American Bird Grasshopper

01 American Bird Grasshopper_6944

I happened to flush one of these creatures out of its hiding spot while walking through a field in southern Illinois. It did not just hop a few feet in front of me, like most grasshoppers, rather it took wing, flying several hundred feet and landing in high up in a tree.

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Although these large insects have two generations a year, they are most abundant in the Autumn. Mature females are approximately two inches in length, and the males are only slightly smaller. They are North America’s largest flying grasshoppers.

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While most grasshoppers overwinter as eggs in the soil, American Bird Grasshoppers overwinter as adults and lethargically active adults can be spotted on warm Winter days in meadows and along wooded edges throughout the colder months.

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The American Bird Grasshopper is found in fields and open woodlands in eastern and central North America, south into Mexico and South America. Somewhat migratory, in the northern part of range it may be an immigrant only and not breed.

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This species was the source of a newly discovered class of chemical compounds called caeliferins. When the grasshopper feeds on a plant, its caeliferins induce the plant to release volatile organic compounds. Caeliferins also play a role in defense, as the grasshopper expels large amounts of it when attacked.

Not only is its large size impressive, I found its detailed Art Deco-like pattern really neat.

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Central Mudminnow

01 Central Mudminnow_7013

While catching tadpoles in roadside ditches this Summer, I came across this really neat fish that I have never encountered before.

02 Central Mudminnow_6997

When the oxygen in the water insufficient, the Central Mudminnow can gulp air at the surface and use atmospheric oxygen to breathe; as a result, it is sometimes the only, or one of a very few, fish species present in waters susceptible to Winter or Summer kill.

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It burrows tail-first in mud and its ability to tolerate low oxygen levels allows it to live in waterways unavailable to other fish. Its coloration matches its habitat, being brownish above with mottled sides and a pale belly.

04 Central Mudminnow_6996

This 2-to-4 inch fish eats both aquatic invertebrates and land insects that fall into the water. In Winter, Central Mudminnows can remain surprisingly active, even under ice, and turn their attention to other small fishes, which become more sluggish and vulnerable as the temperature drops.

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01 Hawkweed 054

This is a species that I recently found growing in my front lawn. I have also noticed it in bloom in a few of the local metroparks.

02 Hawkweed 053

Hawkweed is a fibrous-rooted perennial with upright stems and small, dandelion-like flower heads in loose clusters. A European species, it is invasive in northwestern and northeastern North America.

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This plant is found mostly in open fields, mountain meadows, forest clearings, permanent pastures, cleared timber units, abandoned farmland, roadsides and other disturbed areas. It is typically encountered where soil is well-drained, coarse-textured and low in nutrients.

04 Hawkweed_1446

Hawkweed, with their 10,000+ recorded species and subspecies, do their part to make the Aster Family the second largest family of flowering plants. I mostly see all-yellow types and orange types – their flowers are less than one inch across.

05 Hawkweed_2893

Its two-to-five-inch leaves mostly surround the base of the plant and are pointed or rounded at the tip and toothless. All parts of Hawkweed are conspicuously hairy and like Dandelion, will exude a white milky sap when broken.

06 Hawkweed_036

Since most Hawkweed reproduce exclusively asexually by means of seeds that are genetically identical to their mother plant, clones or populations that consist of genetically identical plants are formed.

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This plant is also known as Devil’s Paintbrush, Red daisy and Orange King-devil.

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Nursery Web Spider

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This is a fascinating creature that sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to find in my own backyard, as well as when on hikes along the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath.

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It is similar to a Wolf Spider in appearance and has usually has brown and black stripes running the length of its body.

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Four species of Nursery Web spiders in occur in North America north of Mexico. They are streamlined, with long legs and slender bodies, which help them blend in with plant stalks.

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The Nursery Web Spider is an active hunter and does not spin a web to catch food, instead it employs a quick sprint to capture flies and other insects.

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The female carries her large, round egg-sac in her fangs. When the young are about to hatch, she builds a silk sheet among the vegetation to act as a tent.

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This “tent” shelters the offspring until they are old enough to leave on their own. This spider only uses its silk for purposes of creating a protective tent for its young.

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Their habitat is grasslands, woodland borders, fencerows, roadsides, parks and gardens. They are closely related to Fishing Spiders and can run across the water’s surface if necessary.

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Tricolored Heron

01 Tricolored Heron_9676

This was a neat and distinctive bird that I saw while visiting the southeastern United States. Standing at around two feet tall, it is one of the smaller heron species.

02 Tricolored Heron_9716

Tricolored herons inhabit fresh and saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangrove swamps, lagoons and river deltas. They can be found from Massachusetts, down through the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, to northern Brazil.

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This is a sleek, slender and distinctly-colored bird colored in blue-gray, lavender and white. The white stripe down the middle of its neck and its white belly set it apart from other dark herons.

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Tricolored Herons forage for small fish such as topminnows and killifishes in open or semi-open brackish wetlands. They are skilled at stalking, chasing and standing-and-waiting to capture small fish.

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Before striking, they draw in their neck and crouch down so low that their belly often touches the water. They also bend forward and push their wings over their head to entice fish to enter the shade provided by their wings.

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Like its relatives, it builds stick nests in trees and shrubs, often in colonies with other wading birds. They typically breed on islands with small trees or shrubs.

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The Tricolored Heron was formerly known as the Louisiana Heron.

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