Northern Slimy Salamander

forest_09_16 029

There are several common ways a small and relatively defenseless animal might avoid being eaten by predators. One method might be blending in with the surrounding environment, thereby avoiding detection. Another tactic would be the ability to make a fast escape. Still another strategy to not be eaten is to be poisonous, or at the very least, distasteful. The Slimy Salamander, however, employs none of these techniques.

slimy salamander_0936

This amphibian might be better named if it were called the “Sticky Salamander,” because it secretes a glue-like substance from its skin when threatened. This substance can be very difficult to remove from hands or clothing. It prevents the animal from being eaten by some predators. It’s scientific species name glutinosus is the Latin adjective “sticky.”

slimy salamander_0931

The relatively cool, wet Summer we’ve been experiencing has made for ideal conditions to come across this woodland salamander and I’ve seen a few over the past several weeks. This attractive amphibian is black with a scattering of small silvery-white flecks all over it. The amount of flecking can vary among individuals; flecks may be absent on some and plentiful on others.

slimy salamander_3028

The Northern Slimy Salamander is found throughout much of the northeastern United States. Though slender, it is relatively long, reaching total lengths of over 7 inches. It likes to hide under rotting logs or in stumps. Although entirely land-dwelling, it needs a damp habitat. It is a lungless salamander, so wet conditions are essential, because it breathes through its moist skin.

slimy salamander_3034

The Slimy Salamander emerges from its burrow at dusk and retreats at dawn. It hunts insects and other small invertebrates and catches food by flicking out its tongue. It is occasionally active on rainy days. Not only is it good looking, but the Slimy Salamander is also a true original when it comes to defending itself.

Third Eye Herp

Red-headed Woodpecker

red-headed woodpecker_4974

Can a bird be inspirational? Adult Red-headed Woodpeckers are so striking that the sight of one motivated Alexander Wilson, the author and illustrator of the early 1800s, nine-volume work American Ornithology, to become an ornithologist.


The gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker is so boldly patterned it’s been called a “flying checkerboard,” with its entirely crimson head, a snow-white body, and half white, half inky black wings.

red-headed woodpecker_5021

Adult males and females are impossible to tell apart in the field. Immature birds have a buff-brown or “dusky” head and back.


These birds don’t act quite like most other woodpeckers. Red-headed Woodpeckers are less likely to drill for food than other species. Instead, they fly down to the ground to capture insects or they catch prey from the air.


They also eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, often hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later. They have been known to wedge live beetles or grasshoppers into cracks in wood to store them for future use.


The Red-headed Woodpecker has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply. It can be found open woodlands and forest edges and clearings, river bottoms and wooded swamps. It especially likes areas with dead or dying trees.


This year was my first year to have seen these magnificant birds and I’ve been lucky enough to find them several different times throughout the year in different locations.


Third Eye Herp

Staghorn Sumac


The common name for this tree is derived from the fine, felt-like hairs on young stems, giving them the texture of a deer’s antlers.


“Back in the day” Native American Indians made a lemonade-like drink from its crushed fruit. And tannery workers used the tannin-rich bark and foliage as a tanning agent.


This is a small (15-30 foot) colony-forming, tree with crooked, leaning trunks, picturesque branches and velvety twigs.


On female plants, yellow-green flowers are followed by fuzzy, bright red berries in erect, pyramidal clusters which last throughout winter.


Many species of birds have been observed eating the fruits of Staghorn Sumac, especially during the Winter months.


This is one of the first trees to change color. Vibrant orange, vermilion, vivid yellow and sometimes purple may be seen all together on a single tree. I’ve noticed that the leaves on some trees start turning in late July.


Staghorn Sumac is shade intolerant, so is most often found along the edges of forests, in forest openings, on the edges of grasslands and fields and along roadsides.


With appealing features that can be enjoyed year-round, Staghorn Sumac is indeed a tree for all seasons.


Third Eye Herp

Eastern Cottontail


This is a very adaptable mammal. I’ve seen them at school, work and occasionally in my backyard. The rabbits in this post were all seen near the Lake Erie shore while on a recent trip to Pennslyvania. Eastern Cottontails communicate with each other by thumping with their back feet against the ground.


Historically, the Eastern Cottontail inhabited fields, swamps and hardwood forests. These days it prefers “edge environments” between woody vegetation and open land. Its range of habitats includes meadows, orchards, farmlands and hedgerows.


They can be seen year-round. At this time of the year they browse in the evening and at night on grasses and herbs (they are also fond of garden fare). In Winter their diet consists of bark, twigs and buds.


During the day, cottontails often remain hidden in vegetation. Cottontails have keen eyesight and hearing. When danger is sensed, a rabbit will usually freeze in place until danger has passed. If approached too closely, they flee, running in a zigzag pattern, sometimes reaching speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.


This animal is an essential element of the food chain, serving as prime prey for many predators. As a result, Eastern Cottontail life expectancy is extremely short – one year or less – requiring the prolific reproduction so often attributed to rabbit species. Adaptability pays off; Eastern Cottontail is one of the most common mammals of both the natural and the human-generated ecosystems in North America.

Third Eye Herp

Indian Pipe

indian pipe_0567

This white apparition has appropriately been called Ghost Flower, Corpse Plant, or more commonly, Indian Pipe. “Indian pipe” is descriptive of the shape of the plant, with its flower curved downward, so that it faces the ground.

indian pipe_0463

The scientific name, Monotropa uniflora, means “once-turned, single flower.” Each stalk bears a solitary flower that turns upward after pollination and remains that way as the fruit develops. The flower turns black with age or if picked.

indian pipe_1926

Indian Pipe is a plant that lacks the green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is necessary for photosynthesis, the process which allows plants manufacture their own food in the presence of sunlight.

indian pipe_1577

Lacking chlorophyll, Indian Pipe is unable to produce its own food and therefore has no need for true leaves, which are replaced by small scales along the stem. It is able to inhabit the darkest areas of the forest where sunlight is in short supply.

indian pipe_0548

Indian Pipe fulfills its nutritional needs through the services of an intermediary fungus. The fungus forms a connection with Indian Pipe and nearby trees and transfers some of the photosynthate it derives from the tree roots to the Indian Pipe.

indian pipe_1599

The ethereal appearance of the Indian Pipe, with its pallid stem topped by a nodding, white flower makes this “Summer ghost of the forest” perhaps the most easily identifiable wildflower.

indian pipe_0549

Third Eye Herp



This insect is commonly known as “Viceroy” because it is similar, but smaller than the two other butterflies it resembles — the Queen and the Monarch. However, it is only distantly related to these species.


The Viceroy belongs to a group called the “Brush-footed Butterflies,” which have four functional legs and two very small front legs which are not used for standing on. These legs are more for “tasting” than walking.

viceroy_08_31 012

This butterfly occurs in moist open or shrubby areas such as lakes, swamp edges, willow thickets, valley bottoms, wet meadows and agricultural and rural areas.


Last month I found this Viceroy caterpillar. In all life stages of life, the Viceroy mimics something. The eggs resemble parasitic insect galls that affect plants. The caterpillars and chrysalis’ resemble bird droppings. And the adult resembles the poisonous Monarch Butterfly.


I set the caterpillar up in a small terrarium and fed it willow leaves.


One day at about 10:00AM, I noticed the caterpillar hanging upside down, preparing to transform into its next stage in life.


By 3:00PM on the same day the caterpillar had formed its chrysalis. It stayed that way for a week before emerging as an adult butterfly.


Here is the Viceroy about to be released.


Ever wonder what it’s like to fly for the first time?


Third Eye Herp