The Falls of the Ohio is a special place in the history of life. From the ancient marine creatures whose remains are preserved in limestone dating back more than 370 million years a go to the contemporary creatures that inhabit the park today…it is my goal to celebrate life here in all its diversity. I’m going to use this post to present images of recent finds. I was exploring the western side of this state park recently and saw this spider’s web high off the ground catching the early morning light. I’m sure its architect would prefer a buggy meal over the photons it has snared instead! Looking at this web image, I’m struck by how similar this looks to the cross-section of a tree. Can you see that too with the outermost silk rings resembling a tree’s growth rings? In the Purple Loosestrife stands, butterflies were having a nectar feast and I presented many images of them in a previous post. Here’s one more to add to that portfolio. I have seen this butterfly species wind up on the spider’s menu before.
This is the Dog Face Butterfly (Colias cestonia ). It is often difficult to photograph this butterfly in the wild with its wings open because this species prefers to feed with its wings held together. Through the strong light passing through the forewings, you can get the suggestion of a dog’s head in profile. Imagine the black rimmed spot as the “dog’s eye” with its muzzle pointing down. When open, the dark interior margins of the wings are a warm black color. I was exploring the interstitial sandy zone between the river and the willow woods…when I came across this interesting amphibian.
If this American Toad ( Bufo americanus ) had not moved…I doubt I would have seen it. It’s coloration is wonderfully cryptic easily blending into the sand. The toad was busy hunting among the debris and driftwood for any insects and invertebrates it could find. I don’t encounter many amphibians out here…so finding a common toad is a noteworthy event. Let’s move up the evolutionary ladder a bit. I was busy working on one of my Styrofoam sculptures at my outdoor studio when I felt I was being watched. When I lifted my eyes up from my artwork…I found myself looking eye to eye with this critter.
This is the common Groundhog or Woodchuck ( Marmota monax ). As its scientific name suggests, this large rodent is a member of the marmot family. Woodchucks are successfully established at the Falls and I encounter them often. They are fast diggers and live in an extensive system of burrows. Woodchucks usually don’t stray too far away from the entrances to their burrows. Succulent greens are the preferred foods. This particular woodchuck regarding me is a young individual and may be seeking territory of its own? Usually, I don’t see them this close to the river. I did have an interesting recent encounter with a very different animal in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Have you ever heard of an animal called the Camelope, (Antilocapra fallsei )? It is very rarely seen. The flora and fauna at the Falls can be roughly divided between forms that are “natural” and “unnatural”. The spider, butterfly, toad, and woodchuck fit in the natural fauna category, while the Camelope is definitely on the unnatural fauna side of life and may represent evolution at an accelerated pace? The many stresses to the environment and its myriad ecosystems have required a dramatic response and creatures like the Camelope may be nature’s way of responding to these changes? I’m not a trained scientist, but that is my educated guess. Discovering and documenting these recent life forms has become a passion of mine. Anyway, let’s look at a Camelope. Let’s start with an image of its head.
It’s called a Camelope because its head generally resembles that of a camel’s. This is a browsing animal and accepts a wide range of vegetation growing along the river. It has dark eyes that are always nervously looking around for potential predators. This park is also home to Feralocitors that prey upon Camelopes. This particular species also has an acute sense of smell.
I came across this Camelope in a more isolated section of the park. It was hiding among the stands of loosestrife and drinking water from the springs that flow downhill and into the river. It is ever alert and very nimble with quick feet and seemingly at home climbing on rocks or navigating through dense vegetation. Their bodies resemble that of deer or antelopes…hence Camelope.
Since it is a relatively new animal…not very much is known about it. I was able to conceal my presence long enough to manage these images. I either moved or the wind shifted, but anyway my presence was detected and with a quick bound, the Camelope disappeared into the brush. I hope I may come across it again and learn more about its secretive life. Regardless, I will keep my eyes open and my camera at the ready for any new “unnatural” life forms I discover. It occurred to me on my way home that my Falls of the Ohio Project is now officially ten years old! I started exploring this fascinating park as the Artist at Exit 0 in August 2003 when the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was being celebrated. Reading early 19th century accounts of the natural abundance of our country and this place in particular made me wistful for a world that no longer exists. Two hundred years later…that process continues and no doubt will two hundred years from now. I have often thought of this riverblog as a historical document as relevant today as Lewis and Clark’s notebooks and journals were back when this country was first being described. I hope this park and its remarkable history will continue to inspire people for a very long time. In closing, I would like to present an image of Canada Geese on the water near the fossil beds. Their coloration gives them in my mind’s eye a formal quality and lends dignity to the landscape. Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.