Sweetgum: My Favorite Tree

The star-shaped leaves make for easy identification of this tree. It is often planted as a shade tree and for its bright red fall colors. Sweetgums are aromatic, meaning they have a pleasant smell. You can crush a leaf to get a good sense of this.

Oak trees are the only other tree that surpass the Sweetgum in commercial value – its dark reddish-brown hard, heavy wood is used for barrels, flooring, plywood and furniture veneer. Sweetgums often grow with other trees, like maples, oaks, pines and elms.

Sweetgum has woody, spiny, ball-like fruit that is still immature when green, though later in the year, when it turns brown, it opens and releases seeds, which are eaten by birds and animals. I have several of these trees planted at my place of work and some of them are carrying fruit.

But perhaps the most famous use of this tree is that pioneers once peeled the bark and scraped the resin-like solid to produce chewing gum. The resin has also been used medicinally as well as for soaps and adhesives.

It’s genus name is Liquidambar. While in high school and learning tree identification, my teacher told me that its a easy genus to remember, because “You get liquid at the damn bar.” What more can you ask for in a tree?

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Northern Hog Sucker

It was a pretty nice day, so I decided to explore this Ohio creek, because that’s what I do on days like today.

Although it is well camouflaged, I saw this fish in the shallow water – a Northern Hog Sucker. It has a large head and long, slender body.

This fish is known for its sucker mouth on the underside of its head. It almost looks a bit like a cartoon character.

Unlike the majority of other species of suckers in Ohio which are primarily pool oriented, the hog sucker has adaptations for life in fast currents. The Northern Hog Sucker has a very streamlined head and body that deflects the flow of water upward, pushing their body down. This allows them to sit effortlessly on a stream bottom with fast flowing riffles.

Hog suckers require streams with clean gravels and cobbles where they feed on the aquatic insect larva which live there. The rocky streambed also allows the fish to blend in because of their color and pattern.

I enjoyed finally meeting one if these fine fish “up close and in person,” but soon it was time to release it.

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Eastern Newt

Walking along a waterway in South Chagrin Reservation today, I saw a few Red-spotted Newts. There are many different types of newts in the world, but in the United States we just have Eastern Newts (like the Red-spotted) and Western Newts which live in California and all the way up the coast into Alaska.

Newts are a particular family of salamanders that are mainly active in the daytime. Most newts are aquatic and spend a lot of time in the water.

The Eastern Newt has a unique life cycle. They emerge from mid-March to early April from hibernation. Often their first meal of the year is the eggs of other salamanders. Here’s a newt that I saw in March heading over to a woodland salamander breeding pool to eat eggs.

Later, the newts themselves breed. Their own eggs are subject to predation from other animals, but if they’re lucky, they hatch in 3 to 5 weeks. The eggs hatch as gill-breathing larvae, much like other salamanders. They stay this way for three months.

But unlike other salamanders which then metamorphose into adults, they have an imtermediate phase, where they develop lungs and a rough-textured skin. Eastern Newts also turn bright orange and leave the water to live on land. This phase of the is known as a “Red Eft.” Here’s one that I found in Central Ohio.

Red Efts take slow, deliberate steps and do not seem to have any particular destination. The bright colors advertise the young newt’s toxic nature (though they are safe to pick up – just don’t eat one). This “adolescent stage” is unique, no one is sure why the salamanders don’t transform directly into aquatic adults. Red Efts wander the forest floor for a year or two.

Eventually they will make it back to the pond where they originated and change to their adult background color of green, develop a flattened tail for swimming and become aquatic.

There are several subspecies of Eastern Newt. The Red-spotted Newt resides here in Ohio. The Central Newt lives to the west and typically lacks spots; here’s one that I found in southern Illinois last year.

These four-inch amphibians can live for well over 10 years.

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Milkweed Borer

While checking out a some roadside Milkweed plants, I noticed a few of these bright red beetles known as Milkweed Borers. They spend almost all of their time on Milkweed, where they rest, feed, and mate.

Milkweed Borers can make at least two sounds. A “squeaking” noise may be produced if they are held, apparently it is used as a warning signal. A second “purring” noise has also been reported in some species – this may be used in communication between potential mates.


Before feeding on Milkweed leaves, the beetle drains the sticky, toxic sap of the plant by biting the part of the leaf that carrys the sap. Although colorful, Milkweed Borers are small, usually only about 3/4 of an inch long.

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Baby Reverse Okeetee Corn Snakes

In 1953 a wild albino Corn Snake was discovered. Hobbyists call snakes lacking black pigment “albino,” which is different from the all-white albino lab mice and other all-white animals most people associate with the word albino.

Dr. H. Bernard Bechtel was studying genetics and found that the albino gene was a simple recessive genetic trait and was easy to reproduce. The orange coloration made for an especially attractive looking snake. Years later other color and pattern morphs were put in the mix. Here is one of my Corn Snakes laying her eggs in mid-May.

An albino Corn Snake with wide white borders around its blotches is referred to as a “Reverse Okeetee.” Okeetee Corns occur in South Carolina and are known for their wide, black borders. In the printing industry a “reverse” is to print something black in white and vice versa.

Corn Snake eggs generally take 60-70 days to hatch, depending on the temperature. When a snake uses its eggtooth to break through its shell its called “pipping.” Young snakes stay in their eggs for 1 to 3 days after pipping.

Often after hatching snakes are of a dull hue, this is because they go through a shed cycle and there is a layer of filmy liquid between the snake’s new skin and the one its about to cast off. Corn Snake clutches typically have around 16 eggs.

This is what they look like around a week later, after their first shed. Baby Corn Snakes eat newborn mice, small frogs and lizards. Corn Snakes are the world’s most popular pet snakes. Their range of colors and patterns, gentle disposition, convenient adult size and low maintenance attributes make them an ideal pet.

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Boneset was a favorite medicine of the North American Indians and it has always been a popular modern herbal remedy in the United States, probably with no plant in American domestic practice having more extensive and frequent use; it is also in use to some extent in regular practice, being official in the United States Pharmacopceia.

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“Boneset” alludes to the use of the plant to treat broken bones, although it may also come from its use to treat dengue fever, which was also called “breakbone fever,” because of the pain that it caused.


Its Latin species name perfoliatum, refers to the leaves and stem; the stem appears to pierce the leaf (perfoliate), making this an easy plant to identify.

This is one if Ohio’s few late-blooming summer flowers and it is quite attractive to butterflies. Although it is said to often grow along roadsides, I almost always see Boneset along creeks and other waterways.

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Luna Moth

I took a trail in the evening on a path that I had never been on before. After going a couple of miles through the woods, the path ended on a busy road. I walked up the road to get back to my starting point. As I hiked, I noticed this alongside the four lane street – a Luna Moth.

Luna Moths are arguably the most beautiful moths of North America. The Luna Moth is also one of the most recognized moths; it is used commercially by the company Lunesta in television commercials. This insect was also featured on a first-class postage stamp in 1987.

Luna Moths are known for their beautiful, pale green wings and their “tails.” Every luna moth also has four eyespots, which are used to scare off predators. They belong to the family Saturniidae, which are the Giant Silkworm Moths.

Males and females are similar in appearance, but the antennae of the males appear more feathery. This nocturnal insect is found in hardwood forests in North America. I decided to move this one further away from the road and into the woods to keep it safe from traffic.

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Santa Cruz Garter Snake Giving Birth Today

Santa Cruz Garter Snakes only live in California from the San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Barbara County. There are no native water snakes that live in the Golden State, so this reptile fills that ecological niche, eating fish and frogs and using waterways as an escape route – it dives well and can stay submerged for quite some time.

I became fascinated with this species after seeing the one-striped morph on the cover of a book. I have been breeding them for four years now, though I’ve never seen one give birth until today.

Babies are born in a clear membrane that they break out of. Birth occurs typically 90 to 100 days after mating. This species usually has about a dozen offspring.

Young Santa Cruz Garter Snakes are miniature replicas of their parents. Shortly after breaking through their membranes, they shed their skin.

These snakes are completely independent of their parents and ready to start hunting for food. I feed mine small fish that I catch in the creek in my backyard.

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Baby Northern Pine Snakes

Remember the post of my female Northern Pine Snake laying eggs at the beginning of June? Well her eggs started hatching a couple of days ago. This one was the first one out.

Pine Snake eggs usually take about 65 days to hatch, depending on the temperature.

Young pines are completely independent of their parents and can hiss, strike, catch food and constrict right after hatching.

They can be surprisingly big babies, often around 18 inches in length.

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Double-crested Cormorant

While on a visit to CanalWay Center I saw this cool bird. The gangly Double-crested Cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black diving bird with yellow-orange facial skin. It is a large waterbird with a small head on long, kinked neck. This bird has a thin, strongly hooked bill. During breeding season, adults develop a small double crest of stringy black or white feathers.

Double-crested Cormorants float low on the surface of water and dive to catch small fish. After feeding, cormorants need to dry their wings. They do not have oil in their skin to protect their feathers from getting wet, like ducks and other water birds do. Cormorants find a perch and stretch their wings out until they are dry.

There is no other bird in Ohio that has undergone the tremendous population explosion of this bird. The use of unregulated pesticides like DDT caused a severe decline in their numbers from the 1950s through the 1970s. The comorant’s comeback is a result of the disappearance of these toxins from the environment.

Double-crested Cormorants often associate with other birds. Nests are built in trees alongside Great Blue Herons and other heron species. Cormorants will feed with other water birds, such as gulls, ducks and herons. These birds help each other with finding food and watching for predators. When threatened, a Double-crested Cormorant may vomit fish at a predator.

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