Cardinal Jumper

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While visiting a sandhill prairie in Missouri last month, I came across this very cool creature. Its bright colors mimic those of a “velvet ant” – a type of wasp that possess a very painful sting.

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The Cardinal Jumper is a Jumping Spider and part of a family that contains over 6,000 described species; it is the largest family of spiders and makes up about 13% of all known spiders.

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Jumping Spiders do not make webs to catch food, but use silk for building retreats, protecting eggs and creating safety lines while moving about. Having excellent eyesight needed for active hunting, Cardinal Jumpers tend to notice everything around them, including both large and small beings.

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This species is most often found in areas with tall grass and weeds and it frequently climbs up on the grass stems. Its main food is insects, including grasshoppers and katydids several times bigger than they are.

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Cardinal Jumpers have a well-developed internal hydraulic system extends their limbs by altering the pressure of the body fluid within them. This enables them to jump without having large muscular legs like a grasshopper. Most Jumping Spiders can jump several times the length of their bodies.

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Interestingly, it seems to be most commonly sighted during the month of October, which makes its Halloween colors quite appropriate.

Third Eye Herp

Nine-banded Armadillo

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Driving back from Snake Road in southern Illinois one evening last month, I saw this cool and unusual creature rooting around in an empty field.

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Though their body shape resembles that of an opossum, the Nine-banded Armadillo is more closely related to sloths and anteaters. Around 20 species of armadillo exist, but the Nine-banded is the only one found in the United States.

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The term “armadillo” means “little armored one” in Spanish, and refers to the presence of the bony, armor-like plates covering their body. Contrary to their common name, Nine-banded Armadillos can have 7 to 11 bands of armor.

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Nine-banded Armadillos are solitary, largely nocturnal animals that come out to forage around dusk. They are extensive burrowers, with a single animal sometimes maintaining up to 12 burrows on its range. I most often see them at night, like this one from a couple of years ago.

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They are mainly insectivores that forage for meals by thrusting their snouts into loose soil and leaf litter and digging up grubs, beetles, ants, termites, and worms, which their sensitive noses can detect through 8 inches of soil.

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During the Great Depression, the species was hunted for its meat in East Texas, where it was known as poor man’s pork, or the “Hoover Hog” by those who considered President Herbert Hoover to be responsible for the Depression.

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Nine-banded Armadillos nearly always have litters of four babies – identical quadruplets. Armadillo babies look very much like adults, but are smaller and softer than their armored parents. This is a fascinating animal that I always enjoy encountering.

Third Eye Herp

Ivy-leaf Morning Glory

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This is a interesting plant that I have seen a few times on my October visits to southern Illinois. This twining or climbing vine has distinctive three-lobed leaves and large, showy purple-to-blue or white flowers.

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It is most often found in disturbed low areas, roadsides, cultivated fields and ditches. Ivy-leaf Morning Glory prefers soil that is soggy or marshy. This plant is native of tropical America, but has been introduced to various parts of the United States.

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Ivy-leaf Morning Glory’s flowers have five long, slender, hairy sepals and are tubular, funnel-shaped and up to two inches wide. Most morning glory flowers curl up and close during the warm parts of the day, and are fully open in the morning – thus their name.

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The leaves are green, hairy and are usually three-lobed, but they may also be five-lobed or heart-shaped. The stems are green, slender, hairy, and twining.

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This plant is also known as Woolly Morning Glory, Mexican Morning Glory and Entireleaf Morning Glory. It was neat to see this pale blue flower while out and about in the Land of Lincoln.

Third Eye Herp

Spotted Dusky Salamander

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This was a neat “lifer” that I encountered on my recent visit to southern Illinois. It only resides in Pulaski and Johnson counties in the southern part of the state. I found several in a small creek.

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The Spotted Dusky Salamander’s coloration is variable from tan to brown to nearly black. It frequently has 6 to 8 pairs of golden or reddish dorsal spots, which are normally separated, but may fuse to form a light-colored band.

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This species occurs along small lowland streams and in seepage areas, where it hunts for and eats earthworms, spiders, mites, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and other insects.

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Dusky Salamanders are of the genus Desmognathus, derived from the Greek word desmos, meaning “ligament,” and gnathos, meaning “jaw.” It refers to the visibly enlarged bundle of ligaments on the sides of the heads of these salamanders.

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Species of this genus have a unique jaw-opening mechanism where the lower jaw is stationary and the skull swings open. Its skeletal and musculature features have evolved to accompany this type of jaw-opening mechanism.

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Sometimes referred to as a “Spring Lizard,” Spotted Dusky Salamanders are known to exhibit maternal care by brooding over their eggs.

Third Eye Herp