Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom

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While visiting southern Illinois, it was hard not to notice this organism that often produces its fruiting bodies in abundance this time of year in large clusters on old rotting stumps of hardwood trees.

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It may get its name bacause it’s bright orange, like the pumpkins used to make Jack-O-Lanterns. However, there’s another reason for its common name. This fungus actually glows in the dark! Not the whole fungus, but just the gills on the underside of the mushroom.

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The yellow-orange to orange cap is first convex in shape, becoming flat and then finally funnel-shaped with a margin that turns downward.

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To further add to the Halloween image, Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms are a trick, not a treat. People sometimes eat Jack O’Lanterns thinking they are Chanterelles, which are edible. The two types of mushroom can look pretty similar, and they bloom at the same time, but unlike Chanterelles, these are distasteful.

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Eating a Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom won’t kill you. Nevertheless, it’s nice to look at, cool because it glows in the dark and useful because it performs a valuable function that only fungus can do, which is break down dead wood into useable components to be recycled into the forest.

Third Eye Herp

Thread-Legged Bug


While walking on Snake Road in southern Illinois this month, I saw this curious looking creature on a tree. It was too thin-bodied to be a Walking Stick and it also had the ability to fly.

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Thread-legged Bugs are are a type of Assassin Bug, which means they have piercing, sucking mouthparts that look like a long, pointy straw. They pierce the exoskeleton of their insect prey and suck out the insides.

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Though the raptorial front legs are reminiscent of those of a Preying Mantis, the Thread-Legged Bug is not closely related to the mantis. This insect walks around on four long, impossibly thin legs and snatches its prey with its forelegs before stabbing it with its pointy mouth.


Like other Assassin Bugs, Thread-Legged Bugs are beneficial predators. I had never come across one of these before and it was an awesome encounter.

Third Eye Herp

Smooth Earth Snake

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I had my first encounter with this very cool species while visiting southern Illinois. It is a small (7 to 10 inches) somewhat heavy-bodied, brown-to-gray snake with smooth scales and a pointed snout.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is found in a variety of forested habitats with plenty of ground cover, but is most common in moist deciduous forests and edge habitats. Smooth Earth Snakes mainly live underground and are most often found hiding beneath rocks and logs.

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This species feeds primarily on earthworms, but takes other small invertebrates such as insects and snails. It gives birth to to live young, producing as many as 14 offspring in the late summer.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is an uncommon secretive serpent with a scattered distribution, so I was glad to finally come across one in the field.

Third Eye Herp

Upland Chorus Frog

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While on my visits to southern Illinois, I occasionally come across these small (about an inch) brown or gray frogs, with a light line across the upper lip and a dark stripe running through the eye. This is a species with an extremely variable pattern.

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The Upland Chorus Frog was recently separated from the Western Chorus Frog (which I sometimes find in my home state of Ohio), being identified as an individual species rather than a subspecies.

These are secretive, nocturnal amphibians, and are rarely seen except immediately after rains. They spend their days hiding in damp places such as under logs or rocks, emerging at night to hunt for food.


These are secretive, nocturnal amphibians, and are rarely seen except immediately after rains. They spend their days hiding in damp places such as under logs or rocks, emerging at night to hunt for food.

They are an almost entirely terrestrial species, and found in a variety of habitats, such as moist woodlands, meadows and wooded habitat within swamps and the edges of marshes.

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Upland Chorus Frogs are members of the frog family Hylidae, which makes them relatives of the tree frogs, cricket frogs, and other chorus frogs. The male’s mating call is a regularly repeated “creeeek” resembling the sound of running a finger along a comb.

In many parts of its range, the Upland Chorus Frog is the first amphibian to start calling in the year, and is often viewed as a symbol of the arrival of spring.

Third Eye Herp