Pumpkinseed

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Red Maple

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This tree located throughout all of Ohio (including in my backyard) and is found naturally in moist areas of open woodlands, especially along creeks and bottomlands where the soil is usually moist to wet. It is also a major component of the native habitat throughout its region. In urban areas it is a popular shade tree, noted for its brilliant red fall color.

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This species and the Silver Maple often are referred to as the “soft maples.” The wood is soft, not very strong and not durable. It is used for veneer and a variety of small products such as boxes and clothespins. It typically grows 40-60’ tall with a rounded to oval crown.

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Clusters of small red flowers bloom in March and April. Reddish, winged fruit called samaras or “keys” become brown and mature in May and June.

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Red maple is one of the most abundant species in temperate forests of eastern North America and has a wide north to south distribution. Because of this wide natural range, it is extremely variable in form. The leaves of southern forms tend to have only three lobes compared to five lobes on northern forms.

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This tree takes its common name from its reddish buds that swell in Spring, its red leaf petioles in Summer, and its brilliant red foliage in Fall. Red maple is one of the most recognized trees with some part of the plant red all season long.

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Eastern Parson Spider

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It seems like the past few Winters I’ve found one of these in my house. This arachnid is named after the abdominal markings resembling an old-style cravat worn by clergy in the 18th century.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is part of a stealthy group of ground spiders. This family of hunting spiders spins silken retreats in leaves and under boards and stones to hide in during the day; they hunt at night.

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This spider is widespread everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Alberta across to Nova Scotia and south to Texas and Florida. West of the Rockies it is replaced by the Western Parson Spider.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is fairly commonly around buildings, often preying on small insects that are attracted to outdoor lights These creatures will run in a zigzag fashion to evade predators; for this reason, they are hard to capture when seen in homes.

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It is furry, and about nickel sized. Although this spider presents a startling appearance, living indoors as it frequently does, it is not considered harmful.

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Ring-necked Duck

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While visiting central Indiana last month, I saw this sharply marked bird of gleaming black, gray and white. The species is native to North America, but sightings outside of the continent are becoming increasingly common.

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The “ringneck” name is derived from a faint brownish ring around the base of the neck, which is visible only upon close inspection. A more fitting name would be “Ring-billed Duck,” due to the prominent white ring around the bill.

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In migration and during winter, they inhabit ponds, lakes, slow-moving rivers, and occasionally coastal estuaries, but generally do not inhabit saltwater bays.

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The Ring-necked Duck dives for its food in shallow water and has a more generalized diet (consisting mostly of plants) than do other North American diving ducks in its genus.

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This species is a primary means for dispersal of several types of pond plants and help the plants get to newly established ponds. Seeds the birds eat from the plants are undigestable and get deposited (via duck droppings) at new sites.

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This species is strong and fast and, unlike many diving ducks, can take flight directly from the water without a running start.

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Osage Orange

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While hiking in Cool Creek Park in Carmel, Indiana, I saw several green “monkey brains” scattered on the forest floor.

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They came from an Osage Orange, which is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, that grows 30–50 feet tall. Their distinctive fruit is roughly spherical, bumpy, 3–6 inches in diameter and turns a bright yellow-green in the Fall.

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The fruit secretes a sticky white latex when cut or damaged. Despite the name “orange,” it is instead a member of the mulberry family.

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The trunk bark is brown to orange-brown and deeply furrowed with ridges. The glossy, lance-shaped leaves are arranged alternately and vary from dark to pale tender green. They have long, tapering tips and smooth to slightly wavy margins.

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“Back in the day” these sharp-thorned shrubs were planted as cattle-deterring hedges before the introduction of barbed wire and afterward became an important source of fence posts.

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This intriguing plant is also known as Hedge Apple, Horse Apple, Bodark, Bow-wood, Yellow-wood and Mock Orange.

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Giant Leaf-footed Bug

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This species of North American true bug ranges from the southern United States to Guatemala and some Caribbean islands.

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It is the largest of this genus within this range, often growing to be 1-1/4 inches long. Leaf-footed bugs are named for the spines and flat dilations on their hind legs.

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The Giant Leaf-footed Bug can be distinguished from similar species by its much more broadly expanding shield, which is wider than its abdomen.

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Leaf-footed bugs are are plant-feeders. They live above ground on their host plants where they may feed on seeds, fruits, stems or leaves.

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Like all true bugs, the adults are equipped with a beak, a hypodermic needle-like device carried under the head, which they uses to pierce the plant tissue and suck out liquids.

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This was the first time I’ve ever encountered this impressive insect and it was a welcome find on Thanksgiving Weekend in Central Illinois.

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Northern Shoveler

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While visiting Carmel, Indiana last month I observed one of the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks; its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comb-like projections along its edges, which filter out food from the water.

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The Northern Shoveler inhabits wetlands across much of North America. The males have iridescent green heads, white chests and rusty sides. Females are grayish-brown overall; some of their feathers have light edging with darker centers.

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Their spatulate bills, equipped with small, comb-like structures on the edges, act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water’s surface. Flocks of shovelers often swim with their bills submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters.

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Mud-bottomed marshes rich in invertebrate life is their habitat of choice. Other dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the spoon-shaped bill of the Northern Shoveler is an adaptation that takes this habit to the extreme.

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Aptly nicknamed the spoonbill, the Northern Shoveler has the largest bill of any duck in North America.

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Ground Skink

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I have found these small, slender lizards with long tails in several southeastern states, but most recently in southern Illinois. They range from golden brown to almost black in color, but are most often a coppery brown with a dark stripe running along each side.

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Running and hiding under ground cover is the method Ground Skinks uses to escape from predators. I have detected this lizard most often by hearing it before seeing it, as it runs over dry leaves on the forest floor. It seems to prefer open areas in or adjacent to woods.

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Also known as “The Little Brown Skink,” it is one of the smallest reptiles in North America, with a total length of only 3 to 5-1/2 inches. Like most skinks, Ground Skinks have short legs relative to their body length and smooth, shiny scales.

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Most people never notice them as they hunt insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrate prey in leaf litter.

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Eastern Ribbon Snake

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Although I found a number of Western Ribbon Snakes in Union County, Illinois, it wasn’t until I visited neighboring Johnson County that I found my first Eastern Ribbon Snakes.

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Ribbon snakes are semiaquatic and frequently found along the edges of lakes, bogs and marshes. A swampy area with railroad tracks running through it proved to be an ideal place for them.

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The ribbon snake gets its name from its very thin body. At maturity, it’s usually between 2 to 3 feet in length. It is a slender, dark snake with a yellow stripe down the back and one on each side. Its tail often makes up about one third of its body length.

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The Eastern Ribbon Snake is a member of the garter snake family. Not only do they look similar to garter snakes, they too are widely distributed throughout the United States.

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This species is a good swimmer and can race quickly along solid ground. It also is a good climber and are often found in the small bushes along the water’s edge. This serpent is active and nervous and relies on being wary to escape predators. Their diet consists of frogs, salamanders, toads, small fish and leeches. Like garter snakes, Eastern Ribbon Snakes give birth to live offspring in late Summer.

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Earth-Boring Scarab Beetle

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Although I’ve seen this insect in my home state of Ohio, my latest encounter with one of these interesting creatures was last month in southern Illinois.

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As their name implies, Earth-Boring Scarab Beetles dig burrows into the ground, sometimes up to 8 feet deep. An egg is laid at the end of each long tunnel and food is left there. When the egg hatches a grub (the beetle’s version of a caterpillar) emerges. The food left for the grub is consumed and it eventually pupates before transforming into an adult beetle.

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Adults Earth-Boring Scarab Beetles eat dung, hummus and rotting plant matter. They are commonly found in compost heaps and around manure piles. This is one of the last beetle species that can be seen in the Fall. While the Earth-Boring Scarab Beetle’s diet seems somewhat unsavory to people, the consumption of the nutrients left in that food source allows valuable resources to return to the food chain when the beetle itself is consumed by a predator.

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It’s nature’s way to recycle and reuse vitamins and minerals.

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