nectar.

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Fire-colored Beetles are an example of a creature that is far more common than we think, yet we know almost nothing about them.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

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We have been enjoying these Summer visitors. Their helicopter-like aerial acrobatics illustrate surprising maneuverability, as well as the ability to fly in any direction.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are bright emerald or golden-green on the back and crown, and gray-white underneath. Males have a brilliant iridescent red throat that looks dark when they are not in good light.

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These birds only weigh about as much as a nickel and can beat their wings up to 80 times per second. When fully engaged, their heartbeat can accelerate to 1200 beats per minute.

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Hundreds of kinds of hummingbirds nest in the American tropics and more than a dozen in the western United States, but east of the Great Plains, there is only the Ruby-throat. Their stay here is seasonal and coincides with our peak wildflower season.

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This bird’s habitat is open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, parks, gardens and backyards. Like bees, they feed primarily on nectar and extract it via their long bills. Also, like bees, they pollinate the flowers that they visit. They frequent hummingbird feeders and can be quite territorial about them.

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These are engaging visitors and fun to watch during our warmer months here in northeast Ohio.

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White-banded Fishing Spider

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While doing yard work I came across this awesome arachnid. This is a sit-and-wait predator with excellent camouflage. It was the first time I’ve ever encountered this species.

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The White-banded Fishing Spider belongs to the Nursery Web Spider Group and is indigenous to the United States. Females, which are somewhat larger than males, can reach nearly an inch in body length.

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Though their color is variable, it is true to its name, with a white band in the area below its eyes, around the jaws and more white bands on its legs and body.

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White-banded Fishing Spiders get their “fishing spider” name because most live near water (I have a creek in my backyard) and have been reported to catch small fish and aquatic insects from the water as they walk on its surface. Instead of building a web to catch its food, this creature goes out and hunts it down.

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Like other Nursery Web Spiders, females carry their egg sac in their jaws before eventually creating a “nursery web” amid foliage, branches and sometimes artificial structures. The female then guards the egg sac and the spiderlings that emerge from it.

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Sometimes you find cool things without even looking for them and that was certainly the case with this White-banded Fishing Spider.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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Queen Anne’s Lace earned its common name from a legend that tells of Queen Anne of England (1665-1714) pricking her finger and a drop of blood landing on white lace she was sewing.

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Its flowers are small and have five white petals that form umbrella-shaped clusters that are between two to five inches in diameter. Often, one to several dark purple flowers appear in the center of each cluster.

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Although common along North America’s roadsides, this plant is native to temperate regions of Europe and southwest Asia, and naturalized to North America and Australia.

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This flower’s Latin name is Daucus carota and domestic carrots are a cultivar of a subspecies of this plant. Early Europeans cultivated Queen Anne’s Lace and the Romans ate it as a vegetable. American colonists boiled and ate its taproots.

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Queen Anne’s Lace’s flower clusters start out curled up and eventually opens to allow pollination. Over time, as the flower matures, the cluster curls inward forming a cup-like bird’s nest when it goes to seed at the end of the season. This flower can grow to over three feet tall.

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Its feathery leaves resemble those of the domestic carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is found in fields, meadows, waste areas, roadsides and disturbed habitats. It is very hardy and thrives in a dry environment.

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This plant is also known as Wild Carrot, Bishop’s Lace, Bee’s Nest, Bird’s Nest, Devil’s Plague, Lace Flower and Rantipole.

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Mining Bee

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We often think of bees as living in hives and cooperating with each other as “social insects.” But of the 20,000 species of bees in the world, 70% live underground and the large majority of those are small and solitary.

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This Mining Bee that I recently saw in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an example of such a bee. There are 100 over species of this type of insect found in Ohio. These native pollinators are typically 1/4 – 3/4″ long, depending on the species, and most have banded abdomens.

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Females dig individual burrows several inches deep into the soil. They prefer to nest in well-drained soil that is lightly exposed to sunlight. Each excavation is about the diameter of a wooden pencil surrounded by a mound of loose soil particles.

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Though solitary and having no social structure, large numbers of females often locate their burrows in close proximity to one another giving the appearance of an organized colony.

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Mining Bees are not aggressive and their small stingers can’t penetrate far into the skin. More importantly, they are significant pollinators of spring-blooming food crops including apples, cherries and blueberries.

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These fine creatures are also known as Chimney Bees and Mustached Mud Bees.

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Variegated Darter

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While exploring a creek near Youngstown, Ohio, this month I came across one of these neat little fish for the first time. The Variegated Darter has large fins, a blunt nose and a mouth at the lower tip of its head. It typically grows to be about four inches long.

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This fish is an insectivore, mainly feeding on insect larvae, crustaceans and other invertebrates found on the bottom of the waterways that it resides in. The name “darter” refers to the way this fish moves. Rather than swimming like most fish, the darter darts forward and then sinks to the bottom.

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It does this because its air bladder is greatly reduced, interfering with the darter’s ability to stay afloat. This allows it to live in riffle areas where fish with air bladders would have the disadvantage of floating and being swept away by the current.

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When a darter comes to rest, its fins and tail prop up its body in sort of a tripod position with its head angled upward. The key identification characteristic of this fish is the four to six saddles along its back; three to four of these saddles tend to be dark and visible while the remaining saddles are not.

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Variegated Darters primarily live in larger streams with cobble, pebble, and gravel on the stream bed. In order to survive, they need waterways with high water quality. Due to this attribute, they are often viewed as an indicator of good water quality.

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This was a great and unexpected creature to come across while out and about.

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Eastern Spadefoot Toad

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This cool creature is interesting both in its physical appearance as well as its lifestyle. Eastern Spadefoot Toads spend most their life buried underground. Heavy rains, occurring at nearly any time of year, cause them to emerge in large numbers and congregate at breeding pools created by the rain.

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As far as appearance, they are known for their bright yellow eyes with elliptical pupils (like cat eyes) and the dark spade, which is used for digging, on each hind foot. As it digs, it wiggles its way underground, rear first. They are plump, with smooth skin and scattered, tiny warts. They range in color from olive to brown to black.

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Eastern Spadefoot Toads are found throughout the eastern United States and prefer dry habitats with sandy soils, but can be found in almost any habitat. Their ability to remain buried for long periods allows them to persist even in suburban areas.

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Spadefoots are rather small, growing to about 2-1/2 inches. Females can lay up to 2,500 eggs at once. Their tadpoles grow very quickly and can undergo metamorphosis in as few as 28 days.

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These amphibians are nocturnal foragers with a diet of invertebrates, insects, arachnids, termites, worms, and larvae of several insect species.

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Here in Ohio, the Eastern Spadefoot Toad is one of our most elusive animals. Though it generally digs several inches below the ground, it may drill down as deep as 8 feet.

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Round-leaved Sundew

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I don’t usually think of Ohio when I think about carnivorous plants, but we have two types in Wooster, this one and the Pitcher Plant.

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The insect-eating lifestyle of the Round-leaved Sundew makes this plant a fascinating species. The round three-quarter inch leaves have sticky, tendrils with droplets of “dew.” This tempts unsuspecting prey.

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The main habitat for this plant is bogs and their acidic habitat doesn’t provide enough nutrients., so it catches and eats insects.

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Round-leaved Sundew’s droplets are very sticky and this traps insects; when the presence of its stuck prey it detected, its leaf curls inwards to engulf it.

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Its scientific name is Drosera rotundifolia. The term “droseros” is Greek for “dewy” and refers to the moist, glistening drops on the leaves. The term “rodundifolia” means “round leaves.”

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Though tiny and easy to overlook, this is a really cool plant to encounter in the wild.

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Eastern Phoebe

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While hiking at Hinckley Reservation, I noticed a group of baby birds that were just starting to leave the nest. They were fun to watch, as they hopped from branch to branch.

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One of the easiest bird calls to learn is the call of this creature. It gives a vocal clue to its identity by softly uttering its name — “fee-bee,” with the first syllable accented, slightly longer and higher pitched.

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This sparrow-sized bird appears remarkably big-headed, especially when it puffs up its small crest. It is a dark, drab gray-brown on the back, with a light breast and belly that is often washed with yellow.

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The Eastern Phoebe belongs to a family of birds known as flycatchers. Like most small flycatchers, it has a short, thin bill that it uses for catching insects.

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This bird often perches low in trees and is very active, making short flights to capture insects and repeatedly returning to the same perch, where it characteristically wags its tail up and down frequently.

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The Eastern Phoebe often nests around buildings and bridges where it is easily observed. It is speculated that its population has increased as buildings and bridges provide additional potential nesting sites.

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Despite its plain appearance, this flycatcher is often a favorite among eastern birdwatchers. It is among the earliest of migrants, bringing hope that Spring will soon be at hand.

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