Longtail Salamander

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One of Ohio’s longest salamanders, the tail of this aptly named animal comprises 60-65% of its total length (up to 9”). They do not live in my part of northeast Ohio, but I have found them while visiting the southern part of the state, as well as in Kentucky. The examples in the photos above and below lost sections of their tails, which grow back, though not as long or with the same color and pattern of the original.

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This amphibian can be rather attractive, with a ground color that is usually some shade of yellow or orange, but it may be brownish in some individuals. They feature black spots on their back, sides and legs. The herringbone-like pattern on the tail is the key identifying characteristic to differentiate it from its lookalike – the Cave Salamander.

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Streams, springs, seeps, caves, and wet shale banks are the primary habitats for this amphibian. I usually find them under rocks along the banks of creeks.

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Females lay between 60 and 110 eggs in the Winter and attach them to the undersides of rocks that are submerged in water. The eggs hatch in 4 to 12 into an aquatic gilled larval stage that inhabit streams until they metamorphose.

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Like all salamanders, it is a carnivore. Long-tailed salamanders feed on a wide variety of aquatic and forest-floor dwelling invertebrates such as spiders, flies, mites, ticks, slugs and worms

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This is a lungless salamander that breathes through its skin. Like most other lungless salamanders, the home ranges of adults do not typically exceed more than a few dozen square yards.

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I always enjoy coming across these colorful, elongated creatures while searching for reptiles and amphibians.

Third Eye Herp

Red-bellied Woodpecker

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This woodpecker has a black and white zebra-like pattern on its back and a red neck. Males have red on the crowns of their heads, while females do not.

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As it name implies, there is a red patch edged with yellow on the belly, but it is often hidden from view as the bird perches or feeds against a tree trunk.


Unlike most birds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a zygodactyl toe arrangement. What the heck does that mean, you ask? Answer: Two toes face forward and two face backward. This enables the woodpecker to grasp the bark of tree trunks as it looks for food.


These birds tend to live in old forests with large hardwood trees. Their nests are built in cavities carved into tree trunks.

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Red-bellied woodpeckers have been seen playing. They play by flying and dodging around trees as if they were trying to escape a predator.


Male woodpeckers do not sing well, so they use another strategy to appeal to potential mates. In the Spring, woodpeckers are especially attracted to any sound that resonates, including aluminum shed roofs and even the hoods of cars. These birds often utilize man-made objects to get the word out.

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They eat a wide variety of fruits, nuts, seeds, berries and tree sap, as well as insects. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders – including mine.

Third Eye Herp

Spined Micrathena

If you’ve ever walked through a spider web in the woods, chances are it was a micrathena’s web. As an added “bonus” they tend to make their webs at face level.

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This is a small species, about 1/2 inch long, with a chunky abdomen with ten spines on it. The abdomen can vary in color, but is usually it is whitish, yellow, or brownish-black. Only female Spined Micrathenas build webs. Male are about half the size of females. They only have a couple of spines and a much flatter abdomen.

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To trap prey, this spider builgs her web between shrubs or small trees, three to seven feet off the ground. Insects that try to fly in between the trees don’t see the web and get caught.

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The female Spined Micrathena eats her web each evening and constructs a new web the following morning. I had one that is living in my front yard this past Summer, and she built each web in the same spot.

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In the daytime the spider hangs out in the center of her web, with her head pointing down. As soon as she feels the vibrations of prey trapped in her web, she runs to bite it. These spiders are slow and clums and many insects escape before they are caught.

Male Spined Micrathenas don’t build webs, though they do weave a “mating thread.” The male finds a female’s web, and weaves his mating thread onto her web. When he’s ready, he quickly runs out and mates with her. Males often do not survive the encounter.

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This is a small, yet very cool spider that I usually enjoy coming across (unless I walk face-first into one of their webs).

Third Eye Herp

Dwarf American Toad

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I love toads and finding a new type while on a herping adventure is always a thrill. In October, while visiting southern Illinois, I came across a couple of examples of this little gem.

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As the name implies, the Dwarf American Toad is rather small – about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches. These creatures are often brick red in color without any distinct pattern. The bumps behind their eyes are called paratoid glands; they produce a foul-smelling, toxic chemical. This keeps some predators from trying to eat these toads.

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These amphibians are found in most of the south central region of the United States. They live in habitats ranging from forests, open fields and pastures and even residential areas – as long as the habitat contains leaf litter, sandy or loamy soil for burrowing, moist hiding places, and an abundance of food.

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Toads are most often seen and heard in the Spring when they are breeding. They are also seen frequently in the Fall when they look for new places to live and hibernate. They are mostly active at night.

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Dwarf American Toad are predators and they eat a lot. Insects, spiders, earthworms, snails, and slugs make up most of their diet, but they will eat just about anything that fits in their mouths. They catch food by lashing out with their sticky tongues to grab prey. If the prey is large, they will use their arms to stuff it into their mouths.

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This amphibian’s Latin subspecies name, charlesmithi is in honor of its discoverer, Charles Clinton Smith – an American naturalist and educator in the early 1900s.

Third Eye Herp

Virginia Pine

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Virginia Pine are small to medium-sized pine trees, growing up to 60 feet. They have long, spreading branches and reddish brown bark.

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Their pine cones are small and oval-shaped, up to two-and-a-half inches long; small seeds come from the cones. Their short yellow-green needles are paired and are often twisted.

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I have these trees growing in my front and back yard – they don’t fare well in forests, because thay have shallow roots and must have plenty of sun to survive. They eventually get pushed out by larger trees. Because of this, Virginia Pines are good pioneer plants, meaning they are some of the first trees to take over a field.

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Virginia Pine seeds are consumed by many birds and small mammals. These animals help spread the seeds by carrying them to new places. These trees are a favorite of woodpeckers, because of the soft wood in older trees.

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Another enjoyable aspect of this tree is its easy-to-remember scientific name – Pinus virginiana.

Third Eye Herp