Midland Water Snake

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One my annual October visit to southern Illinois, I always look forward to getting reacquainted with this fine serpent. The Midland Water Snake is one of the most common aquatic snakes found in the Southeast.

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Average adult size is 2-4 feet, with a record length of nearly 5 feet. It is very similar to the Northern Water Snake that lives in my home state of Ohio, but it retains its pattern into adulthood, while the Northerns tend to turn a solid dark gray. This species is generally a light brown or tan with darker brown or even reddish bands.

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The Midland Water Snake can be found in and around lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, and even in drainage ditches. It prefers areas with wood debris, rocks or other hiding spots. It adapts well to humans and sometimes even resides in decorative ponds at apartment buildings.

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This snake gives birth to live offspring typically from August through October. It generally has 1 to 2 dozen babies. The babies are self-sufficient and able to hunt small fish and amphibians.

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Like its cousin to the north, this reptile eats fish, frogs, toads and salamanders.

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European Ground Beetle

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Also called the “Bronze Carabid” this insect is common in central and northern Europe, as well as Iceland and Newfoundland. While native to Europe, it has been introduced to and is expanding its range throughout North America. I would catch them as a kid in Cleveland and my most recent enounters with them have been when visiting southern Illinois.

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This decent-sized beetle (about an inch long) is a beneficial predator because it eats slugs in its young stage. Use of adults as a biocontrol agent for multiple pests in large scale farming operations is currently being tested. This insect seems to prefer cultivated grounds, especially in city parks and gardens.

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Its mandibles are robust and positioned forward. The European Ground Beetle’s legs black and relatively slender. Although dark in color, it has hints of metallic green, blue, bronze and purple that look airbrushed.

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Although its main defense is running away, some, if caught will regurgitate foul-smelling brownish-red liquid as a defensive mechanism. It’s been nice to get reacquainted with this childhood creature while out herping.

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Timber Rattlesnake

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Adaptable with a wide range, this is the only rattlesnake in most of the populous northeastern United States. This species is found in deciduous forests in rugged terrain. I have encountered them several northeast states, including southern Illinois on my trip there last month.

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Adult Timber Rattlesnakes are typically from 3 to 5 feet in length. They have a pattern of dark brown or black crossbands on a yellowish brown or grayish background. The crossbands have irregular zig-zag edges, and may be V-shaped or M-shaped. Often a rust-colored stripe down the back is present.

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This reptile is potentially one of North America’s most dangerous snakes, due to its long fangs, impressive size, and high venom yield; fortunately it tends to have a rather mild disposition. Contrary to popular belief, Timber Rattlesnakes are shy, retiring creatures that wish nothing more than to be left alone.

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These serpents eat a wide range of small birds and mammals, including rodents, moles and rabbits. When it comes to hunting, they have a specialized adaptation. Like all pit vipers, these snakes have heat-sensitive pits located on each side of the head. These sensors help them hone in on warm blooded prey.

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Timber Rattlesnakes give birth to live young in Autumn. When born, a young rattlesnake has a single “button” at the end of its tail. With each shed a new segment is added to its rattle. The segments are loosely attached and when the snake vibrates its tail they shake against one another, making the “rattle” sound.

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Rattlesnakes are found only in the Americas.

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Bald Cypress

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This is a classic tree of southern swamps. It resides in flooded areas because it out-competes with most other trees in this habutat. It is a is a deciduous conifer, so while a member of the Pine Tree Family, it looses its needles in the Winter months, hence the name “bald.”

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Bald Cypress trees growing in swamps have a peculiarity called “knees.” These are woody projections from the root system that go above the ground or water. Their function was once thought to be to provide oxygen to the roots, but a more likely purpose is for structural support and stability.

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These are slow-growing, long-lived trees that regularly reach up to 600 years in age. Since they tend to grow along rivers and in wetlands, they are excellent at soaking up floodwaters and preventing erosion. They also trap pollutants and prevent them from spreading. The trunk base is swollen when the tree grows in water.

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They have globose cones which turn from green to brownish-purple as they mature from October to December. The cones are measure 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter and have scales that break away after maturity. Each scale can bear two triangular seeds.

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Though I see them when visiting marshy, boggy places, like Heron Pond in southern Illinois, in yards in my home state of Ohio Bald Cypress is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its light, feathery foliage and orange-brown to dull red fall color. It thrives on a wide range of soils, including well-drained sites where it would not grow naturally due to the inability of the young seedlings to compete with other vegetation.

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I enjoy seeing this classic swampland inhabitants on my travels. Snakes, turtles, birds and other animals rely on Bald Cypress swamps for habitat, while bees, wood ducks and owls nest in its hollow trunks.

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