Hairy-tailed Mole

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I was walking along the Cuyahoga River on a cloudy day when I stopped to listen to and photograph a Baltimore Oriole that I heard calling. While enjoying the sight and sounds of the orange and black bird, I heard something shuffling at my feet. I looked down and saw this Hairy-tailed Mole crossing the railroad tracks.

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As the name implies, this mammal is very similar to an Eastern Mole, except that it has a distinctly hairy tail. Its broad front feet with outward-facing palms help it to dig through soil. Since it spends most of its time underground, its eyes are tiny and it has no external ear openings.

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The Hairy-tailed Mole is about six inches in length and has a long, red-tipped snout. As in other moles, its fur is short, very dense, soft, and silky – and therefore a good coat for traveling through underground tunnels.

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The Hairy-tailed Mole digs deep tunnels, and then loosens soil particles with one front foot at a time. It then pushes loose soil under its body with the front feet and kicks the soil backwards with the hind feet. By shoveling the residual piles to the surface this animal cleans the tunnel and creates a characteristic molehill, about 3 inches deep.

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This animal spends most the day underground searching for food. They have a voracious appetite for insects, including destructive types, such as cutworms and Japanese beetles; the mole’s daily food consumption can equal 50-100% of its weight. The underground tunnels that they create may be used eight years or more by many generations of moles.

Third Eye Herp

Rove Beetle

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While visiting Lake Hope in Hocking Hills, I came across a couple of examples of this interesting insect. Rove Beetles are primarily distinguished by their short wing covers that typically leave more than half of their abdomens exposed.

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Their family is an ancient group, with fossil Rove Beetles known from the Triassic, 200 million years ago, and possibly even earlier. Most Rove Beetles are predators of insects and other invertebrates living in forest leaf litter. They are commonly found under stones, around the edges of freshwater environments.

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This type is known scientifically as Platydracus maculosus and is the largest and one of the most commonly encountered species, though its maximum size is only about an inch long. The brown spots on its abdomen are one of its identifying characteristics.

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These cool creatures are not harmful to humans and are considered beneficial because they are predators of insect pests.

Third Eye Herp

California Striped Racer

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One morning last month while hiking near Santa Cruz, California I encountered this fine reptile. It has a distinctive “look” with a bold pattern, thin body, large eyes, elongated head and smooth scales.

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These serpents are also known as Whipsnakes and are long, slender and fast-moving (a yellow-orange “racing stripe” runs down each side of their body). They are active in the daytime and inhabit chaparral, scrubland, open woodlands and rocky hillsides.

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California Striped Racers can reach 5 feet, but are usually 3 to 4 feet long. They are whitish, cream, pale yellow, or orange below, becoming coral pink on the underside of the tail.

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These reptiles are known to eat a variety of prey including insects, lizards, snakes, birds and small mammals. They show a strong preference for lizards, which are captured by a grasp of the mouth and swallowed alive.

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California Striped Racers hold their heads high to look over grass or rocks. They are good climbers that can escape into shrubs or trees. It was awesome to see this snake on my visit to the Golden State.

Third Eye Herp

Tule Elk

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I saw these majestic animals on my visit to California. This is a subspecies of elk native is to California and found nowhere else, ranging from the grasslands and marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills on the coast.

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When the Europeans first arrived, an estimated 500,000 tule elk roamed the state, but by 1870 they were thought to be extinct, primarily due to uncontrolled hunting and displacement by cattle. By some accounts, fewer than 30 remained in a single herd near Bakersfield in the mid-1870s. Through conservation efforts, their numbers are now around 4,000.

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Elk are highly social animals, but the extent of herding can vary by their gender and the time of year. A fully matured bull (or stag) can weigh 700 pounds with the females about three-fourths as large. Only males have antlers, which are rounded and widely spread and average four to six points on each antler.

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These mammals play a critical role in preventing succession of open grasslands to less diverse, shrub-dominated ecosystems. Their grazing seems to have a positive impact on native grassland species abundance and diversity.

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The Tule Elk will probably never return to their historic numbers or range because of human’s use of the land and lack of suitable elk habitat, but it was cool to see these animals for the first time.

Third Eye Herp

Yellow-eyed Ensatina

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An Ensatina is a type of lungless salamander found in coniferous forests, oak woodland and chaparral. I came across a few of them on my recent visit to California.

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One of their characteristics are their large, expressive eyes. They also feature a tail that is constricted at the base. A bright yellow patch on the eye gives this salamander its common name.

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This subspecies of Ensatina is orange-brown to dark brown above, with orange coloring below. They are typically 3-5 inches in total length.

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Since they are lungless, they conduct respiration through their skin, which requires them to live in damp environments on land and to move about on the ground only during times of high humidity.

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When feeling threatened, an Ensatina can drop its tail to distract the attention of a predator while the amphibian can crawl away to safety. The tail can grow back. As another defense behavior, an Ensatina will stand tall in a stiff-legged defensive posture with its back arched and its tail raised up and secrete a milky white poisonous substance, while swaying from side to side.

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These amphibians eat a wide variety of invertebrates, including worms, ants, beetles, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs and snails. They tend to catch their food with their sticky tongue, like a toad does.

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These are neat creatures to encounter and I had a great time seeing them in the field when herping California.

Third Eye Herp