Yellow-bellied Water Snake


This is the most commonly encountered water snake on my recent trip to southern Illinois. It is named for its yellow belly. Its coloration is mainly gray or greenish with little or no pattern.


Like other species of water snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes give birth to live offspring. The young are pale gray, with a pinkish cast on the sides, with squarish, alternating blotches. These markings begin to disappear during their second year.


Yellow-bellied Water Snakes are a species that is found in swamps, lakes and ponds – where it can be seen basking on overhanging branches or logs in the water.


Water snakes are not constrictors; they simply overpower their food. This species has a preference for frogs, toads, tadpoles and salamanders – but it also eats fish and crayfish.


The Yellow-bellied Water Snake is less aquatic than the other water snakes. During hot, humid weather, it will travel considerable distances away from water. It is unique among water snakes in that it often flees onto land, instead of diving underwater when approached like most species of water snakes.


I enjoy encountering these reptiles, which are quite different looking than the Northern Water Snakes I commonly see in my home state of Ohio.

Third Eye Herp

Great Egret

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While visiting southern Illinois and searching for reptiles and amphibians along the banks of the Big Muddy River, I came across a number of these majestic birds.

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The Great Egret is a member of the heron family. This bird is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed to stop the slaughter of herons for their showy plumes. It is our second largest heron; only the Great Blue Heron (shown in photo above with Great Egrets) is bigger.

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In the early 20th century, they were almost hunted into extinction for their long, attractive feathers that were commonly used as decoration for ladies hats, but their numbers have increased over most of its range and they continue to expand their territories. During the breeding season, both males and females grow long lacy, delicate and flowing plumes on their backs that curl over their tails.

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With a wingspread of 55 inches, their wings are longer and wider than most other white herons. During the day, they forage alone or in mixed flocks, catching fish by standing motionless in the water. The neck has a characteristic kinked S-curve. When prey comes within striking distance, they spear it with their long, sharp bill. The largest part of their diet consists of fish, frogs and crayfish.

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A group of egrets has many collective nouns, including a “congregation,” “heronry,” “RSVP,” “skewer,” and “wedge” of egrets.

Third Eye Herp

Bird’s Nest Fungus

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While I was doing a little yard work this week, I came across something tiny, yet awesome. They look like tiny cups filled with a few dark seeds or, as their name implies, tiny bird’s nests.

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There are several different species of this Bird’s Nest Fungi in northeast Ohio, but they all belong to the same family, Nidulariaceae. The scientific name is derived from the Latin word “nidus,” meaning nest.

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Bird’s Nest Fungi feeds on decomposing organic matter and is often seen growing on decaying wood and in soil enriched with wood chips or bark mulch. These were living where a tree had been cut down almost a year ago and only its ground up stump remained. Like so many fungi, most of the organism is hidden from view. The fungus spends most of its life as a series of nearly invisible threads among strands of decaying wood. The threads secrete enzymes which have the ability to digest wood.

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The cuplike nests which are visible are fruiting bodies which contain spore-filled eggs. The nests act as “splash-cups.” When a raindrop hits one at the right angle, the walls are shaped so the eggs are expelled to as much as a yard away from the cup. This unique little fungus is an evolutionary masterpiece and it was very cool to see it for the first time ever in my backyard.

Third Eye Herp

Autumn Meadowhawk

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Even though it’s November, I’m still seeing a fair number of dragonflies when I go hiking. Most are Autumn Meadowhawks. Their common name refers to the late flight season of this species. This insect lives in a variety of habitats, including marshes, bogs, ponds, lakes and slow-moving streams.

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These are small to medium-sized skimmer dragonflies, known as darters in the UK and as meadowhawks in the North America. Dragonflies are expert fliers. They can fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate in mid-air. Dragonflies catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet.

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Nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is made up of its eyes, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle, except right behind them. Each compound eye contains as many as 30,000 lenses. A dragonfly uses about 80% of its brain to process all this visual information.

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At this time of year when insect life if nowhere near as plentiful as it was a few months ago, seeing one of these brightly colored creatures is a welcome encounter.

Third Eye Herp