Eastern Fox Snake

Eastern Fox Snake_6375

Listed as a “Species of Concern” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, this reptile has a limited distribution around Lakes Erie and Huron in the United States and Canada. In Ohio, it is known from Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky and Erie counties.

Eastern Fox Snake_6550

I was vacationing in this snake’s habitat earlier in the month and I came across one crawling alongside a hiking trail. Eastern Fox Snakes are major predators of small rodents, which can be agricultural pests. The fox snake is an excellent climber and a good swimmer, but it is seen more often on the ground. It frequents fields near streams and marshes.

Eastern Fox Snake_6543

This constrictor is one of Ohio’s largest snakes and may grow to over five feet long. Its color is a yellowish to golden brown, with series of large dark brown blotches. The head is often more red or “coppery” than the body.

Eastern Fox Snake_6544

One of the defense mechanisms of the fox snake is to vibrate its tail as a warning to potential predators. This creates a sound similar to that of a rattlesnake by the rustling of the leaves beneath the snake.

Eastern Fox Snake_6561

When an Eastern Fox Snake is threatened it will secrete a strong substance which some say smells like the musty scent of a fox, hence the name “fox snake.”

Eastern Fox Snake_6559

It was awesome to come across one of these snakes once again in the wild and better still to share the experience with my niece and nephew.

Eastern Fox Snake_6566

Third Eye Herp

June Bug


The June Bug (also known as a May Beetle) is a large brown beetle. They are about one inch long, with a small head, glossy back and slender legs. The beetles fly at night in Summer and are attracted to bright light.


I found this one under a rock, but there are times when I hear them on the window screen at night. They are clumsy and noisy as they try to get into the house, due to them wanting to be near light.


Many species occur in Ohio, all in the scarab genus Phyllophaga. As such, they vary in color and somewhat in size, being some shade of brown, from tan through dark chocolate brown.


Their family, Scarab Beetles is diverse; there are about 30,000 scarab species comprising about 10 percent of all known beetles.


To the ancient Egyptians, scarab beetle symbolized hope and the restoration of life. Seals were created in the shape of a scarab and used to stamp documents. Artisans made scarab jewelry using precious gems and painted clay.


I just like them because they’re big, bulky, awkward and noisy. Who doesn’t like a beetle with personality?

Third Eye Herp



Back in March I noticed the remains of a structure on a tree while on a hike. The Tuliptree, found throughout Ohio, is named for the appearance of its showy flowers and the silhouette of its large leaves, both of which resemble tulips.


In May I checked on the tree, it was forming buds and leaves. The large, alternate leaves have an unusual shape, with a large blade that is almost square, except for the wide notch on its end.


Tuliptree is the tallest tree of eastern forests with the straightest trunks, achieving heights of well over 100 feet and diameters of 4 feet. It is frequently found in moist woodlands and edges of fields, especially on downslopes where water drains.


I made a trip back to see this tree yesterday and it was in full bloom. Tuliptree has the largest solitary flower of any native tree in Ohio. It is characterized by six petals that are yellow-green on the outside and orange-yellow on the inside.


While the flowers are large, they occur scattered in the fully foliaged canopy, and often only occur in the upper canopy of trees at least thirty feet tall. As such, the floral display may go unnoticed, so I considered myself pretty lucky to see this tree’s display at eye level.


Third Eye Herp

Palmer’s Chipmunk

Palmer's Chipmunk_7528

Palmer’s Chipmunks live in a “sky island”— Mount Charleston in southwestern Nevada, surrounded by a desert that the chipmunks cannot cross. These mammals are unique to this area. They occur here and nowhere else in the world.

Palmer's Chipmunk_8187

This species only lives at higher elevations in the Yellow Pine Forest, Pine-Fir Forest and Bristlecone Pine Forest Life Zones. This species can be locally abundant, but is very limited in distribution. The total adult population size is unknown.

Palmer's Chipmunk_8195

The name “chipmunk” is derived from the chipping noises these animals make with their teeth. Loud trilling type noises are used to call to potential mates, as well as in defending territories.

Palmer's Chipmunk_7644

It rarely ventures far from shelter among large rocks, logs, or cliff crevices.  Dens are typically on or near the ground but sometimes it nests in trees in cavities made by woodpeckers.


Palmer’s Chipmunks are omnivorous. Their diet includes seeds, fruits, various plants, fungus, and invertebrates such as worms, snails and insect larvae. Bird eggs and small mice are occasionally eaten.

Third Eye Herp



The Phainopepla is a striking bird, with a noticeable crest and a long tail; it is slender and has an upright posture when it perches. It is particularly notable for its mysterious pattern of breeding twice each year, in two different habitats. It is primarily found in washes, riparian areas and other habitats that support arid scrublands.


This bird belongs to a small group of birds known as the silky flycatchers, but they are not related to true flycatchers. The male is shiny and black with a crest and bright red eyes, while the female is gray.


The Phainopepla has a unique relationship with its main food source, mistletoe berries. Mistletoe berries are dependent on the bird to plant them on the branch of a tree. It does this by eating the berry and digesting the seeds, yet not harming them. The bird’s droppings, which contain the seeds, will hit a branch and then the seed will start to germinate. When there is an abundance of mistletoe berries, Phainopeplas will congregate in the hundreds; otherwise, they are hard to find.


An individual Phainopepla eats at least 1,100 mistletoe berries per day, when they are available. The Phainopepla rarely drinks water, even though research indicates that it loses about 95 percent of its body mass in water per day. Instead, it gets the water it needs from its diet of mistletoe.


The name “Phainopepla” (pronounced fay-no-PEP-la) comes from the Greek for “shining robe,” a fitting characterization of the shiny, jet-black plumage of the adult male. This one one of several really interesting birds that I observed on my Vegas trip.

Third Eye Herp

Sooty Longwing


I’ve come across several of these large, shield-backed katydids on my trip. There is a green version of this insect, but I have yet to see one.


Sooty Longwings are capable of feeding on a number of plant species. However, unlike its eastern relatives, this insect shows carnivorous tendencies and can watched hunting in shrubs at night with a flashlight.


They are attracted to lights and capture and eat other insects that come to the lights. I’ve seen a few walking around paved roads at night, probably scavenging for food.


Mostly found in the desert, they are active from June through November and found in a variety of shrub species such as creosote and mesquite.


The males call on warm nights with a loud, pulsating trill, punctuated by brief pauses. I enjoy the intricate lines and patterns on these katydids – it’s almost like a work of art.

Third Eye Herp

Spotted Leafnose Snake

Spotted Leafnose Snake_7985

While driving in the Arizona desert at night, I spotted a silvery reflection in the road up ahead. I knew it must be a snake, so I hit the brakes, got out of the car, and went over to investigate.

Spotted Leafnose Snake_7809

The Spotted Leafnose Snake lives in areas with mixed sandy soil and rocky or firm soil with some brush cover. It is a small serpent, growing to about 18 inches. It is secretive and nocturnal. This snake preys extensively on small lizards and their eggs, especially geckos.

Spotted Leafnose Snake_7801

The genus name Phyllorhynchus is composed of two Greek words; phyllos, meaning “leaf”, and rhynchos, meaning “nose” or “snout.”

Spotted Leafnose Snake_7811

The enlarged nose scale is believed to aid in burrowing, though this little snake, because of its super-secretive nature, is still shrouded in mystery.

Spotted Leafnose Snake_7812

After taking a few photographs, I carried the snake to the other side of the road and released it into the night.

Third Eye Herp

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine


Great Basin Bristlecone pines are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the environment in which most bristlecone pines grow.


This tree most often grows where conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season and high winds. The examples I saw today were high atop Mount Charleston. Trees in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth.


This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occasionally cached by birds at lower elevations.


While they grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations, they do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.


Not only are they cool to look at, bristlecone pine is the longest lived tree species in the world — a few are known to have lived for over 5,000 years.


I set my sights on finding a particular Bristlecone Pine in Nevada that is over 3,000 years old. The six mile round-trip hike was at times at elevations of over 11,000 feet. I finally did get to meet up with that tree.

Third Eye Herp

Giant Carolina Wolf Spider

Driving remote roads at night, I can see the green reflections from the eyes of large invertebrates on the pavement.

Wolf Spider_7982

Wolf Spiders do not build webs to catch their food. Instead they use their vision and their sensivity to vibrations to hunt for prey.

Wolf Spider_8034

This creature has eight eyes that are arranged in three rows. The bottom row has four small eyes, the middle row has two very large eyes and the top row has two medium-sized eyes.

Wolf Spider_8035

This is a pretty large spider – with a three to four inch legspan.  It may hunt actively at night or wait in ambush at the mouth of its burrow, where it hides during the day. Wolf Spiders are unique among their species because the females carry their eggs along with them in a round silken egg sack attached to their abdomens.

Wolf Spider_8047

Immediately after the babies hatch and emerge from their protective case, they climb up their mother’s legs like a ladder and all crowd together on her back. Here they’ll stay for a few weeks until they’re large enough to hunt on their own.

Third Eye Herp

Arroyo Toad

I took a road trip to Barstow, California. Some friends there agreed to help me look for a Federally Endangered amphibian that I’ve never seen in the wild  – the Arroyo Toad.

Arroyo Toad_6861

The reasons for this toad’s decline are similar to the plight of many amphibians – their specialized habitat is being damaged by water management practices, pollution and invasive species.

Arroyo Toad_6883

When darkness fell, we searched the creek with headlamps. California Toads, American Bullfrogs (an invasive species) and Baja California Treefrogs were found. Although it took awhile, we eventually found Arroyo Toads too.

Arroyo Toad_6898

They are a medium-sized toad that is plump and stocky with dry, uniformly warty skin. The advertisement call of the Arroyo Toad is a fast musical trill, about 10 seconds, rising in pitch, and ending abruptly. We were able to hear a few calling in the night.

Arroyo Toad_6909

Adults eat a wide variety of invertebrates, but mostly consume ants, especially nocturnal, trail-forming tree ants. So insuring that an animal has its food source is important in managing wild populations.

Arroyo Toad_6895

Arroyo Toads have extremely specialized habitat needs, including exposed sandy streamsides with stable areas for burrowing and scattered vegetation for shelter.

Arroyo Toad_6905

In addition, they need areas of quiet water or pools free of predatory fishes with sandy or gravel bottoms that do not contain silt. This is necessary for successful reproduction.

Third Eye Herp