American Dog Tick

The adult American Dog Tick is one of the larger tick species at Chert Hollow Farm. Most of the time, we feel these crawling across the skin and pluck them off before they attach, because their size gives away their location. Even so, an occasional embedded tick happens. This is cause for concern, as ticks can carry a variety of disease-causing pathogens.

Populations vary greatly from year to year. Tick populations (in general) were very high in spring of 2013, when this photo was taken.



Black Widow Spider

Black Widow females have a very distinctive look: a black, shiny body with bold red spots. The web appears tangled & unstructured.

The female Black Widow in the photo was hanging out on the inside of an infrequently used rusty bucket that had been turned upside down to prevent it from collecting water that would provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Instead, we apparently provided good habitat for a venomous spider.

The upperside has some red spotting:


Ventral view with the classic red hourglass:


The males look very different than the females (and are also smaller):


2013 seems to have been a banner year for Black Widows here. Previously, we saw one maybe every year or two, but in 2013 we observed numerous specimens. We pretty quickly learned that chaotic-looking webs were a warning sign that one might be around. The chaotic web (see left part of the photo below) was what drew my attention to this egg sack on a ladder rung. There was a female behind the egg sack (out of view in this photo). The ladder had recently been brought into our bedroom, but it didn’t stay there long! Photo was taken outdoors.


Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtles are present here, but we encounter them infrequently. The specimen shown here was wandering near the chicken area after a heavy rain, and we decided that we’d be best off moving it somewhere else, due to the presence of young chicks in the vicinity (none were harmed). Another encounter happened when we decided to cool off in a small but deep pool of the stream on a hot day. I recall mentioning to Eric that he could expect a yell if snake or a snapping turtle appeared. Not long thereafter, we both scrambled out of the pool to avoid a snapper. Fortunately, they are reportedly less aggressive in the water than on land, and our observations support this.


We have eaten snapping turtle, though it was not farm sourced. A friend snared one while fishing in a pond, butchered it, and shared some meat with us. Prepared as turtle soup, it was delicious.


If a tree falls in the woods, crushes an opossum, and a farmer is around to hear it, it does make a noise. The tree and the opossum both. Regrettably, I never did take a photo of this occurrence before a flood washed the evidence away. (The tree was in the stream corridor.)

The less troubled individual below was photographed during a winter woods walk. We don’t encounter opossums very regularly, in part because of their typically nocturnal habits (the tree climber and the photographed subject excepted). However, tracks suggest that they are moderately common.


Opossums are omnivores, but they have not yet caused meaningful trouble with our chickens or produce crops. Thus, we have not felt the urge to investigate the reports that opossums make good meat.

Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch is a showy, migratory butterfly that is dependent on milkweed as a larval food source. Unfortunately, populations are in serious decline. We saw fewer adult Monarchs in 2013 than any previous year.bio_monarch_butterfly

Monarch reproduction relies on milkweed, which, as its name implies, is a bit of a weed. However, we tolerate a moderate amount of it growing in our vegetable field because it has showy flowers, attracts adult butterflies, and is a host to Monarch caterpillars (below). Its deep roots plus our no-till methods together mean that milkweed comes back year after year in our fields.bio_monarch_caterpillar

After their larval life stage, Monarchs form a chrysalis, though not necessarily on the milkweed plant itself. One larvae traveled to a nearby Amish Salad tomato plant to pupate. (Clearly, Monarch reproduction is compatible with responsible agriculture.) An observant worker noticed this,  and we brought it indoors to observe. No adult emerged from this particular chrysalis, and we suspect that the chrysalis was parasitized.bio_monarch_chrysalis

Unicorn Caterpillar

Two view of a Unicorn Caterpillar, which I found munching on a blueberry leaf one fall.bio_unicorn_caterpillar bio_unicorn_caterpillar2

Prairie Ring-necked Snake

One of my favorite snakes, the Prairie Ring-necked Snake has a beautifully patterned belly. I found this specimen hanging out with a companion in the seeding room of the house under a bin of leaf mold, a situation that I decided was not in the snakes’ best interest given that we have a house cat that likes playing with small animals. Thus, I took them outside, took some photos, and released them in a nicely mulched area.


Linden Looper

I spotted this lone caterpillar on a small elm tree in late May 2013. bio_linden_looper