Eastern Fence Lizard

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This very cool reptile is the only non-skink native to my home state of Ohio. Although I have encountered them in the Buckeye State, they are much easier to find further south. I saw a few on my recent trip to Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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The Eastern Fence Lizard often uses trees as a way to evade capture and like a squirrel, staying on the opposite side of the tree that its pursuer is on.

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It found in much of the eastern United States and is somewhat general in its habitat, being found along forest edges (especially on hiking trails or where a field meets woodlands), rock piles, logs, grasslands, stumps and of course wooden fences.

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Eastern Fence Lizards belong to a family known as Spiny Lizards and have rough, pointed scales on their backs. Though they are generally earthtone in color, females have patterns of black bands on their backs, while males have patches of blue on their bellies and throats.

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Males ward off other males from their territories with displays of head-bobbing and push-ups; they will also flash the blue scales on their underbellies.

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Their main food is insects and other invertebrates. Within the past 70 years, Eastern Fence Lizards have evolved in parts of their range to have longer legs and new behaviors to escape non-native Fire Ants, which are capable of killing and eating reptiles.

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Wild Blue Phlox

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This species of flowering plant is native to forests and fields in eastern North America. I expect to see it in my home state of Ohio in a few weeks, but for now am enjoying it on my visit to Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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Wild Blue Phlox is a woodland species that resides in forests, fields and along streams. It has loose clusters of slightly fragrant, tubular, lilac-to-rose-to-blue flowers with five, flat, notched, petal-like lobes that appear at the stem tips in Spring.

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Its blooms attract butterflies (Swallowtails, Grey Hairstreaks and Pygmy Blues), clearwing moths and hummingbirds.

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This plant can form large colonies as the weak stems flop over and root at the nodes. It then disappears in mid-summer after flowering dropping seeds.

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The genus name, Phlox, is derived from the Greek word for flame in reference to its bright flowers. This plant is also known as Woodland Phlox and Wild Sweet William.

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Cave Orb Weaver

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While visiting Carter Caves, Kentucky I frequently encounter this creature in the caverns. This species is found mainly in caves in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Spiders are adaptable creatures and man-made habitats such as cellars can also serve as habitat for these eight-legged beings.

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Cave Orb Weavers belong to the family Tetragnathidae – commonly called Long-jawed Orb Weavers – but they lack the huge, serrated jaws and elongated bodies and legs that characterize their nearest relatives. As with many spiders, the males this species are considerably smaller than the females.

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Life in a cave has some obvious and distinct differences from the environment surrounding it, such as constant darkness, cool temperatures and limited resources. One way the Cave Orb Weavers deal with this is to build their webs by the lights installed in the cave systems. This attracts insects, provides light and creates warmth.

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Rather than residing in the dark depths of caves, Cave Orb Weavers tend to build their webs in near the entrances and in the “twilight zones” of caves. They often sit on the edge of their web, rather than resting in the center. Cave life is a poorly studied topic, and there is still much to learn about these mysterious arachnids.

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Tri-colored Bat

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When exploring Carter Caves, Kentucky, we came across a few examples of one of the smallest bats in the land; it can easily be mistaken for a large moth in flight.

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The Tri-colored Bat’s forearms are pinkish and its wing membrane is black. Its ears are longer than they are wide. With a weight of about one fifth of an ounce, it is roughly the same heaviness as a quarter.

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They prefer to live in open forest areas that are near a source of water in the Summer. Tri-colored Bats are among the first bats to emerge in the evening and can been seen flying about foraging for insects. Because of their small size, they are limited to small prey less than half an inch in length. One study recorded a Tri-colored Bat catching an insect every two seconds.

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This mammal is classified as a cave-dwelling bat. In the Winter, it can be found in caves, mines, and rock crevices. While they are known for keeping down mosquito populations, Tri-colored Bats also have important agricultural value, since they also eat grain moths and beetles emerging from corn cribs.

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I don’t get to see bats “up close and personal” all that often, so encountering one of them is a great part of the spelunking experience.

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Valley Garter Snake

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While on my visit to California I found a couple examples of this “lifer” reptile that is a subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.

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This snake is seldom found far from permanent water where it resides in riparian habitat along streams and floodplains and around ponds and marshy areas. I found my specimens in a flooded ditch.

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Valley Garter Snakes are active during the daytime and usually found from April through September. They eat a range of food items, including fish, frogs, mice, earthworms, slugs and leeches.

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Like most Garter Snakes native to the United States, the Valley Garter Snake it is brown to black with three yellow stripes: One stripe down the back and one on each side.

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Valley Garter Snakes breed in the spring, soon after emerging from hibernation. Females typically give birth to 5 to 40 live young in July or August. The young are 7 to 8 inches in length at birth.

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This species is the most frequently encountered snake in most parts of its range and adapts well to human modification of the landscape. Despite being common and having wide range, I was thrilled to come across them in the wild.

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