Finescale Stoneroller

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I came across a couple of examples of this fine fish while on my outing to southern Illinois this year. This minnow is characterized by having a rounded snout overhanging a crescent-shaped mouth.

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The Finescale Stoneroller’s preferred habitat is pools or riffles with gravel or rubble substrate in small to medium-sized streams. It prefers cool, clear water with moderate to fast currents.

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This fish is generally herbivorous, feeding primarily on algae scraped from rocks and logs with the cartilaginous ridge on its lower jaw. It is classified as a grazing minnow and large schools of these fish often feed together.

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During breeding season, males begin building nests starting in late Winter and continuing throughout Midsummer, creating large, bowl-shaped depressions in calm waters by rolling stones along the bottom with their noses, giving them their common name.

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This small fish is prey to many larger fish as well as many birds and reptiles. To avoid them, they move fast, travel in schools and hide when they perceive danger.

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Eastern Tiger Salamander

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While visiting southern Illinois, I came across the largest land dwelling salamander in North America. It generally grows to be between 7 and 8-1/2 inches in length, but can reach up to 13 inches.

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The Eastern Tiger Salamander is stocky with sturdy limbs and a long tail. Its body color is dark brown (almost black) and irregularly marked with yellow-to-olive colored blotches.

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Belonging to the family known as Mole Salamanders, Tiger Salamanders are fossorial, spending much of their lives underground, feeding on worms, snails, insects and slugs.

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These salamanders migrate to breeding ponds in late Winter or early Spring. One to two days after courtship, a female lays up to a hundred eggs, which hatch about four weeks later. The larvae stay in the pond for 3 to 5 months before emerging to live on the land.

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Eastern Tiger Salamanders are the most widely distributed salamander in North America and can be found in habitats ranging from woodlands to open fields to marshy areas.

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Small White Morning Glory

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On my travels to southern Illinois this past Autumn, I came across this neat native wildflower growing along some railroad tracks.

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Small White Morning Glory favors disturbed habitats like prairies, thickets, the gravelly bars of streams and banks of lakes, moist meadows near rivers or woodlands, abandoned fields, areas along roadsides and railroads and miscellaneous waste areas.

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The “Morning Glory” name is applied because these flowers, which can be especially glorious when large numbers are blooming, will close up later in the day as the bright sun shines on them. Each flower is about one inch wide.

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Small White Morning Glory’s heart-shaped leaves are often crimson-edged and it relies primarily on its vining habit to disperse into new areas. Its vines range from 3 to 10 feet in length.

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The flowers of the Small White Morning Glory attract primarily bumblebees and other longer-tongued bees for its nectar.

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Carolina Mantis

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While walking along some railroad tracks in southern Illinois, I came across this cool creature.

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The Carolina Mantis is a species native to North Carolina and South Carolina; hence the name. But, actually it is a common mantis is most states of the United States. It also occurs in Mexico and South America.

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These insects are about 2-1/2 inches long and are highly variable in color. They may be gray with spots, green, green with spots or bands, brown, and brown with spots or bands.

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The front legs are usually held folded in front of the insect in a pose resembling prayer. When an unfortunate insect gets too close, the mantis’ forelegs spring out, grab the prey and then hold it while it is eaten.

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This insect is found in woodlands and meadows, especially around flowering plants. It tends to stay in one place as for long as there is a good supply of food and usually uses a “sit-and-wait” tactic of obtaining its prey.

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The Carolina Mantis is the state insect of South Carolina.

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Speckled Kingsnake

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My only “lifer” snake found this year was encountered in a glade in Missouri. I was flipping rocks and enjoying seeing Slimy Salamanders, Black Widow Spiders and Bark Scorpions, when this fine serpent turned up.

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This is an easy to identify medium-to-large, shiny black snake covered with small yellow spots. The ground color is generally black or dark brown. A white or yellow spot occurs in the center of most of the scales, to make the snake look speckled.

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Speckled Kingsnakes are not only common in relatively undisturbed habitats, but often are also common in agricultural areas, particularly around buildings and junkyards.

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This reptile kills its prey by constriction. Its foods include small rodents, lizards and other snakes, including venomous species such as Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Rattlesnakes. It is immune to the venom of snakes living in its home range.

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The Speckled Kingsnake is often called the “salt-and-pepper” snake. This reptile was a most welcome find on my Autumn outing.

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