Friday, September 27, 2013

Some Findings at The Ridges

I went on a hike at The Ridges the other day, which you can read about right here, and came across a few interesting creatures and plants.

This is an Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis. He was lucky; I didn't see him at first and almost stepped on him. This garter was really cooperative with me. He let me get within 5 inches of his face to take some close ups before he slithered away into the forest. Eastern Garter snakes are very common snakes and if you pay attention you'll probably notice one sometime while out hiking. This one was a smaller one, only about a foot long, but they can reach up to three feet or more. Soon this one will be grouping up with other garters to hibernate for the winter.

Ah! A salamander! I flipped over a log hoping to find one, and sure enough there was. This is a new species for me - the Northern Ravine Salamander, Plethodon electromorphus. This is a relatively "new" species actually. It was separated from the old "Ravine Salamander," P. richmondi, now known as Southern Ravine Salamander, in the last decade or two. Northern Ravines are different from their Southern Ravine cousins in their protein composition and their distribution. As a result, information on them seems rocky. Most of the studies done in the 1900's at some point may have included mixes of both species, or one, or the other, so info on Northern Ravine Salamanders is lacking, to say the least. Now that they know it's a new species maybe new research will start separating our knowledge of the two.

Here's another salamander I came across. This is a shy Northern Dusky Salamander, Desmognathus fuscus. He was in some exposed rocks along a stream and when I looked at him he promptly pulled himself into a little crevice and tried to hide from me. ODNR says they are the most abundant of our salamanders. In the northern parts of their range, like Ohio, they prefer small streams (Like where this one was found), springs, and seepages. Interestingly, this species has an immovable lower jaw and the only way it can open its mouth is to raise its head.

You've might have seen one of these, if you pay attention to tiny critters. This is a Red Velvet Mite, family Trombidiidae. I'm not sure of the species, but it's most likely either a Trombidium sp. or a Allothrombium sp. Red Velvet Mites are actually arachnids, like spiders. Many species are very small, but this one was a bit larger than the ones I normally run across; still very small, but large enough to catch my eye from a few feet away. They won't hurt you, unless you're a small insect, in which case these predators will probably be going after you.

These are the flowers of the White Snake Root, Ageratina altissima. This is a poisonous herb. It contains the toxin tremetol, which can poison humans through an interestingly process. Cows will sometimes eat this plant, and as a result ingest the toxin. This makes the milk and meat of the cow poisonous. Humans would drink the milk, and if they ingested large enough quantities of the toxin, would consequently get tremetol poisoning. Before we knew snake root was the cause, we used to just call the subsequent poisoning "Milk Sickness." Back in the frontier days, it killed thousands of settlers, many of them in the Ohio River Valley. Abraham Lincoln's mom Nancy Hicks was actually a victim of Milk Sickness. Finally, in 1928, the official link between Milk Sickness and White Snake Root was pinned down.

Alright! That's all I have for this post. Stay tuned for another post really soon over a couple of "fuzzy" caterpillars I found on this trip.

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