Small Red Morning Glory

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While visiting southern Illinois in October, this brightly colored flower caught my eye as I was checking my minnow traps that I placed in a waterway near some railroad tracks.

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This plant is native to tropical America and has been introduced in much of the United States. It can be found in disturbed areas along roads, stream banks, fence rows, old fields and railroad tracks.

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Red Morning Glories are fast growing and have twisting, climbing flowering vines that attract butterflies. Their vines can reach 10 or more feet in length.

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As is name implies, its flowers are not as large as those of other morning glories, being about 2-4 inches long and about half as wide. The blooms are dull red with an orange throat.

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The leaves of this plant are heart-shaped at the base, and commonly are three-lobed. Their smooth margins sometimes develop low, pointy lobes, so that they almost look like ivy leaves.

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Though Small Red Morning Glory’s long, tubular flowers are clearly adapted for pollinators such as hummingbirds and hawk moths, they’re also capable of self-pollination.

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It was neat to encounter this plant, which is also known as Redstar, Scarlet Creeper, Starflower and Scarlet Morning Glory, for the first time.

Third Eye Herp

Clouded Sulphur

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This is often the last butterfly of the year that I see, sometimes here in Ohio as late as mid-November. I also come across them pretty consistently on my visits to southern Illinois in October.

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The Clouded Sulphur may be encountered in fields, lawns, alfalfa or clover fields, meadows and roadsides. Swarms of these butterflies often congregate at mud puddles. Their range covers most of North America.

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Unlike some other late-flying species, the Clouded Sulphur does not hibernate over the winter as an adult. On the upper sides of its wings, males have a solid black border, while the females have yellow spots in their borders (unfortunately, this butterfly rarely lands with its wings open).

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The word “butterfly” probably originated because of the yellow color of European sulphurs. The Clouded Sulphur has seasonal color variations that range from a white to yellow.

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To me seeing this insect is a sure sign of Autumn, as it often visits Fall-flowering plants like New England Aster.

Third Eye Herp

Southern Two-lined Salamander

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While visiting southern Illinois in October of this year, I came across a few of these fine amphibians while exploring a creek. Southern Two-lined Salamanders are fairly small, usually being three to four inches in total length inches in total length.

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They are tan to light yellow with two distinct black stripes running from their eyes to their tail. This creature is found in moist habitats – most commonly beneath rocks, leaves, and logs along the edges of woodland streams and seeps – but some may occur on the forest floor as well.

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Like most salamanders, the Southern Two-lined Salamander eats small invertebrates like spiders, ticks, earthworms, beetles, millipedes, snails, grubs, flies and ants.

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Adults head to breeding streams in late Winter to early Spring. Their eggs are attached under rocks in streams and the female attends the eggs until they hatch in late Spring. Their aquatic larval period lasts from 1-3 years.

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I have Northern Two-lined Salamanders residing in the creek in my backyard, so it was nice to see their southern relatives while herping in the Land of Lincoln.

Third Eye Herp

Eastern Prickly Pear

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While visiting a sandhill prairie in Missouri in October, I saw a fair number of these plants. Prickly Pears are considered an old group within the cactus family and contain around 150 species. Like other cacti, its fixed spines and small, hair-like prickles readily adhere to skin or hair, then detach from the plant.

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It has the largest range of any cactus in the United States and can be found from New Mexico and Montana east to Florida and Massachusetts. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern states where it resides.

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It some situations it can form large colonies, while in others it may occur as a few individuals in an area. Eastern Prickly Pear is a typical cactus in that its photosynthetic stem (also known as a pad) acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water.

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Generally the plants are no more than a foot and a half tall and tend to sprawl on the ground. Their flowers are produced at the ends of its pads in early Summer. The flowers are usually yellow, but east of the Appalachian Mountains and on dunes, the center is often red to orange.

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After flowering, a red, egg-shaped fruit begins to appear. The fruit is edible and can be eaten raw after removing the skin. Jellies, candies and other sweets are often made from the fruit, while some people also snack on the fleshy pads of the plant. Prickly Pear as been a Mexican and Central American dietary staple for thousands of years.

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This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often in rocky or thin soils. It can be found in or on fencerows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes and prairie. Its roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary.

Third Eye Herp