Fathead Minnow

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The Fathead Minnow has natural geographic range extends throughout much of North America, from central Canada south along the Rockies to Texas, and east to Virginia and the northeastern United States. This minnow has also been introduced to many other areas via bait bucket releases.

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Though not very “flashy,” being dull olive-grey in appearance, this is a very successful fish. Their tolerance for multiple environmental conditions, characteristics of their life history and their popularity as bait species contribute to their widespread distribution.

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The Fathead Minnow is quite tolerant of turbid, low oxygen water and can most commonly be found in small lakes, ponds and wetlands. They can also be found in larger lakes, streams and other habitats as well.

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The golden (xanthic) strain is known as the “Rosy Red” and is a very common feeder fish sold in the United States. This color version of the fish is also sold in the pet trade.

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Now only is this well-known to fishermen and aquarists, but to science the Fathead Minnow famous for producing Schreckstoff, which is a distress signal. The alarm substance is released when the fish is injured by a predator and can be detected by other Fathead Minnows, which then hide or dash away.

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And if all that wasn’t enough, this species is also important as a biological model in aquatic toxicology studies. Because of its relative hardiness and large number of offspring produced, EPA guidelines outline its use for the evaluation toxicity of aquatic environments. It has been the most widely utilized North American model for ecotoxicology since the mid-twentieth century.

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Averaging only 2-3 inches long, the Fathead Minnow is a little fish with a lot going for it.

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Even in the winter you can find cool stuff by overturning rocks found in creeks. As the name “Stonefly” implies, they typically crawl around under rocks in streams. These are ancient insects of a very old and stable lineage. They have changed very little in the last million years. They are the aquatic, immature stage of a fairly short-lived winged adult insect.


To make their final transformation, the nymph crawls up overhanging roots, vegetation or rocks protruding from the water, sheds its skin, and flies away as an adult. Adults engage in an interesting behavior known as “drumming.” When drumming, stoneflies strike themselves against an object, producing a signal of pulses and pauses.


Stoneflies are usually associated with well oxygenated streams or sections of lakes with plenty of waves. They are predatory on a variety of other aquatic insects and invertebrates.


They are not just cool to look at, they are also an important part of stream and river fauna, providing food for fish and birds. Their absence is often a good indicator that a stream is polluted. These insects are so important that conservation agencies and game fishermen keep charts of when they hatch.

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Red-breasted Merganser

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Near Station Road Bridge on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I encountered a group of very cool, colorful birds. Red-breasted Mergansers are sometimes referred to as “sawbills” due to the toothy edges of their bills, which allow them to more easily grasp fish.

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The male shows a striking, wide band of white that extends almost the full length of the body and a dark band across his chest. The dark, tufted green head appears black at a distance. This bird’s slender neck and tapered body give it a streamlined appearance when in flight.

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The female Red-breasted Merganser has a has a cinnamon-brown head and dusky gray back, occasionally enlivened by a small white blotch in front of the tail. The female also has lighter red eyes and feet than the male, which tend to be a deep red. Both females and males have a double crest of plumes at the back of their heads.

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Red-breasted Mergansers search for fish mainly in shallow waters. They are a “diving duck” rather than a “dabbler” like a Mallard. They have rapid, efficient flight and can swim and dive well by propelling themselves with their feet. However, they cannot walk well, because their feet are so far back on their bodies.

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These birds are highly social and are usually seen in groups, except during breeding season, when pairs separate to mate and nest. During their fall migration they may gather in large groups of up to 15,000. Red-breasted Mergansers are commonly seen foraging for food and nesting near other bird species.

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They locate food in several different ways: They float at the surface, looking underwater as they go; they dive in deep or shallow water to search for prey; or they dive in formation with other Red-breasted Mergansers to herd schooling fish.

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The unique bill, vibrant colors, and shaggy crest on the back of the head give these birds a distinct visual appeal. Watching their diving and social behavior made for an enjoyable outing that took place only a few minutes from my home.

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Common Teasel


Dried large, spiny, club-like flower heads, some over two inches long and loosely enclosed in cage-like bracts add shapes and colors to Winter landscapes.


Common Teasel’s unique form has allowed it to garner many common names like barber’s brush, brushes and combs, card teasel, church broom, gypsy combs and Venus’ cup – just to name a few.


When alive and green in the Summer, numerous tiny purple flowers appear in circular rows around the flower heads. Here’s one in August being visited by a Tiger Swallowtail.


Common Teasel is native to Europe and was imported into North America, possibly as an ornamental or more likely because the dried flowers were used in wool production. The dried heads were once cultivated by wool companies, fixed as spindles and used to raise nap or tease wool cloth, hence the common name.


This plant tends to be found in damp grassland and field edges or along roadsides. Although picturesque to look at, Common Teasel also is an excellent source of Summer nectar and pollen for insects and Autumn seeds for birds.

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Fox Squirrel

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This squirrel is the largest of the four squirrel species in Ohio; gray, red and flying squirrels are the other three. Fox squirrels were not originally inhabitants of Ohio. The extensive, heavily wooded forest of pre-settlement Ohio was not their preferred habitat. Only when early settlers cleared away forests and created open areas, did this animal make the Buckeye State its home.

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Fox squirrels make use of hickory, oak, beech, black walnut, maple, elm and buckeye trees for food and shelter. Fox Squirrels use two types of nests: leaf and den. Leaf nests are constructed from leaves and twigs and are located in the forks of tree branches. Dens are formed in hollow tree trunks or branches.

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In contrast with our other native squirrels, the Fox Squirrel is less nervous and adjusts well to small woodlots in farmland or suburbia. They can often be seen in city parks…and on my backyard deck. Fox Squirrels have reddish-orange bellies and get their name from that color resembling the color of a Red Fox’s fur.

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Fox Squirrels spend considerable time foraging on the ground, where they move with a rolling walk or hop, searching for food with their keen senses of smell and sight. They don’t hibernate, so they must depend upon buried acorns and nuts, or bird feeders, for winter fare. Many acorns buried in the fall are never found and later sprout to become trees.

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Squirrels’ long bushy tails are used for a variety of purposes. They can be wrapped around a squirrels face to keep them warm or used as an aid in balancing when they run along tree limbs. With a little practice, watching a squirrel’s tail movements gives you a clue to their mood. Quick jerks of the tail signal that they are nervous or upset.

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Squirrels are members of the highly successful rodent family, which includes members ranging in size from tiny mice to the South American Capabara, which is as big as a dog.

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February is an important time for these animals.  That is when they begin raising their offspring. An average of three pups are born naked and blind.  They do not venture out of the nest until they are two months old, and accompany their mother for another three months after that. Squirrels typically live 4-7 years in the wild.

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Black-Footed Polypore

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The Black-Footed Polypore has a smooth, wavy cap that is often sunken in the center. Its off-center stalk is black near the base. It can grow singly or in groups on dead wood and stumps of trees. Although it is typically seen in Autumn, it has the ability to overwinter.

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This species lives within rotting logs as a whitish network of cells that digests and decomposes the dead wood. When ready to reproduce, mushrooms develop and emerge from the log. Not only is its appearance distinct, sometimes convex and sometimes funnel-shaped, but it is rather large – about 8 inches across.


This is one of the many fungus species that live on decaying wood. It and other related fungi play an incredibly important role in breaking down the tough materials wood is made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.

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Mushrooms decorate woodlands the way wildflowers do, adding to our enjoyment of hikes. Many mushrooms are most prominent in the Fall, when wildflowers are winding down. Mushrooms that overwinter are an especially welcome sight on a February day like today.

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