Black Widow

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This dark cobweb weaver is easily identified by the bright, hourglass-shaped mark on its abdomen. It is wildly feared due to its venom.

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In humans, bites can cause muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage – let alone death.

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Like many other spiders, Black Widows puncture their insect prey with their fangs and administer digestive enzymes. The enzymes liquefy their prey’s bodies and the spiders suck up the resulting fluid.

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Black Widows are found in temperate regions throughout the world. In the United States, they exist primarily in the South and West. They may be found in dark, man-made dry shelters like barns, garages, basements and outdoor toilets. I have occasionally found them under rocks and logs.

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These spiders are primarily solitary, with the exception of late spring when mating occurs. Female Black Widows can live up to three years, while males (which are half the size of females and lighter in color) typically live for one or two months.

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Although Black Widows get their name because females practice cannibalism after mating, this has mostly been observed in laboratory situations where the male could not escape being eaten.

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Widely considered the most venomous spider in North America (the venom of the female black widow spider is 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake), Black Widows are not aggressive and tend not to bite unless thoroughly disturbed.

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Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

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This is a super cool reptile that I’ve occasionally seen on my visits to Nevada. It inhabits arid and semiarid areas with vegetation such as like bunch grass, sagebrush, creosote bush and other scattered low plants.

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The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard prefers flat areas with open space for running and avoids densely vegetated habitats. Most of the times when I’ve encountered them, they were on dirt or gravel roads basking in the sunshine. They allowed me to take photos of them if I stayed in the car, but as soon as I got out, they ran for cover.

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Like its namesake, it is characterized by dark spots. A color-changing reptile, the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has a light coloration in which the spots are very visible, and a dark coloration in which the spots blend in. In addition, during breeding season, females develop orange spots.

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This reptile is a fierce hunter that preys on mainly on smaller lizards, though it will also consume insects, rodents and snakes. This lizard supplements its diet with berries, small leaves and flowers. As an ambush predator, it waits in the shadows underneath a bush or small tree, where its spotted pattern blends in with its surroundings.

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When a food item comes sufficiently close, it uses a rapid pouncing movement to capture the prey in its strong jaws.The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has been documented to jump up to two feet in any direction, including into the air, in order to catch its food.

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This reptile can reach more than 15 inches in total length and has the ability to stand up and run on its hind legs when being pursued by predators, such as kit foxes, badgers and birds.

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While hiking in the Mojave Desert, I sometimes come across this fine creature in the vicinity of cattle watering troughs or natural springs where there is green plant life in the surrounding area.


This insect is part of the subfamily Danainae, known as the Milkweed Butterfly Group. It is a close relative to the Monarch Butterfly, though it tends to be more chestnut in color, rather than orange. It is also more solidly colored and only faintly veined.


Like those of Monarchs, the caterpillars of Queens feed on several different species of poisonous milkweed. The caterpillars acquire the milkweed toxins, and as a result both they and the adult butterflies are rather poisonous.


Birds will avoid these orange (or rust), black and white butterflies and any other butterflies with similar markings like the deceptive, non-poisonous Viceroy.


Queens have a wingspan of almost four inches and can be found in open, sunny areas including fields, deserts, roadsides, pastures, dunes, washes and waterways in the southern United States.

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Two-striped Garter Snake

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While visiting southern California, I had a specific garter snake that I was hoping to find that I’d never seen “in person” before. This rocky creek looked to be an ideal habitat to explore while searching for it.

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An adult Two-striped Garter Snake measures two to three feet long and is an olive, brown or dark gray color. Most garter snakes have a stripe running down their backs, but Two-striped Garter Snakes lack this dorsal marking.

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This species is more aquatic than most garter snakes; it inhabits streams and ponds in chaparral, oak woodland and forest habitats. Its ideal environment is in aquatic areas that are bordered by vegetation with open areas for basking.

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This reptile’s diet consists of fish, fish eggs, tadpoles, small frogs and toads, leeches and earthworms. Two-striped Garter Snakes forage for food in and under water.

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Loss of wetland habitats have contributed to a reduction in the range of this snake by about 40%. It is designated a California Species of Special Concern and protected by the state.

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It was a thrill to explore the Golden State find one of these fine serpents.

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