Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spring Wildflowers

It is Spring wildflower time again. Over the past few weeks, I've been taking photos of every species I come across in order to put together a large post covering some of the wildflower species you might come across in the Spring, especially in Appalachian Ohio. So let's get right into it.

Large-White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum
This is Large-White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum. Large-White Trillium is actually the state wildflower of Ohio. This individual belonged to a small population along a creek at The Ridges in Athens County. A wildflower of the eastern United States, Large-White Trillium can be found in upland forests. Apparently, these are also a favorite food of White-Tailed Deer, and biologists can actually gauge deer population based on Large-White Trillium abundance and height, as the deer prefer the taller flowers.

Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica
Next is a very, very common wildflower: Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. Over the past few weeks, I've seen Spring Beauties everywhere in the forests of the Athens County region. This specific individual was found at The Ridges in Athens County. This species is found throughout the eastern portion of the US, and has been found in basically every county in Ohio. When you do find it, there's a good chance it's not just one lone plant; this species is many times encountered in large mats covering the ground.

Cut-Leaved Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata
Next we have another pretty common wildflower, Cut-Leaved Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata. Cut-Leaved Toothwort has been recorded in every single county in Ohio, so you have a good chance of seeing it if you venture outside and look around. However, this species only blooms for about a month before going dormant again, so hopefully you're in the right place at the right time.

Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria
Next we have a flower that has one of my favorite plant names, Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria. The curious name comes from the shape of the flower, which looks like white breeches. This plant contains toxic substances that have an interesting effect on cows if they choose to accidentally graze on it. Upon ingesting the plant, the cow will begin to stagger along like it is drunk (among other more severe symptoms). While it rarely kills cows, this is definitely a plant they do not want to eat. Dutchman's Breeches can be found throughout all of Ohio in deciduous forests.

Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis
This is Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis. At first glance, it appears similar to Dutchman's Breeches, but upon further inspection one can see the differences. For example, notice the heart shape at the top half of the flower. This species is found in more of the southern and eastern portions of the state in deciduous forests. The individual in this photo was found at The Ridges in Athens County.

Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides
Next we have Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides. A common wildflower in Ohio, this species has been recorded in all but 4 counties scattered around the state. I'm sure it can be found in all counties here, but that requires people having to go out to find a population and then sending that observation in to be recorded. This species can be found in deciduous forests and old fields. This particular population was found at REMA in Vinton County.

Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata
These were also found at REMA in Vinton County. This is Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata. It is also known as Moss Phlox, Moss Pink, and Mountain Phlox. Creeping Phlox is a common wildflower in the eastern portions of North America, but is mostly found only in the eastern portion of Ohio. This is one of the many phlox species found in Ohio.

Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis
Next we have Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis. This species is found in the eastern half of Ohio and can be found in fields, roadsides, and forests in that region. The name "cinquefoil" comes from a combination of the Old French and Middle English words for five and leaf to describe how many leaves the flowers in this genus normally have, like in the photo above.

Houstonia caerulea
Finally, we have one of my favorite wildflowers, Azure Bluets (also known as Quaker Ladies), Houstonia caerulea. These are very tiny flowers (about 1 centimeter wide) which many times grow in little clusters like this. This species can be found in the eastern and southern portions of Ohio in forests and among grasses. To help ID, take notice of the four petals which have a yellow center.

This long post is now at an end. Finals are this week and I'll be heading back to Circleville in Pickaway County this Friday. With school over for the moment, I should be able to get more posts hopefully, so keep an eye out! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Eastern Fence Lizards

Last Sunday I joined up with some fellow Ohio University students and traveled to the Raccoon Ecological Management Area (REMA) in Vinton County. The goal of the trip was to capture as many Eastern Fence Lizards as we could in order to collect habitat data and later collect data on the individuals themselves.

Eastern Fence Lizard
Here are 7 of the 9 individuals we captured that day. I'll explain how the capturing process worked later in the post. Anyway, those are all Eastern Fence Lizards, Sceloporus undulatus. Now, you might think "Lizards? In Ohio?" But it's true; most people don't think of Ohio as a home for lizards, but we actually have 5 species (Eastern Fence Lizard, Common Five-Lined Skink, Broad Headed Skink, Little Brown Skink, and the non-native Common Wall Lizard). Eastern Fence Lizards are found in southern and eastern parts of Ohio, where hills and forests are the norm.

Eastern Fence Lizard
Eastern Fence Lizards are a smaller lizard; they only reach lengths of 4-7.25 inches long. As you can see, they can easily fit in the palm of your hand. They like to bask in the sunlight on rocks, fallen logs, and other similar things in the forest. You will also find them on trees; in fact, they will many times run up trees to get away from anything.

male Eastern Lizard
This is the underside of a male individual. This view is something most people don't see unless you have a lizard in hand, like we did. The sparkling blue is brilliant, even more so in person than in the photo above. Males also have some blue under their head, but the females will get blue there as well.

Noosing Lizards
So how in the world did we catch a small, quick lizard? Have you ever seen people on TV try to catch alligators by putting a snare around its head? That is basically the same thing we did, except the snare was very tiny. As you can see above, one of the students is holding a fishing rod out toward the lizard, which is the tiny thing on the right side of the base of the tree. At the end of the fishing rod is the tiny snare. You would simply try to get as close as you can to the lizard without scaring it off, reach over with the fishing rod, put the snare around the lizard's head, then carefully yank it so the snare closed around the head. And now you have a captured lizard! The hardest part, though, is trying to find the lizards in the first place to snare. They blend in so well with their surroundings that it takes a very sharp eye to find one.

Eastern Fence Lizard
This is the lizard that I personally captured. It was a very calm individual; it never tried to bite me when I was holding it. I was, however, bitten the next day when I was helping gather stamina data. Their mouths are so tiny that it only feels like a small pinch.

Carphophis amoenus
We also looked for snakes, but sadly only found one. This is a Wormsnake, Carphophis amoenus. I believe this individual is one of the Midwestern Wormsnakes, a subsecies. Wormsnakes are small snakes found in the southern parts of Ohio. Wormsnakes burrow in the dirt and leaf debris, searching for food. As a result, people do not see them often, even though they can be really common. This one was only found because someone decided to flip the rock it was hiding under. Timber Rattlesnakes have also been found in the area we were at and we were all really hoping to find one, but sadly we didn't see any.

Reptiles weren't the only things we came across on the trip. Spring bird migration is really starting to pick up, and this trip turned up a few singing Black-and-White Warblers and a singing Prairie Warbler. Keep on the lookout for migrants these next few weeks!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Wilds

Last Sunday I went out with the University Wildlife Club to The Wilds in Muskingum County. Normally I cover native Ohio plants, animals, and the like, but this post is a bit different.

For those of you who don't know, The Wilds is a wildlife center. It houses endangered (and non-endangered) animals in large pastures that used to be exposed strip mines. AEP donated the top 6-8 inches of land (they kept the underground to still be able to get oil and natural gas) so it could be converted back to a more natural environment. Now, The Wilds is a massive expanse of land (over 9,000 acres) that is dedicated to conservation of endangered species and public education.

Sichuan Takins
It is open to the public from May to October and is...well, it's sort of like a zoo. Except instead of people looking at animals in an enclosure, the humans are the ones in the enclosure while the animals are free. You tour the facilities in a bus that drives through the giant pastures, so animals can literally be outside the bus window. You get amazing views of many animals, like the Sichuan Takins above.

The Wilds was not open to the public when we went (they open in May), and as far as I could tell we were the only non-worker people that were on the grounds that day. As a result, we were able to get some "special treatment" and behind the scenes access. One of the activities we were able to experience was the Columbus Zoo's Animal Ambassadors program (The Wilds works alongside the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium). The Animal Ambassadors is a public outreach program where people can get up close with some interesting animals, like the Tamandua above. They also brought out a young American Alligator, hedgehog, cornsnake, and Three-Banded Armadillo and allowed us to pet the alligator, cornsnake, and armadillo.

Petting a rhino
We were then taken behind the scenes to the rhino house. I had no idea this was going to be part of the trip, but it was definitely the most amazing part. Not only did we get up close with Indian and Southern-White rhinos, but we were allowed to pet the 9 individuals too! Petting a rhino was definitely on my list of "Things I'll probably never get the chance to do," but sometimes life surprises you.

We were also allowed to hand-feed one of the rhinos. Their upper lip is prehensile and was almost like an elephant trunk. It would reach out and grab the grass out of your hand.

Baby rhino
They currently had two baby rhinos as well. They sort of acted like dogs; they loved the attention and would run and jump trying to play with you. It wasn't all fun and games though; rhinos have a very poor sense of body-awareness, and as a result you had to be very careful around them. There was a big metal fence between us, but that didn't do much. The mom of this individual sneezed at one point, scaring him. I was petting his horn-stub at the time and the baby jumped from fright and almost smashed my hand against the metal fence. The mom almost hit a few people with her massive horn on accident too. It's not that they're trying to hurt you though; they have poor eyesight, and couple that with huge bodies and unbelievable power and you get an animal that doesn't always realize what it's doing to other things around it.

Fear aside, it was completely exhilarating to be this close to such amazing animals. It honestly felt like the part in Jurassic Park where Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler have their first encounter with a dinosaur (the sick triceratops), and they're overcome with amazement as they pet it.

Of course, The Wilds isn't just for captive animals. The Wilds is also known for its amazing birding, and I (along with two other birders) were birding the entire time. The swan above is a Trumpeter Swan, one of the three species of swans that normally occur in Ohio. Of those three, only two are native (the Trumpeter and Tundra Swan). The other, the Mute Swan, is an invasive species. The Trumpeter Swan almost went extinct decades ago, but has since began rebounding due to conservation programs. The Wilds is part of a Trumpeter Swan conservation program and has raised and released many individuals. This one however is a wild-born one, as can be told by the lack of a green band on its neck. Other species from that day included dozens of Eastern Meadowlarks, Buffleheads, Ring-Necked Ducks, Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebe, and many more.

And here is the group that went! I am the one on the very left with a gray "Ohio University" shirt on. It was definitely an amazing trip and I hope it will happen again next year. If you're looking for a zoo-like experience, but want something a little bit different from the usual zoo trip, definitely think about going to The Wilds. You won't regret it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Even More Salamanders

I went out herping once again Thursday night (April 3) with some fellow wildlife and conservation biology students from Ohio University. We went to the same place as last time, State Route 356 in Athens County. Sadly, there wasn't any salamander migration going on like there was the other night, but we did find some salamanders and some other interesting things.

Let's start with the star of the night.

Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum
This is a Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum. This one raised quite the stir among our group; besides being a lifer for almost all of us, the coloration of this salamander is amazing. This species does not migrate in the Spring, and instead breeds in the fall. We only found this one because we decided to flip a large chunk of concrete on the side of the road.

Marbled Salamander
The Marbled Salamander is uncommon in Ohio. It has been recorded in 26 counties (of the 88), but some of the counties that have no records surely have populations that just haven't been found. For example, Hocking County has no record of them, but I'm sure Hocking County has them somewhere. The thing is, Marbled Salamanders spend most of their year underground, which obviously makes it hard to find them.

Eastern Red-Backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus
These two slender, slimy salamanders are the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus. These are really common salamanders in Ohio. There are two different color morphs that can be found in Ohio, the red-backed (shown above) and a lead morph (not shown). They are found most often underground and under rocks and logs in moist forests.

Red-Backed Salamander Ohio
Red-Backed Salamanders need a moist environment because they are lungless salamanders. Since they do not have lungs, they instead breathe through their skin, which must be kept moist. Since their skin is so permeable, these guys, like the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt I mentioned a few posts back, are very sensitive to pollutants in their environment as they will absorb them directly into their body.

Southern Two-Lined Salamander, Eurycea cirrigera
Okay, so this one isn't from Thursday night. This photo is actually from a few weeks ago at The Ridges in Athens, Athens County. The salamander in question is a Southern Two-Lined Salamander, Eurycea cirrigera. This one was found in a small creek under a rock. This species is found in the southern two-thirds of Ohio. There were actually a couple within a pretty small area of the creek. I found two adults and a juvenile one that still had external gills.

Spring Peeper
This is not a salamander, if you couldn't tell. Regardless, I love these little guys and wanted to throw one in. This is a Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer, as you can see from the "X" on its back. I've covered more on these guys on another post of my blog, which can be found here if you're interested: Herping: Frogs, a Toad, and More. These were so loud Thursday night (which is when this one's photo was taken) that my ears were ringing for over an hour when I came home.

Harbinger of Spring, Erigenia bulbosa
This is also not a salamander, but I'm still throwing it in! While walking through a swampy area along the road, I came across a small patch of tiny wildflowers. This is the Harbinger of Spring, Erigenia bulbosa. This is actually the first wildflower I've come across this year, and I was very excited when I stumbled across it. As the name implies, this is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the Spring. I almost passed it; these are so very tiny. Think clover-sized.

Alright, that was a long enough post. Hopefully you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Common Snapping Turtle

I was walking along the remnants of the original path of the Hocking River (before it was re-routed for reasons dealing with flooding) last Friday (March 28) afternoon in Athens. All that's left is a small creek that flows behind my dorm hall (I'm a student at Ohio University). Scanning the low, clear waters, I saw tadpoles, a few dead frogs, and something else that caught my eye.

Common Snapping Turtle young
As I focused on the object, I noticed it sort of looked like a tiny turtle basking on a leaf. Upon closer inspection, it was indeed a turtle basking on a leaf, but not just any type of turtle. This turtle was a young Common Snapping Turtle! So of course I moved in for a closer look...

baby Common Snapping Turtle
Ah! That's better. Anyway, this is a Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Notice the rough carapace, long tail, and angry-eyes staring your blogger down. His body temperature was so low though from the very cool water that he barely even moved. Common Snapping Turtles are found throughout Ohio; however, you don't see them too often because, unlike most turtles in Ohio, they don't bask very often. They mostly bask in early spring, which is why this little one was out and about.

baby Common Snapping Turtle
As the name implies, these guys will bite, and they bite hard. While not as dangerous as their gigantic Alligator Snapping Turtle relatives of the south, these are still the biggest turtles in Ohio and are extremely dangerous. If you see one, don't try to touch it. Their necks are very flexible and can reach around and bite you even if you pick one up by the back half of the shell. As a result, many people try moving ones they come across by their tail. Please, don't ever do that. Picking one up or dragging one by the tail can severely hurt their spine. Dragging one can also damage the plastron (the bottom of the shell) and its legs. So basically, just leave them alone and they will leave you alone. Trust me, you don't want to be bitten by one of these guys, and you also don't want to hurt them.

That's it about this little guy. I hope to get more turtle posts on here this summer. I would really love to get some nice photos of an Eastern Box Turtle to do a big post on them, so here's hoping to that! Hope you enjoyed!