Witches’ Butter

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While walking along the edge of a cypress swamp in southern Illinois last month, some small, yellow, irregularly lobed, gelatinous masses caught my eye.

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Witches’ Butter has fruiting bodies that are brain-like, sulfur yellow-to-pale yellow and have a gelatinous texture. It grows in masses on dead deciduous wood, especially oaks.

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This fungi’s full-time job is to inhabit dead wood as a parasite that gets nourishment by digesting the tissues of an unrelated fungus (a crust-like fungus that is itself parasitizing and maybe killing the tree). Witches’ Butter is therefore a parasite of a parasite!

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Witches’ Butter has a cosmopolitan distribution, having been recorded from Europe, North, Central, and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Its fruit bodies are formed during wet periods throughout the year.

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A type of Jelly Fungi, the investigation of the medicinal benefits of Jelly Fungi has revealed that they stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and are useful in the treatment of allergies and diabetes.

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This fungus is also known as Yellow Brain, Golden Jelly Fungus and Yellow Trembler.

Third Eye Herp

Three-toed Box Turtle

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While visiting a nature center in Missouri last month and walking the trails, I came upon a reptile that I have never encountered in the wild before.

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Three-toed Box Turtles are named due to the number of toes on the back feet, though there can be four-toed examples too. Their carapace (upper shell) is high-domed and tends to be olive or brown with faint yellow or orange lines. It’s small size (usually less than five inches), color and pattern allow it to blend in well with the forest floor.

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Generally a forest species, it also can be found on forest edges and in brushy fields. Young Three-toed Box Turtles consume mostly earthworms and insects, while adults tend to be more vegetarian, eating a variety of plants, berries and mushrooms.

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To protect themselves from predators, turtles are able to pull their heads, legs, and tails into their shells. Box Turtles have the additional ability to clamp their shells completely shut, due to a hinge in the plastron (lower shell). Very few predators can successfully prey on an adult Box Turtle.

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Because of this adaptation, once a Box Turtle reaches adulthood, its average life span is 50 years, while a significant portion live to over 100 years in age.

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This reptile is native to the south-central part of the United States and is the official reptile of the state of Missouri.

Third Eye Herp

Modest Katydid

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While exploring a cypress swamp in southern Illinois, I came across this fine creature. Native to the southeastern United States, this species is more common in the south, but appears to be expanding its range northward.

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It is found in a wide variety of both dry and wet habitats, though in more northern states, most reside in bottomland forests. The Modest Katydid is small and easily overlooked. Not only is the species size and demeanor modest, the song is barely audible in the field.

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Though it looks leaf-like like other katydids, a key identification mark it that it has a bold dark diagonal stripe through its eye. Like other katydids, it eats leaves from deciduous trees in wooded areas, parks and neighborhoods.

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The quiet, lispy ticks of the Modest Katydid are very hard to hear in the field. The nighttime chorusing of other katydids and crickets easily drown them out.

Third Eye Herp

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad

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While checking out this sand prairie in Missouri last month, I came across a tiny amphibian that I have not seen in many years.

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Narrow-mouthed Toads are small, flattened frogs with pointed snouts and a fold of skin across the back of their heads. These unusual, plump creatures are typically only around 1 to 1-1/2 inches.

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These amphibians are found throughout the southeastern United States, but are absent from high elevations. They use many types of habitats, as long as adequate moisture and shelter are present.

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Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toads primarily eat ants, although they also eat termites and small beetles. Their call is a bleating, nasal baaaa, which sounds like a lamb.

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It was really neat to see one of these cool creatures again in my travels.

Third Eye Herp