Smallmouth Salamander

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As Spring approaches here in northeast Ohio, I await the annual migration of mole salamanders and frogs as they leave their underground hibernation hideouts and head to vernal pools to lay their eggs. This week it happened.

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One of the less common of these creatures around here is the Smallmouth Salamander. It is best identified by its short snout and small head. It usually grows to about five inches in total length.

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The Smallmouth Salamander’s dark, earthtone ground color is occasionally accented with light flecks of blue pigment, especially along its sides and belly.

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This amphibian’s habitat is forested floodplains, swampy areas and deciduous forests. It spends most of the year hidden in underground burrows or under logs, leaf litter and other debris.

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Like the other mole salamanders in northeast Ohio, the Spotted Salamander and the Jefferson Salamander, the Smallmouth Salamander typically eats insects, slugs and worms.

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I look forward to searching for and coming across this oddly proportioned amphibian each Spring and it was exciting to see one this week.

Third Eye Herp

False Black Widow

Stepping out my front door on a warm Winter day, I saw this creature. This species is in the genus Steatoda, which are commonly referred to as False Black Widow Spiders. They are closely related to the true Black Widow Spiders, but are not nearly as venomous.

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Another common name for this arachnid is “Cupboard Spider,” because many species building their webs in dark, sheltered, undisturbed places around the house or garden, in sheds and garages, under garden furniture, bridges, wood piles compost bins and similar structures.

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For a web, the False Black Widow builds a tangled, three-dimensional “cobweb” snare. The silk is not sticky, but prey easily gets tangled and begins to struggle, which sends vibrations to the spider. Using its two back legs, the spider then “throws” silk around the prey until it can no longer escape or harm its captor, at which point it delivers a venom-injecting bite and then begins to feed.

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Female False Black Widows have been reported to live for up to six years (males live for a year to a year and a half), producing numerous offspring. These spiders have a total of eight eyes, arranged in two horizontal rows of four (a pattern typical of cobweb spiders in this family).

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It was neat to come across this creature, a spider which I’ve never seen before, and all I had to do was take a couple of steps out my front door!

Third Eye Herp



If someone is at a park is feeding bread to ducks, there’s a good chance there are Mallards in the fray. Perhaps the most familiar of all ducks, Mallards occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as “wilder” rivers, lakes and estuaries. This bird is found in both freshwater and salt water wetlands.


The males (drakes) have a glossy green head and are grey on their wings and belly, while the females (hens) have mostly brown-speckled plumage.


Mallards eat water plants and small animals and are social animals, tending to congregate in groups or flocks of varying sizes. Mallards are “dabbling ducks” – they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater and above-water plants. They almost never dive.


These ducks can be very tame, especially those residing in city ponds. This species is the main ancestor of most breeds of domesticated ducks.


Scientifically known as Anas platyrhynchos, the Mallard was one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae, and still bears its original binomial name. The scientific name is from Latin Anas, “duck” and Ancient Greek platyrhynchus , “broad-billed” ( from platus, “broad” and rhunkhos, “bill”).


Common over most of the northern hemisphere, the Mallard is a well-known wild duck to many people; it is thought to be the most abundant and wide-ranging duck on Earth.

Third Eye Herp

Bitter Oyster

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Bitter Oyster is a widely distributed fungus that is also known as Luminescent Panellus, Stiptic Fungus, or Astringent Panus. It is more common in eastern North America than in the west. It frequently grows in groups, residing in dense forests. It is often found on logs, stumps and trunks of deciduous trees such as Birch, Oak and Beech.

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This little mushroom has reportedly been used as a styptic (blood thickening) agent. It is a relatively common species that is prevalent Spring through Fall (it can also be found in Winter in warm climates, or during Winter warm spells in temperate areas).

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Bitter Oyster is an unassuming fungus by day. It forms waves of soft beige shelves and blends in with its surroundings. The edges of the mushroom cap have small rounded teeth that are curved inward. But at night things change; its gills, under their own power, glow – a characteristic known as bioluminescence.

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The luminescent glow of this and other fungi inspired the term “foxfire,” coined by early settlers in eastern and southern North America. Although generally very dim, in some cases foxfire is bright enough to read by. Bitter Oyster is a pretty cool organism that often goes unnoticed in today’s world.

Third Eye Herp