Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shedding Green Anole

This caught my eye - a weird, white animal basking on a Firecracker Plant, Russelia equisetiformis.  It's a Green Anole in the midst of shedding!  My shameless staring disturbed his repose.  When he retreated inside the thick foliage, the branches tugged on the sluffed skin.  Then the anole munched away, consuming his old attire.

Shedding Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis, on Russelia equisetiformis

Shedding Green Anole - notice the old skin on his toes.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Green Treefrog and Monarch Caterpillar

Green treefrog and Monarch larva on A. curassavica

A lovely young Green Treefrog, Hyla cinerea, was sleeping the day away on a milkweed stem.  While I was admiring the frog, a plump monarch caterpillar came crawling up the same milkweed stem, heading toward the delicious leaves above.  The caterpillar was momentarily thwarted by the roadblock.  No worries, eventually the hungry caterpillar crawled around the sleeping treefrog and was soon eating milkweed leaves.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dragonfly Class at Armand Bayou Nature Center - Part Two

As I mentioned in the previous post, my left arm is in a sling following rotator cuff surgery.  I am slowly hunting and pecking on the keyboard.  I offer more pictures from Bob and Maggie Honig's September class for Master Naturalists at Armand Bayou Nature Center. Below there be dragons, a damsel, and a dragon-eater.
Roseate Skimmer, Orthemis ferruginea. His tail is the color of raspberry, his thorax is grape.
Roseate Skimmer, Orthemis ferruginea, male.
Eastern Pondhawk, male, Erythemis simplicicollis.  Powdery blue color with amber stigma.
Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia, catches dragonflies inches above the water.  She has snared a female Pondhawk and at least one Blue Dasher.
Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, perches above a brown and yellow damselfly.

Dragonfly Class at Armand Bayou Nature Center - Part One

One hand typing for now – I had surgery to repair my left rotator cuff and am in a sling.  But I have some critters to show you! 

In September, the Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists held an advanced training class about dragonflies.  The fascinating class was taught by Bob Honig with assistance from Maggie Honig.  We were lucky to be at the Armand Bayou Nature Center which has ponds that are perfect habitat for dragons.

Catch and release:  Bob Honig with male Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis. See the "tiger striped" thorax?

Catch and release:  Maggie Honig with Hyacinth Glider, Miathyria marcella
Male Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis.  He's a dusty, light blue.
Male Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis
Female Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. Though far away, you can see she's green.
Eastern Pondhawks, Erythemis simplicicollis, mating in "wheel" position.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Speckled Kingsnake

Prairie chicken tracking day!  I love my day on the prairie.  It is so peaceful and there is always something interesting to observe.   When I hopped out of the tracking truck to open a pasture gate, I noticed that something in the grass at the edge of the road looked “different”.  What do you see here?  I left the gate halfway open and grabbed my camera from the truck.

Speckled Kingsnake
 It is a Speckled Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula holbrooki.  This is gorgeous, native, non-venomous, East Texas snake.  A few years ago, there was a pair of mature Speckled Kingsnakes who liked to bask in the garden and on the patio of the Prairie Preserve office.   Those snakes were 5-6 feet long.  I am sure they managed the rodent population efficiently.

This fellow near the pasture gate was only about 3 feet long.  I got close to snap a photo, but he did not like that one bit.  First he coiled defensively, then he raised his head and made a hasty retreat.  I assured him that I did not eat snakes, but he was taking no chances.  It was just as well that he moved - as close as he was to the road, I might have accidentally driven over him with the truck.

This is a very attractive snake.   The black dorsal scales have a spot of yellow – a light on the shield if you will - thus the Latin name, Lampropeltis.  Lampro refers to torch or lamp.  Peltis refers to a crescent-shaped shield.    Speckled Kingsnakes hunt by scent and kill their prey by constriction.   According to A field Guide to Snakes of Texas by Alan Tennant, Speckled Kingsnakes eat small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, and turtle eggs.  They also eat other snakes including coral snakes, copperheads, and rattlesnakes.   “Kingsnakes are largely immune to Crotalid venom,” Tennant says.  Cool, right?  King of the snakes!
Speckled Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula holbrooki

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bee Fly

Bee Fly on Mexican Heather
Winnie the Pooh searching for honey - that’s what I think of when I see this little insect that resembles a plush Teddy bear.  It’s a Bee Fly!  I spotted this fuzzy, golden critter hovering over the Mexican Heather blossoms, searching for nectar.  The purple Mexican Heather flowers, Cuphea hyssopifolia, are only about 1 cm in diameter,  so you can see that the Bee Fly is smaller still.  My books tell me that these tiny pollinators, family Bombyliidae, do not bite or sting, no matter how pointy they appear.  The long proboscis is designed for sipping nectar.  Bee Fly larvae are parasites of other garden insects such as ground nesting bees and beetles.   This was the first one I’d seen.  I think he is adorable.
Bee Fly on Mexican Heather
Bee Fly on Mexican Heather - doesn't he look soft?
Bee Fly:  Wheeee!  Coming in for a landing,  Note the ant peeking from the flower.
Bee Fly on Mexican Heather

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nash Prairie Fritillaries and Phaon Crescent

Flamboyant Passion-flower Blossom, Passiflora incarnata.

As we were departing Nash Prairie, someone noticed Passion-flower, Passiflora incarnata,  blooming on a barbed-wire fence near our truck. On the Passion-flower leaves there were the dramatic caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary.   Scott, my fellow Master Naturalist, held back the leaves so I could snap a picture.  Back in the truck,  we started to drive away,  when Aaron, the Project Director, spotted an unfamiliar butterfly.  We all jumped out of the vehicle to look and identify.   Thank goodness for digital cameras:  it is much easier to examine a critter from a picture, back at home, after a shower, with all the field guide books handy.  I decided that the mystery butterfly was a Varigated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia.  The Varigated Fritillary also uses Passion-flower as a larval host! If anyone has a different identification for it, please let me know!

Before coming to the Nash Prairie, I had not seen a tiny Phaon Crescent, Phyciodes phaon.  I grow a lot of its larval host plant, Frog Fruit, Phyla, as a ground cover at my house.

Larva of Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, munching on Passionflower leaves

Plump, glossy, purple and orange striped caterpillar of Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Passionflower leaves
Varigated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, nectaring on Brazilian Vervain

Another view: Varigated Fritillary nectaring on Brazilian Vervain
Phaon Crescent nectaring on Frog Fruit.  Frog Fruit is also its larval host
Another view: Phaon Crescent, Phyciodes phaon, nectaring on Frog Fruit

Nash Prairie

Halloween Pennant, Celithemis eponina, at Nash Prairie, June 2012

Nash Prairie Trip 06/24/2012
Imagine the Texas coastal landscape back in the time before Europeans arrived with plows and cattle.  That is the Nash Prairie Preserve today - a sparkling remnant of the Coastal Tallgrass Prairie that once swept from Corpus Christi, TX to Lafayette, LA.   This precious habitat is home to ancient, rare and previously-thought-to-be-extinct plants, along with their accompanying communities of insects and animals.  The Nash Prairie Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is an indispensable resource for seeds which are used in prairie restoration projects.

This was my first visit to the Nash Prairie. I was part of a seed-collecting team that departed from the Texas City Prairie Preserve.  On this hot June morning, the Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium was spectacular in full bloom; if the Nash Prairie were a giant cookie then the Rattlesnake Master was the white sugar coating the top!  What a marvelous sight.  Purple Liatris streaked throughout along with sprinkles of yellow Rosinweed.  Pimple Mounds, covered with yellow Coneflowers, stood out in brilliant relief.

Meadow Larks, Quail, Dicksisssels, and Red-winged Blackbirds sang while we gathered seeds of Prairie Parsley and Rosinweed.  Scores of the whimsically named Halloween Pennant Dragonflies skipped and gamboled over the tops of the grasses.  Butterflies, snails, and teal-green beetles – at every step there was another marvel and more to learn!
Rattlesnake Master blooming on Nash Prairie, June 2012

Snails in the Rattlesnake Master
Snail on Rattlesnake Master, Nash Prairie.
Empty Black Swallowtail Chrysalis on Rattlesnake Master

Rosinweed, Silphium

Coneflower, Rudbeckia texana, with Funereal Duskywing

Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera

Gorgeous Golden-Headed Weevil, Compsus auricephalus, on Rattlesnake Master
Pretty Pink Inchworm on Rattlesnake Master

Nash Prairie, blooming Rattlesnake Master and Liatris, June 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plains Coreopsis

 Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, in my garden.  Prairie Parsley is blooming pale yellow in the background.
Ugh!  Traffic was at a standstill due to construction on Highway 96.   But happy distraction! I spied this field awash with gold. Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, is one of our gorgeous natives.  Another common name, “Golden Wave”, aptly describes the dramatic, wind-blown mass of bright yellow blooms. The species name, tinctoria, comes from a Latin word referring to staining or dying.  That explains another common name, Dyer's Coreopsis. Weavers and spinners who dye their own wool can use Plains Coreopsis blossoms to produce lovely natural dyes in shades of yellow, orange or brown.

Brilliant field full of Coreopsis tinctoria, Plains Coreopsis

I enjoyed it so much, I took another picture:  Field full of Coreopsis tinctoria, Plains Coreopsis. A lot of wool could be dyed from this!

Once you add Plains Coreopsis to your garden, it will re-seed and give you beautiful flowers again the following year.  Your butterflies and bees will love it!

A spot in my garden with Plains Coreopsis and various salvias.