Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Holidays

The whole family is in the holiday spirit. We wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas season and the best of everything in 2012. Be cognizant of your daily actions and the effects it has on our depends on it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bug Gangs

The weather is getting cold in most of the country, but one of the rewards of living in Florida is the warm weather almost all year round. This week we are experiencing mid to high 70s during the day and high 50s to low 60s at night. PERFECT! Just PERFECT!

Of course when you get a freeze only occasionally (mostly for 2 days in January), our insect friends are with us year-round and are quite visible. I still see butterflies mating, caterpillars crawling and this week I was passing by goldenrod going to seed when I was drawn by bright redness on the top of one of them blowing in the breeze.

I got closer and saw a nymph gang of Leaf-footed Bugs (Leptoglossus spp. likely phyllopus). I half expected them to start snapping their fingers and humming da doo da doo daaaaaaaaaa, da doo da do da do da! to dramatic music as they slinked along.

This particular species of L.F. bugs can be a pest on citrus and berry producers as they suck the juices out of the fruits and cause premature drop or withering. I generally let nature take its course and hope that some bird or spider will come along to tend to this type of gang mentality. Thus far, my lemons escaped unscathed (6 years). A good thing about a gang of pest insects is that it is relatively easy to flip them into some soapy water as a means of control. No pesticides needed.

Behold the Green Lynx Spiders (Peucetia viridans) who as they age will acquire their “colors”. While technically spiders are not insects as they have 8 legs (they are Arachnids), most of us refer to them as bugs. I’ve seen the Green Lynx snare the leaf footed bugs, so I guess we know which bug gang will get the grip on my front yard territory.

When they get bigger, IPM at its best!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pond Prank

Dinner time for the dogs and I send them outside for a run before they eat.  Tanner comes back almost immediately with a big appetite and a woof at the door.  I look out and there is Chili, soaking wet, standing stiff and looking guilty.  I'm immediately stunned and ask her..."how the heck did you get soaked?"  Then I realize I left the gate open to the backyard when I took down the laundry.  I guess the opportunity to venture back there and into the pond was just too tempting, so she took a dip.  She ran when I stepped down the steps and she was flying around the front yard with cunning and zest.  I had to laugh. 
I figured what the heck, she's already wet, so I grab her and the camera and head into the back with an "it's ok".  Into the pond she walks.  I'm pretty sure that she doesn't know how to swim, since in all the time she's been going in the pond she never leaves the edge where she can touch bottom.  She's not afraid to get her head wet....dipping her nose deep into the water with the entire head going under.  Back when Blizzard was party to these fun times, Chili used to bark and bark at him as he swam back and forth across the water.  That's why I'm pretty sure she doesn't know how to swim.  Odd for a doggie isn't it?  She was thrilled to have this fun time and I suppose that I should let her back there more often.  She seems to really have a good time, although given permission, I'm not sure she'd appreciate it as much. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Sulphur Butterfly Emerged Already!

If you read the blog over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, you'll know in a recent article of mine I wrote about a caterpillar changing color based on the plant it was eating.

The cloudless sulphur caterpillar quickly turned into a beautiful butterfly. Here's a short, "From Caterpillar to Freedom", video slideshow:

It took considerably less time than I anticipated. Only 6 days from chrysalis to emerge. SPEEDY!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My threatened species....REALLY?

Finding a caterpillar is always an exciting thing. Unless of course you find it gnawing through the leaf of the LEAFLESS BEAKED ORCHID (Sacoila lanceolata--Threatened-State (FL)) you saved while on the plant rescue mission with the Pine Lily Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

Behold, the Yellow-striped Armyworm (Spodoptera ornithogalli), who apparently has discerning taste. Armyworms turn into moths and I really don't mind the unheralded of our insect population, but I do take umbrage with them eating a species that is having a hard enough time fending for itself due to habitat loss. The Orchid is still in a pot waiting to be placed in the ground. Now that moisture is, pretty much, guaranteed every day, that will be soon since it will give it a good start. Seems it has gotten over the shock of the dig-up and has put out some pretty magnificent green leaves. I feel it is ready to find it's new permanent home. Back to those green leaves. The dang caterpillar chewed completely through at the base of one of the leaves. Needless to say, he has a new home in a display container with that leaf. Might as well watch his full transformation, while ensuring that he doesn't finish off my threatened plant before it gets a chance to move in.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tribute to a Great Friend

November 2001 was a rather tough time for me. My thirteen year old Irish Setter Mahogany was suffering from coronary problems and the end was near. While waiting for one of her tests at the vet's office, I perused the bulletin board and spied a plea for someone to adopt a 3 year old labrador retriever. After 3 years of allergy shots, asthma kicked in and the family pet had to go. I asked the vet if he was familiar with the pet and he advised it was a nice dog, well loved and cared for. And BIG! I wrote down the number, left with my setter and didn't give it much thought. The next day it was nagging at me and I thought I would just call and speak to the owners. After a brief conversation, I gathered my portfolio of pet pictures and headed off to meet a dog named "Rosie".

He WAS big...and adorable...and after conversing with the owner and sharing my pics, he told me he wanted me to adopt his boy. I said that I really felt he should come to my home and decide if the dog would be happy. The next day he came over, inspected the place and decided Rosie would be very happy with me. We planned the exchange, he would bring the dog and his gear over. Rosie arrived with leashes and food bowls and toys and food. And his pedigree papers announcing his name as Rosario Grand Champagne Brut. I could see the tears in the owner's eyes and I told him that I would provide the best home I could.

As I said, my Irish setter was very ill. I introduced the two dogs and Mahogany, in her Irish fashion, snapped at the new kid to let him know who was in charge of the household. Rosie merely went over to the couch in the family room and layed down. I decided that it would be best to allow my Irish some alone time to get use to the idea of a new dog, so I opted to have Rosie sleep downstairs the first night. During the night I felt maybe he would be lonely, so I crept downstairs and cuddled up with him on the couch. When I awoke in the morning I headed upstairs to check on the Irish. She wasn't on her bed and I immediately knew that something was amiss. I found her lying in the bathroom that morning....she had taken herself to the Rainbow Bridge. Somehow that girl knew that I needed another dog in my life before she would allow herself to leave. And I guess she approved of my new found friend.

My neighbor's name was Rosie and I wasn't crazy about calling my boy dog by a girl's name, so I started calling him Snow-zy, but the name just didn't fit. After sharing pictures of my new friend with the Colorado Cuties, my friend Janet (aka Liz) thought he looked like a Blizzard. I tried out the name and it stuck. It was a "cool", strong name for a "cool", strong boy.

Blizzard was a great dog. He listened and behaved at all times. He only walked on a leash because it was required by law. He was accepting of the little snit of an Irish setter (Chili) that we adopted in February 2003. He handled the move to Florida in June 2004 with ease. He made fast friends with all the pooches at the local dog park and was admired for his commitment to chasing only the blue colored ball and not the green one assigned to his sister. He didn't bat an eye when a new English Setter boy (Tanner) entered our family in August 2006. He always just went with the flow.

He loved to swim in the pond and as he aged I encouraged it to keep his limbs moving. When the pond got too low for him to get up the sides, I opted to have laser treatments to try and keep those legs moving and pain free. It seemed to help a bit, but return of the rains helped fill the pond and put him back in his hydrotherapy which worked better. He began to struggle with the stairs and then he began to struggle with getting out of the pond. It was becoming too much for him. We tried the pond one last time on July 20, 2011. He got out, but collapsed and lay on his side, the second time in a week that it happened. I knew it was his last swim. Without this fun in his life, it didn't seem fair to make him fight the fight any longer. He needed help getting up all the time. On Monday, July 25th, I watched him as he struggled up the stairs with my help. I told him he wouldn't have to walk up the stairs ever again. I called my vet and after feeding Blizzard half a package of Milkbone soft chews, I loaded him into the car. When we got to the vet, I gave him the other half of the treat bag while standing in the parking lot. Doggy heaven while still on earth!

He lumbered into the office and went peacefully to Rainbow Bridge with me at his side. While it pains me to have lost my friend, it really isn't about me. It is about him and the joy and unending love he gave me for the nine-plus years that we had together. Blizzard, you were a one of a kind and I can't thank you enough for all you gave me! I will miss you forever.

At the end he was surrounded by good friends.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Blur of the Butterfly -- Missed Opportunity

I was pulling up some plants (ok, you might call them weeds) which were not their designated area and I noticed at the bottom of one, a tiny green chrysalis, no more than a quarter inch long. I decided to put it in a display container to give it a chance since I didn't think it would survive otherwise (ok, and also cause I was hell-bent on learning what species I had found).

I taped it to the side, trying to maintain the correct orientation. An attempt at a photo of the tiny "speck" proved futile and since I had already taped the screening over the case, I just plain gave up. A couple of days later (I vigilantly checked daily), I was rewarded with a beautiful Checkered Skipper butterfly (Pyrgus spp. likely albescens) known as the white checkered. I quickly took a few photos and then released the little beauty where it happily flew off in the direction of the Spanish needles, where I took another few pictures. After he flew off into the sunset (ok, maybe it was a different time of day, but you know what I mean) I headed inside to the computer to see the results of my encounter.
CURSES…pictures all blurred. Usually I get at least one halfway decent shot but these were all blearily unrecognizable. I checked the camera and sure enough, I had the wrong setting. I usually leave my point and shoot camera with the macro setting on and I don't usually check it because I "always" return it to macro setting after taking a distance shot. Of course, except in this case :(

Luckily these butterflies use plants in the mallow family (Malvaceae) as the larval host and in my garden that means fanpetals or indian hemp (sida spp.). of which there are plenty. So, this may be a different butterfly who came visiting today, but at least you can clearly see how pretty these black and white guys are. It pays to have the camera set correctly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Imagine My Disappointment

It was late when I let the dogs out for the last trip of the night. I turned the light next to the door on and was very excited to see a beautiful green colored insect. Could it be that I finally would see an emerald moth. I'd found the caterpillar on Bidens alba a.k.a. Spanish Needles, its larval host some time ago, but never got to see a resulting adult.

I grabbed a camera and took several shots from my rather disadvantaged perch. I reached overhead and clicked and clicked and clicked some more. I ran into the computer to check on the quality of my shots. BOO! Horrible, barely discernable.

Back with the camera I went and luckily, the insect was still positioned on the siding. I put the flash on, clicked a few shots and ran inside to again check the quality. Eureka! Not the best shots, but clear enough to identify.

Hmm, doesn't look like any moth I've ever seen and the antenna are all wrong. Off to the yahoo search engine. "green cricket Florida". I scanned a few results and none of the pictures came close. I checked but couldn't find my specimen. Off to "bright green Florida". Up pop the photographs of bright green insects. THERE IT IS!

I click on the matching photo and oh HORRORS! It is a Green Banana Cockroach (Panchlora nivea). I immediately shudder and a creepy, itchy feeling came over me. I think, "Ok, it's just a bug, let's find out what it's doing here." In the information tab I read:

"Also known as the Cuban cockroach, this is an invasive species that first got to the US on shipments of fruit from the Caribbean. Like most cockroaches, it is nocturnal. It is a strong flyer and is drawn to bright lights at night. This species does not breed in houses and prefers to remain outdoors if possible."

Whew, although invasive, it isn't going to try to live in my house. I did a little more research and learned that some people keep these at pets because of their beautiful green color, which brings me to my next question on this fella. Is he called a Green Banana Roach because he likes green bananas? Or because he looks like Kermit?

I shut off the outside light and was thrilled it was gone by morning. Go back to Cuba and your green bananas.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

It certainly is Mother's Day around my yard. In the picture above, Momma mockingbird is incubating four eggs and seems to be saying to Poppa bird "I'm having these babies, at least you could feed me on Mother's Day". This nest, the second of 2011 is built in the front yard in a bottlebrush tree.

Second brood of bluebird babies starting hatching yesterday and there looks to be all five today, although siblings are covering younger ones to keep them warm until the day heats up, so I can only account for four sets of naked wings.

I saw a mockingbird couple hauling food to a nest in my neighbor's side yard and there are grackles feeding babies that are high up in a young pine, also in my neighbor's yard.

So, plant for the birds and they will come! Then you too can have a fun day, observing mother nature's wonders.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Will this be the Year? Purple Martins

I heard the wonderful music and looked up at the purple martin apartment that I put up a couple of years ago. There was a pair, checking the back and the front. In and out the compartments they went. They teased me last year with their arrival and got my hopes up that I would become a landlord, but it never happened.

The house is situated so they have a clear flight line and it overlooks the pond. There are plenty of "eats", so I think it is the perfect housing arrangement and I hope this year they do too! Although, I'm guessing they will eat my dragonflies, which saddens me, in a way. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Imitation is the sincerest of flattery"

This quote comes from Charles Caleb Colton (1780 - 1832).
I have nesting mockingbirds in a young oak tree 25 feet or so from the house.  Incubation is on day 9 of 12-13 expected days.  This photo is from several days ago when mom and dad were busily building their "digs".  The dad is always close by keeping watch over the female who is the sole incubator.
This morning I sent the dogs outside as usual and when I called them in, I gave a two note whistle that they are familiar with.  From the tree closeby I heard myself as if an echo.  I whistled again, and once again I heard the echo.  Why, the mockingbird was imitating me, and with tonal precision!  Are they mocking me? or should I be flattered? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Awakening -- Giant Swallowtail

I belong to the Florida Native Plant Society. Last fall we did an outreach program at one of the many events our chapter covers in our home county of Osceola. I bring various live insects to draw attention of the importance of the relation of native plants and bugs in a biodiverse world. Children and adults alike are often mesmerized by the critters I bring. One of my friends in this quest is Kattya who seems to have the magic touch in getting my caterpillars to move on to the next step of metamorphosis. This was the second caterpillar that under her guidance turned. This one changed to a chrysalis since it is a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly the other is a moth that we are still waiting on and I'll post when the happy event occurs. Be sure to check out Kattya's blog which is full of fun and useful information!

I don't believe in containerizing insects beyond the couple of hours at our outreach programs for the education purposes. Upon return home, I always take a few moments to set the critters back on the branches from which I snatched them in the morning. In these two cases, though, the caterpillars chose their own destiny. I check on them daily as I have since our November event.

Today, I checked in the morning, per usual. I went about my business trying to identify fungi that appeared in some mulch last week. I posted a photo of my mushroom on Facebook to the "Florida Fungi" page and got a prompt response that more details are needed. I went outside to take an additional photo and also to attempt to make a spore print (a subject for a future blog post). When I was looking for a place to protect my mushroom, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flutter of bright yellow. A butterfly is BORN!

Since I had my camera in hand, I snapped a few shots of the poor thing cooped up in a beanie baby container equipped with a screen roof. I undid the screening and snapped another picture before heading out to the closest flowers, which are the coral honeysuckle just feet away. The butterfly seemed a bit disoriented so I reached in and gently removed it and placed it on the flowers, snapping a couple of last shots as it drank some nectar and before it gracefully flew off into the sunset...well, the direction of what will be the sunset when it gets to be that time today.

I always say that I have a guardian angel on my shoulder and my Giant Swallowtail had one on its wing too. On a different day I may not have checked a second time, which is why I generally don't keep critters cooped up for my own amusements. This was a special event that I will hold in my memory....and I'll be checking on the moth 3 times a day from this point forward.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Swallows Passing Through

Dozens of swallows were giving an aerial show over my property today. I think they are tree swallows...they don't stay still long enough for a true ID. Here's a short video of their acrobatics. Collectively they are known as a "stand" of swallows. Spring is definitely in the air! The bluebirds began bringing nesting materials to the nest box. Get ready for my Bluebirds Twigs2Fledge™ 2011...coming soon!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bird in the Night

I recently had a visit from a Killdeer, my first encounter of this plover-type bird. I heard it before I saw it, and I haven't seen it since, but I know it still is around.

At night I let the dogs out for their last trip to potty around 10:00 p.m. There is a street light a couple of lots over which is more than enough light for this "Dark Sky" loving individual, but pretty much it is dark in my rural yard…VERY dark. The Irish Setter and Yellow Labrador are free to run on their own at this hour, but my English Setter, Tanner, needs to be on a leash, as he would never come back inside given the choice of searching out wildlife in the garden or coming back inside to sleep. He's a nature lover, as well.

Stomped down grasses with a "hole" at the fenceline from my neighbor's natural area is evidence that I have marsh rabbits that visit the pond at night. The sound of doves taking flight as we walk along the driveway also whets his appetite to stay outdoors. But, nothing has captured his interest as the killdeer (pictured top during the day). The alarm sound of this bird has created a monster in my English boy. At first he merely perked up his ears and got in a "set" position. Now he wakes me faithfully at 4:00 a.m. with pleas of needing to go out. He really doesn't need to go…he just wants to flush out and hear this bird that is using our meadow grasses as night cover. Although sleep deprived, I find it amusing.

I find it more interesting that the bird chooses to stay in the area that the dogs have access to 24/7. Just yards away, on the backyard side of a fence, is my bird "promotion" area which the dogs only have access to when I am with them. Perhaps the killdeer is lying in wait to be amused as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Butterfly of Winter

I saw another Common Buckeye today when not much else of the insect variety was showing itself in the cooler temperatures. Somehow "common" doesn't describe them at all...they are quite regal-looking with their numerous eyes on colorful wings.

The photo here is one from after the first freeze in December as I was not quick enough to capture today's brave soul with the camera. You can click the picture to see it full size.

Junonia coenia is the scientific name for this species which uses several different larval hosts in Florida which in my garden include: fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora); toadflax (Linaria spp.); plantain (Plantago spp.) twinflower (Dyschoriste spp.) and bluehearts (Buchnera americana). Based on this long list (there are other hosts too), the caterpillars aren't particularly fussy.

They are a little on the shy side...darting off if you cast a shadow too closely, but every now and again they will be so enthralled in a flower or hanging out in the gravel driveway that you'll get a good photo. And they sure do help brighten a winter day.

Be sure to visit over at for great ideas on attracting wildlife to your own garden.

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