Greenshield Lichen

A lichen is special, because it is not one organism, but two. It is a complicated relationship between a fungus and an alga.

The alga provides nutrients through photosynthesis, while the fungus (which the alga lives inside of) protects the alga from the elements. The result is a new organism distinctly different from its component species.

Lichens are also fascinating because of the diversity of their shapes and colors. They often occupy niches that, at least sometime during the season, are so dry or hot that nothing else can live there. I sometimes see yellow lichens on rocks in the desert, like this one found on Mount Charleston (NV) a couple of years ago.

The successful alliance between a fungus and an alga allows each to do what it does best and thrive as a result of a natural cooperation. Greenshield Lichens are usually greenish-gray. They look a lot like tiny leaves.


Greenshield Lichens live on tree trunks and rocks, preferring shady, damp places – look for them in the woods. Lichens do not damage trees, but over time, a colony of lichens can break down rocks and put nutrients back into the soil.

Lichens are very sensitive to pollution and are an indicator of air quality. Got lichens? Then you’re breathing clean air!

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Brook Stickleback

Today I encountered a fish that I’ve never seen “in person” before, but I knew exactly what it was. This species is easily identified by the four to six spikes on its back.

The Brook Stickleback has a pugnacious attitude. It aggressively defends its small territory from other fish. Despite its toughness, it is small and only grows to about two inches.

Its unique dorsal fin composed of an average of 5 short, isolated, backswept spines – followed by a more typical-looking back fin. This feature makes it distinguishable from all other Ohio fish.

In Northeast Ohio they can be found in small streams. They prefer cold, clear water with submerged vegetation. Sticklebacks eat tiny aquatic insects and crustaceans. They help control mosquitoes by eating the insect’s larvae.

The Brook Stickleback is a nest building species. Males have the ability to produce mucous from their kidneys, which they use to bind together a nest made out of bits of vegetation.

This fish is proof positive that very cool creatures sometimes come in rather small packages.

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American Beaver

The beaver is North America’s largest rodent – it can weigh up to 65 pounds. It is often cited as one of the prime forces motivating exploration and European settlement of the United States and Canada, due to the value of its fur.

Unregulated hunting resulted in a drastic drop in beaver numbers; by 1830, there were none left in Ohio. Wildlife management practices were instrumental and effective in allowing the beaver to return to Ohio and establish a thriving population today.

The beaver has dark chestnut-brown fur, a large, flat, scaled tail and webbed hind feet. It has several special adaptations that are not visible, like valves in its nose and ears that close when it swims. It also has oversized lungs that allow it to retain enough oxygen to stay underwater for 10 to 15 minutes.

The beaver’s behavior is among the most unique and interesting in the animal world. American Beavers alter the existing habitat to suit their needs. Once a beaver has located an ideal habitat, it proceeds to construct an elaborate and effective dam.

Behind the dam, the beavers build an intricate domed lodge made of twigs, logs, and mud, that has at least two underwater entrances. American Beavers live in extended family colonies. This grouping is usually made up of an adult male and female and four or five of their offspring.

They like to eat the bark of aspen, willow, birch and maple trees. Beavers also enjoy the roots of aquatic plants, especially pond lilies. They tend to be most active in the evening and at night. Like all rodents, they need to gnaw to keep their ever-growing front teeth worn down. I could hear this one chewing from where I was standing.

Their broad, flat tail is used to navigate through and under the water. It also functions as a warning device to other beavers. A loud slap of the tail on the water’s surface is an alarm, telling of some type of disturbance or danger in the immediate area.

Beavers don’t just live off the land — they modify it to fit their needs. Only humans change the landscape more. A beaver’s hard work creates valuable wetlands which provides habitat for themselves as well as other wildlife.

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Skunk Cabbage Melting Ice

Skunk Cabbage brings a whole new meaning to the words “power plant.” This ice was thick enough for me to walk on today, yet these spikes had pushed right through it. This plant’s ability to generate heat enables it to grow and flower while snow is still on the ground – even though the plant is not frost-resistant – because frost never touches it.

There are only a few thermogenic (heat generating) plants in the world and in late Winter Skunk Cabbage can produce enough heat to stay between 60 and 95 degrees above the air temperature.

Instead of producing a colorful flower to attract insects, cold-tolerant bees and flies are drawn to the plant’s carcass-like smell. Heat causes the smell to travel farther than normal and once they arrive, pollinating insects have a place to warm up.

That purplish spike serves as a bud that holds and protects the flower when it emerges out of the ground.

To me, Skunk Cabbage is the first sign of Spring around here, so seeing this unique, yet smelly plant is a welcome sight.

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Pileated Woodpecker

Sometimes the best way to find cool wildlife is not by watching, but rather by listening. As I walked through the woods, I heard a noise that got my attention. The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent.

Males can be differentiated from females by their red “mustache” and red crest extending from the forehead, rather than starting at the crown of the head.

This crow-sized bird is quite secretive and more often seen than heard. Its call is often described as a maniacal jungle animal sound, somewhat like a monkey.

Pileated Woodpeckers excavate holes in trees for food storage and nests. The cavities are also utilized by other animals, such as ducks, owls, snakes and squirrels. Unlike  the cavities created by other woodpeckers, the holes they create are rectangular, rather than circular in shape.

Pileated Woodpeckers stay with the same mate for life. Pairs of these birds establish forest territories of 150 acres or larger in woodlands where many large trees are present. They drum on trees with their beaks to attract mates and to announce the boundaries of their territories.

This one is using its powerful, chisel-like beak to pry off tree bark in search of its main food, Carpenter Ants. It uses its long, sticky tongue to poke into holes and drag out the ants. They also eat wood-boring beetles, as well as wild fruits and nuts.

Seeing one of these birds is always a noteworthy experience. I have a pair that live in my neighborhood and sometimes they visit my backyard.

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Evergreen Bagworm

The Evergreen Bagworm is an interesting caterpillar. It has the peculiar habit of living inside a “bag” constructed of bits of the plant material it feeds on, and dragging it around as it eats. When disturbed, the bagworm pulls itself back into the bag.

The bags are carefully interwoven using silk produced by the caterpillar and bits of leaves and twigs from the host plant resulting in a well-disguised covering. On pine trees, its cone-shaped bags are often mistaken for pine cones, which help them to go undetected. At this time of year, eggs are over-wintering inside this bag made by their mother last year. Here’s one that I saw earlier in the week in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The bee-like adult males have clear wings and fur covered bodies. But females do not look like moths (they have no wings, legs, antennae, eyes, or mouthparts) and remain in their silken bags throughout their entire lives.

Nature has an array of clever camouflage, and the Evergreen Bagworm is a great example of a creature that goes about its life largely unnoticed.

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