Birds-foot Trefoil

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While driving around northeast Ohio, it seems that this small perennial flower is lining just about every roadway.

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Birds-foot Trefoil belongs to the same family as pea and bean plants. Its showy, pea-like flowers are only about a half an inch across.

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This plant was introduced from Europe as a cultivated forage crop. It is widely planted for erosion control along newly built roads.

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Although its flowers start out as a bright lemon yellow, over time they can turn red-orange with age.

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Birds-foot Trefoil common name refers to its seedpods, which when grouped together look like a bird’s foot and are slender and purple. Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name “trefoil.”

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This plant can survive fairly close grazing, trampling, and mowing. Birds-foot Trefoil is most often found in sandy soils. It flowers from June to September and is a source of nectar for several different kinds of butterflies and bees.

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This plant is also known as Bloomfell, Cat’s Clover, Crowtoes, Eggs and Bacon and Birdsfoot Deervetch.

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Rough Osmoderma

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While at an outdoor summertime party, the event was “crashed” with the arrival of this distinctive insect. I had never seen one previously and decided to investigate its life cycle and habits.

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These bulky beetles grow to an inch-plus in length. According to a paper published in 1939, the adults “conceal themselves during the day in the crevices and hollows of trees, where they feed upon the sap that flows from the bark.”

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It belongs to the genus Osmoderma (from the Greek osme—smell, and derma—skin). When captured, the beetles emit a very strong, but not unpleasant odor. Some say the scent is beetles smell “peach-like” or “plum-like.”

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The scent is a pheromone that attracts females to the tree hollows where the males hang out and where eggs will be laid. The larvae reside in decaying wood, often in apple or cherry trees. They take three years to reach maturity, and are freeze resistant in the Winter.

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They are one of the scarab beetles, with the typical scarab’s short antennae with a set of finger-like appendages at the end. This beetle was an unexpected guest that certainly added to the festivities.

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Yellow Perch

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Recently I caught one of these fine fish in Geauga Lake in northeast Ohio. It has a yellow and brass-colored body and distinct pattern, consisting of five to nine olive-green, vertical bars, triangular in shape, on each side.

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Yellow Perch are only found in North America and reside in ponds, lakes, the pools of creeks and slow flowing rivers. They are most often encountered in clear water near vegetation and tend to school near the shore during the Spring. They can also be found in brackish water.

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Adults are typically 6 to 10 inches long and dine primarily on immature insects, larger invertebrates (like crayfish) and the eggs and young of other fish, which they take both from open water and from the bottom.

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The young of this species often mixes with other small fish in schools. Adults often occur in schools of 50 to 200 or more fish, staying closer together in the Summer than in the Winter.

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The Yellow Perch has two dorsal fines, the first of which has prominent spines. This fish reaches maturity at an age of one to two years; its average life span is seven to eight years.

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This fish is also known as Lake Perch, Ringed Perch, American Perch, American Perch, Raccoon Perch and Ring-tailed Perch.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

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I often see these birds while hiking in northeast Ohio. Males are easy to identify, due to their glossy black feathers and chocolate brown heads. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds are plain brown birds. They are stocky blackbirds with a fascinating approach to raising their offspring.

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Centuries ago this bird probably followed Bison herds across prairies, feeding on insects flushed from the grass by the grazers. The bird’s population expanded with the clearing of forested areas and the introduction of new grazing animals by settlers across North America. Today it follows cattle and is widespread across the United States.

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Females do not build nests, but instead put all their energy into producing eggs, sometimes laying more than three dozen in the Summer. They deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds, abandoning their young to foster parents.

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Some birds, such as the Yellow Warbler, recognize eggs that are not there own, though these birds are too small to remove the eggs out of their nests. Instead, they build a new nest over the top of the old one and hope cowbirds don’t come back.

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Other larger bird species puncture or grab the cowbird’s eggs and throw them out of the nest, but the majority of hosts don’t recognize cowbird eggs at all. The Brown-headed Cowbird’s parasitic reproduction strategy is unique among the world’s blackbird species.

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Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found in open woods, farmland and stockyards. They forage by walking on the ground, looking for insects and seeds. In the Winter, Brown-headed Cowbirds may join huge roosts with several blackbird species. One such mixed roost in Kentucky contained more than five million birds.

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Eastern Cottonwood

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This is a large, fast-growing tree found growing along streams, rivers and lowland areas. It is what is known as a “classic floodplains tree.” I have one growing next to the creek in my backyard.

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The genus of its Latin name, Populus deltoides indicates that it is a type of Poplar Tree. The species, deltoides, refers to its triangle-shaped leaves.

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Eastern Cottonwood is almost as massive as a Sycamore in regard to its trunk and broad-spreading canopy. It commonly reaches 80 feet tall by 60 feet wide, but can be much larger.

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The flat leaf stems cause its leaves flutter in the slightest breeze, often looking like a hand waving back and forth, as do the leaves of most Poplars.

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In late Spring and early Summer, I get “snow in June” when the fruit capsules open to release their small seeds attached to many cotton-like strands. It is the continuous release of these fluffy seeds for 2-3 weeks that results in the tree’s common name.

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These trees develop very deep fissures in their bark. Mature Eastern Cottonwood bark is among the thickest of all trees in North America.

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Eastern Cottonwoods have many unique characteristics that make them worth checking out.

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Tan Jumping Spider

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Recently I found one of these creatures in my house. This cryptically-colored spider is common on all sorts of vertical surfaces like tree trunks, fence posts, and the outer walls of buildings. Many will overwinter under loose tree bark, which may explain how this one got indoors; it was looking for shelter from Winter.

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Jumping Spiders hunt by sight and have very good vision. Like some other types of Jumping Spiders, this species appears to exhibit a curiosity towards humans who come into its sightline.

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These furry arachnids have enormous front-facing eyes which make them seem almost mammal-like in appearance. The rest of their eight eyes wrap around their heads, giving them almost 360-degree vision.

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Tan Jumping Spiders are most active in the Summer and I commonly see them on the outside of my house as well as on deck rails. Despite their “tan” common name, they are often varying shades of gray or brown.

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Though small (less than half an inch), they are accomplished hunters. They approach prey slowly and when a short distance away, make a sudden leap onto an unfortunate insect. They are good jumpers and can leap many times their own body length.

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Scientifically known as Platycryptus undatus, Tan Jumping Spiders usually have a wavy color pattern on the upper part of their abdomen. This undulating pattern is why they received the “undatus” part of their scientific name.

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Their large eyes and curious dispositions help make jumping spiders one of the most appealing groups of spiders.

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Black Crappie

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This neat freshwater fish is found in lakes, ponds and sloughs. It prefers cover, usually in the form of vegetation, fallen trees or rocks and water that is clear with a sand or mud bottom.

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This creature is silvery and has a pattern of mainly irregularly arranged speckles and blotches. It is a deep-bodied and slab-sided with a large mouth.

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Young Black Crappie begin life by feeding primarily on zooplankton. Adults mainly feed on small fish, but also consume insects and crustaceans.

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Like other members of the sunfish family, Black Crappie are nest builders. Males construct a nest by fanning out small underwater depressions in and around brush, rocks or vegetation at a depth of between one and five feet deep. Females then lay eggs in the nest.

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Populations of this fish can be found in each of the 48 contiguous United States. It is a popular game fish and prized as a food source, so its original range has been artificially expanded by stocking lakes, ponds and rivers across the United States.

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Dutchman’s Breeches

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I recently saw this wildflower while hiking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in northeast Ohio. This native plant is common throughout the eastern United States and also occurs in the Pacific Northwest, though it is less common there.

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Dutchman’s Breeches blooms in the early Spring from March to April. Its flowers are white to pink and resemble a pair of pantaloons hanging upside down. It has one or more finely compound leaves that make the plant appear fern-like.

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The flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees, which have tongues that are long enough to tap the nectar. Unlike the closely related Squirrel Corn, its flowers lack fragrance.

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This plant’s seeds are kidney-shaped, with a faint net-like pattern. Each one has a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. Dutchman’s Breeches is just one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants, a process called myrmecochory.

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The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes and then put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate.

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Dutchman’s Breechess can be found in deciduous forests, especially along gentle slopes, ravines or ledges along streams. This species most often occurs in original woodland that has never been plowed under or bulldozed over. It’s abundance in such places can be highly variable.

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It has several common names, depending on which part of the country you find it in. “Bleeding Heart” is one, due to its sometimes pink flowers. Another common name is “Little Blue Staggers,” derived from its ability to induce drunken staggering if cattle graze on it, due to the narcotic and toxic substances it contains.

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Blue Racer

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In my home state of Ohio as well as while visiting the sandhill prairies of Kankakee, Illinois, I came across a few examples of this speedy serpent. Adults tend to range in length between 36 to 60 inches.

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These snakes prefer open and semi-open habitat, though it is likely that a mix of habitats is required to fulfill their ecological needs. They can often be seen where the edge of a field meets a wooded area.

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Baby and juvenile racers have dark-bordered, brown, red, or grey blotches on their backs and dark spots on their sides. As they grow, the background darkens to produce a basically unicolored reptile.

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Adult Blue Racers can be varying shades of blue and gun-metal gray, with white belly scales, black masks, relatively large eyes and often brownish-orange snouts.

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Their eyes are larger compared to that of many other species of snakes, due to the fact that they are day-active hunters that mainly use sight to locate their prey.

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Adult Blue Racers feed on rodents, lizards, other snakes and frogs, while juveniles eat invertebrates such as spiders and crickets. As their “racer” name implies, they are swift in chasing down prey as well as fleeing from predators.

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There aren’t very many blue-colored snakes out there in the world. This is always a fun snake for me to encounter, whether it be in my home state of Ohio, or while doing some out-of-state herping.

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Green Ground Beetle

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I don’t come across these colorful creatures all that often, but they are a sight to behold. They are found throughout the United States and adjacent Canada and Mexico.

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These insects are just over half an inch in length. Their entire dorsal surface usually metallic green, though they sometimes appears bronze and also can appear bluish. Their legs and antennae are long and slender.

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Green Ground Beetles inhabit a variety of moist habitats and can be found from Spring through Fall. They usually occur close to the borders of standing or running water. I tend to find them under debris along the Cuyahoga River.

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They are primarily nocturnal and in the daytime hide under rocks, logs and loose bark. This beetle feeds on other insects and probably consumes a far amount of insect carrion, as it doesn’t seem prone to attack smaller invertebrates that are alive.

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This fine creature is known to use the hair on its legs to clean its antennae; the antennae acts as the insects “nose” and is used to sense the smells as well as tastes of the world around it.

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