Cellar Spider

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Its habit of living on the ceilings of rooms, caves, garages or cellars gives rise to one of the common names for this arachnid. It is easy to identify, because Cellar Spiders typically have extremely long and skinny legs with small bodies. Cellar Spiders are considered beneficial in some parts of the world because they kill and eat other spiders, including species that are venomous to humans.

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Originally from the subtropics, they are not native to the United States, but are quite familiar to many. I often encounter them in my basement or garage. They are unable to survive in cold weather and consequently are restricted to (heated) houses in some parts of their range. One species, Pholcus phalangioides, is common in buildings worldwide.

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This is the only spider species described by the Swiss entomologist Johann Kaspar Füssli, who first recorded it for science in 1775. Confusion often arises over another one if its common names, because “daddy longlegs” is also applied to an unrelated arthropod – the harvestman.

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An unusual behavior of theirs is that these spiders will rapidly vibrate in a circular fashion in their web if threatened, making them difficult to see. Although they look delicate, they can easily catch and eat other spiders (even those much larger than themselves) and insects.

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A Cellar Spider doesn’t move around very much; it usually stays in its web. It spends most of its life hanging upside down and waiting for prey. The web is usually a very messy cobweb structure.

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When food is scarce, this creature may abandon its web and find the web of another spider. It will then tap on the web, mimicking a trapped insect. When the owner of the web comes to catch its “prey,” the Cellar Spider captures and eats it.

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Cattails are one of the most common and easily identified of our water-loving plants. Most people are familiar with the long green leaves and hotdog-shaped brown flower spikes.


Cattails grow along lake edges and in marshes, often in dense colonies. The plants are often home to many insects, birds and amphibians.


They are a food source for Canadian geese, muskrats, insects and pond snails. Many birds find the soft texture of the seeds appropriate for lining their nests.


The Cattail’s flower has a brown, cylinder-shaped section with a yellow spike and blooms from May to August. In Autumn, the brown cylinder bursts, releasing the cotton-like seeds into the wind.


For centuries its dried leaves have been used for weaving chair bottoms, mats and baskets. The roots are a edible (I’ve eaten them many times) and nutritious (containing more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice).


Despite all its uses to people and wildlife, sometimes this plant is simply nice to look at; it is often featured in autumn-themed floral arrangements.

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Downy Woodpecker

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Not only is this bird one of our most common and widespread woodpeckers, it also has adapted to a variety of habitats. It can be found in mature hardwood forests as well as in fencerows along fields. It also regularly visits bird feeders.

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The Downy Woodpecker, our smallest woodpecker, is six inches long and has a small black bill. It has a white chest and back, black wings with white spots, a black tail and a black head with a white “mustache” and white “eyebrows.”

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This bird always seems to be hard at work, constantly foraging for food or excavating holes in trees to be used as nests. Like other woodpeckers, it has several adaptations that allow it to hammer away relentlessly on trees. This includes a sturdy bill and strong neck muscles. Its brain is encased in a protective cavity in its reinforced skull.

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Another characteristic this bird shares with other woodpeckers is nostrils surrounded by feathers. This helps to filter out the sawdust created by pecking away at wood. The male has a small red patch on the back of his head; the female lacks this marking.

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Downy Woodpeckers use their bills to drill into trees and dig out insects like beetles, wasps, moths and their larvae. In the Winter they sometimes “join forces” and mix with other flocks of different species of birds while looking for food.

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While hiking its pretty commonplace to observe this bird busily searching trees and shrubs in search of insect eggs, cocoons and hibernating insects and spiders. It also consumes nuts and seeds, like this one was doing on the Ohio Erie Canal Towpath. They can be quite acrobatic in their pursuit of a meal.

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I usually don’t have to go far to see this lively creature which stays here year-round – sometimes all I have to do is look out the kitchen window.

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Pixie Cup Lichen

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Pixie Cup Lichen typically grows on moss on the forest floor, usually on logs or at the base of trees. I have these growing in the rock garden in my backyard. Like other types of lichens, it is a symbiotic relationship between algae and a fungus. The algae provide nutrients with their chlorophyll while being protected from drying out by the fungus.

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They are shaped like somewhat battered and sand-blasted miniature golf-tees. This lichen has an extremely rough appearance. The rim of the cup often has a reddish tint. The stem has scales which become larger the further down, as it reaches the ground. The “undergrowth” is a mass of these flattish scales. They are only about half an inch tall.

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The cup is thought to act as a spore dispersal mechanism when hit by raindrops. Pixie Cups and related species contain Didymic Acid which was once collected from the lichen and used in folk-lore medicine to treat tuberculosis.

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Not only is it an example of a symbiotic relationship with a cool shape and texture, but Pixie Cup Lichen is a sign of life that can been seen in the winter if you do some careful searching.

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Freshwater crayfish are a wonderfully diverse group of organisms with over 605 described species of freshwater crayfish distributed throughout North America, Australia, southern South America, Asia, Europe, Madagascar and New Zealand.


They come in a variety of sizes, from the members of the dwarf crayfish, which reach less than an inch as adults, to the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate, the endangered Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish, which reaches lengths over 15 inches and weights of over 11 pounds.


These beautiful creatures come in many colors, including red, blue, orange, green, brown, and even white. There are crayfish with spots, stripes, and various patterns. They also have a degree of ecological variation, inhabiting four main habitat types: fast flowing streams (like where this one was caught), mud burrows, slow water species (ponds and lakes) and cave species.


Like their relatives, lobsters and crabs, Crayfish are crustaceans. They are omnivores and will eat almost anything, plant or animal, live or dead. They belong to the order Decapoda, meaning 10 feet – 4 pairs of legs and 2 pincers. They are not afraid to use those pinchers to defend themselves or to start fights with other Crayfish.


Crayfish have long been used in research to determine the role of vitamin A in vision. They are also a food source for people as well as bait for fishermen. Crayfish have an extraordinary sense of smell. It is estimated that 40% of their brain is devoted to the sense of smell, as opposed to less than 1% of a human’s.


Some people keep Crayfish as pets – including me. Whenever I walk near my the tank, my Crayfish will come running out of its hiding place with its claws above its head, anticipating that I will feed it. Let’s face it: Crayfish may be smarter than we think.

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Eastern Hemlock

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Among the longest-lived species in Ohio, this conical conifer with long, slender branches drooping to the ground grows between 60 and 70 feet tall and is extremely shade tolerant.


It may take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and may live for 800 years or more. Many species of wildlife benefit from the excellent habitat that a dense stand of Eastern Hemlock provides.

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It is easy to identify. The distinctive, flat needles are glossy green above and pale green with two white lines below.


This tree grows best in cool, moist locations such as the north-facing slopes and ravines in eastern Ohio.


Eastern Hemlock has separate male and female flowers in mid-spring. The female flowers quickly develop into small green cones that hang from the tips of the new growth of twigs – here’s a photo from August.

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After the cones mature, turn brown and open to release their seeds; they may remain on the branches for several years. The cones are only about 3/4 of an inch long.


Eastern Hemlock has bark that starts out as fairly smooth, but it eventually transitions to a textured surface with prominent fissures and wide, flattened ridges, having a brown to brown-gray coloration.


Native Americans used the moist inner bark to create a paste to treat wounds and sores. Even today hemlock oil, distilled from the needles and twigs, is used in liniments.


This straight-trunked, gracefully pyramidal tree with long, pendulous limbs and short-needled, feathery branches adds color, shape and texture to the Winter landscape.

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