Fiddlewood caterpillar (Epicorsia oedipodalis) update

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 [...]

New backyard bird: Downy Woodpecker, or why native plants love birds (and vice versa)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescent with scale. Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2014.

From time to time the native plants in my yard, which I do my best to foster, suffer from an overabundance of a certain tiny insect: scale. These insects aren’t scary to most people—they don’t bite, they don’t fly up and startle you, they don’t even move after they hunker down in their chosen spot to feed. But they are rather scary to the plants they parasitize. They latch onto a growing stem, use their piercing sucking mouthparts to penetrate the thin exterior walls, and suck up the vital juices that are supposed to be circulating through the [...]

New backyard butterfly: Ceraunus Blue

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus). Boca Raton, FL, February 6, 2014.

Today I saw the smallest butterfly I’ve ever seen in my life: the tiny Ceraunus Blue, Hemiargus ceraunus. Most blues, as this family of butterflies is known, are tiny, but I cannot convey to you the utter tininess of this thing. The tiny little stalk of dead weed it’s perched on looks gargantuan in the photo of it:

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus). Boca Raton, FL, February 6, 2014.

She’s a pretty little thing, though, (I say “she” because females are brown, males are gray) with two prominent dark spots on the leading edge of the forewing and one giant [...]

New backyard butterfly: Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)

Eurema lisa on Richardia grandiflora. Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

Halloween is right around the corner and the butterflies are popping out of the woodwork. I’ve seen the “standard” passion vine butterflies (heliconians attracted to the Passiflora vines I have growing along the backyard fence) all summer, and they’re still out in force, but I’ve also got the smaller “grassy” butterflies flying around now. One that I’ve been trying to get a good picture of for a long time is the lovely little yellow (which, by the way, is actually its standard American name), Eurema lisa:

Little Yellow butterfly (Eurema lisa) on Sida acuta (Common wire weed) Boca Raton, [...]

Dune sunflowers, spiders, and moths, oh my!

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis, is a commonly recommended plant for Florida native gardeners. It’s in the daisy family (Asteraceae), and it’s very pretty:

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Yellow rays, purple disc flowers, loads of pollen—very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Halictid bee on Dune Sunflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 26, 2013.

It self-sows and reseeds annually, so once you’ve got it established, you don’t have to do much except remove it from places you don’t want it! It grows best in “dune” environments: sandy areas in full sun, hence the common name.

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Backyard bug profile: Celithemis eponina

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant, close-up. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

The beginning of spring, by which I mean the arrival of the rainy season, is one of my favorite times of year here in south Florida. The damselflies and dragonflies are out in significant numbers again, dotting the grasses and trees searching for food. Earlier this week there were dozens of dragonflies cruising the back yard, among them some pretty Needham’s Skimmers and the eye-catching little pennant, Celithemis eponina, commonly known as the Halloween Pennant for its festive orange and black (well, a brown so dark that people call it black, like my dad’s hair back before he became a [...]

My, what pretty eyes you have!

Rambur's forktail (Ischnura ramburii). Boca Raton, FL, May 8, 2013.

Fair’s fair: since I made a face map of the dragonfly last week, I need to do the same for the damselflies. For those of you who aren’t hip to the differences between these two suborders of Odonata, one easy way to remember it is think of dragons and damsels. Dragons are large, damsels are dainty.

Other differences include

Posture: dragonflies hold their wings out to the sides when they perch, while damselflies fold them over their backs, parallel to the axis of their body. Head structure: Dragonfly eyes are so large that they don’t have a “top of the [...]