in flight

while walking along shelby farms agricenter road the other day i enjoyed flocks of doves flying like a chorus in nearby fields.

Bambi spots

bambi spots

fawn in the grass

it’s been a summer of bambi eyes… and spots. this little one strayed from its mom and stayed almost 2 hours in my friend’s back yard leaping and by turns resting in the high grass. she seemed unencumbered and carefree in the absence of her mom. typically fawns are born between april and july. they have soft fur and over 100 spots that serve to camouflage the baby. they lose them as their first winter approaches and their coat changes from a reddish to grayish brown.

did you know fawns are odorless at birth and the mother will stay away from the babies for several crucial days so that her smell will not rub off onto the newborns?

want more info on white-tailed deer fawns?

let’s talk, deer…

spiny backed orb weaver

commonly known as crab spiders, these are easily distinguished orb weavers; small, brightly colored spiders with noticeable thorns radiating from their sides. their orb shaped webs also have a distinguishing characteristic; tufts of silk built into the structure. It is believed, though not proven, that these conspicuous tufts serve as a warning for birds that might fly into and destroy the web. only the female occupies the center of the web, while males dangle nearby.

   
    
   
i have two spiny backs in my front yard. two females, two webs. i was fortunate to come outside just at the moment that one of the spiders was wrapping up her breakfast burrito. she gingerly used some very fancy footwork to cover the fly in his silky deathbed. here is a video i made of the action.

Resources:

featured creatures: spinybacked orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis

beneficials in the garden

Wooly aphid

It looked like lint on the leaf of my winged sumac. Then it moved!!! (Scary music here). I took pictures and then came inside to investigate. It’s called a wooly aphid and the white cottony film covering it’s body has a waxy coat that protects it from some predators. Meanwhile, the aphid sucks happily on plant juices! 

   
    
For more details, check out this post: 

http://www.abundantnature.com/2012/06/fuzzy-white-flying-bugs.html?m=1
 

Planthoppers

They could be acanalonia conica or or ormenoides venusta. They belong to the group of plant hoppers and they do the coolest thing… When you touch the stem they all move synchronously to the back side in attempt to hide. My trumpet vine is full of them, and this stem, in particular is suffering from a paucity of leaves! Here’s more info:

http://www.americaninsects.net/h/ormenoides-venusta.html

 

Ummidia (trap door spider)

this spider is related to the tarantula but much smaller in size and with less hairy legs. The trap door spider builds an ingenious tunnel covered by a trapdoor and uses this to catch prey.    For more info, check out this link http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_trapdoor_spider.html

a monarch tale

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” (Maya Angelou)

“She liked being reminded of butterflies. She remembered being six or seven and crying over the fates of the butterflies in her yard after learning that they lived for only a few days. Her mother had comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies, that just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic. Watching them flying in the warm sun among the daisies in their garden, her mother had said to her, see, they have a beautiful life. Alice liked remembering that.”(Still Alice)

This is a story with a “sad”, not tragic, ending. I say that at the onset of this monarch tale because sad endings are an integral part of the cycle of life. nothing that is born lives forever. we see a caterpillar or butterfly, a bud or flower, an egg, a bird, a baby or child and marvel at the beauty captured in these spring moments. the represent regeneration, rebirth, promise and the hope of life everlasting. Yet, in the flower of youth, it is easy to dismiss the inevitability of nature’s demise.

On an early april afternoon, while sitting in my garden, i spotted a bedraggled monarch butterfly fluttering among the tender leaves of my swamp milkweed. in previous years this same milkweed has been an autumn buffet for the milkweed bug and her offspring, This was the first monarch that had graced my yard. I did not check for eggs until the following morning and was elated to find them on many leaves of each of the 3 plants. This was April 8th, and I reported my findings to Journey North, a citizen Science monitoring network. Within 24 hours I was contacted by another Memphis resident who also had eggs on her milkweed. She advised me to make preparations for predators. I did, but the results were heartbreaking in small increments. I would say we started out with at least 20 eggs on each plant, had about 20 tiny caterpillars survive the egg stage. I covered the plants with a mesh laundry basket. Ants and wasps entered from below. They seemed to do well for a time and then, as the caterpillars got noticeably larger, they began to disappear again. In the end, I staked the cover to the dirt in about 10 locations. This worked for another few days and 5 caterpillars made it to 5 cm in length. In the end, when the last 2 living caterpillars moved to the netting, they were attacked through the mesh by wasps. None survived. The stated survival rate is 10 %. There was a long span of time of growth without any sign of predation. This was toward the end of April. I thought we’d made it to the “safety window,” but was terribly mistaken. So many thoughts have rolled around in my mind. The major lesson I came away with has to do with how nature is as much about death and survival as it is about birth and regeneration. I felt like a bad mother, full of sadness over these creatures with whom I spoke daily and that never acknowledged my presence. Nature takes its course, with or without human intervention. If the stats are so volatile when humans are actively engaged in positively influencing the success rate, then what is to be said for human obliviousness…. or detrimental meddling? The second wave of monarchs will lay eggs in July. My milkweed is robust… and i wonder if the monarchs will return and if the milkweed bugs plan another invasion…

Here are some photos of the journey from birth to death of my monarch caterpillars.

Bermeo sea wall

IMG_7149-0

The sea,

trapped here by battered walls,

spits frothy curses at heaven.

They fall on deaf ears.

nature’s twinkies: the monarch and the viceroy

remember when your kids or those of someone you knew were around 10 years old, how they began to dress like their best friend and they would call or text each other the night before to decide what “look-a-like” outfit to wear the next day to school? i do. i had 2 very sociable girls and they loved to dress alike and like their “besties”! in nature there are  also “twinkies”, but there are much more practical reasons for “dressing alike”: survival! there is more than one kind of survival mimicry as well. in batesian mimicry, a harmless species imitates the characteristics of a toxic species in order to deter would-be predators. in müllerian mimicry a more mutually beneficial relationship exists. a given number of species may look alike because they both have toxic qualities and imitation becomes a mutually beneficial arrangement.

the monarch the viceroy butterflies are one of the best known butterflies to be recognized as “look-a-likes”. it has long been thought that the viceroy looks like the monarch so that predators of the viceroy will be fooled. the belief that only the monarch is really toxic (batesian mimicry) guided this view, but recent research seems to suggest that both are toxic in different ways so that their mimicry is mutually beneficial (müllerian mimicry). In the “finding that emerged from an early study—the viceroy, though more palatable than the monarch, was still less palatable compared with non-mimetic butterflies.”

monarch

monarch butterfy (Danaus plexippus)

viceroy

viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus)

to the casual eye, these two butterflies look alike, but there are several ways to tell the difference. here are two. the easiest sign is the black stripe on the viceroy’s hindwing. in addition, viceroys do not migrate so depending on where you live you will see them at appear at different times in spring.

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