While hiking on Snake Road in southern Illinois a few weeks ago, I came across a couple of examples of this very interesting mammal. These small, golden rodents are adapted to, and occur chiefly in, forested areas. Tangles of trees, vines, and brush seem to be a preferred habitat. They are rarely encountered in or near human habitations.
Unlike most mice, the Golden Mouse is semi-arboreal. Its semi-prehensile tail helps balance and stabilize it. As the mouse travels along vines and branches, the tail is used for balance. When the mouse pauses, the tail encircles the branch or vine.
They build nests and feeding platforms above ground in understory trees and shrubs. Young are born in nests that usually are a few inches to 15 ft above ground in bushes and vines.
Insects and spiders make of about half their diet. They also eat a variety of seeds including Sumac, Wild Cherry, Dogwood, Greenbriar, Poison Ivy and Blackberry.
This species occurs in the southeastern United States and I have never encountered one before. Coming across these cool creatures was an unexpected surprise.
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This is the largest of the native cherries and the only one of commercial value, it is found throughout the Eastern United States – including my backyard. Black Cherry is an aromatic tree; its crushed foliage and bark have distinctive cherry-like odor and bitter taste, owing to the same cyanide-forming toxic compounds found in the wood and leaves.
Its valuable wood is used particularly for furniture, paneling, professional and scientific instruments, handles and toys. The sweet-smelling inner bark of the Black Cherry Tree is used to make black cherry syrup, often an ingredient in commercial cough medicines.
This was one of the first New World trees introduced into English gardens, it was recorded as early as 1629 in Europe. Black Cherry is valued for its ornamental features, specifically its cherry blossoms. The tart fruit of the black cherry tree is an important source of nutrition for many animals and the leaves are eaten by several species of caterpillars.
The bark of young trees is smooth and reddish-brown, maturing to an interesting scaly texture.
It’s hard to imagine a tree that has more to offer than Black Cherry!
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Walking near the Cache River in southern Illinois, I came across this awesome insect. The Wheel Bug is one of the largest terrestrial true bugs in North America, being up to 1-1/2 inches in length. It features a wheel-shaped structure on its back; this is the only insect species in the United States with such a crest.
A type of Assassin Bug, Wheel Bugs are predators upon soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars, which they pierce with their beak to inject salivary fluids that dissolve soft tissue. Because most of their prey are pests, wheel bugs are considered as beneficial to man. They are also known for eating Stink Bugs.
These insects are common in eastern North America, although most residents where they live have never seen them. Wheel Bugs are well-camouflaged and very shy, hiding in leafy habitat whenever possible. They have wings which allow for clumsy, noisy flight.
Once you see a Wheel Bug, you are not likely to forget it. Not only is it the largest member of Assassin Bugs, their bizarre appearance makes quite an impression. It was very cool to come across this terror of the insect world, which I’ve only seen once before.
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This snake averages to 24-36 inches in length and has an hourglass pattern that runs the length of its body. This reptile is well-named named, because of its distinctive feature of a copper or bronze-colored top and sides of the head.
It’s coloration and pattern act as camouflage, as tan, brown and rust-colored bands allow the Northern Copperhead to disappear easily into dried up, fallen leaves, sticks and limbs.
Typically, these snakes use rock outcrops or rocky areas with talus slopes for cover, feeding and as entrance ways to subterranean hibernating quarters. They have a wide range in their diet, which includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even insects.
Northern Copperheads give birth to live babies. Young copperheads are more grayish in color than adults and possess bright yellow or greenish yellow tail tips, which arer used to lure prey. The Northern Copperhead is a venomous snake, though is relatively mild and its bite is rarely fatal to humans.
Like rattlesnakes and water moccasins, copperheads are pit vipers. Pit vipers have heat-sensory pits between eye and nostril on each side of head, which are able to detect minute differences in temperature, so that the snake can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey.
It’s always a thrill to come across one of these beautiful and well-camoflauged snakes when out herping. Last weekend I saw two while visiting southern Illinois, and they were welcome finds
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Bird-voiced Treefrogs inhabit wooded swamplands of the south, where they can be heard calling during spring and summer. I have found several on my current trip to southern Illinois.
This is a small species growing to 1-1/8 inches to 1-3/4 inches long. It is usually has a dark, irregular pattern and a pale grey or brown on its dorsal surface, but its color changes with the temperature and its level of activity, and may it sometimes be pale green.
The Bird-voiced Treefrog is found over much of the southeastern United States. Its favored habitat is wooded swamps near streams and rivers. It blends in very well with the tree trunks where it usually hangs out.
They have large toe pads with adhesive, or sticky, disks on the tips of their toes. They allso have bright “flash colors” on their thighs (which are hidden when the frog is at rest) to visually confuse predators.
They are a highly arboreal species, climbing high into tree and are opportunistic feeders. Their diet consists mainly of spiders and small insects. They are nocturnal and forage for food primarily in trees at night time.
The Bird-voiced Treefrog’s call is a series of piping, bird-like whistles, which occur in rapid succession. This frog is listed as “threatened” in Illinois, where I found the examples in this blog post.
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