Hawkweed

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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Wavy-rayed Lampmussel

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While exploring a creek near Youngstown, Ohio, I came across this cool creature.

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The Wavy-rayed Lampmussel occurs in small-to-medium sized shallow streams in and near riffles with good current. It rarely occurs in rivers. Its substrate of preference is sand and/or gravel.

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Its shell color ranges from yellow to yellowish green with numerous thin, wavy green rays. It can reach four inches in width and can live up to 20 years. Like all mussels, this species filters water to find food, such as bacteria and algae.

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Mussels in general are rather sedentary, although they may move in response to changing water levels and conditions. Mussels insert their “foot” (seen here inside of shell) into the sand or gravel and pull themselves forward, inching their way along the creek bottom.

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Belonging to a group known as bivalves, this mollusc is completely enclosed by a shell made of two valves. A hinge ligament joins the two halves of the shell together and large adductor muscles between the two valves hold them closed.

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Mussel larvae are parasitic and must attach to a fish host, where they consume nutrients from the fish body until they transform into juvenile mussels and drop off.

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The Wavy-rayed Lampmussel’s fish hosts are the Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass. The presence of fish hosts is one of the key features for an area to support a healthy mussel population.

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In turn, mussels are ecological indicators. Their presence in a water body usually indicates good water quality.

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Nebraska Conehead

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While hiking on the Buckeye Trail I came across this cool insect. The Nebraska Conehead is type of Katydid. Like other members of its family, males “sing” on warm summer nights.

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Part of this insect is not very well named: While it is found in Nebraska, its range is much broader, extending southward to Mississippi and eastward to Maryland. The other part is indeed well named: A prominent, cone-shaped structure is its the head, which easily seen when looking at it up close.

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This katydid feeds on the flowers as well as the foliage of woody plants. The call of the male sounds like “tsip-tsip,” a buzz-like sound repeated once every two seconds. This call is typically heard in daytime, but occasionally at night as well.

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It tends to spend its time facing head down more often than not, presumably prepared to execute its escape strategy – falling headfirst into the grass, where it will remain motionless to avoid detection.

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Nebraska Coneheads can found along roadsides, in weeds at the edges of fields and woods and in brushy ground cover in open woods. This is the first one I’ve ever seen, so it made for a great hike.

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Twinleaf

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This is a wildflower that I noticed not because of its blossom, but rather due to its fruit, which resembles a green acorn. I came across it last Summer and went back in April of this year to see its flowers.

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Twinleaf’s large, conspicuous blooms feature eight snowy-white petals which drop within a day or so. This plant is a perennial and often forms small colonies.

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This wildflower features long-stemmed, blue-green leaves up to 6 inches long, which are deeply divided into two lobes that give the appearance of being two separate leaves, hence the common name.

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Its unusual seed pods are on stalks that have hinged lids that open to drop shiny, brown seeds for ants to scatter.

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This showy wildflower’s scientific name, Jeffersonia diphylla, commemorates our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who was a great naturalist and once president of the American Philosophical Society, which by the late 1700’s was the country’s leading scientific organization.

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Unlike many of Ohio’s Spring wildflowers, Twinleaf is not a true spring ephemeral, as its leaves remain green and actively produce chlorophyll throughout summer. It tends to grow in the rich, damp soils of deciduous forests.

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This neat plant is also known as Helmet Pod, Ground Squirrel Pea and is enjoyable to encounter on my northeast Ohio hikes.

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American Crow

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This is a bird that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency in our neighborhood. On trash day they are often waiting to tear open trash bags left by the street in search of food.

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This is a sign of the bird’s intelligence. Neighborhoods provide a food source now only from garbage, but roadkills and lawns with worms and grubs are also food sources for this omnivorous bird.

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They are common sights in treetops, fields, and roadsides and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers.

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The American Crow’s flight style is unique – a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides. These birds congregate in large numbers (of a few hundred up to two million) in Winter to sleep in communal roosts.

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Found throughout the United States, this is probably our most easily recognized bird. From beak to tail, an American crow measures 16–20 inches, almost half of which is tail.

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Crows have been noted for their brain power. Researchers have found that crows are not only playful and mischievous, but also smart. They use tools to solve complex problems and have the same brain-weight-to-body ratio as humans.

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Flocks of crows are called “murders.” They typically make a loud “caw-caw” noise, particularly when disturbed or alarmed, but they are skilled mimics and can make vocalizations that sound like laughing, crying or a dog whining.

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Smallmouth Bass

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While exploring a creek and looking for cool creatures, I managed to capture a couple examples of this fine fish.

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As far as game fishing goes, Smallmouth Bass are sometimes overshadowed by their Largemouth counterparts, but they are still easily one of the most popular sportfish species in North America.

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Smallmouth Bass have a slender, but muscular body, making them very powerful swimmers. They are found in clearer water than the Largemouth Bass, especially in streams, rivers and the rocky areas and stumps and also sandy bottoms of lakes and reservoirs.

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This fish typically ranges in length from 12 to 15 inches and weight from 1 to 2 pounds. However, it can reach 24 inches and 10 pounds. Female Smallmouth Bass are usually larger than males.

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The Smallmouth Bass primarily eats crayfish and other large aquatic invertebrates, but it will also feed on a small fish and flying insects that fall on the water’s surface. They often hang out near underwater structures, such as fallen trees, waiting for food to come by.

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In terms of fish identification, the main difference between Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass is just that, their mouths. The mouth of the Smallmouth Bass is large, but only extends to approximately the middle of the eye. The mouth of the Largemouth Bass extends easily past the eye.

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This was my first time ever catching this neat species and it made for an awesome time while out and about.

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Clymene Moth

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I saw this cool creature while hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is noted for the striking upside-down cross pattern on its forewings. Because of this design, some people refer to it as the “Crusader Moth.”

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This is a member of the Tiger Moth family (as is the Woolly Bear/Isabella Tiger Moth). Typically it inhabits deciduous forests and the fields adjacent to them where their black, bristly larvae feed on a wide variety of plants.

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It may be fitting that the Clymene Moth looks like a Star Trek badge, because it boldly goes everywhere, day and night. Unlike the nocturnal habits of most moths, it does not shy away from sunshine. But like other moths, it is attracted to lights at night.

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The two smooth black antennae allow them to sense and smell the species in their area. Like like other moths, they communicate through pheromones and chemical smells. With a wingspan of 1-1/2 to 2 inches, this is not an especially large moth.

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The Clymene Moth is native to eastern North America. Adults seem to prefer moist areas like wetlands, where they visit flowers and use their long proboscises (tongues) to drink nectar. I most often find it in wooded areas adjacent to creeks.

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This is always a neat insect to encounter during the summer months, when it is most active.

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Dame’s Rocket

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This non-native species is hard to ignore. It has even established itself on our backyard. Dame’s Rocket, also known as Dame’s Violet and Mother-of-the-evening, was introduced as an ornamental around the time of European settlement.

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Dame’s Rocket bears loose clusters of attractive, fragrant, pinkish-purple to white four-petaled flowers on two-to-four foot stems. Its leaves are arranged alternately on the stem and are slightly hairy and lance-shaped with toothed margins.

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This plant’s habitat includes open woodlands, prairies, roadsides, ditches and other disturbed areas. The plant’s three-month-long blooming period and ability to set abundant seed have contributed to its spread. A single plant produces up to 20,000 seeds.

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Dame’s Rocket is often confused with Garden Phlox, because the flower colors, clustered blooms and bloom time are similar. However, Garden Phlox has flowers with five petals (Dame’s Rocket has four).

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Although problematic because is displaces native plants and it considered an invasive species (five states have placed legal restrictions on it), this member of the Mustard Family is a food source for caterpillars as well as a nectar source for bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds.

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