Hummingbird Moth

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One of the coolest insect pollinators are Hummingbird Moths. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongue to sip nectar.

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To add to the illusion, Hummingbird Moths are rather plump and the tips of their tails open into a fan. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds.

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Honeysuckles are one of the favored plants of both the adults and the caterpillars. This moth seemed particularly fond of Bee Balm.

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Moths that are freshly emerged from their cocoons have solid-colored wings, nearly black in appearance. With first flight, their flapping wings cause most of the scales to fall off, especially near the center of each wing. The end result is wings that are nearly scale-less and therefore look clear.

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This insect belongs to a group known as is Sphinx Moths. This name came about from the habit the caterpillars have of rearing up (and looking sphinx-like) when threatened.

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Nature has many clever disguises and this is one of my favorites – a moth that mimics a bird.

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Hapalopilus croceus

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While hiking in the Cuyahoga River Valley, I noticed the orange glow of Hapalopilus croceus (this fungus has no common name) displaying its brilliant color.

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I have never encountered (or heard of) this organism before, so it was an unexpected find. This is a rather uncommon fungus found in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North America. Hapalopilus croceus is nationally red-listed (threatened) in 11 European countries.

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When fresh, this mushroom has a vibrant orange color, but it tends to fade or brown with age. This conspicuous wood-inhabiting fungus has habitat confined to wooded meadows and pastures.

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The stalkless, broadly attached, fan-shaped fruiting body has a colorful cap and grows on decaying broadleaf wood, especially fallen Oaks.

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Like its polypore relatives, Hapalopilus croceus contributes a crucial role in nature’s continuous rebirth, by breaking down dead wood and turning it into useful nutrients.

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Fungi digest their food outside their bodies by releasing enzymes into the surrounding environment and converting organic matter into a form they can absorb; nothing else is able to perform the function of reducing dead wood back down into soil.

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Melanistic Eastern Garter Snake

Melanistic Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snakes have a very large range, and within that range a number of color and pattern variations occur. Perhaps the most interesting being the version with no color or pattern. In northwest Ohio, populations of all-black snakes can be found along with their standard-looking relatives.

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Melanistic Eastern Garter Snakes are predominantly a deep black. Immediately after shedding their skin they can be extraordinary beautiful. Also, the underside is completely black. I came across several individuals on a recent trip to northwest Ohio, as well as many examples of striped garters, which would be considered typical in appearance.

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Often the chin, lip and some scales on the side of the head, can have their normal color of whitish or brownish. Melanism can be thought of as the opposite of albinism. While albinism is the absence of melanin (a dark colored pigment found in skin), melanism is the overabundance of melanin, leading to an individual with an abnormal amount of black coloration.

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Mutations that lead to melanism can arise randomly in any animal that has melanin; however, mutations that cause melanism and albinism are uncommon. This leads to sporadic occurrences of a color abnormality that randomly occur across multiple populations. For a trait like melanism to sustain itself in a population, being melanistic must benefit the individual in some way (give it an increased chance of survival).

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In the Eastern Garter Snake, being melanistic makes it faster for an individual to warm up while basking in the sun. The color black absorbs light wavelengths efficiently, resulting in the black individual gaining more heat energy than the yellow and brown striped individuals. This give them a competitive edge on the cool Lake Erie shore.

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Common Bladderwort


While hiking along the Cuyahoga River, I encountered this very widespread species within the United States and throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It is usually overlooked by nature enthusiasts, but is a common sight in wet ditches and wetlands across the state.


Bladderwort is a carnivorous species many have learned about in their junior high/middle school science classes. Small bladders are inflated sacs that are triggered to ensnare tiny aquatic organisms. The bladders are scattered in the leaves, which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Common Bladderwort.


The bladders also fill with air to keep the plant afloat during the flowering period and fill with water to sink the plant when it goes into dormancy.


Up to 20 bright yellow one-half to three-quarter inch snapdragon-like flowers form at the top of a stout reddish green stem, emerging up to 8 inches above the waterline. The flowers have finely articulated red veins.


This plant is free floating and has no roots. Although the commonly held view is that the bladders of bladderworts are for capturing and digesting microorganisms that provide the plant with nutrients, bladders more often have been observed to contain communities of microorganisms (bacteria, algae, and diatoms) living in the bladders, not as prey, suggesting that the bladders may also, and perhaps more importantly, serve to establish mutually beneficial relationships with some microorganisms.

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Long-jawed Orb Weaver


Long-jawed Orb Weavers are named because of their large fangs, which are, in some species, longer than the spider’s cephalothorax (first body segment).

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Like all spiders, babies hatch from eggs and look like tiny adults. They shed their skin as they grow. Most spiders in this family live for less than one year. They mate and lay eggs at the end of the Summer and the young spiders hatch during the following Spring.


Long-jawed Orb Weavers can have a two inch leg span and are skinny. Most are tan with white and yellow markings. They are common in low-growing vegetation and in row crops. I tend to see them at the edges of the Ohio & Erie Canal while hiking on the towpath. Below is a photo one one that I saw eating another of its own species.

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To avoid being eaten by predators, they drop from their web at out at the slightest disturbance, or carefully camouflaging themselves by lining up with the long axis of a twig or grass blade.


Most members of this family do not build vertical webs, they are usually tilted and sometimes close to horizontal. The bizarre appearance of this creature with its over-sized mandibles makes it a favorite of mine.

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