Common Musk Turtle

The Common Musk Turtle is a small (usually about 4 inches), tough turtle. It is Ohio’s smallest species and one of the world’s smallest turtles.


I’ve had the good fortune of coming across two of them so far this year. These reptiles have an oval, high-domed shell and a large head that usually has two yellowish stripes on each side.


This species is a weak swimmer that is often seen crawling on mud in quiet, shallow water; it is easy to mistake them for stones. There are barbels on both the chin and throat. Perhaps these assist the turtle as it probes the bottom of a stream or pond for food.


It eats a variety of food items, including seed pods, seeds, beetles, moths, dragonflies, crayfish, freshwater snails and other mollusks. It also eats algae, leeches, tadpoles, and fish.


Despite their size and being undeniably cute in appearance, Common Musk Turtles have cantankerous dispositions. They get their name from their ability to relase a bad smell if harassed. This “extra protection” is probably compensates for the reptiles’ small plastron (lower shell) which is reduced in size compared to most turtles and does not offer the armor of its relatives.


They occur throughout the eastern United States in a variety of aquatic habitats. There are regional names given to this creature such as Stinking Jim, Skillpot and Stinkpot. No matter what you call them, I always enjoy encountering these tough little turtles in the wild.


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Lobster Mushrooms


Lobster mushrooms are a fascinating departure from what we typically consider mushrooms. They have a color similar to cooked lobster meat or lobster shell.


This “species” is actually an example of a mold attacking a mushroom. The mold parasitizes Russula brevipes and covers the entire fruiting body with an orange skin.


Eventually, the fungus even begins to transform the shape of the host mushroom, twisting it into odd contortions. Here’s what an unparasitized Russula brevipes (apparently this species has no common name) looks like.


The idea of eating a fungus infected by a mold may sound pretty gross, but Lobster Mushrooms are considered “gourmet food.”


The presence of the parasite dramatically increases the flavor of its host. The taste of a Lobster Mushroom is said to resemble that of an actual lobster. Who knew?


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Smallmouth Bass

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Smallmouth Bass are native to Ohio and are found in every county of the state. They are known for their acrobatic abilities and putting up a very strong fight when caught on hook and line. I caught this one with a net.

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These fish thrive in streams with gravel or rock bottoms with a visible current. They feed primarily on crayfish and other large aquatic invertebrates, but will also feed on small fish and flying insects that fall into the water.

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Despite the common name, their mouth is relatively large, with the upper jaw almost reaching the rear margin of the eye. A distinguishing marking is dark bars which radiate back from the eyes.

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Smallmouth Bass also have dark, vertical bars which are usually green or gray in color. In Ohio, the average adult size is 9-12 inches – this one still has some growing to do.

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Sometimes called a “bronzeback” for its brassy brown hue, the Smallmouth Bass is one of the strongest fish for its weight. The second largest member of the sunfish family, the Smallmouth Bass is only smaller than its cousin, the Largemouth Bass.

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When the railroads spread around the country in the second half of the 19th century, so did the smallmouth. It was transported by train and eventually became a popular sport fish throughout the United States.

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Baltimore Oriole


The Baltimore Oriole is Maryland’s official state bird. It has also been the namesake of the state’s professional baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, since the late 19th century. Baltimore Orioles inhabit Maryland and the rest of the eastern United States only in the Summer months. In Winter, some of these migrating birds live in the southeastern United States, but most fly further south in search of warmer climates.

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Male orioles are a bold orange hue with black wings and a black head. Females are not as brightly colored.


These attractive birds frequent woodlands and mainly eat caterpillars and insects. They supplement their diet with fruits and berries. The Baltimore Oriole’s appetite for caterpillars may help protect forests from some destructive pests.


The nest of the Baltimore Oriole is one of the most distinctive bird nests. Females weave remarkable, sock-like hanging structures from slender fibers. The nest are suspended from small tree limbs. Along with natural materials, string or yarn is usually incoporated into the nest.


The Baltimore Oriole is named for Lord Baltimore, an early leader of the British colony of Maryland. His coat-of-arms was orange and black, like the male oriole. You can sometimes hear the male’s loud, flutelike whistle from the tree tops. It may take some time, but catching sight of one of these brilliant black-and-orange birds is worth the effort.

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Summertime Dragonflies

With the warm weather comes dragonflies. There has been quite a bit of rain the last few weeks, creating an ideal situation for mosquitos. Fortunately dragonflies are predators of small flying insects. Here are a few that I’ve seen recently.

Calico Pennant
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Common Whitetail
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Eastern Pondhawk (male)
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Eastern Pondhawk (female)
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Black Saddlebags
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Ruby Meadowhawk

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Widow Skimmer
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Gray Treefrog


During late Spring and early Summer the trills of male Gray Treefrogs can be heard from treetops and backwater areas of rivers.


The Gray Treefrog lives in moist woodlands and swamps near water. It finds its insect food in the trees and shrubs. This amphibian is very acrobatic and will often jump from branch to branch to catch its prey.

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This is a well camouflaged frog that few people ever see. Encountering one outside of breeding season is largely a matter of chance. The Gray Treefrog has the ability to change colors and can be green, gray or brown. Large, rounded toe disks enable this creature to climb.

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This amphibian has bright yellow or orange on the underside of each hind leg that is believed to startle or confuse predators.

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The Gray Treefrog have the remarkable ability to withstand freezing temperatures. Adults can survive for several days, partially frozen, at up to 20 degrees below zero. They produce a sort of “natural antifreeze” in their blood to accomplish this feat.

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This is my favorite frog; not only because of the characteristics mentioned above and its “friendly looking” appearance, but also because I can hear it calling from my house and on occasion, find it in my neighborhood – like this one from 2011.


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Turk’s Cap Lily

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This gentle giant of Summer is our most spectacular and largest native lily. Up to 40 flowers have been counted on just one plant.

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Turk’s Cap Lily can be found in eastern North America, where it occurs in wet meadows and moist woods from New Hampshire south to Georgia and Alabama – I saw these on the Ohio Erie Canal Towpath.

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This is the tallest of the native American lilies, typically growing 4-6 feet (and less frequently to 8 feet) tall.

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Downward-facing, nodding, orange flowers, up to 4 inches wide, with greenish throats are densely-spotted with maroon. Sharply-reflexed sepals and petals curve backward to touch at the stem, thus forming a “Turk’s cap.”

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The bulb from Turk’s Cap Lily was used by Indians for soup making and seasoning stew and meat dishes, nearly driving the plant to extinction.

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This was a nice plant to see in bloom the week of Fourth of July, as it’s a great example of nature’s “fireworks.”

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