Striped Shiner

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While exploring southern Illinois this month, I caught this rather deep-bodied minnow with large, silvery scales that are are generally much higher than they are wide. Its common name refers to the occasional gold iridescence along its back.

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This fish occurs in clear, permanent-flowing streams with clean gravelly or rocky bottoms. It prefers relatively warm and quiet water. As far as minnows go, it is reasonably sizeable, at a total length of 3 to 5 inches and a maximum of about 7 inches.

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The Striped Shiner is an omnivore, feeding on both plants and animals. Minnows like this are high in ecological importance, because they are a great food source for other fish, birds and species that eat fish.

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It was neat to come across this cool creature which I have never encountered before.

Third Eye Herp

Six-lined Racerunner

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While visiting this sandy habitat in Missouri, I came across several of these quick little reptiles. Their ground-dwelling habits and impressive speed are often sufficient to identify them from a distance.

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Growing 6 to 9-1/2 inches, the Six-lined Racerunner is the only lizard in the southeastern United States with six light yellow or white stripes down its back.

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This species is most common in hot, open areas such as fields, woodland edges and sand dunes; it is almost always found on the ground. It is fond of heat and is active even on the hottest of Summer days.

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Six-lined Racerunners rely on sight to hunt small insects, arachnids, other reptiles, and occasionally, even mammals. They are voracious predators that hunt during daylight hours.

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It was fun to observe these fast-moving and agile escape artists that can quickly disappear into thick cover or small burrows when they perceive danger.

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Third Eye Herp


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While visiting a sand prairie in Missouri this month, these yellow flowers were quite noticeable.

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Camphorweed is an annual, warm-season native that generally emerges from the ground as a single stem, then branches several inches above the ground.

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As the common name suggests, camphorweed has a medicinal camphor-like aroma (or odor, as some might suggest), particularly when the leaves are disturbed.

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Camphorweed is beneficial for use on sprains or bruises and can reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Camphorweed lessens the reactive inflammation process, making it best for acute and painful injuries.

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This plant typically blooms in Summer and Fall, although in certain conditions it may bloom year-round. Its copious blooms consist of bright yellow ray florets and vivid yellow to orange.

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Sometimes known as Golden Aster, it is commonly found across the southeastern United States. Its daisy-like yellow flowers with hairy stems and leaves are often overlooked in fields and yards.

Third Eye Herp

Black Vulture

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While visiting southern Illinois, I saw several examples of this impressive bird. With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky with teetering a flight, Black Vultures are compact with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats.

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The two species often associate: Black Vultures makes up for their poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged.

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In the United States Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.

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Vultures are part of nature’s clean-up crew. They rid the landscape of deteriorating carcasses and help curb the spread of dangerous diseases and bacteria. Their stomachs have strong enzymes that kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms.

Third Eye Herp

Sword-bearing Conehead

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I found this cool creature while looking for snakes in southern Illinois.

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Easily recognized by their slanted faces and pointed cones that extend from their foreheads, the Conehead Katydids look like insect battering-rams, ready to poke holes in whatever gets in their way. Scientists do not know the significance or use of the cones.

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This species has long, slender wings and is a strong flier. At nearly 3 inches in length, it ranks as among among the longest of our native katydids.

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Residing in tall grass, weedy fields and shrubby edges, male coneheads sing mostly at night and have loud raspy or buzzy songs.

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The Sword-bearing Conehead is named for the extremely long ovipositor of the female, which can be nearly as long as her abdomen. In the photo above, you can see the dark brown tip of this female’s ovipositor extending beyond her wings.

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Other types of commonly encountered Conehead Katydids are also cleverly named, such as the Slightly Musical Conehead, Modest Katydid and the False Robust Conehead.

Third Eye Herp