Archive for August, 2012

Climbing Milkweed

Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on members of milkweed family. This includes the climbing milkweed (Cynanchum laeve), which commonly grows several places in my yard. I didn’t plant it. With the drought like it is this summer, I’m leaving all the nectar sources for the insects. (The orange on the stems is aphids.)

Climbing milkweed is also called honeyvine. All milkweed species have a toxic milky sap.

 The structure of these flower resembles all other milkweed flowers.

These flowers are only 3/16 inch long.

In nature all bright colors are warning colors. The monarch caterpillar eats the milkweed leaves, and the milky sap makes it toxic to predators.

After eating a monarch caterpillar or butterfly, and getting sick, the predator probably wouldn’t eat either of them again.

Looper Mimicry

This looper caterpillar mimics a dried twig. Look close to see a “tie wire” of silk anchoring its head.

It didn’t like all the attention from me, and changed its position to look like a bent twig. Notice the black spot marking on its back. It shows in both pictures. To me, the spot looks like it was damage done to the “twig.”

Loopers are in a large family of moths known as Geometridae. They can easily be identified by only having a pair of prolegs at each end of their body. Other caterpillars have 4 prolegs in the middle of their body. Loopers move by bringing their hindlegs up near the front of their body. They then  take their front legs forward, giving them the “looping” method of moving.

Moth or Bumblebee?

People commonly confuse snowberry clearwing moths with bumble bees.

Snowberry clearwing moths hover as they feed.

Bumble bees land and will crawl inside larger flowers.

Snowberry clearwings (Hemaris diffinis) are a day-flying moth that mimic bumble bees. Their wingspan measures 1 1/4 to 2 inches wide. They can be found in a variety of open habitats, and lay their eggs on snowberry, honeysuckle, cherry and plum.

Caterpillars by the Yard

The sun backlighting this fall webworm tent made it impossible to miss.

They usually start their nest near the end of a branch so it includes all the leaves there. As they eat the leaves, they continue to enlarge it to include more leaves. Obviously, from its yard-long length, it’s been here a while.

The evening light made the caterpillars easier to see.

This wasp or hornet (I don’t know much about either) pulled a caterpillar out and proceeded to eat it. It didn’t mind my presence,

 More details were obvious on the caterpillars the next morning. Obviously, the caterpillars don’t usually leave the nest, by all the droppings in the tent. They will come out if the weather’s hot and the nest gets too hot inside.

This pictures shows where the caterpillars shed their skin when molting. Obviously, this is done in the nest too. These last pictures were taken the third morning after finding the web.

This wasp/hornet spent a lot of time trying to get its head through the web to get a caterpillar.

Only about 20 caterpillars remained in the web on the fourth morning. The web was enlarged considerably over these 3 days. Since they only feed inside the tent, they included the closest leaves. I really don’t see how they could make such tightly-woven walls. Woven isn’t exactly the right word.

The tent/web ended up being over a yard long. I was impressed with its construction.

Blue Dragonlet

Here’s one way to tell if it’s a hot day …

if a dragonfly has its abdomen raised in the obelisk position.

Some species do this because it helps prevent overheating by reducing the surface area exposed to the sun.

This male blue dragonlet  spends a lot of time perched near my small water garden, waiting for a female and capturing tiny insects to eat. They are a very small dragonfly with an impressive length of 1-inch. It’s scientific name Erythrodiplax connata minuscula is twice as long as the dragonfly itself. Females are green with a black pattern on their abdomen. Blue dragonlets can be found at marshy ponds and lakes in a range that covers southeastern U.S. and down through Central and South America.

Praying Mantis

I just learned something I didn’t know:

 brown praying mantids are found in dry environments,

and green praying mantids are found in wet enviroments.

So, how do I explain the color of the one below that I just photographed this evening?

Adults molt (shed their exoskeleton) up to ten times until they’re full grown. So, I figure this one must have just shed and will return to the its normal color soon.

(All the pictures in this blog were taken in my yard in previous years, except the one above.)

We also have Chinese mantids in southern Illinois.

I came across this picture of a mantis nymph.

My sons would get in trouble when they were young and brought critters of all kinds in the house. This time, though, it was me who didn’t know what I’d brought home. (This was many years ago.)

 I placed one on the windowsill over the kitchen sink.

The other one went on the portable dishwasher.

Well, one morning I got up and found my window sill a busy place with a LOT of newly hatched praying mantids! And how do you round up so many tiny critters? (The top egg mass is from a praying mantis, the one above is from Chinese mantid.)

A few days later, I got up and found baby mantids on and all over inside of the dishwasher.

I couldn’t blame anybody but myself. Obviously, I won’t do that again.

A Backwards Blog

There are white berries on white dogwood trees along the back of our yard. This answered my question from the other night.

Conditions sometimes dictate the quality of my pictures. This was one of those times. Needless to say, I took the following pictures through a dirty window and the screen.

A few nights ago, I walked into the bedroom and saw a young bird perched on the remains of an overgrown evergreen shrub that my husband cut way back. It looked like a young robin to me.

It looked like a robin to me, until a brown thrasher flew in and fed it! It happened to fast to get a picture. Then I was confused. I’d never seen a young brown thrasher. I just kept snapping pictures.

The brown thrasher returned with “dinner” that wasn’t intended for the robin this time.

The young napped.

Just what it was waiting for.

Looked like it wanted more.

It preened.

This time I could see what was being fed … only I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t until I had the pictures in the computer that I could tell. I didn’t know when the berries were ripe on the white dogwoods.

I’m over here!

After watering the few plants that I water, I peeked around the corner of the house and the robin was still there. It was gone when I went back in the house.

Eastern Amberwing

So dainty, so cute and usually not so cooperative.

Eastern amberwings, a dragonfly, are just under an inch long. This one is a male. The female’s clear wings are marked with brown and amber. They prefer still water of ponds and lakes, or slowly moving ditches and stream pools.

A Cooperative Hummingbird

A bright sunny morning, temperature only 76 at 10:30, windows finally opened. It was a good day.

So, I headed out with my camera.  Three recent rains prompted flowers to bloom.

I first saw the ruby-throated hummingbird visit flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sp.). It flew before I got it’s picture.

 It visited red salvias next.

Then it spent a lot of time on the butteflybush. 

After all that vigorous activity, it landed on the wire to the barn.

I didn’t see its tongue until I got this picture in the computer.

And then it was gone.

I did a little online research since I’d never even thought about a hummingbird’s tongue. They don’t sip nectar like drinking through a straw. The tip of their tongue is divided into two parts, and each is fringed with extensions knows as lamellae.

The two tips are held flat together. As the tongue goes into the nectar the two forks separate, and the lamellae unfurl. When the hummingbird begins to withdraw its tongue, the lamellae roll inwards to trap nectar and deliver it into the mouth.


I’ve waited a long time to photograph a hummingbird, just so I could tell this story.

Years ago I was working in the garden one evening. A kestrel (a small falcon) began squawking like it was being mortally wounded. It squawked and squawked … a hummingbird was chasing it! It continued squawking as it flew around, with the hummingbird in quick persuit. The hummingbird chased the kestrel off and perched in the very top of the dead pear tree, looking so triumphant!

I still chuckle over that one.

Sumac Berries

I transplanted 2 sumac trees in the lower part of our yard several years ago. They were planted especially for feeding the birds in the winter.

The only reason I think they’re healthier looking than most plants is because it’s lower back there, and they’re down from the septic field. It didn’t look like the birds have started eating them yet.

Droopy leaves on this sumac show signs of stress from the extreme heat and drought. I also wonder about the overall tree drooping.

All the berries are gone on the wild cherry trees in the yard. Leaves on all the hackberry trees are yellowish and wilty looking. Their berries are a strange color and aren’t ripe yet. I wonder if they’ll even ripen.

A flock of cedar waxwings will move in an area in the winter and stay there until all the berries are gone. Robins and bluebirds eat berries in the winter too.