Ground Skink


I have found these small, slender lizards with long tails in several southeastern states, but most recently in southern Illinois. They range from golden brown to almost black in color, but are most often a coppery brown with a dark stripe running along each side.

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Running and hiding under ground cover is the method Ground Skinks uses to escape from predators. I have detected this lizard most often by hearing it before seeing it, as it runs over dry leaves on the forest floor. It seems to prefer open areas in or adjacent to woods.

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Also known as “The Little Brown Skink,” it is one of the smallest reptiles in North America, with a total length of only 3 to 5-1/2 inches. Like most skinks, Ground Skinks have short legs relative to their body length and smooth, shiny scales.

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Most people never notice them as they hunt insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrate prey in leaf litter.

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Eastern Ribbon Snake

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Although I found a number of Western Ribbon Snakes in Union County, Illinois, it wasn’t until I visited neighboring Johnson County that I found my first Eastern Ribbon Snakes.

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Ribbon snakes are semiaquatic and frequently found along the edges of lakes, bogs and marshes. A swampy area with railroad tracks running through it proved to be an ideal place for them.

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The ribbon snake gets its name from its very thin body. At maturity, it’s usually between 2 to 3 feet in length. It is a slender, dark snake with a yellow stripe down the back and one on each side. Its tail often makes up about one third of its body length.

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The Eastern Ribbon Snake is a member of the garter snake family. Not only do they look similar to garter snakes, they too are widely distributed throughout the United States.

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This species is a good swimmer and can race quickly along solid ground. It also is a good climber and are often found in the small bushes along the water’s edge. This serpent is active and nervous and relies on being wary to escape predators. Their diet consists of frogs, salamanders, toads, small fish and leeches. Like garter snakes, Eastern Ribbon Snakes give birth to live offspring in late Summer.

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Earth-Boring Scarab Beetle


Although I’ve seen this insect in my home state of Ohio, my latest encounter with one of these interesting creatures was last month in southern Illinois.

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As their name implies, Earth-Boring Scarab Beetles dig burrows into the ground, sometimes up to 8 feet deep. An egg is laid at the end of each long tunnel and food is left there. When the egg hatches a grub (the beetle’s version of a caterpillar) emerges. The food left for the grub is consumed and it eventually pupates before transforming into an adult beetle.


Adults Earth-Boring Scarab Beetles eat dung, hummus and rotting plant matter. They are commonly found in compost heaps and around manure piles. This is one of the last beetle species that can be seen in the Fall. While the Earth-Boring Scarab Beetle’s diet seems somewhat unsavory to people, the consumption of the nutrients left in that food source allows valuable resources to return to the food chain when the beetle itself is consumed by a predator.


It’s nature’s way to recycle and reuse vitamins and minerals.

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Diamondback Water Snake

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While visiting southern Illinois I have occasionally come across this semi-aquatic serpent.

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They are heavy bodied with greenish-brown to brown hues and a dark net-like pattern formed by dark blotches along the back, with each spot being vaguely diamond-shaped. The blotches are connected by alternating dark bars on sides.

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Diamondback Water Snakes are non-venomous, but they can be extremely aggressive when cornered, striking and biting continuously until the danger goes away. Adults are typically three to four feet long.

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Their range tends to be concentrated along the Mississippi River, as well as west into Texas and Mexico, east to Alabama, with smaller populations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

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A diurnal hunter, the Diamondback Water Snake trolls shallow shorelines and deeper water for prey. The diet mostly consists of frogs, toads, slow moving and small fish, which are eaten live. Carrion is also a common part of their diet.

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Like other North American water snakes, the Diamondback Water Snakes give birth to live offspring, producing 20 or more babies in the late Summer or early Fall.

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