Hiking through North Chagrin Reservation in March, I noticed this twisting up through the forest floor. It’s a Mayapple -  Mayapple is a perennial native herb found growing in moist soils in rich woods, thickets and pastures in eastern North America.

By April the umbrella-like plants were really starting to grow. They can get to 18 inches tall. Two large, dark green, palmate leaves grow to protect the large white flower. The leaves can get to be 12 inches across.

In May I saw a few Mayapples beginning to bloom in central Ohio. Mayapple flowers turn into crab apple-sized edible fruit.  The fully ripe fruit is eaten raw, cooked or made into jams, jellies, marmalade and pies.

By June I plucked a couple of Mayapples to try out. It is best to wait until the fruit turns yellow before eating. It has a sweet, peculiar, but agreeable flavor. May apples are just one of the many delicious (and often overlooked) ways of celebrating Summer.

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Wood Duck

While exploring a nearby National Park, many birds were observed calling, making nests, bonding and getting ready to produce offspring – or already raising them. One of these is the Wood Duck – perhaps the most colorful of North American waterfowl.

Reverence for their appearance goes all the way back to prehistoric Indians who regularly featured them on bowls and pipes. The adult male has distinctive multicoloured iridescent plumage and red eyes, with a white flare down the neck. The female is less colourful and has a white eye-ring. Both males and females have crested heads.

These birds live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark, allowing them to perch on branches.

After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them. The ducklings may jump from heights of up to 300 feet without injury.

We often think of colorful birds with exotic lifestyles as living in far away places, but we have some very interesting species here in northeast Ohio.

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Corn Snake Clutches for 2012

Now that vacation is over, it’s time to get “back to business” and tend to my snakes. I’ve had several Corn Snakes lay eggs during the past few weeks. Their docile nature, moderate adult size, attractive colors and patterns, and comparatively simple care make Corn Snakes popular pet reptiles.

Over the past few decades many “morphs” (color and pattern variations) have been developed. Though there are well over 100 morphs (and more new ones each year). I just work with a few that I find appealing. These are the types I hope to produce later this Summer.

First clutch: Reverse Okeetee – my favorite morph (bred to a male Reverse Okeetee).

Vanishing Pattern Ghost (bred to Vanishing Pattern male).

Aberrant Reverse Okeetee (bred to male Reverse Okeetee).

Creamsicle (bred to Reverse Okeetee).

Vanishing Pattern Ghost (bred to Vanishing Pattern male).

Butter Motley (bred to Striped Butter), I got a few bad eggs in this clutch.

Striped (bred to Vanishing Pattern Ghost).

It should be a fun season!

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Driving on a deserted dirt byway last night, I saw this up ahead in the road. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake has such a hold on the human psyche, that it has been a symbol of the American Southwest from prehistoric into historic times. It figures in ancient mythology, ceramics and rock art and in modern story and media.

The Western Diamondback, which can exceed seven feet in length, is the king of our twenty odd species and sub-species of Southwestern desert rattlers, not only in terms of size, but also in terms of its fearsome reputation.

This reptile is equipped with a venom, elliptical pupils and heat-sensing facial pits. It has reserve fangs to replace any which break off. The pits, in effect, infrared detectors, guide the snake to warm blooded prey such as rodents, even in the total darkness. Its rattles – a distinguishing feature it shares only with other rattlesnakes – grow segment by segment, each rattle the remnant of a shed skin.

From the sheer standpoint of size, it ranks as one of the world’s largest and most dangerous snakes. They are largely defensive and tend to stand their ground if provoked.

Eventually, after taking a few photos, the snake went on its way and I went on mine. It’s always exciting to encounter one of these impressive snakes in the field.

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White Prickly Poppy

I saw a few of these in Arizona today. A member of the poppy family, it has flowers that grow to 3 inches across with numerous yellow stamens.

One researcher noted that the leaves of the white prickly poppy are so prickly that cattle will not even eat it during severe drought periods.

The seeds of the white prickly poppy are said to be an excellent source of food for quail and other birds because of their high oil content. Additionally, the oil from this plant was used as an alternative fine lubricant during World War II.

Records of its use date as far back as the Aztecs, when their priests would use the plant in their sacrifice rituals. The Comanche’s so revered the plant for its many uses that they made offerings to it during harvesting.

This particular plant was being visited by young katydids.

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Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin

The name says it all for this insect. The Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin waits for bees to land on flowers and then grabs them.

It was amusing to watch a group of these attempt to capture any insect that landed on the flowers – sometimes butterflies much bigger than themselves.

There are at least 100 species of Assassin Bugs, named because of their habit of lying in ambush for their insect prey.

With speed and accuracy, this bug uses its long beak to stab the victim and then inject it with a lethal toxin that dissolves the victim’s tissue, then it sucks up the liquefied tissue.

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White-faced Ibis

Wading birds in the Mojave? It may not seem that it could be possible, but the desert is full of surprises.

These were seen at a Wildlife Management Area I was visiting in Nevada.

The White-faced Ibis is a long-legged wading bird with reddish eyes and a long, slender, downward-curved bill. Its plumage is chestnut colored with green and purple iridescence. These are the first wild ibis I’ve ever seen.

They are found in wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, ponds, rivers, irrigated agricultural lands, along shores, and in shallow water. These birds are wary and shy, making getting close to them difficult.

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Glossy Snake

This snake’s smooth, shiny scales distinguish it from the similar looking Gopher Snake, which has keeled dorsal scales. They are also smaller than gopher snakes, with narrow, pointed heads, and a variety of patterns and colors. Here’s one that I found in Arizona.

It is usually found in relatively flat, open, shrubby areas with sandy soil. This nocturnal ground-dweller is good burrower that spends the majority of its time underground. The Glossy Snake is a constrictor that feeds on small mammals, lizards, snakes, and birds.

It is a mild mannered snake that rarely attempts to bite. I haven’t seen one of these snakes in a few years, so I was stoked to come across one again in the wild.

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Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree, the largest of the yuccas, grows only in the Mojave Desert. Natural stands of this picturesque, spike-leafed evergreen occur nowhere else in the world. Its height varies from 15-40 feet with a diameter of 1-3 feet.

The name Joshua Tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

Joshua Trees (and most other yuccas) rely on the female Yucca Moth for pollination. No other animal visiting the blooms transfers the pollen from one flower to another.

The spiny leaf iis turned upwards in hopes it will catch any moisture in the air. Then it stores the water in the limbs and trunk. The Joshua Tree often grows in groups called groves and has a lifespan of about 200 years.

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Eastern Collared Lizard

If I has to pick my favorite desert lizard, it would probably be the Collared Lizard. Today I went to the Cerbat Mountains in Arizona and found a species of Collared Lizard that I’ve never seen in the wild before, the Eastern Collared Lizard (previously I had found Great Basin Collared Lizards).

Why do I like these lizards so much? Well, with their oversized head, ability to run on their hind legs and their immense appetite for other lizards – they remind me of a miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The two distinct black “collar” markings on its neck is what gives this lizard its common name. It does not hesitate to bite when captured and it can easily draw blood with its powerful jaws. Though it is wary, agile and quick to avoid being caught. This one that I caught today was mild mannered.

This reptile is primarily an inhabitant of rugged terrain with numerous large rocks or boulders that can be used for basking spots and lookouts. It is a decent-sized lizard, often more than a foot in total length.

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