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Creature Features


This drought has been crazy. Aside from birds, I'm just not seeing the usual wildlife species that hang around the garden -- most notably butterflies are absent. I think it's just too ridiculously hot. That being said, I'm seeing all sorts of other cool creatures around, and happily so.


We came home one day to a stick insect not-so-camouflaged on our garage door. I moved it over to a tree where it seemed much more at home. Pictures got harder, though.


Check out its scorpion-like display:


Clearly I liked it more than it liked me.

Our front pond has been busy with aquatic life. Apparently, it's become THE place to lay eggs.

croakingtoad07-1-11.jpgThe male toads are singing each night, doing their best to entice a female for a dip in the pond.

toadpair07-01-11.jpg Sometimes one even gets lucky!

toadeggs07-01-11.jpg Toad eggs are laid in long gel-like tubes. The eggs are laid in mass quantity.

toadembryos07-01-11.jpg Within just a day or two, the eggs become blobs, also known as embryos.

Here's a closer view:


Soon the blobs/embryos become the tadpoles we know and love.

tadpoles07-01-11.jpgDespite the great numbers of eggs laid, very few make it to adulthood to live the life of a toad. They become food for other creatures, including the one below.

dragonflynymphb07-1-11.jpgEwww, you say? I say not! That, my friends, is a dragonfly nymph, and who doesn't love dragonflies? Other than the bugs they devour, I mean.

dragonflynympha07-1-11.jpgWe find these nymphs -- damselfly nymphs, too -- in our ponds all the time. It turns out that dragonfly nymphs can play dead. They stay very still if briefly removed from the water, but --whoosh!-- they'll zip back to the water depths the moment they feel that water surround them again.


Here's the exoskeleton left behind after an adult dragonfly emerged and flew away. Those weird-looking white strings are actually tracheal tubes that once transported oxygen. I'm so curious what kind of dragonfly completed its life cycle in our little pond. I'll never know, I suppose, but I have seen a Neon Skimmer flying around the pond. Who knows... maybe!

Back in the back, our hackberry has these nifty little leaf galls. It turns out that these are caused by Celticesis midges.


The adult midges, which are little flies, lay eggs on the underside of a hackberry leaf, and the plant tissue forms galls around them. The larvae have a miniature habitat inside the gall, where they eat and develop.

In other news, we had an sssstupendous set of ssssnake sightings last weekend. On a hike at Walnut Creek park, we decided to take paths less traveled for a change. Within moments we discovered this beauty:


It's an Eastern Hognosed Snake, flattening its head and hissing something fierce. While I didn't disturb it more than to take a picture with my camera phone, if I'd gotten much closer, this snake would have flipped upside-down and played dead. Part of me wishes I could have witnessed that, but I just don't like to stress out wildlife (more than is required for a quick photo op, that is).

In a different area of the park, we found a little snake traveling along dried-up sections of the creek.

racersnake06-11.jpgCamera phones and wild snakes just don't work well together. I really should at least carry a pocket camera on these hikes. But I think this might be a juvenile Yellow-Bellied Racer. It was very small and quickly found a hole to curl up into.

Just seeing these two snakes had already made our day, but when we returned home, we found a little snake in our hallway!

tantillasnake07-1-11.jpgWe rescued it and took it outside. I tried to get a picture, but that little snake moved to hide in the leaves as fast as its little no-legs could carry it. The best I can tell you is that it is possibly a snake in the Tantilla genus (perhaps Flathead or Plains Blackhead), or perhaps it is a Rough Earth Snake.

Just a few days later, my friend Diane shared a picture of a molted skin left behind by a friend's pet snake her family was snake-sitting. She didn't know the species, but from her description, it sounded like it might be a corn snake.


Have you ever seen a snake skin include the head and eye areas? Holy moly, now THAT'S a creature feature.

And the harvestmen are back, this time congregating in the highest eave on my house, making it nearly impossible for me to (get my husband to) kindly move them back to the greenbelt behind the house. Hopefully visitors to my house won't look up. I'm not taking a picture. Hey, even a wildlife lover can have something to cringe about! They're good garden predators, so I don't *really* mind them. In some ways, harvestmen, a.k.a. daddylonglegs, are even kind of cool. But they do creep me out. It has something to do with discovering thousands of them bobbing inches above my head (and my big mass of hair) when I was crawling through a cave.

Instead of harvestmen, I'll end with a skipper, one of the few butterflies we do get to see from time to time even in this horrible drought.


skippera06-11.jpgNo legs, two legs, four legs, six legs, more -- they put the wild in this wildlife garden!

Emergency Bug Hunt



bughunta11-14-10.jpgA thousand times ewwww...

bughuntb11-14-10.jpgWhen you discover swarms of bugs in your garden and you need helpers to go after them, what better way to inspire a bunch of boys to go on the hunt than to offer video games of choice to the winner. Good thing we had a sleepover last night!

bughuntd11-14-10.jpgCups of soapy water in hand, the five of us lined up for a fall pest-bug version of an Easter Egg hunt.

bughunte11-14-10.jpgThe bugs were everywhere, and apparently many of my plants have been suffering, including Turk's Cap, Passionflower, Salvias, and more.

bughuntf11-14-10.jpg bughuntj11-14-10.jpg bughuntk11-14-10.jpgEntomologist Mike Quinn helped me out with the ID on the black bugs and the long bug with the orange outline. They are Largus bugs (Largus succinctus) in the Bordered Plant Bug family, in the same suborder as the Box Elder -- the black bugs are the instars. And there's a Brown Stink Bug in the mix. Good to finally know what these bugs are. Thank you very much, Mike! Reading more about them, they are not considered major pests, but the numbers in my garden are out of control, and the plants are clearly affected -- so no guilt about the bug hunt here.

Look, a bug snow globe!

bughuntc11-14-10.jpgSometimes we were tricked by dark berries that looked like the pest bugs, like these berries on the Firebush and the berries on the Texas Lantana.

bughunth11-14-10.jpgWhen we all got too cold, we came inside to count our Easter eggs, I mean bugs. First we poured them into a paper-towel lined collander. Yum!

bughunti11-14-10.jpgAnd then counted them up.

bughuntg11-14-10.jpgAll in all, I think we caught some 200 bugs. We'll do a round again later when it warms up. We were all winners and everyone got to play video games (well, except me, who got to do a blog post instead -- yay!).

FYI, that chrysalis I intended to move after my last post is still in its precarious spot on the backdoor frame. I'm guarding it from the dogs, but I need some peace and quiet around here in order to perform such a delicate transplant!

Get Your Cicadas in a Row, People


Other people might get their ducks in a row, but they're just amateurs.

cicadalineb07-07-10.jpg cicadalinea07-07-10.jpgLook at that rogue cicada shell. Get back in line!

cicadalinec07-07-10.jpgAnd oh my gosh, don't click on this picture of these naughty cicada shells unless you are 18 or older. Do you think the adult cicadas fell in love?


Seriously, don't you think a more stable place to molt might be the preferred choice? Then again, the little hooks on those cicada shells can really hang on for a longggg time. Oh well, to each their own!

EDIT: I'm adding a picture of an adult cicada to show how it looks out of the shell. This one looks quite gray, but I usually see ones that are light green in color in Texas. Other species have yet other colors, as well.


Caterpillar Hotel


This weekend I taught all about creating habitats at a conference for kids. As part of the presentation, I brought along this little guy -- one of our black swallowtail caterpillars.

swallowtailcat06-13-10.jpgTalk about a wonderful assistant -- not only did he delight the families in the workshops, but he and I visited with a lot of people as I carried him around during the rest of the conference. It was simply too hot in the car for me to leave him in there, so he got to walk around with me, happily munching on dill set in a bouquet of native TX flowers.

When I got home, I let him go back to his world of giant dill in my backyard. Later I walked around to check on my other caterpillars and to look for more. I'm thrilled to have found our first Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on our Passionvine. gulffritillarycat06-14-10.jpgBut when I went to check on the new bird poop caterpillars I'd found the day before on my Wafer Ash, I saw with alarm a hornet visiting the leaves of the tree, hunting the same way they hunt the caterpillars on my milkweed. I was relieved to find two of my caterpillars were happily munching on the citrus leaves.

giantswallowtailcat06-13-10.jpg And to my delight, I found lots of eggs all over the tree. Here's a caterpillar with a few eggs nearby.


But to my horror, my third little caterpillar was dead. My first thought was that a hornet had killed it, but this was a false accusation, because on closer inspection it was clear that my little caterpillar was being feasted upon by two bugs I didn't recognize. It turns out that they are predatory stink bugs. Predatory stink bugs? I'd never heard of such a thing. And what -- they are considered beneficial bugs in the garden, so I can't get rid of them? I have to just let these stink bugs feast on my caterpillars? Now THAT stinks! I thought having to accept hornets and wasps going after my caterpillars was bad enough. Thinking about it, I saw somewhat similar bugs over on my dill a few days ago. I think I know what's been contributing to the deaths of some of my swallowtail caterpillars.

predatorystinkbugs06-13-10.jpgWell, I couldn't bear it the thought of more giant swallowtails falling prey to the terrible sucking tubes of these clearly ferocious predators, so I decided that my remaining caterpillars earned deluxe accommodations in our Caterpillar Hotel, a collapsible laundry basket that has soft, breathable fabric on the sides. It's perfect, and we've had great success so far, with 3 caterpillars going to chrysalis stage. I've released one beautiful butterfly already -- here it is, a Black Swallowtail just before release.

blackswallowtail06-13-10.jpgSo I gathered dill and wafer ash for the two caterpillar species and put the plants in a bottle of water. Then I collected my caterpillar assistant and my two adorable bird poop caterpillars. Isn't it a lovely Caterpillar Bouquet?

caterpillarbouquet06-13-10.jpgBouquet in the hotel:

caterpillarhotel06-13-10.jpgYesterday I wasn't worried about the Gulf Fritillary (he's on the other side of the yard), but today I'm having second thoughts and might be checking him into the Caterpillar Hotel as well.

I know I can't rescue all my caterpillars -- nature must take its course -- but here and there I don't mind lending them a helping hand.

It might be time to set out a new banana to distract the hornets and wasps, as well. I'll add a rotting one for the butterflies -- they love it so. HOLD ON -- BRILLIANT IDEA -- I'll move the predatory stink bugs to my tomatoes and let them do their thing on my true pest bugs! By Jove, I think she's got it!

Speaking of butterflies, a new species has entered the garden. Bordered Patch -- what a beauty! Unfortunately, my pup scared it off after I grabbed only a couple of shots.


borderedpatchb06-13-10.jpgOver on the dill, this damselfly let it all hang out, wings included.

damselfly06-13-10.jpgThe dill is going to seed. I think it's still pretty, even when brown. There's plenty of dill left for the swallowtails, though.

dillseed06-14-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sunflower is reaching toward the sky -- now officially taller than its neighbor, the Mexican Redbud tree. I hope the tree doesn't get a complex. Looks like a couple of buds are forming -- I can't wait! The giant sunflowers by the house are still struggling, poor things.

cinnsun06-14-10.jpgAnd the pretty Flame Acanthus blooms are flashing red from behind the wispy Big Muhly.


We finally got Mr. Vulture moved -- now he looks down on us from our chimney, as he was always meant to do.


He can stand guard over the Caterpillar Hotel.



I just couldn't come with a title for this one. But I had fun taking photos!

The Cinnamon Sunflower is about 3 feet tall now, but still no blooms. Looking pretty snazzy even without the blooms, I must say.

cinsunflower05-27-10.jpg I never realized how fun milkweed seeds are, fresh from a pod. Hopefully some of these will germinate -- I need more milkweed!

milkweedseeds05-27-10.jpg Still damp from a gentle rain, the Passionvine is happily entwining along its trellis. With luck it will hide our A/C unit soon, at least until the caterpillars start munching!

passifloraa05-27-10.jpg Passiflora flowers just might be the most bizarre flowers out there. I mean seriously -- how on earth did nature come up with that crazy design?

passiflorab05-27-10.jpg The tripod of a stigma at the top looks like some alien straight from a sci-fi movie.

passiflorac05-27-10.jpg The coneflowers are huge and teasing me with blooms to come.

purpleconeflower05-27-10.jpg I'm not sure whether it was the rain or the change in temperature, but I finally got a Checkered White butterfly to hold still for a photo.


And a Dainty Sulphur -- both of these butterflies usually tend to dart around like mad if I get too close. Gotcha, little flutterbies!


I've been noticing more wasps visiting the dill lately, and the caterpillar deaths have increased, so I decided it was time to create a butterfly tent. Within a day we had our first swallowtail chrysalis. The tent is a collapsible $9 laundry hamper -- much cheaper and much larger than the "butterfly kits" you can buy online and in various stores.

swcat05-27-10.jpg swchrysalis05-27-10.jpg    

Okay, what's this bug? Good guy? Bad guy? Found him on my native White Honeysuckle bush. I guess I could go look him up.


In other news, I found little slimy larval stuff eating one of my tomato leaves. I took a picture, but they're gross and I decided that they messed with my pretty zen pictures, so I'm not posting it today. The slimy things are in the compost bin now. I don't know whether they're good guys or bad guys, but they were working as a team and my gut told me I didn't want more of them around. And there was a leaf-footed bug on another tomato leaf. Little booger got away. Gah. But at least I'm onto him.

One Morning



    cactus04-14-10.jpggreenrestb04-14-10.jpg ladybugonaphidb04-14-10.jpg featherseeds04-14-10.jpg ladybugredbud04-14-10.jpg ladybuglarva04-14-10.jpg passionflower04-14-10.jpg   couple04-14-10.jpg   uncurled04-14-10.jpgswallowtailcat04-14-10.jpg     ladybugdill04-14-10.jpgbluebonnetspider04-14-10.jpgdarkspider04-14-10.jpgOne morning, and a fine one at that.

Oh, the Guilt


Back in July I posted this picture of a little creature on my fennel, hoping for an ID.

mealybugdestroyer07-08-09.jpgI was concerned it was a pest of some sort on my brand new veggie and herb seedlings, but I didn't kill it. But I found a few more over the summer, and I admit that a couple might not have survived my panicky pest control moments (especially when my cantaloupe was under attack by aphids). Well, today I found out what they are -- the rag mop larval stage of a kind of lady beetle (perhaps the Twospotted Lady Beetle, Adalia bipunctata). Good guys! The larva bears a remarkable resemblance to the mealybug destroyer larva, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri. Also a good guy!

I am so sorry, little larvae, those that I led to a premature demise. It will never, ever happen again, and I promise to watch out for all your cousins from now on!

It's interesting how the little lady beetle larvae resemble one of their favorite meals, the mealybug, but they also are great devourers of aphids and scale, the aphids being what they probably feasted on in my yard. Before... cry.

War, Peace, and Bananas


It seems strange to post pictures of a bright sunny day while I listen to the lovely sounds of raindrops falling outside. But at least I'm dry.

Over the past couple of days, the garden was a green version of Grand Central Station. Butterflies, wasps, moths, flies, and other creatures all came to feast, rest, and feast some more. It was high noon when I took these, unfortunately, but beggars can't be choosers when there are masses of creatures about all at the same time! You just get the shots when you can.

varietybutterflies11-18-09.jpgAt last, Painted Lady butterflies have come to visit.

paintedlady11-18-0.jpg paintedladyc11-18-0.jpgpaintedladyb11-18-0.jpg paintedladyd11-18-0.jpg I love the hidden peacock feathers you see in their hindwings.

paintedladye11-18-0.jpg   Variegated Fritillaries have arrived, too.


variegatedfritillary11-18-09.jpg variegatedfritillaryb11-18-09.jpg     A Snout Butterfly rested on Big Muhly.


And Queens went back and forth between the Gregg's Mistflower...

queens11-18-09.jpg queensb11-18-09.jpg and the Milkweed.

queenmale11-18-09.jpg I have so many kinds of skippers I can't name them all.

skipper11-18-09.jpg skipperandfrit11-18-09.jpg I think this is a Fiery Skipper...

skipperb11-18-09.jpg and this a White-Checkered Skipper.


The Gulf Fritillary was a challenge to photograph -- it cared not for sitting still.

gulffritillarya11-18-09.jpg gulffritillaryb11-18-09.jpg And Sulphurs -- some big, some small. Is this a Southern Dogface Sulphur or a Cloudless Sulphur?

sulphur11-18-09.jpg sulphurb11-18-09.jpg Tiny yellow butterflies fluttered about -- they didn't sit still for long. Hmmm... Little Yellow or Mimosa?

yellowbutterfly11-18-09.jpg yellowbutterflyb11-18-09.jpg

The big butterfly attractors have been the milkweed, zinnias, and Gregg's Mistflower, but a few days ago I set out a banana for the butterflies. They do love a rotting banana, but the last time I did that, the banana just rotted all by its little lonesome. This time, I walked out to discover a Goatweed Leaf Butterfly enjoying a snack with a Snout Butterfly (and a fly).

goatweedleafandsnout11-18-09.jpgSo I decided to set out a fresher banana, as well, and -- whoa -- incoming. Suddenly my new banana became an experiment and a wildlife study. The first visitors were wasps and flies. I'm not even going to attempt to identify any of these, but there's quite the variety!


waspsc11-18-09.jpg The wasps didn't always get along. The big red hornet-like one was the bully you'd expect him to be -- not that the other wasps were friendly and gentle-like, mind you...

wasps11-18-09.jpg While the wasps were distracted with their quarreling, the flies zoomed in for some banana. I like how they naturally spread themselves out.

banana11-19-09.jpgDo you see the beautiful metallic turquoise insect in the lower left corner? That's a Cuckoo Wasp -- the only one I can identify other than "fly" or "wasp."

fliesandcuckoo11-18-09.jpg   Here's another pic.


I didn't mind all the visiting wasps. It kept them distracted from my Queen caterpillars on the milkweed.


queencatb11-18-09.jpgAnd the flies and wasps weren't the only visitors to the bananas. Snouts began to venture over to the fresher banana, and today I found my first Red Admiral. What a beauty!

red admiral.jpg See this "pretty" yellow, green, and black bug? Bad bug. Spotted cucumber beetle. You can mourn it if you like -- it and four of its friends. At least I found them on the banana and not in my veggie garden. That water in the pic is from today's rain.

spottedcucumberbeetle11-18-09.jpgThe only butterfly picture I didn't capture that first picture day was the lone Monarch I saw flying around. Have they started to move on? I'm keeping my eye out for caterpillars -- I did see a female Monarch laying eggs on the milkweed several days ago.

Elsewhere in the garden today, I discovered what I think is an assassin bug nymph. My last one was red, though, so I don't know.

assassin11-20-09.jpgAnd off in the former pumpkin patch, where a few pumpkins and vines await me doing something about them, I found an icky green guy having a feast.

greenworm11-20-09.jpgEnjoy it while you can, buddy.  

Pollination Fascination


While taking a stroll near the butterfly garden, the sound of busy bees caught my attention, and I realized that my little pollinating friends had moved from the pumpkin flowers over to a nice big batch of native plants, and my gardener's heart did a little pitter-patter.

But in observing them, I realized something I'd never noticed before. Gregg's Mistflower produces white pollen.


My mind was boggled. In all my years watching wildlife, I never knew that pollen could be anything but yellow?


beeonmistc10-07-09.jpgIn the same patch of flowers, the honeybees on the Zexmenia had bright orange pollen baskets on their little legs.

beeonzex10-07-09.jpg beeonzexc10-07-09.jpg This little bee has been to both Mistflower and Zexmenia. His pollen is pale orange.


I was fascinated. Today was a day where nature just had me reeling.

When I could tear my eyes away from the bees, I noticed a beautiful male Queen butterfly keeping me company.


And on the Fall Aster, newly blooming just on the other side of the Gregg's Mistflower, little hoverflies enjoyed a feast without getting the attention of the bigger bees nearby.   

hoverflyb10-07-09.jpg hoverflyc10-07-09.jpg Sure enough, these little flies can hover. Someone sure came up with a brilliant name for them! (Hey, guess what hoverflies eat? Aphids! Yay!)

Pollination inspiration, here's my poem for the day:



© Great Stems


Fly little fly

Fly little bee

Queen be flying

But not Queen Bee


One of Those Days


Didn't sleep well last night, had to drop a kid off at school at 7am, car broke in the bus lane at school (fortunately I got moving before the buses arrived), $700 repair fee at the dealer, forgot to get my husband to move the heavy birdbath so I could grout it, my dogs are wreaking havoc on my garden, and aphids are wreaking havoc on my plants. BUT.. other than that it's a fine day.

Look what I discovered this morning! Know what these are? I just learned what they are at a lecture by a local entomologist last night, and lo and behold I found some in my garden the very next day. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

greenlacewingeggs09-25-09.jpgThese are the eggs of green lacewings. As larvae, they are voracious aphid eaters. Yay, another ally in the garden! I need them because the aphids are worse than ever. I seem to have least three species now --- I'll call them green, yellow, and beige. The green I'm sure are corn leaf aphids. I have got to get out and tackle them TODAY. My veggies, my milkweed, and now my firebush plant are all having an aphid problem. The little pests took advantage of my time away from the garden during the rainy week and bred like rabbits. I'm starting to think that it's the other way around, and rabbits breed like aphids. Today I'm seeing wings on some. Gah, more colonization!


yellowaphids09-25-09.jpgSo I've got new lacewings arriving soon, and of course I've got ladybugs. More spiders are arriving, as are earthworms. The bees are getting plentiful, and I don't even have to do the veggie porn thing to pollinate my plants anymore. I truly love the way nature just naturally (ha) balances its ecosystems. Got organic wastes? Happy earthworms move in. Got flowers? Let's pollinate. Overpopulation of something? Here come the predators. And here come the predators to eat the other predators. Oh look, birdie treats. And then snakes. And hawks. Whee, life is grand.

I call these my bees because I'm so fond of them, but of course they are wild. They get a little drunk-like in their flying when they are heavily loaded with pollen -- it's fun to watch. The pumpkin flowers were all abuzz this morning with bees about, and as I took pictures, I realized that there was some hostility going on. It seems at least one other colony has found our garden, and apparently different bee colonies don't play nicely with others.


Know what else I learned from the entomologist? Feral honeybees in Texas and other states of the Southwest have all been Africanized in some way. Only beekeepers are able to keep sound European colonies because of their control of the queens.


FYI, in case I've scared anyone, bees in your garden are not a threat -- don't rush out and kill them, please! They are not in stinging mode when they are out pollinating -- that's quite counter-productive to their hive's needs. Africanized honeybees, or any bees really, are a danger only when you threaten their hive (allergies aside), and apparently they'll give a warning by buzzing around your head or actually bonking you on the head, believe it or not. If you find yourself near a wild hive, RUN -- don't walk away. Like fire ants, the Africanized honeybees give word to others in their colony by pheromones, and you need to put immediate distance (at least 200 yards) between you and the hive. Other than their defensiveness in protecting their hive, Africanized bees are not really any different from other bees. And actually there have been positive changes in their aggressiveness, too, depending on factors of colony age and breeding with European bees. It's all good. No worries. As with anything, just be aware, not necessarily beware. Ooh, I like that.


By the way, have you hugged a beekeeper today? Not only do they raise pollinators and help with honey production, they are helping tremendously by keeping domestic European bee colonies intact, as well as helping breed gentler stocks of Africanized bees by culling out aggressive queens. Hug!

Thanks to my bees, I have several pumpkins growing. One is approaching the size of a soccer ball now (it's been a week since I discovered female buds in bloom). Another is growing in the dead tree. And more are scattered here and there -- finding them is like going on an Easter Egg hunt. There's one! There's another one! Again, how I love nature.


pumpkinb09-25-09.jpgWith the rain this week, the yard is a big mudfest for the dogs, and they took advantage of it -- digging where they shouldn't, trampling through the butterfly garden, and taking turns leaping over the pumpkin vines. I'm out there yelling, "This is not your playground!" And then I realized my neighbor must think I'm nuts, because of course it IS their playground. If I can manage it, I'll try to get a picture of the husky leaping in full gallop over the massive pumpkin plants (in between my yelling at him, of course). It really is a sight to behold. 

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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