Northern Leopard Frog

Walking along the banks of the Cuyahoga River, I heard a noise in the underbrush. Further investigation triggered something to leap away in a series of zigzag jumps. It was the tell-tale getaway method of the Northern Leopard Frog.

Eventually I caught up with the creature. It’s easy to see how this spotted frog gets its name. I consider the Northern Leopard Frog to be the most beautiful of all of North America’s amphibians. It is also common and can be found (along with other species of Leopard Frogs) across much of the United States.

In late winter while searching for Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers, I’d occasionally hear the calls from this frog, which sound like a person snoring. The leopard frog can even call under water.

Northern Leopard Frogs utilize many aquatic habitats, such as marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, or streams. During warmer months, these frogs may leave the water and venture into fields or pastures to forage. Their diet consists mainly of insects. 

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Black Rat Snake

The Ohio Erie Canal Towpath is a very popular destination for hikers and bikers. A decent variety and quantity of reptiles and amphibians can be found in the canal, Cuyahoga River, and surrounding areas. Here’s a Black Rat Snake that I saw crossing the Towpath this morning.

The Black Rat is not only Ohio’s largest snake, it is also my favorite snake. Occasionally reaching over 8 feet in length, it is typically about half that size.

When first encountered, a Black Rat Snake tends to freeze and remain motionless. Though if it feels threatened, the snake adopts a “stand up and fight” stance, with its forebody raised up and head drawn back in an S-curve.

This is essentially a forest-loving snake, often found in clearings or at the edge of where wooded areas meet fields. It is an accomplished climber and can sometimes be found high in trees.

The Black Rat Snake, a constrictor, is perhaps Ohio’s most beneficial snake to man in regards to the role it plays in controlling destructive rodents.

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Yellow Bullhead

It’s springtime so my friend Dale and I decided to do some fishing. I caught a Yellow Bullhead.

A member of the same family as catfish, the Yellow Bullhead has whisker-like barbels, no scales, and sharp spines that can stab unwary anglers.

True to their name, Yellow Bullheads are yellowish brown. They are voracious scavengers, typically feeding at night on a variety of plant and animal material.

It was a great day for fishing.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, Dale knows how to catch fish too.

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Walking the Canal Towpath as well as a few large ponds, it’s easy to observe the activities of a medium-sized mammal – the Muskrat. The Muskrat is not really a rat, but it is a rodent. It has thick brown fur and a long, scaly tail. They can grow up to two feet long (with tail). Their back feet are webbed for swimming, and their eyes and ears are very small.

Muskrats build a house, called a lodge, out of aquatic plants, especially cattails. It can be up to eight feet across and five feet high. A Muskrat lodge looks a lot like a Beaver lodge. Muskrats also burrow holes in stream or pond banks. When a Muskrat builds a lodge, it helps a lot of animals besides itself. Lodges can also be the home of snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, and waterfowl.

When Muskrats eat large numbers of cattails, they open up areas of shallow water. This provides nest sites for water birds, and allows other water plants to grow.

Muskrats are excellent swimmers and can stay under water for 15 minutes. Their tails are used to steer, and they can swim forwards and backwards. They can even chew food underwater.

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Majestic Long-horned Beetle

Have you ever nearly freaked out when you unexpectedly found a large bug crawling on you? That’s what happened today after I came in from doing some yardwork and saw this huge beetle crawling on my shirt.

It’s a Majestic Long-horned Beetle. Longhorns are characterized by extremely long antennae, which are often as long as or longer than the beetle’s body.

There are 35,000 species of Long-horned Beetles worldwide. These are large, impressive insects. Here’s a different species that I caught in Nevada. It’s the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen in the wild.

The Majestic’s habitat is mature ash trees (I have several Blue Ash Trees in my backyard). They spend their larval life boring in wood and are sometimes known as Wood Boring Beetles.

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Bull Snake

Over the weekend I took a 6 hour drive to the sandhill prairies of Illinois to look for a snake I’ve been wanting to see in the wild for quite some time – a Bull Snake. The sandhill prairies are located about a half hour south of Chicago.

It didn’t take long before I found my first snake. The Bull Snake is a large reptile, often 4-6 feet long. Occasionally it can grow to over 8 feet. This first snake was a female, about three feet long. The scale on the tip of the snake’s snout is enlarged – it is used for digging.

Since these snakes are long and heavy-bodied, they do not move particularly fast. So to defend themselves against predators, they are “master bluffers.” A Bull Snake will vibrate its tail, inflate with air, and hiss very loudly. They have a unique glottal structure that enable them to hiss louder than practically any other snake. Later on I found this four foot male.

The Bull Snake’s muscular neck, heavy skull and large scale on its snout are adaptations that enable it to root through the ground in search of they main food item: rodents. These are one of the most beneficial serpents we have in terms of keeping the rodent population in check.

Even a single Bull Snake exerts a major predatory impact around fields and stored crops where mice, rats and gophers abound.

It was a great weekend for herping; to see more photos from this trip, visit Sandhill Prairie Herping 2012.

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Red Admiral

A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer states “Red admirals are taking over Northeast Ohio.” This butterfly is identified by its striking dark brown, orange, and black wing pattern. More specifically, the dark wings possess orange bands that cross the forewings and on the outer edge of the hind wings.

An unusually high number of the insects are apparent this Spring – I’ve seen several in my backyard – especially on my shed and in the rock garden. Nobody knows for sure why every once in a while this butterfly’s population spikes. It could be climate change, a mild winter, or migrations from southern states to the northeast.

The Red Admiral has a very erratic, rapid flight. The males are territorial and many times can be found in the same location day to day. Adult butterflies prefer sap flowing from trees or fermenting fruit over nectar from flowers. Their caterpillars feed mainly on nettle. Here’s one I spotted on a tree in Zanesville, Ohio.

The undersides of the wings are a mottled brown and tan. They blend in very well forest the forest floor. This one resides at Brecksville Reservation.

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Northern Ringneck Snake

I was on a weekend biology-oriented trip with a group of high school students in central Ohio and we managed to find several Northern Ringneck Snakes. It’s pretty easy to see how these snakes get their common name.

Ringnecks enjoy coast to coast distribution across the United States, though they are absent from arid areas. This species lives throughout much of the northeastern United States. They need some degree of moisture to find their favorite food items: worms, slugs and salamanders.

ringneck snake_6217

These snakes like to hide under rocks and bark at the edges of forests, usually where a forest meets an open area like a field. They can be quite common in some places, but are secretive and not usually seen out in the open. The smooth, slate-colored scales on Ringneck Snakes have a satiny luster. The undersides of these snakes are brightly marked with yellow, orange or red.

On occasion they may curl their tail into a “bulls eye” and present the red surface to whatever is disturbing the snake. This is believed to either scare off enemies or to advertise that the snake isn’t good to eat (mammals find Ringneck Snakes to be distasteful).

A Northern Ringneck Snake that I found in northeast Ohio

They are a mild mannered, small snake – often 12 to 16 inches in length. Here’s a few of the students hanging out with the Northern Ringneck Snakes that we found on our field trip.

To  see more photos from this trip, visit Cinco de Mayo in Central Ohio.

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Water Snakes In Love

Most of a Northern Water Snake’s activities during the month of April are spent basking in the sun. Males may not feed at all until after mating and females feed very little. Today I saw two pairs of Northern Water Snakes courting.

Males do not appear to be territorial and sometimes several males can be seen courting a female. Adult females are much larger and heavier-bodied than males. A courting male will crawl alongside a female, and rub his chin, neck or entire body against her.

There is a correlation between the size of the female and the number of offspring she will produce in August or September. Anywhere from a dozen to sixty babies are born alive, one at a time.

Baby Northern Water Snakes have black bands on a background of pale gray or light brown. As the snakes grow, their pattern fades, becoming obscure. Often adults are of an overall dark brown or black in color without any noticeable pattern.

Sunning is by far the most common activity you are likely to see Northern Water Snakes do. They can be observed on branches (like these snakes), on stone walls near waterways or on beaver lodges.

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