Broad-banded Water Snake

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While visiting Snake Road in southern Illinois this month, I decided to take a drive to Missouri to see what sorts of herps were out. My first snake in “The Show-Me State” was a “lifer.” This distinctive looking reptile is heavy-bodied with a series of irregular, wide and dark bands across a background cream coloration. It was easy to identify even at a distance.

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Broad-banded Water Snakes can be found in and around lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and drainage ditches. This species is especially common in swamp and marsh habitats. It is at home in areas of thick vegetation, where both food and cover to escape fom predators is abundant.

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This species feeds primarily on fish and frogs. It uses stealth to move about vegetation and debris to find and catch its food. It commonly hunts at night, especially after it rains, because this is when frogs are most active.

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North American water snakes are thought to be most closely related to garter snakes, and like garter snakes, they do not lay eggs. Instead, the mother carries the eggs inside her body and gives birth to free-living young. The Broad-band averages generally an average of 15 babies per litter.

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It was exciting to come across this snake (which I’ve been keeping and breeding at home for years) in the wild for the first time.

Third Eye Herp
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Obscure Bird Grasshopper

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Despite its common name, this insect is anything but obscure – it is large, conspicuous and “showy.” Females can reach 2-1/2 inches in length. Males are smaller, sometimes remarkably so. The name “bird” comes from the Obscure Bird Grasshopper’s ability to fly rather long distances and often up into trees, if they are frightened.

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This insect is related to the famous Desert Locust, which appears in the news when it occurs in massive swarms in Africa. Obscure Bird Grasshoppers are capable of long distance seasonal migrations, though they are not populous enough to cause mass destruction.

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While grasshoppers will generally eat almost anything green, the Obscure Bird Grasshopper seems to favor plants in the citrus family, such as wafer ash and lime trees.

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This insect’s habitat is fields and woodlands across most of the eastern and southern United States and into Mexico. Adults are typically found in late Summer and early Fall.

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I dig big bugs and it’s always neat to encounter this species when visiting southern Illinois, which so far has been the only place where I have seen them.

Third Eye Herp
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Wingstem

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While hiking Snake Road in southern Illinois, as well as when exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park in my home state of Ohio, it’s hard to miss these conspicuous plants They are often over six feet tall and feature large yellow flowers with drooping ray florets.

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This plant gets its common name from the fact that its main stem has vertical ridges, sometimes described as “wings.” Before the blossoms appear, the plant resembles Ironweed, prompting the additional common name of Yellow Ironweed.

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Wingstem leaves are alternate and very coarse to the touch (like sandpaper). Its foliage serves as food for caterpillars and it is a host plant for the Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly, Summer Azure Butterfly and Gold Moth.

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Wingstem flowers attracts a number of pollinators; they also serves as a food source for insects. This plant is a member of the Sunflower Family, the largest family of flowering plants, with more than 24,000 documented species.

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This native wildflower prefers to grow in moist soil conditions in either full sun or partial shade. In the wild it is found along streams, flats, trails and moist woodlands.

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Despite the great ecological value of this species and frequent occurrence in a number of different habitats, Wingstem is often left out of field guides, including the one that I frequently use, Wildflowers of Ohio.

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Lesser Siren

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While visiting southern Illinois, I had an encounter with this “lifer” amphibian. Sirens are usually regarded as the most primitive living salamanders; they share a conspicuous basic characteristic – the absence of rear limbs.

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Another feature of this awesome amphibian is that it retains and uses its external gills throughout its life. Lesser Sirens are completely aquatic, rarely leaving water unless its an absolutely necessary.

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Some bodies of water where they reside are temporary and may dry up at certain times of the year. In these cases, the salamander can secrete a cocoon, of sorts, which protects them from dehydrating. It can stay in this state of “suspended animation” for more than a year, until its pond refills with water.

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Lesser Sirens grow to about two feet and prefer to live in swamps, ponds ditches and shallow wetlands with abundant vegetation and muddy bottoms. It is nocturnal, spending its days hidden in the debris and mud at the bottom of slow-moving bodies of water.

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This creature feeds mainly on small insects, crustaceans and other invertebrates, such as worms and snails. The flattened head suggests that this creature burrows in the mud and its tiny eyes indicate that vision is not important to its survival at the bottom of dark swamplands.

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Unlike most salamanders, the Lesser Siren is vocal, and will emit a series of clicks when it approaches others of its kind, It also has the ability to “yelp” if it is handled.

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This amphibian is also known as the Two-legged Eel, Dwarf Siren and Mud Eel. It was super cool to finally meet on of the elusive creatures “in person” on this years visit to the Land of Lincoln.

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Broad-tipped Conehead Katydid

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While visiting southern Illinois I came across this very cool creature. Like all other coneheads, it possess a sharply pointed feature (called a fastigium) at the tip of its head, giving it a very distinctive look.

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Adult Broad-tipped Conehead Katydids display either brown or green coloration, depending on their gender and season. This species also occurs throughout the southern United States, from Florida up to New Jersey, and extends westward to southern California.

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These insects have have oversized jaws and a relatively large body, with adult females generally being much larger than males. Their bodies are covered by long, narrow, leathery forewings. They are strong fliers and tend to be attracted to lights.

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When disturbed, adult Broad-tipped Conehead Katydids will fly off or dive down into the ground and bury their heads to make their body appear to look like grass.

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This creature feeds mostly on different types of grasses. It has the ability to overwinter, so its mating call can be heard in early spring, occurring at least a month before many other types of insects begin calling.

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This was a neat find while I was out and about looking for snakes.

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