Brown Anole

01 Brown Anole_5105

While visiting Disney Parks in Orlando, I’d occasionally notice these small reptiles, usually hanging out near vegetation. These lizards feed on small arthropods such as crickets, moths, ants, grasshoppers, cockroaches, beetles, flies, butterflies and spiders.

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This species was introduced in southern Florida from the Caribbean decades ago. Since then, it has been slowly expanding northward and is now firmly established not only in Florida, but also in some areas of coastal and southern Georgia.

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The Brown Anole is normally a light brown color with darker brown to black markings on its back, and several tan colored lines on its sides. Like other anoles, it can change color – usually to another shade of brown or black.

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Its coloration allows it to easily blend in with its surroundings, making it difficult for predators to spot. The Brown Anole has a detachable tail, so if grabbed by a predator, the broken tail can allow the lizard to escape. The tail grows back afterwards, albeit smaller and duller in color.

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The Brown Anole tends to live on the ground, avoiding trees and preferring to live in smaller plants and shrubs. It is found in both urban and suburban areas. When the weather is warm, it can be found basking. When it is cold, it prefers sheltered areas, like under rocks or under the bark of trees.

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At an adult size of only 5 to 9 inches in total length, it has a wide range of mammal, bird and reptile predators. Despite the extensive list of creatures that want to eat it, this lizard’s alertness and speed make it very difficult to capture.

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Resurrection Fern

01 Resurrection Fern_5112

While visiting Orlando, Florida it was hard not to notice ferns that seemed to be growing out of the trunks of trees.

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This remarkable plant can lose about 75 percent of its water content during a typical dry period and possibly up to 97 percent in an extreme drought.

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During this time, it shrivels up to a grayish brown clump of leaves. When it is exposed to water again, it will “come back to life” and look green and healthy.

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By contrast, most other plants can lose only 10 percent of their water content before they die. Resurrection Fern’s fronds are typically 4 to 12 inches in length.

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This plant is found throughout the Southeast. Due to its ability to withstand drought, it can be found in a variety of habitats, but it needs a host plant on which to anchor itself.

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It seems to favor oak trees. This plant is epiphytic, which means it grows on top of other plants and surfaces but does not harm its host.

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In 1997 Resurrection Fern was taken into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery to watch its resurrection in zero gravity.

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Finescale Stoneroller

01 Finescale Stoneroller_7145

I came across a couple of examples of this fine fish while on my outing to southern Illinois this year. This minnow is characterized by having a rounded snout overhanging a crescent-shaped mouth.

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The Finescale Stoneroller’s preferred habitat is pools or riffles with gravel or rubble substrate in small to medium-sized streams. It prefers cool, clear water with moderate to fast currents.

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This fish is generally herbivorous, feeding primarily on algae scraped from rocks and logs with the cartilaginous ridge on its lower jaw. It is classified as a grazing minnow and large schools of these fish often feed together.

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During breeding season, males begin building nests starting in late Winter and continuing throughout Midsummer, creating large, bowl-shaped depressions in calm waters by rolling stones along the bottom with their noses, giving them their common name.

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This small fish is prey to many larger fish as well as many birds and reptiles. To avoid them, they move fast, travel in schools and hide when they perceive danger.

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Eastern Tiger Salamander

01 Eastern Tiger Salamander_4246

While visiting southern Illinois, I came across the largest land dwelling salamander in North America. It generally grows to be between 7 and 8-1/2 inches in length, but can reach up to 13 inches.

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The Eastern Tiger Salamander is stocky with sturdy limbs and a long tail. Its body color is dark brown (almost black) and irregularly marked with yellow-to-olive colored blotches.

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Belonging to the family known as Mole Salamanders, Tiger Salamanders are fossorial, spending much of their lives underground, feeding on worms, snails, insects and slugs.

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These salamanders migrate to breeding ponds in late Winter or early Spring. One to two days after courtship, a female lays up to a hundred eggs, which hatch about four weeks later. The larvae stay in the pond for 3 to 5 months before emerging to live on the land.

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Eastern Tiger Salamanders are the most widely distributed salamander in North America and can be found in habitats ranging from woodlands to open fields to marshy areas.

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Small White Morning Glory

01 Small White Morning Glory_4S2B7844

On my travels to southern Illinois this past Autumn, I came across this neat native wildflower growing along some railroad tracks.

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Small White Morning Glory favors disturbed habitats like prairies, thickets, the gravelly bars of streams and banks of lakes, moist meadows near rivers or woodlands, abandoned fields, areas along roadsides and railroads and miscellaneous waste areas.

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The “Morning Glory” name is applied because these flowers, which can be especially glorious when large numbers are blooming, will close up later in the day as the bright sun shines on them. Each flower is about one inch wide.

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Small White Morning Glory’s heart-shaped leaves are often crimson-edged and it relies primarily on its vining habit to disperse into new areas. Its vines range from 3 to 10 feet in length.

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The flowers of the Small White Morning Glory attract primarily bumblebees and other longer-tongued bees for its nectar.

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Carolina Mantis

01 Carolina Mantis_7192

While walking along some railroad tracks in southern Illinois, I came across this cool creature.

02 Mantis_4440

The Carolina Mantis is a species native to North Carolina and South Carolina; hence the name. But, actually it is a common mantis is most states of the United States. It also occurs in Mexico and South America.

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These insects are about 2-1/2 inches long and are highly variable in color. They may be gray with spots, green, green with spots or bands, brown, and brown with spots or bands.

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The front legs are usually held folded in front of the insect in a pose resembling prayer. When an unfortunate insect gets too close, the mantis’ forelegs spring out, grab the prey and then hold it while it is eaten.

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This insect is found in woodlands and meadows, especially around flowering plants. It tends to stay in one place as for long as there is a good supply of food and usually uses a “sit-and-wait” tactic of obtaining its prey.

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The Carolina Mantis is the state insect of South Carolina.

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Speckled Kingsnake

01 Glade_7325

My only “lifer” snake found this year was encountered in a glade in Missouri. I was flipping rocks and enjoying seeing Slimy Salamanders, Black Widow Spiders and Bark Scorpions, when this fine serpent turned up.

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This is an easy to identify medium-to-large, shiny black snake covered with small yellow spots. The ground color is generally black or dark brown. A white or yellow spot occurs in the center of most of the scales, to make the snake look speckled.

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Speckled Kingsnakes are not only common in relatively undisturbed habitats, but often are also common in agricultural areas, particularly around buildings and junkyards.

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This reptile kills its prey by constriction. Its foods include small rodents, lizards and other snakes, including venomous species such as Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Rattlesnakes. It is immune to the venom of snakes living in its home range.

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The Speckled Kingsnake is often called the “salt-and-pepper” snake. This reptile was a most welcome find on my Autumn outing.

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Witches’ Butter

01 Cypress Swamp_4145

While walking along the edge of a cypress swamp in southern Illinois last month, some small, yellow, irregularly lobed, gelatinous masses caught my eye.

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Witches’ Butter has fruiting bodies that are brain-like, sulfur yellow-to-pale yellow and have a gelatinous texture. It grows in masses on dead deciduous wood, especially oaks.

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This fungi’s full-time job is to inhabit dead wood as a parasite that gets nourishment by digesting the tissues of an unrelated fungus (a crust-like fungus that is itself parasitizing and maybe killing the tree). Witches’ Butter is therefore a parasite of a parasite!

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Witches’ Butter has a cosmopolitan distribution, having been recorded from Europe, North, Central, and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Its fruit bodies are formed during wet periods throughout the year.

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A type of Jelly Fungi, the investigation of the medicinal benefits of Jelly Fungi has revealed that they stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and are useful in the treatment of allergies and diabetes.

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This fungus is also known as Yellow Brain, Golden Jelly Fungus and Yellow Trembler.

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Three-toed Box Turtle

01 Three-toed Box Turtle_7397

While visiting a nature center in Missouri last month and walking the trails, I came upon a reptile that I have never encountered in the wild before.

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Three-toed Box Turtles are named due to the number of toes on the back feet, though there can be four-toed examples too. Their carapace (upper shell) is high-domed and tends to be olive or brown with faint yellow or orange lines. It’s small size (usually less than five inches), color and pattern allow it to blend in well with the forest floor.

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Generally a forest species, it also can be found on forest edges and in brushy fields. Young Three-toed Box Turtles consume mostly earthworms and insects, while adults tend to be more vegetarian, eating a variety of plants, berries and mushrooms.

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To protect themselves from predators, turtles are able to pull their heads, legs, and tails into their shells. Box Turtles have the additional ability to clamp their shells completely shut, due to a hinge in the plastron (lower shell). Very few predators can successfully prey on an adult Box Turtle.

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Because of this adaptation, once a Box Turtle reaches adulthood, its average life span is 50 years, while a significant portion live to over 100 years in age.

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This reptile is native to the south-central part of the United States and is the official reptile of the state of Missouri.

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Modest Katydid

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While exploring a cypress swamp in southern Illinois, I came across this fine creature. Native to the southeastern United States, this species is more common in the south, but appears to be expanding its range northward.

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It is found in a wide variety of both dry and wet habitats, though in more northern states, most reside in bottomland forests. The Modest Katydid is small and easily overlooked. Not only is the species size and demeanor modest, the song is barely audible in the field.

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Though it looks leaf-like like other katydids, a key identification mark it that it has a bold dark diagonal stripe through its eye. Like other katydids, it eats leaves from deciduous trees in wooded areas, parks and neighborhoods.

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The quiet, lispy ticks of the Modest Katydid are very hard to hear in the field. The nighttime chorusing of other katydids and crickets easily drown them out.

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