Mole Salamander

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This 3 to 4 inch amphibian seems to have a head and feet too big for the rest of the creature. It kind of reminds me of a Bulldog.

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Mole Salamanders are black, brown or grey in color, with pale bluish or silvery flecks. Adults are found in forested habitats like bald cypress and tupelo swamplands, flatwoods sloughs and nearby ponds. I sometimes find them under logs or in moist leaf litter.

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These were all from a swamp edge I investigated while visiting southern Illinois. Adult Mole Salamanders are nocturnal and burrow during the day; their common name comes from their underground lifestyle.

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Adults move to fish-free pools or swamp edges for courtship and egg-laying during late autumn and winter rains. Females attach 200-400 small eggs, in jelly-covered clusters, to underwater twigs and leaves.

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Mole Salamander larvae transform during summer or autumn and, in a few permanent ponds, some large larvae are known to overwinter. They have gills and breathe like fish until they metamorphose into adults.

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It is always cool to come across this oddly proportioned amphibian, which is not native to my home state of Ohio.

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Leopard Slug

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The Latin name for this creature is Limax maximus, which literally means “biggest slug.” It is also known by the common name Great Grey Slug. Although I occasionally see them in my home state of Ohio, I saw quite a few while visiting southern Illinois.

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Adults measure 4 to 8 inches in length and are usually a light grey or grey-brown with darker spots and blotches, although their coloration and patterning is quite variable. Although native to Europe, this species has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world.

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It makes its home in forests, but is often also found in cellars and in cultivated areas. Leopard Slugs are mainly active at night, though they may also be seen in daytime during wet, warm and overcast weather. During the day they hide under stones, logs and in dark wall crevices.

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Leopard Slugs don’t tend damage living plants, but instead eat other slugs, including species that can damage garden plants and vegetables. They also eat dead and rotting plants along with fungi and this recycles nutrients and fertilizes the soil.

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All slugs are slimy, but this species is especially so, giving it a highly unappealing and defense against predators.

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Eastern Hognose Snake

eastern hognose snake_5669While driving down a country road in southern Illinois this month, I came across one of the most unusual serpents in North America. This snake is found in woodlands with sandy soil, fields, farmland and coastal areas. It is active during the day.

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This Eastern Hognose Snake gets its name from its upturned snout, which it uses to dig up its favorite food – toads. It is medium-sized, usually 2 to 3 feet in length and stocky. This reptile can be yellow, brown, gray, black, olive or even orange. It often has large rectangle-shaped spots and blotches down its back and sides, but it can also be solid black or gray.

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The “claim to fame” of this creature is its remarkable defensive behavior. It will first hiss loudly and inflate its neck in a cobra-like fashion. This has led to local names like “puff adder” or “hissing viper.” It is only bluffing, however, and rarely bites. Its bite is harmless to humans.

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Then, if the bluff fails to ward off the potential predator, the Eastern Hognose Snake will begin writhing about before flipping over on its back and playing dead. At this point the it will appear to be completely lifeless, unless turned over on its belly, upon which it will promptly flip over on its back again.

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Female Hognose Snakes lay their eggs in early summer and the young snakes hatch out about 60 days later; they are able to spread their necks and hiss immediately upon hatching.

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I was thrilled to come across this extraordinary creature that I have not seen in the wild in several years.

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Green Treefrog

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These frogs are found in the central and southeastern United States and have large toe pads to help them grip the trees and other plants they climb. They may have a light white or yellowish stripe that runs from their jaw along the side of their body.

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The Green Treefrog can be found in marshes, wet fields, cypress swamps and along the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. It likes spots with lots of ground cover and aquatic vegetation. During the day, it often sleeps on the undersides of leaves or in other moist, shady places; I saw this one napping on Poison Ivy near a swamp.

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The creatures are sometimes called rain frogs. Some people think that they are good indicators of rainy weather because they call loudest during damp weather.

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Like many other frogs, Green Treefrogs are insectivores that commonly consume flies, mosquitoes, and other small insects. Males are usually smaller than females and have yellow to greenish-yellow throats.

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A familiar backyard species, it is popular as a pet, and is the state amphibian of Georgia and Louisiana.

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Black Racer

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On my current visit to southern Illinois, I’ve encountered a snake that I more-often-than-not see when I visit the Land of Lincoln.

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Adult Black Racers are relatively large — to 5 feet — fairly slender, solid black snakes. They have smooth scales, large eyes, and often have some white under their chin.

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Young racers do not resemble adults and are generally tan or grayish with a series of brown or reddish blotches running down the center of the back.

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A large part of the reason for this widespread reptile’s success is it eats a wide variety of food items and are habitat generalists, occupying rocky ledges, pastures, overgrown fields, woodlands and the edges of wetlands.

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Black Racers are active during the daytime and are most often seen in warm weather. These snakes hunt by sight and actively forage during the day. They eat a wide range of prey including insects, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents and amphibians. These snakes are not constrictors and simply overpower their prey.

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Racers are faster than most other snakes, very agile, and generally flee when approached, often climbing into small trees or shrubs.

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These reptiles mate in the spring, and females lay up to 36 eggs in early summer. Their eggs hatch in late summer or early fall. Over time the blotched babies gradually turn solid in color.

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It’s always cool to come across one of these sleek, speedy snakes when out hiking!

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