Missouri Herping Trip

Many years ago (it feels like at this point) I ventured over to Missouri in May. I got a lot of ticks and even more lifers. (When out naturalizing, always keep the lifer species/ticks ratio above 2:1, or you should get out of there as quickly as possible.) Given a chance to go to Missouri just before finals week, my friends and I, as part of the Southern Illinois University Herpetology Club, decided to go back to the same areas and look for reptiles, amphibians, and whatever we could find.

COACHWHIPS!

SPECKLED KINGSNAKES!!

RINGED SALAMANDERS!!!

… or none of the above because it was cool and rainy much of the weekend. Furthermore, I failed to pack a sleeping bag, and decided to sleep in my car instead with a spare blanket I’d packed . This proved to be a brilliant idea when thunderstorms struck up at 3 AM. We eventually drove over to a nearby state park, Johnson’s Shut In’s State Park *cue my friend Kyle saying “what a weird name for a state park!”* and waited for the rain to pass a bit before venturing out into the trail system.

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Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park lies in the St. Francois Mountains of the Ozark Plateau. These low mountains have deep, carved valleys through hard igneous rock, and in some spots the rock has decided not to erode entirely, forming unique formations that “shut” the rivers “in” to narrow channels between large masses of stone:

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As it was still quite damp post-rain, we quickly found… nothing, as with the damp was cool, cloudy weather. We did eventually find a Central Newt under a log, near where I found the Fire Pink flower above. Central Newts live in water as tadpoles and fully-grown adults, but in between they are terrestrial and live as efts, shown below. They’re basically the determined young adult who moves out of the dull, boring Midwest off to “somewhere else” before deciding they have to come back here for a job and family, and reluctantly settle down anyway.

This time away from the newt homeland is a brief period of rebellion during which the newt is quite toxic to anyone in contact with it (well, I wouldn’t rub newt skin on a cut or put it in my mouth, at any life stage.) The newt advertises its toxins by having orange skin with brighter orange spots as a warning. If you want to be really scientific, that’s aposematic coloration… I’m toxic, don’t touch me. Some people would do well to have aposematic coloration, for the benefit of those around them. Moving on.

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Central Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis)

On the nearby oak trees we found strange inflated ball-like structures attached to the leaves. Splitting one open revealed a bizarre urchin-like structure hiding within, fusing around a central core.

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These unique galls are the result of a wasp, the Spongy Oak-Apple Gall Wasp, which forms these unique “oak-apples” as some people call them. Inside the center is the larval wasp, feeding on plant tissues until it grows to be an adult. While not exactly beneficial to the tree, these growths rarely become a serious harm, either.

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Walking further along the trail, we came to rocky openings in the woods, known as glades. This is a rhyolite glade, if I recall correctly. Glades are formed due to thin soils on rocky hillsides, and they support unique animals and plants from all over the Midwest, both endemic and otherwise.

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Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris)

They are often full of herps hiding under the rocks, and we got lucky with this coiled-up Yellow-bellied Racer hiding peacefully under a rock. Yellow-bellied Racers are a subspecies of North American Racers, including the Southern Black Racers and Blue Racers I’ve seen previously.

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Another new form/species/genetic variation of a species I’ve seen already is this Western Slimy Salamander. Western Slimy Salamanders are close relations to the Northern Slimy Salamanders I’m used to finding in Southern Illinois, potentially even the same species although they were recently split thanks to genetics.

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Prairie Lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus)

In similar fashion, the Prairie Lizard above is split off from the Eastern Fence Lizard over genetics and range. There’s a lot of this sort of thing when it comes to reptile and amphibian taxonomy in the last two decades, and I wonder how much of it will remain intact in the next two decades.

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Skink (Plestiodon sp)

Skinks scuttled about as the sun rose and cleared away the clouds. We came down to a blue pool of the Black River and rested by it.

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From there it was a haul back to the beginning, where we stopped at an overlook and spotted an overlooked turtle.

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This is a River Cooter, one of our most-wanted to see turtles and a reptile of clean water systems in the Southeast. It was a pleasant surprise as we left.

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Oh, but the blogpost doesn’t end here… I know. We next went to a beautiful glade on a nearby mountaintop, from which the St. Francois Mountains were visible as low ridges, typically miles long and only a thousand or so feet high. Look, the term mountains is generous, I know.

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On the thin glade soils prairie plants bloomed, such as these Birdsfoot Violets with their two-toned petals. We looked about for lizards and snakes with limited success in terms of lizards and no success in terms of snakes.

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Just as we were about to leave, Shawn found this Three-toed Box Turtle male in full Darth Maul colors. The shells of Three-toed Box Turtles are far plainer than those of Eastern Box Turtles, but the head stands out like a burning coal. It was an excellent find to wrap up our first full day in Missouri, and we pulled off a few ticks and wandered back to the campsite.

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Spring 2019 happened

Look, I know spring is “technically” over on the 21rst of June but I don’t really care. It’s summer when May is over, and May 2019 is dead and gone.

In the meantime, I graduated from college, spent a few days down looking for cool stuff in Southern Illinois, and I’ve now landed a job working for the Critical Trends Assessment Program of the Illinois Natural History Survey doing plant surveys, which is honestly one of the best jobs I could ever have. In the meantime, I’m going to share more blogposts, but now I’m behind. Yay.

Cerulean Warbler!

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Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)

On one of my last field trips for my ornithology class, we stopped by the warbler spot Pomona-Cave Creek Trail in the Shawnee National Forest, and I happened to notice this Cerulean Warbler singing from a nearby branch. This is a long-time photo lifer I’ve wanted. A State-Threatened species, Cerulean Warblers tend to sing only from the very tops of the tallest trees in old woodlands. This one was slightly more obliging.

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Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons)

Another, more common treetop singer, the Yellow-throated Vireo, also deigned to show off. This warblerlike bird can be distinguished from the warblers by a larger thicker beak. It too prefers old-growth woodlands.

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Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros)

As Pomona-Cave Creek is a large wetland stuck between two ridges of the Shawnee Hills, lowland species like this Swamp Darner could be found perched on nearby trees. Swamp Darners are one of the largest dragonflies in the United States, and it’s difficult to get them to sit still, typically.

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Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis)

Nearby, a lifer dragonfly, the Lancet Clubtail, perched on the ground. This little guy is a member of a large, confusing dragonfly family, the Clubtails, and they intimidate me a little as I get into this process of learning dragonflies. I haven’t seen a ton of new species yet as many emerge in June or later on in May, and with finals I haven’t been looking as much as I could.

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Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Another unique species, the Pipevine Swallowtail, decided to sit and show off its glossy, reflective wings. Now, if only I could find its host plant… I’ve never seen any wild pipevines in Illinois.

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Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgare)

Still, I have found a few plants I’ve been after, among them this Adder’s Tongue fern which has been one of my longtime nemeses. This fern is supposedly more common in old fields and untreated cemeteries in the South, but I found it in a random patch of pine forest offtrail. A member of the odd Moonwort family, it emerges for a brief time in the spring, spreads its spores, and then settle down to live out much of its time underground.

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Speaking of brief springtime emergence, the mating movements of the salamanders earlier in the year have resulted in young Spotted Salamanders like the one above, found in an area nearish the spot I named earlier. Soon they will lose the gills and scurry back under the logs and rocks of the surrounding woods, graduating from their larval stages into an adult form to do adult stuff.

In similar fashion, I’ll be graduating soon, and going out to do “adult stuff” myself! I’ve gotten a temporary job with the Illinois Natural History Survey for the summer, and I look forwards to finally working in my field.

Tanks for the Field Guide, Mom and Dad!

I’ve gotten a wee bit interested in fish of late. This all started when I saw a few Orangethroat Darters down in a creek in Trail of Tears State Forest while looking around there for plants.

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Female Orangethroat Darter (Ethostoma spectabile)

Orangethroat Darters are one of the most common fish in shallow rapids in the creeks of the Shawnee National Forest, as you can see from how many I caught below:

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Darters get their name from their habit of darting between hiding places to move. Between “darts” they lay still, propped up by their pectoral fins (the fins we think of as “arms”). Hundreds of species live in the US, most of these in the Southern Appalachians. The great appeal of darters is the male darter’s colorful appearance, as you can see in the next two photos.

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Darters are not the only residents of the streams, however. I also got this Central Stoneroller below, a type of minnow common in flowing creeks in parts of the Midwest.

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Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum)

Stuck on a rock in the middle of the creek was an American Giant Millipede, one of our most attractive invertebrates. Sure, it may have more legs than I’m comfortable with, but it’s somehow cute anyway. A couple of years ago, I could’ve ID’d this simply as Narceus americanus, but apparently that’s a species complex and you can’t ID them without DNA or something. Yay.

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American Giant Millipede (Narceus sp.)

A much more easily ID’d animal, and one that made me yell “WHOO BOY” when I landed it, is this Banded Sculpin. Sculpins are basically insect hunters who lie in wait for insects to get too close, although they’ll eat quite a variety of animals. Anything that fits into their mouth is fair game. I removed the darters from the tank before photographing this little beast.

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Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae)

While I was landing the Banded Sculpin, my friend Cody found us this Virile Crayfish. Crayfish have become a fun bycatch in many dipnetting attempts, and I’ve tried to figure out how to ID all the species I catch- not always the simplest process!

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Virile Crayfish (Faxonius virilis)
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As part of my interest in crawdads and fish, I bought two field guides. I’d just ordered my fish guide and mentioned this casually to my parents, who immediately owned up to the fact they’d bought me the same guide as a birthday present. Thanks to them for doing so!

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Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)
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Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

Due to my lack of experience with that field guide, however, I ended up just ID’ing these two minnows by asking someone on a Facebook page and then looking it up in the field guide to confirm. Turns out these are Striped Shiners- just not particularly stripy I guess!

Nearby ditches in the lowlands had a few other species, including this Dwarf Crayfish:

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Dwarf Crayfish (Cambarellus sp.)
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Kadiak (Palaemonetes kadiakensis)

It may surprise you to know that shrimp exist in Illinois. I’ve only found this one species, which goes by a variety of names, but I’ve found it in many of the floodplain pools, lakes, and ditches. I could call it Mississippi Grass Shrimp, Mississippi Glass Shrimp, etc. but I’d rather call it the Kadiak after the first part of its species name.

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Featherfolil (Hottonia inflata)

My friend Cody and I ventured across the river to Missouri, where we found even more cool fish, but also one of my most-wanted plants. Above is a Featherfoil, an unusual plant that uses its inflated flowering stems to stay afloat on the still waters of swamps. It’s one I’ve waited a long time to see, and I managed to see it on my birthday.

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Northern Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar)

I’ll round off this first of many fishing posts with a Northern Starhead Topminnow photographed at Larue-Pine Hills. This State-listed fish is one I’ve found lately, and I hope to find many more fish in the coming months. I’ve got another blogpost’s worth to show off so far!

THE Pile of Cottonmouths (and Missouri, first)

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Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

I may have bent the Internet a little lately by posting a photo of some Cottonmouths. I’ll discuss that as an addendum to this initial post. Cody and I, doing one of our usual excursions, decided to wander over to Hawn State Park in Missouri and look around for the usual mix of reptiles, amphibians, birds, weird insects and plants that make up our average adventures.

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Rose Vervain (Glandularia canadensis)

On the roadside we ran across a large patch of blooming Rose Vervain, a floriferous plant of dry open rocky areas.

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Goatweed Leafwing (Anaea andrina)

Once at Hawn we swiftly discovered this Goatweed Leafwing, or as I like to call it the Flying Dorito, accompanying a few other butterflies.

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American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

As we rounded a corner, the third of my most-wanted butterflies came into view (Goatweed Leafwing, Pipevine Swallowtail, and now this:)

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Falcate Orangetip (Anthocharis midea) on Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Falcate Orangetips, lifer butterflies for me, are locally common Southern butterflies that only emerge early in the spring. This beautiful male (only males have orange wingtips) stopped its near-constant flying to show us its intricate side pattern. Unusual fact about these butterflies- unlike most butterfly species, the larvae of Falcate Orangetips are cannibalistic.

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Bess Beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus)

Another unusual insect in the area is the Bess Beetle. Bess Beetles are social to an extent, often living and raising young together, even communicating with squeaking noises (which they will also do as an alarm call when handled.) This Bess Beetle decided to go up and wave about on a log, for reasons only explicable by beetle logic. While taking this photo, something scurried noisily in the leaf litter behind the log, my lifer…

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Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracitus)

Southern Coal Skink! Missouri has tons of lizards, compared to any state I’ve visited outside of Florida. I don’t know what it is about the Ozarks that results in such a plethora of lizards, but I definitely like it. Coal Skinks use their brown and black coloration to hide in plain sight among leaves, as shown above quite readily.

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Prairie Lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus)

Among the most common is the Prairie Lizard, the more abundant replacement of the Eastern Fence Lizard west of the Mississippi, and we found several of these guys head-bobbing on nearby logs.

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Plestiodon sp.

Skinks can be quite hard to ID so many of the lizards we saw remained unidentified. After a bit, we decided to climb up into the hills and look for things under the rocks.

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Hills at Hawn State Park

A lifer Western Slimy Salamander was a highly welcome surprise under a rock I flipped. Slimy Salamanders used to all belong to the same species but someone decided that there needs to be 13 different species of Slimy Salamander, based mostly on range and genetics. This is my second member of that complex… eleven to go.

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Western Slimy Salamander (Plethodon albagula)

Nearby, a Common Gartersnake cruised about hungrily. If I was writing a nature documentary like all the BBC ones, I’d cut back and forth with ominous music between the Western Slimy Salamander and the Common Gartersnake, until nothing ends up happening because the two individuals are widely separated by distance and edited to look closer together. Unfortunately, I don’t have the BBC funding me, so this is as good as it gets.

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Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Cody and I continued to flip rocks, and we managed to find a decent number of lizards in between all the ants and wolf spiders.

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Flipping a skink
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The flippidated skink (Plethodon sp.)

As this is Missouri, there’s a few things present here under rocks that aren’t in Illinois and are more typical of the Southeast or Southwest. One of those is scorpions, specifically Striped Bark Scorpions. Cody was treated to the suprise of five scorpions under one rock, an individual of which is below. Flipping rocks is like gambling- you never know what your luck is going to be and sometimes you hit a jackpot (of scorpions).

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Striped Bark Scorpion (Centruoides vittatus)

The sun began to set more and more, so we moved off to home, strolling back through the filtered sun of pine-scented woods (that made Cody sneeze nonstop from the pollen.) Etc. etc. drove home the end.

Alright, now I’ll get to the Cottonmouth story.

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Piney woods of Hawn State Park

I enjoy wandering about the Shawnee National Forest, and I found a location that looked good for plants, potentially- a pond deep in the hills. I ended up getting lost multiple times and stumbled across the pond, looking down to this sight below. Words were said, to the tune of “Holy s–t!” I then proceeded to put my hand down six inches away from Cottonmouth #31, coming in to join the pile.

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Full log of Cottonmouths

Since I’d never seen a thick pile of Cottonmouths like this before, I figured I’d post the image online. It blew WAY up. I presume they’ve just emerged from a den I didn’t know they had. Since juveniles and adults were mixed in together, I presume it’s more communal basking and not the proverbial “mating ball of Cottonmouths”. This presumption was supported by a few commenters on my online posts. Well, time to send it back out once more into the net, with the statement that this is very rare to see, none of the Cottonmouths chased me or anything, and you’d have to be well off the beaten path to find this. Don’t ask for locations. Have a good day!

The Famous Pile of Cottonmouths
THE Cottonmouth photo (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Flipping [Out] Over Everything

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Upset Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) between biting sessions. Racers are among the most aggressive snakes in the US… but only if you handle or corner them. Also, they’re nonvenomous and don’t have long teeth, so getting bit isn’t a huge deal.

Hello again! I can’t sleep for some reason, so I’ve decided to turn on Eurythmics and write a blog post at 2 AM. No one’s grading this, so I think it’s ok for me to be writing now. If I had an actual graded assignment I’d be more concerned that I’ve been awake for >24 hours. As it is, no one reads these anyway, I don’t think from looking at site stats… I’ll shut up and get into it. This is going to be a real quality post.

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Virginia Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica)

So, my good friends Chris, Cody and I have got a site known as [Redacted] where Chris samples the local snakes for Snake Fungal Disease. This is either an emerging threat that’s going to wipe out half of North America’s snake species or it’s a natural part of snake hibernation that has increased as a problem due to inbreeding depression and declining populations from habitat loss, depending on who you ask. Either way, it basically rots the snake’s scales off its body until the snake dies. Lovely, right? Not. [Redacted] is a field site in the Shawnee Hills that borders a swamp and as such has a very nice den of snakes, lizards, and other herps.

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Cliff at [REDACTED]- this place is basically Snake Road without the convenience or crowds.

At [REDACTED] we flipped this Ring-necked Snake out from under a rock. Flipping rocks is the quickest way to find herps, and it can be a lot of work. Furthermore, while under one out of every two rocks there’s often a plethora of ants, only about one out of every one hundred rocks yields a snake or similar-quality fauna. If that’s not enough, species vary by the substrate UNDER the rocks. Ringnecks like rock-on-rock best.

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Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) just about to go back under his rock.
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Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Salamanders, on the other hand, tend to prefer rock-on-dirt for hiding, especially if they have boltholes they can scurry back to while you’re turning on the camera, as with the example below.

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Northern Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) with what appears to be a partially regenerated tail from a previous accident.

Occasionally, a good rock flip will strike gold and you’ll end up with something like this gorgeous Common Five-lined Skink:

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Young Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

It should be mentioned that in rock flipping, I tend to “encourage” or personally remove the involved species out from under the rock before replacing it, just to prevent accidental crushing when I replace the rock as close to the way it was when I found it.

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Better view of the skink, which definitely crawled up onto Cody’s hand and totally wasn’t grabbed out from under the rock where it was resting before it took off at lightspeed.

Also, I try to be careful of the nearby plants when flipping rocks- many of these are drought-adapted, uncommon plants, like this American Columbo:

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American Columbo (Frasera carolinensis)

Even leaf piles require careful examination- you never know when one of these Little Brown Skinks is going to be diving through a pile of leaves.

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Little Brown Skink (Scincella lateralis)
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I mentioned the ants already, good ok we got that out of the way. Next one up is one the one person I know who reads these blogs, my mother, isn’t going to be thrilled with. Sorry Mom, I’ve started to find jumping spiders cute. This appears to be a Whitman’s Jumping Spider.

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Whitman’s Jumping Spider (Phidippus whitmani)
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See Above (Idontcarenow mymelatoninisettingin)

Bizarre insects are fast becoming favorites of mine, as this small leafhopper demonstrates. That wild patterning design works surprisingly well as camouflage against lichens, especially when you’re the length of my pinky’s trimmed fingernail.

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Erythroneura calycula

[REDACTED] is known for scenery, but it receives few visitors, and to be fair while the views are pretty good it’s no Inspiration Point. Furthermore, the ticks and mosquitoes can be relentless at times (but what else is new?)

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Oaks and other trees at [Redacted]

Occasionally I don’t flip rocks over, I let Cody do that while I look at plants.

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More Virginia Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica)

Given the number of Spring Beauties, at some point butterflies show up to pollinate them, including my most-wanted butterfly species for YEARS, the Pipevine Swallowtail. Pipevine (Aristolochia spp.) is an uncommon species this far north, and thus so often is the butterfly. I’ve regularly misidentified many other dark swallowtail species as this butterfly, but I now realize the single curve of red dots is fairly unique to this species.

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Lifer! Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Meanwhile, Cody continues to flip rocks, and I hear a “Holy S–t!” I move back to see what he’s found, and it’s a young Western Mudsnake! One of the more difficult snake species to find, and Cody and I got one! Unfortunately, this is one of the days where Chris is unable to join us, so I took a mildly sadistic pleasure in texting him “Look what we found!”

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Mudsnake (Farancia abacura)

Mudsnakes are not considered particularly “rare”- but they are more or less underreported due to their habits. Mostly aquatic, often nocturnal, and feeding almost entirely upon aquatic salamanders like the Lesser Siren deep in the backwaters of unvisited swamps, mudsnakes are extremely rare to see. This was Cody’s lifer. It began gaping after an extended handling session, and we realized we’d gotten carried away. Replace the rock, let the snake slide underneath, flip more rocks…

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz [I the author have fallen asleep, go out and flip some rocks].

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March of the Turtles (but it’s April?)

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Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

As spring moves forth, so does the plodding of the turtles. No matter how far they may be from water, it seems that the turtles will march onwards.

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Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans)

Some turtles refuse to march, of course. These Map Turtles (which include my state lifer False Map Turtles in the back) prefer to hang out in the middle of the big muddy rivers, swollen by floodwaters.

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Northern Map Turtle (front, Graptemys geographica) and False Map Turtle (back, G. pseudogeographica) basking on log

The flooding drives fish into shallow water where young Bald Eagles hunt for them, and I took my parents to witness this flock of Bald Eagles, as they’d come down to visit me.

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Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

My parents and I also decided to go investigate Jackson Falls over in the eastern Shawnee National Forest. Upon stepping out of the car I ran across this Spring Beauty Mining Bee, so we were off to a great start!

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Spring Beauty Mining Bee (Andrena erigeniae) on Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

We followed the bluffs to the top of the falls, and then beyond.

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Creek flowing into Jackson Falls

My mother spotted a Hermit Thrush even before I did, and we managed to get a picture. These thrushes are on their way north, having spent the winter in the Southern United States.

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Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

The sandstone here shears off in mostly straight-edged blocks, forming interesting mazes at the bases of some cliffs. Between this and a confusing, poorly-mapped trail system we were quickly lost.

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Sandstone blocks south of Jackson Falls

We ended up by a clear, unpolluted creek, where to my surprise I found this Least Brook Lamprey, a state-threatened fish species. Many lampreys are parasitic. However, this species only feeds in its larval stage and then only filter-feeds plankton from the water. In adult form Least Brook Lampreys live for 6-8 months but don’t eat at all.

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Least Brook Lamprey (Lampetra aepyptera)

Continuing up the creek, I tried to photograph more fish. I fell in the creek and the fish got away, so I had to content myself with a moth.

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Bilobed Looper Moth (Megalographa biloba)

Finally we made it to the base of Jackson Falls, and after admiring the view we climbed back to the car, and I do mean climbed.

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Jackson Falls

Tired, but with some time left in the day, I decided to show my parents around the Cache River area. We found many Spiny Softshells basking along the creeks, yet another turtle species.

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Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera)

Dozens of flowers bloomed, including this Jacob’s Ladder:

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Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans)

The following morning we drove around the Mississippi River Valley and encountered shorebirds feeding on the edges of flooded fields.

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Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
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American Golden-Plovers (Pluvialis dominica)

This honker of a Common Snapping Turtle was marching out between ponds as well, and since it happened to stop for a bit on a pulloff we stopped to admire it.

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Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Red-eared Sliders marched forth across many roads.

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Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans)

This Great Horned Owl flew off to confront a nearby Bald Eagle, while the fast-growing chicks in its nest waited patiently for Mom to come back. I’ve been keeping this nest in the middle of a river a bit quiet for months now, only for someone else to come along, find out, spill the beans, and now I’ve heard stories about someone going out in waders to get up close to the nest for photos. Bearing in mind, this river is well over flood stage and Great Horned Owls, as seen below, are good nest defenders.

Still, at least the limited disturbance hasn’t affected the owls yet and I got to show them to my parents from a distance, as the last part of their trip.

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Great Horned Owl w/ chicks (Bubo virginianus)

After saying goodbye to my parents, I went back home, finding this Common Snapping Turtle in the process of marching homewards itself, with a bit of dirt to its name.

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Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)