Bumble Bee

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The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Insect life here in northeast Ohio is much harder to come by as November approaches. But on days like today it’s still possible to see Bumble Bees while hiking. The remaining Thistle and Aster flowers provide the last opportunities for them to eat until next year.


These are large, social bees which produce annual colonies. Mated queens overwinter in the soil and emerge from hibernation in early Spring, when they feed and search for a suitable location, such as a former rodent burrow in the soil, to begin their colonies.


Though they have a severe sting, these are beneficial insects that pollinate many native and ornamental plants. In some cases a pollen basket on the hind legs of female bees can be seen. Bumble Bees rely entirely on flowering plants for food.


Bumble Bees have the rare physiological capability (among insects) to choose to thermoregulate. They are able to generate heat in their muscles, by shivering, to reach the required minimum temperature needed for flight.


The length of the insect’s tongue governs its food-plant choices, with bees preferring flowers with a similar depth to their own tongue length, as this tends to maximize the rate at which they can gather nectar. Tongue length varies among species, so different Bumble Bee types with different tongue lengths tend to visit different food-plant sources.


These insects are significant pollinators of many flowering plants throughout the native ranges with which they co-evolved mutually beneficial relationships, receiving food in return for providing pollination.


Bumble Bees are also extremely important pollinators for agriculture. Unlike Honey Bees, their ability to thermoregulate allows them to forage under cold, rainy and cloudy conditions. This makes them excellent pollinators for a variety of crops in temperate regions.


The common name of “Bumble Bee” possibly comes from their rather large, clumsy appearance and loud buzzing sound they make as they fly. Despite their awkward movements, scary buzzing sound and painful sting, Bumble Bees are one of the most beneficial animals in nature and they make our lives better every day.

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October 2013 Herp/Leaf Combos

The last reptiles and amphibians of the year seen this month, along with the changing colors of Autumn leaves.

Two-lined Salamander/Red Maple
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Common Snapping Turtle/Shagbark Hickory
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Black Rat Snake/Red Oak
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Green Frog/Cottonwood
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Midland Painted Turtle/Sycamore
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Redback Salamander/Tuliptree
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Slimy Salamander/Sugar Maple
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Bonus Non-herp: Mantis/Catalpa Tree
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Turtlehead is also known as balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth and turtle bloom.

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Its scientific name is Chelone glabra. In Greek mythology, there was a nymph named Chelone who insulted the gods; in punishment, she was turned into a turtle. The flowers of this plant are said to look like the heads of turtles. In Latin glabra means smooth, because of the texture of this plant’s stems and leaves.

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I found these examples on the Ohio Erie Canal Towpath. Turtlehead is usually found along stream banks on damp ground and typically grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. Turtlehead serves as the primary host plant for the very rare Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, Maryland’s official state insect.

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Its flowers are in a densely packed spike at the top of the main stem. It has narrow, sharp-toothed, opposite leaves.

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This member of the Figwort/Snapdragon family has distinctive, two lipped tubular flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. The upper lip arches over the lower lip, creating the resemblance to a turtle’s head.

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American Giant Millipede

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Although the name millipede means “thousand legs,” most millipedes have more like 300; a California species, Illacme plenipes, holds the record at 666 legs.

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It’s hard enough for us to just count these legs, so it’s a real wonderment that a millipede is able to coordinate them all and move about so effortlessly by night on the forest floor.

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To prevent dehydration, they are confined to moist habitats in soils, leaf litter, or beneath stones and wood. If disturbed some millipedes protect their heads by curling into a tight spiral.

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Most millipedes feed on decomposing vegetation or organic matter mixed with soil. Millipedes are very important, because they help put nutrients back in the soil for plants and other organisms to use.

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This particular type of millipede can get to 4 inches long, making it twice as big as any other millipede native to the United States.

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In the Fall these can be seen migrating across roads, seeking places of shelter to wait out the Winter. They are not particularly common in northern Ohio, but become easier to find as you head south.

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Blanchard’s Cricket Frog


Around here these small (about 1 inch), warty-skinned amphibians can be quite common. They are usually brown or grayish with darker banding on their legs and often have a dark triangular mark between the eyes.


The Blanchard’s Cricket Frog is usually found in the open sandy or muddy areas around streams and ponds. They also can utilize temporary water bodies if near permanent water. I usually see them around large puddles.


If startled, they end up hopping into the water. Though unlike most frogs which dive when alarmed, cricket frogs usually get a few feet out into water and then turn back around and head back to the shore.


This tiny frog gets its name because it resembles a cricket while hopping along through the grass.


It has a distinctive breeding call consisting of a rapid series of metallic clicks, similar to the sound made when two pebbles or marbles are tapped together.


Unfortunately this species is declining rapidly across much of its entire range. I am glad to have encountered them on this trip.

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Western Mud Snake


Today I found one of the most unusual, elusive and beautiful snakes in the United States for the first time.

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The Mud Snake is a highly-aquatic snake that is seldom seen because of its secretive habits. They are an iridescent glossy black with a red-and-black checkerboard belly pattern and the red often extends up the sides of the body.

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Mud Snakes have a spine-like scale at the tip of their tail, and thus are sometimes known as “horn snakes.”

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They are highly aquatic and spend most of their lives hidden in aquatic vegetation and debris. Unlike many other water snakes, Mud Snakes seldom bask out of the water and are seldom seen, even by dedicated naturalists and herpetologists.

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Adults feed primarily on giant aquatic eel-like salamanders. It uses its uniquely pointed tail to prod its prey, causing it to uncoil for easier swallowing. Though the example I found was about two feet, this snake can grow to six feet in length.

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It was a thrill to finally encounter this fascinating reptile for the first time.

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White Snakeroot

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White Snakeroot usually occurs in and around shady woodlands. It is a common and well-known Fall wildflower that has flat-topped clusters of small fuzzy white flower heads. The flower heads eventually transform to black seeds with silken parachutes attached to carry them away. The leaves are long, large-toothed and somewhat heart-shaped on long stems.

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It’s fitting that this wildflower grows along the edge of Snake Road in southern Illinois. White Snakeroot contains the toxin trematol, responsible for “milk sickness,” which caused problems for the livestock of early European settlers and killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother in 1818. When eaten, the toxins will pass into milk produced by animals that ingest the plant, and the tainted milk can fatally poison humans.

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This is one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the Fall. The flowers are often fragrant and their nectar attracts a variety of insects.

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The common name of this species derives from the erroneous belief among early settlers that the bitter roots were beneficial in the treatment of snakebite. In fact, the foliage and roots are highly toxic.

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Cave Salamander

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Are you ready to spend a few days in southern Illinois? I found this small cave in the “Land of Lincoln,” let’s see what creatures lurk inside.

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Cave Salamanders! These exceptionally slender salamanders are usually around 6 inches in length. They are easily identified by their bright ground color. The young of this species is often yellow in color, while the adults are usually a bright orange with black spots randomly covering their body.

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These colorful creatures remind me of geckos, the way they can run up the sides of cave walls. When pursued, a Cave Salamander scampers quickly, often waving its tail to distract attention away from its head.

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Although it usually occurs in caves, this species also can live in wooded areas, along rocky streams and springs, under rocks on glades during the spring and even in wells and swamps.

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Those living in caves live in the twilight zone, the dimly lit area beyond the cave entrance, but also occur far back in areas of permanent darkness.

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The Cave Salamander’s diet consists mostly of small insects and other invertebrates. It’s always a thrill to encounter this exceptionally beautiful amphibian.

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Chicken of the Woods

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It would be hard to miss this layered, fan-shaped, fleshy, big orange-to-yellow mushroom when hiking through the woods.

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They are easily recognized by their large clusters of overlapping brackets and bright colors. They tend to lighten in color near the edges. The colors fade as the mushroom grows older.

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It’s edible and considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. This mushroom has a lemony, meaty taste. Some think it tastes like its chicken namesake; others describe the flavor as being more like crab or lobster.

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Chicken of the Woods is frequently discovered during the Summer and Fall, but only rarely in Winter or Spring.


Although nice to look at, it also performs a function. This is one of the many fungus species that live on decaying wood and it plays an important role in breaking down the tough materials wood is made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.

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