Tarantula Hawk

Tarantula Hawk_1389

While visiting Nevada, Arizona and California I have come across this awesome insect on occasion. This is the largest of the spider wasps, which use their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest to serve as living food.

Tarantula Hawk_1426

These two-inch insects are not only distinctive because of their size, but they are also easily recognizable by their blue-black bodies and bright, rust-colored wings. Their vivid coloration is an advertisement to potential predators of the wasps’ ability to deliver a powerful sting.

Tarantula Hawk_7067

For humans and other vertebrates, the Tarantula Hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index and described the Tarantula Hawk’s sting as “instantaneous, electrifying and totally debilitating.”

Tarantula Hawk_1431

Female Tarantula Hawks battle tarantulas (which are bigger than themselves), sting them and then drag the paralyzed spider to a specially prepared burrow, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen and the burrow entrance is covered. When the Tarantula Hawk larva hatches, it feeds voraciously on the tarantula, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep the spider alive.

Tarantula Hawk_5771

Adult Tarantula Hawks derive their energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants. The consumption of fermented fruit sometimes intoxicates them to the point that flying becomes difficult.

Tarantula Hawk_1423

Despite their large size and fearsome lifestyle, Tarantula Hawks are relatively docile and rarely sting without provocation.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Western Ground Snake

Western Ground Snake_1114

This is a neat little reptile that is highly variable in color and pattern. Individuals can be brown, red, or orange, with black banding, orange or brown striping, or be solid-colored.

Western Ground Snake_1099

It only grows to about a foot in length. Being so small and prone to dehydration, in the desert it tends to be found near sources of water. In the rest of the southwestern United States, its preferred habitat is dry, rocky areas with loose soil.

Western Ground Snake 2

These snakes are seldom seen in the open; they remain hidden under flat rocks during the day. They may become active on the ground surface at night. In hot weather, they burrow underground to find cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

Western Ground Snake_1100

The Western Ground Snake eats a variety of insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes and lizards.

Western Ground Snake 1

It was awesome to come across this gentle, secretive species in the wild.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Amargosa Toad

Amargosa Toad_0931

While visiting Las Vegas I decided to take a 3-1/2 hour drive to search for a very cool amphibian that lives in a remote area of the Mojave Desert.

Amargosa Toad_0838

The Amargosa toad only resides in Oasis Valley, Nevada; specifically, it occurs along a 10-mile stretch of the Amargosa River and upland springs.

Amargosa Toad_0917

This 3-1/2 to 5 inch creature has a warty back with a light, mid-dorsal stripe and black speckling on a background ranging widely in color from buff to olive.

Amargosa Toad_0900

Unlike most frogs and toads, Amargosa Toads do not call and never vocalize unless threatened (they are able to produce alarm calls when predators grab them).

Amargosa Toad_0892

Like most amphibians, they live in damp areas and flooded marshes are one of their favorite habitats. They are nocturnal hunters, feeding on spiders, insects, snails and even scorpions.

Amargosa Toad_0889

In 2006, the Nevada Division of Wildlife estimated that the total population included about 2,000 individuals. It was a memorable experience seeing this creature in the wild and worth the long drive.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow _8867

These days I often see these birds while hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

White-Throated Sparrow 3-21-2014

White-Throated Sparrows have black-and-white stripes on the crown, a large patch of white on the throat and a yellow spot above each eye.

White-Throated Sparrow _2547

In Ohio it is considered a common migrant, and in some years, a fairly common Winter visitor. Easily attracted to bird feeders, this species lives in woods and gardens with dense underbrush.

White-Throated Sparrow _2545

These birds also freely sing as they migrate through Ohio. The song is a paraphrased “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Shaggy Mane

shaggy manes (coprinus comatus)_9003

I saw this fungi while visiting Hinckley Reservation, also occasionally known as the Lawyers Wig, this is a distinctive and simple to recognize mushroom. It’s size, texture and shape make it easy to spot even from considerable distance. They are often seen growing on lawns, along gravel roads and waste areas in Summer and Fall. They may grow singly or scattered, but are often in large, tightly packed groups.

shaggy manes (coprinus comatus)_8989

Shaggy Mane has an elongated, bullet-shaped, shaggy cap, with brownish upturned scales and a straight fairly smooth stem. The white caps are covered with frilled scales, creating the origin of the common name of this fungus.

shaggy manes (coprinus comatus)_8995

This mushroom is known for its unique robust flavor. Shaggy Manes can also be used for dyeing wool, some types of fabric, or paper and will yield a bayberry color when cooked in an iron pot.

shaggy manes (coprinus comatus)_8996

Mushrooms and other fungi are one of the most important groups of organisms on the planet. This is easy to overlook, given that most of the organism is largely hidden. The fruiting body (mushroom) is all you see of a vast network of thread-like structures hidden from view deep the soil, wood or other food sources.

shaggy manes (coprinus comatus)_8988

Fungi, together with bacteria, are responsible for most of the recycling that returns dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused. Unlike animals, that digest food inside their bodies, fungi digest food outside of their “bodies” and then absorb the nutrients into their cells.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Ornate Harvestmen

Ornate Harvestman 026

Harvestmen, commonly known as “Daddy Longlegs,” superficially resemble, and are often misidentified for spiders, though they are not closely related. Spiders can be identified by their two body segments, while harvestmen have just one.

Ornate Harvestman 087

While harvestmen are common around my house, especially in late Summer and early Autumn, this particular type I’ve only seen while out-of-state, at Carter Caves, Kentucky and while visiting Snake Road in southern Illinois.

Ornate Harvestman_2978

Ornate Harvestmen are omnivorous, mostly eating small insects and a wide variety of plant material and fungi; they also are scavengers and feed on dead organisms.

Ornate Harvestman_2979

As their name implies, these are more “fancy” than the species of harvestman that I typically find. The Ornate Harvestmen’s intricate details and pattern make it an intriguing find while out and about looking for reptiles.

Ornate Harvestman_2980

Harvestmen are among the most ancient of arachnids, fossils indicate they were living on land over 400 million years ago.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Warmouth

Warmouth_0845

The result of setting minnow traps recently in southern Illinois yielded some cool creatures, including these fine fish. Younger examples, like this one, can sometimes have a purplish sheen to their sides.

Warmouth_0877

A type of sunfish, Warmouth usually range in size from 4 to 10 inches, but can grow to over 12 inches in length and weigh up to 2-1/4 pounds. They prefer to hide around aquatic vegetation, stumps and snags, and under the banks of streams and ponds.

Warmouth_1504

This highly aggressive and hardy fish can live in polluted waters (such as the junk=strewn environment shown in the first photo where I caught mine), with low oxygen levels where other species of sunfish cannot survive.

Warmouth_2711

The primary diet of the Warmouth consists of insects, crayfish and other fish. It has a huge mouth and will attempt to eat just about anything that comes near it.

Warmouth_1515

Other local names for this fish are Molly, Redeye, Goggle-eye, Red-eyed bream and Strawberry Perch. This was my first encounter with this tough fish and I was glad to finally experience one in the wild.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Paper Wasp

paper wasp_3715

Each year I share my backyard deck during the warmer months with Paper Wasps. They have a fondness for the wooden rail overhand and sometimes two or three pairs of insects build nests there.

paper wasp_0540

Paper Wasps are beneficial, since they prey on soft-bodied insects, especially caterpillars. They are not at all bothersome, being uninterested in people or in scavenging for food, unlike some of their yellowjacket cousins.

Paper Wasp_10_08sr 153

I have also encountered this insect when visiting southern Illinois and Maryland. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. The photo above shows a nest in the limestone bluffs that border Snake Road in Illinois and the picture below shows one starting to build its nest on the eaves of a shed in Maryland.

Paper Wasp_8336

These insects make nests of cellulose fiber (paper) to brood their young. Paper wasp nests are typically small, attached by a stalk to an overhanging support, and have a single comb of cells.

Paper Wasp_3316

The larvae of wasps are grubs. To grow in the nest cell, the grub needs food – so the adult wasp paralyzes a caterpillar with its sting and stuffs it into the nest cell and lays an egg in the cell. The egg hatches and has ample food to grow to full grub size.

paper wasp_6556

After it eats, the grub enters the pupal, or resting stage, wherein its body is rearranged, and it emerges as an adult winged wasp. In the picture above, an adult has caught a caterpillar to feed its offspring.

brown paper wasp_08_27 048

Adult Paper Wasps eat nectar. Dill and fennel are especially favored, but parsley, parsnip or carrot gone to seed are also food sources for these insects.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat

Rafinesques Big-eared Bat_0779

One of the unexpected highlights of my recent visit to southern Illinois was getting to encounter a number of these fine creatures. As their name implies, this species has long, rabbit-like ears that can be over an inch long. They are a medium-sized bat with a wingspan of 10–12 inches.

Rafinesques Big-eared Bat_0826

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bats, like all bats in the southeastern United States, are insectivorous, nocturnal, and locate food primarily by echolocation. They consume a wide range of insects – including mosquitoes, beetles and flies – although moths make up 90% of their diet.

Rafinesques Big-eared Bat_0830

While other species of bats are crepuscular (become active during twilight hours), this species is nocturnal, becoming active when it is completely dark. This mammal occurs in forested regions largely devoid of natural caves. Its natural roosting places are in hollow trees and crevices behind bark. It is most frequently observed in buildings – both occupied and abandoned.

Rafinesques Big-eared Bat_2776

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bats are one of the least-known bats in the southeastern United States. They help make our lives more comfortable by eating millions of bugs, especially mosquitoes, every night as well as consuming crop-destroying insects. This was a fun find in the Land of Lincoln.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Blue-margined Ground Beetle

Blue-margined Ground Beetle_0657

When lifting rocks in southern Illinois in search of small snakes and salamanders, I found this awesome insect.

Blue-margined Ground Beetle_1450

The Blue-margined Ground Beetle is large, extra-robust, flightless, and features a huge head and jaws. It typically runs about under or on the leaf litter in forests.

Blue-margined Ground Beetle_1439

This insect is about an inch long and gets its common name from the smooth, blue border around its outer edges. Its large mandibles are said to deliver a painful bite and as an added defense measure, it can release a foul-smelling liquid if threatened.

Blue-margined Ground Beetle_1445

Both the larva and adult Blue-margined Ground Beetles are active predators, mainly feeding on other insects, particularly caterpillars.

Blue-margined Ground Beetle_1446

This is one neat looking insect that I haven’t seen for several years – it was nice to come across one while visiting the Land of Lincoln.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail