Spined Oak Borer

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I found this creature in my backyard and was able to scrape it gently into a jar to examine and photograph this newly found “long-horned” beetle.

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This insect is about three-quarters of an inch long. It is brownish-yellow and mottled with dark spots. Like most long-horned beetles it has antenna longer than its body. It also has spiny projections on its antenna and on its femoral leg segments, accounting for its common name.

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Calling this little insect’s antennae “long” is an understatement; each extended, tapering antenna was twice as long as its body. Long-horned, for sure!

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There are more species of beetles than any other insect order – some sources claim a quarter of all named animal species are beetles. In the Long-horn Family there are nearly 300 genera and 1,200 species – and that’s just in North America.

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Spined Oak Borers occur from New York to Michigan and south to Florida. Adult have massive pinching mandibles that apparently are used to chew on dead branches of various hardwood trees, including oaks.

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This species lays its eggs under bark scales on dead tree limbs, after which the larvae spend their first year feeding just under the bark; during the second year, the larva migrate deeper into the dead wood, pupate, and eventually emerge as adults.

This was a super cool find that I didn’t have to go far to encounter.

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River Chub

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While looking for cool creatures in a creek in Columbiana County, Ohio, I managed to catch a couple of these large minnows.

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The River Chub is robust, olive in color above and dusky yellow below. It has orange-red fins and large scales. During the breeding season, mature males develop pinkish-purple coloration and swollen heads with tubercles between the eyes and snout tip – they are sometimes called “Hornyheads.”

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This fish is found in clear, medium-to-large creeks and rivers with moderate-to-swift current over rock and gravel substrate. Its range extends primarily through most of the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions.

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The River Chub’s presence in a stream is a good indicator of water quality. It is intolerant of pollution, turbidity and siltation and requires a minimum pH 6.0. This fish lives up to 5 years in age and can grow to be a foot long,

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It spawns in April and May. The males select sites with gravel substrate in riffles often adjacent to or just behind a large boulder. At these sites, males build a mound by stacking up a pile of pebbles with their mouths. They spawn above the pile of pebbles and continue to add to the mound between spawning events.

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As spawning continues, this activity creates a round pile of pebbles that can be 2-3 feet across and 8-12 inches high. Many other smaller species of fish will sneak in and spawn in the nest of the River Chub, taking advantage of the way the male aggressively defends the nest, which insures their eggs are protected as well.

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Northern Ribbon Snake

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Although I have found the Eastern Ribbon Snake and Western Ribbon Snake in Illinois, it was not until this year that I found this species that lives in my home state of Ohio.

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The Northern Ribbon Snake is found along the edges of lakes, ponds, bogs, streams and marshes – especially where low vegetation occurs. It tends to prefer sites that get a fair amount of sunlight.

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This snake eats frogs, tadpoles, salamanders and small fish. Though it superficially looks like a garter snake with three yellow stripes on a dark background, it is thinner in build and more aquatic in its habitat preferences.

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Northern Ribbon Snakes give birth to 3 to 26 live young in late summer. The baby snakes are 7 to 9 inches long and are colored and patterned the same as the adults.

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This is an active fast-moving snake that when approached, will typically flee for shelter or into the water, relying on its speed and agility to avoid capture.

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It was an excellent experience to come across a few of these sharply marked serpents for the first time while herping in the Buckeye State.

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Giant Wakerobin

01 California Common Scorpion_5814

While hiking along a woodland creek, I noticed this California species of spring-flowering perennial plant. It is found in the Pacific Coast Ranges and in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

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Giant Wakerobin’s large, showy, solitary, three-parted flowers rise directly out of the leaves; its flower color is variable, but is most often dark red to white. Its leaves, which are up to 6 inches long and 5 inches wide, are in whorls of three and often mottled with dark blotches.

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It prefers a shady habitat and is clump-forming, growing to 12 to 18 inches tall. The plant often seen in wooded or streamside situations (or both). It is a classic Spring wildflower, in that it blooms from Spring until early Summer, when there are very few leaves on trees, allowing it to get the light that it needs.

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Trilliums use a strategy called myrmecochory for seed dispersal. A white, fleshy appendage on the seed tip is a nutrient-rich food packet that attracts ants. Ants carry seeds to their colony up to one mile away, feed the packet to their larvae, and discard the seeds, effectively planting them.

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Not only is it an interesting plant, Giant Wakerobin is an incredible beauty and a welcome sign of Spring.

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California Common Scorpion

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This was a fun find on my recent trip to the Golden State, as I had never come across one previously. This species is adapted to a variety of habitats – existing comfortably in the desert scrub as well as in the sandy coastline.

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California Common Scorpions are nocturnal predators that forage at night. They feed upon a variety of insects, centipedes and spiders. Scorpions use their pinchers to grab their prey as the stinger on their long tail punctures it. After their paralyzing venom is injected, the prey is eaten.

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In human encounters, the venom is known to cause pain, but it is not dangerous. This creature has a total length of about three inches as an adult and typically hides under objects during the daytime. I have mainly found them under logs.

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Scorpions mature slowly, molting their exoskeleton as they outgrow it. They can have a lifespan upwards of 10 years. It was a great experience to come across a few examples of this neat arachnid in the wild.

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Peninsula Cooter

01 Peninsula Cooter_5137

While kayaking in California I caught this very cool (but non-native) reptile that in its natural range is found throughout the Florida peninsula.

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Peninsula Cooters live primarily in habitats such as floodplain swamps, basin marshes and occasionally tidal marshes. Areas with slow moving or stagnant waterways with abundant basking sites, submerged vegetation and sandy bottoms are preferred.

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Growing to a shell length of almost 16 inches, this is a reptile of impressive size. It is mainly a herbivorous species, with adults feeding solely on plants and filamentous algae, but with some juveniles eating insects and small fish.

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Peninsula Cooters are often seen basking on logs or sun-warmed rocks. They may be found in the company of other aquatic basking turtles, like Painted Turtles and Sliders. They can move with surprising speed in the water and on land.

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These turtles hibernate in the water. They don’t breathe during this time of low metabolism, but can utilize oxygen from the water, which they take in through their cloaca.

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Striped Shore Crab

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While visiting Point Reyes National Seashore in California, I hiked along small waterways in a cattle grazing area and saw a number of these neat crustaceans.

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Typically this crab is brown-to-purple or black with green stripes. Though this color combination makes it eye-catching when seen out in the open, it also helps the crab disappear into dark, rocky crevices where it hides in sea lettuce, rock weed and bits of kelp.

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Although there can be aggressive intraspecies competition over food, this creature does not keep a territory to defend. It can spend over half of its time on land and will purposely submerge to wet its gills; it can sustain itself out of water for up to 70 hours.

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Striped Shore Crabs live along the West Coast of North America, from Mexico in the south, to Vancouver Island, Canada, in the north. In additional to cattle grazing fields, they reside in estuaries, tidepools, mussel beds and in the burrows they sometimes dig into sandy banks. They can sometimes be seen scuttling along shoreline rocks.

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The variety of habitats where they exist mirrors the variety of foods they’ll eat. Though they feed mostly on phytoplankton growing on the water or rocks around them, they are opportunistic and will also eat animals including dead fish, limpets, snails, isopods, worms and mussels.

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Striped Shore Crabs were an unexpected and fun find while on my visit to the Golden State.

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue

01 Western Hound's Tongue_6163

This is a distinctive wildflower that I sometimes encounter on my April visits to California. It is native to western North America, where it grows in shady areas in woodland and chaparral.

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Its flowers change color, perhaps telling pollinators whether a specific flower is worth visiting for pollen and nectar. Bees can see blue colors, but not reds. Immature pink flowers may signal to bees, “Not ready; move on;” the mature blue flowers, “Ready for pollination;” and the fading blue-purple of the aging flowers, “I’m done, don’t bother.”

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue Hound’s grows from a heavy taproot and is an early-blooming perennial plant that supposedly gets its name from the resemblance of its leaf shape to that of a dog’s tongue.

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Known scientifically as Cynoglossum grande, the shape and rough texture of the leaves are described in the genus name, which is derived from the Greek – “cynos” for dog and “glossa” for tongue. The species name, grande, means showy (or big).

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue is in the same family as the Forget-Me-Not, which its blooms resemble. Its flowers attract native bees and hummingbirds and is an occasional larval host plant for moths and butterflies.

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According to folklore, a piece of hound’s tongue placed in one’s shoe will protect from being barked at by strange dogs!

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Black-crowned Night Heron

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This is a bird that resides in my home state of Ohio, but I see it more often when on out-of-state travels. I most recently saw one while visiting California. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, rivers, ponds, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and canals.

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Black-crowned Night Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They usually forage by standing still or walking slowly at edge of shallow water. They hunt mostly from late evening through the night. Though their main diet is fish, they also eat squid, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes, clams, mussels, rodents and carrion.

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Adults have a black crown and back with the remainder of their body white or grey. They have red eyes and short yellow legs. Immature birds (like this one that I saw in Nevada) have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. Young birds have orange eyes and dull yellowish-green legs.

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Black-crowned Night-Herons nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets and ibises. A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. They apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents. At the age of four weeks, the young begin to climb about around the nest.

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This species are among the seven types of herons observed to engage in bait fishing; luring or distracting fish by tossing edible or inedible buoyant objects into water within their striking range – a rare example of tool use among birds.

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Wild Boar

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While visiting Mount Hamilton in California, I noticed a few large, dark mammals in a hillside. I decided to investigate and encountered one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world.

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The Wild Boar, is also known as Wild Swine, Common Wild Pig, Eurasian Wild Pig, or simply Wild Pig. Feral swine are not native to the Americas, they were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food.

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Today these mammals are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian Wild Pigs and hybrids of the two. Their population is estimated at as many as 9 million and is rapidly expanding. Each female is capable of birthing at least two litters a year of six or more piglets.

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Wild Boar are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States. They are wreaking havoc in at least 39 states and four Canadian provinces, where they do damage to the tune of $1.5 to $2.5 billion annually. They tear up recreational areas, occasionally even terrorizing tourists in state and national parks, and squeeze out other wildlife.

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Their head is very large, taking up to one-third of the body’s entire length. The structure of the head is well suited for digging and acting as a plough, while its powerful neck muscles allow the animal to upturn considerable amounts of soil. They are “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning they’ll eat almost anything. They can do remarkable damage to the ecosystem, by hunting animals like birds and amphibians to near extinction.

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Wild Boar are very smart and can get to be very big – a Georgia example named “Hogzilla” is believed to have weighed at least 800 pounds.

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