Eastern Parson Spider

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It seems like the past few Winters I’ve found one of these in my house. This arachnid is named after the abdominal markings resembling an old-style cravat worn by clergy in the 18th century.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is part of a stealthy group of ground spiders. This family of hunting spiders spins silken retreats in leaves and under boards and stones to hide in during the day; they hunt at night.

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This spider is widespread everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Alberta across to Nova Scotia and south to Texas and Florida. West of the Rockies it is replaced by the Western Parson Spider.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is fairly commonly around buildings, often preying on small insects that are attracted to outdoor lights These creatures will run in a zigzag fashion to evade predators; for this reason, they are hard to capture when seen in homes.

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It is furry, and about nickel sized. Although this spider presents a startling appearance, living indoors as it frequently does, it is not considered harmful.

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Ring-necked Duck

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While visiting central Indiana last month, I saw this sharply marked bird of gleaming black, gray and white. The species is native to North America, but sightings outside of the continent are becoming increasingly common.

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The “ringneck” name is derived from a faint brownish ring around the base of the neck, which is visible only upon close inspection. A more fitting name would be “Ring-billed Duck,” due to the prominent white ring around the bill.

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In migration and during winter, they inhabit ponds, lakes, slow-moving rivers, and occasionally coastal estuaries, but generally do not inhabit saltwater bays.

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The Ring-necked Duck dives for its food in shallow water and has a more generalized diet (consisting mostly of plants) than do other North American diving ducks in its genus.

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This species is a primary means for dispersal of several types of pond plants and help the plants get to newly established ponds. Seeds the birds eat from the plants are undigestable and get deposited (via duck droppings) at new sites.

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This species is strong and fast and, unlike many diving ducks, can take flight directly from the water without a running start.

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Osage Orange

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While hiking in Cool Creek Park in Carmel, Indiana, I saw several green “monkey brains” scattered on the forest floor.

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They came from an Osage Orange, which is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, that grows 30–50 feet tall. Their distinctive fruit is roughly spherical, bumpy, 3–6 inches in diameter and turns a bright yellow-green in the Fall.

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The fruit secretes a sticky white latex when cut or damaged. Despite the name “orange,” it is instead a member of the mulberry family.

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The trunk bark is brown to orange-brown and deeply furrowed with ridges. The glossy, lance-shaped leaves are arranged alternately and vary from dark to pale tender green. They have long, tapering tips and smooth to slightly wavy margins.

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“Back in the day” these sharp-thorned shrubs were planted as cattle-deterring hedges before the introduction of barbed wire and afterward became an important source of fence posts.

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This intriguing plant is also known as Hedge Apple, Horse Apple, Bodark, Bow-wood, Yellow-wood and Mock Orange.

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Giant Leaf-footed Bug

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This species of North American true bug ranges from the southern United States to Guatemala and some Caribbean islands.

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It is the largest of this genus within this range, often growing to be 1-1/4 inches long. Leaf-footed bugs are named for the spines and flat dilations on their hind legs.

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The Giant Leaf-footed Bug can be distinguished from similar species by its much more broadly expanding shield, which is wider than its abdomen.

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Leaf-footed bugs are are plant-feeders. They live above ground on their host plants where they may feed on seeds, fruits, stems or leaves.

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Like all true bugs, the adults are equipped with a beak, a hypodermic needle-like device carried under the head, which they uses to pierce the plant tissue and suck out liquids.

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This was the first time I’ve ever encountered this impressive insect and it was a welcome find on Thanksgiving Weekend in Central Illinois.

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Northern Shoveler

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While visiting Carmel, Indiana last month I observed one of the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks; its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comb-like projections along its edges, which filter out food from the water.

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The Northern Shoveler inhabits wetlands across much of North America. The males have iridescent green heads, white chests and rusty sides. Females are grayish-brown overall; some of their feathers have light edging with darker centers.

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Their spatulate bills, equipped with small, comb-like structures on the edges, act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water’s surface. Flocks of shovelers often swim with their bills submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters.

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Mud-bottomed marshes rich in invertebrate life is their habitat of choice. Other dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the spoon-shaped bill of the Northern Shoveler is an adaptation that takes this habit to the extreme.

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Aptly nicknamed the spoonbill, the Northern Shoveler has the largest bill of any duck in North America.

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