September equinox today, 10:29 p.m. EDT

Today, at 10:29 p.m. Eastern “daylight” time, Earth’s equatorial plane intersects the center of the Sun’s disk.

Sunrise and sunset occur due east and due west, respectively, from all points on Earth’s surface.

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Equinox, man!

Days and nights will continue to get shorter in the northern hemisphere, as they’ve been doing since the June solstice, culminating in the shortest day of the year (and longest night) at the December solstice.

Enjoy the equilibrium today!

Giant Swallowtail at last

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The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is not the largest butterfly in North America. That distinction goes to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, at least to the larger females of that species. P. cresphontes, though, is still “noteworthy for its size” (Cech & Tudor). It’s also a butterfly that is rather camera shy, at least in my experience. (The only pictures of an adult Giant Swallowtail in my photo files date back to Fern Forest days, back in 2007 or 2008.)

Their larvae, however, are considerably less camera shy, and over the years I’ve noticed (and even written about) the tiny little [...]

Bees have hairy eyes

European Honeybee (Apis mellifera). Boca Raton, FL, September 14, 2014

If you’re a native plant gardener, it’s easy to let your focus on native plants and animals blind you to the characteristics of non-native species. But one of the most important non-native species worldwide is the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Because they’re so common, I frequently opt not to take pictures of them, preferring instead the more unusual “sweat bees” (halictids), with their bright green bodies and unpredictable (to me at least) sighting opportunities. This gal, for instance, was rescued from drowning in my backyard pool; she’s still in the net (she recovered and flew away):

Halictid (Sweat Bee), [...]

Here there be dragons

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) enjoying a repast of Blue Dasher (

Wow, a record for me. Three days in a row at the Yamato Scrub! My older son, Eric, surprised me midmorning on Labor Day by suggesting that we go to Yamato Scrub. I seized on the suggestion, and off we went. I brought snacks and a drink to keep him occupied, and it worked! I was able to install him on a bench with a good view of the pond while I wandered off to take a few more pictures of the insect life around the wetlands, and found some new (to me) creatures and behaviors. It wasn’t long before [...]

Damsels in Distress

Rambur's Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) and breakfast. Yamato Scrub, August 31, 2014.

You may remember that I volunteer with the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resource Management from time to time, helping them clean up and maintain the natural areas here in Boca Raton. Last weekend there was a work party at Yamato Scrub, and we were there for sunrise, coffee, donuts, muffins, and—oh, yeah—work. We trundled wheelbarrows full of sand from the sand mound to a few areas of sidewalk between the two recreated wetlands on the site. There’s a sand berm between the northern pond (the deep one) and the southern wetland (much larger and shallower). When the rains [...]

New backyard spider: Cyrtophora citricola

Cyrtophora citricola. Boca Raton, FL, July 29, 2014.

Gardeners in south Florida are the inverse of the typical beachgoer: instead of looking forward to a sunny day for reading, we look forward to a cloudy morning for weeding! August days, even in the morning, can be brutal. Earlier this week my weather station reported a heat index of 110°F! So when we get rain overnight followed by lingering clouds, we jump at the chance to get a bit muddy while trimming back the overgrown foliage and pulling out the weeds from the flower beds.

When we get the chance to do this, we often discover new and unusual [...]

Fiddlewood caterpillar (Epicorsia oedipodalis) update

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The fiddlewood caterpillars (not their real common name, but since they don’t seem to have a common name I’m calling them that) I discovered the other day haven’t done very well in captivity. I’ve had them in a plastic jar for a couple of days but they haven’t grown at all—still the same 10 mm long as two days ago. Their brothers and sisters that I missed, though, and found two days later on the original shrub, are a bit more robust—already 15 mm long and quite active. I’ve removed those caterpillars and the leaves they were on, and we’ll [...]

Ants bite; they can also tend your garden for you

Epicorsia oedipodalis detail. Note the stemmata rather high on the head

Last weekend I went out to Yamato Scrub for another volunteer clean-up event coordinated by Palm Beach County ERM. We were removing the last of the temporary irrigation installed years and years ago to jump-start the native plants that they imported to the site to replace the acres and acres of Brazilian Pepper and Australian Pine that had grown up over the years since the site was drained by the canals that run all over the place down here.

The irrigation was the typical black poly tubing with smaller tubes for the emitters. But the contractors who installed the tubing [...]

New backyard butterfly: Great Southern White

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

I’ve been noticing some large, white butterflies in the front yard throughout the month of May; they’ve been a bit hard to photograph with the constant wind and their habit of flying off at top speed when I approach with a camera, so I’m digging into my photo files and showing this version from a January, 2008 trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Southern White (Ascia monusta) nectaring on Indian Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella). Merritt Island, FL, January 12, 2008.

Now back to Boca: this June, for the first time ever, I noticed some butterfly eggs on my [...]

Backyard plant: Jamaica caper. Or, flowers attract bees

A honeybee (Apis mellifera resting in a Jamaica caper (Capparis cynophallophora) flower. Boca Raton, FL, May 31, 2014.

Back in April I called my native landscape guru, Melissa McGaughey, because I wanted her advice on some of the things going on around the yard. One of my main concerns was the Jamaica caper in the front yard. It was growing fairly bushy, with lots of what looked like competing leaders, etc. I’m used to it having a more pyramidal shape. When she came by, practically the first words out of her mouth were “that’s the best specimen you have in your yard; I wouldn’t touch it!”

She pointed out that it was just about to enter the budding/flowering [...]