New backyard bug: Asian mango flower beetle

Asian mango flower beetle (Protaetia fusca). Boca Raton, FL, December 17, 2014.

December has been chilly here; the longest stretch of cold nights I can remember, punctuated by lovely cool and ever-so-slightly-warm by the afternoon days. After nearly fifteen years here, I feel like I’m finally getting my money’s worth out of living in the Sunshine State.

The cool weather, though, has slowed the flowering in my yard, and with the smaller nectar and pollen crop that’s available in these shorter days, I’ve seen fewer insects, and with fewer insects, there have been fewer birds around. I still see the wintering palm warblers, and now and then the kestrel shows back up […]

Atalas in November

Atala hairstreak (Eumaeus atala), Boca Raton, FL, November 23, 2014.

It seems that every November the Atalas cruise through my neighborhood. There are supposed to be several broods per year, but each and every documented sighting I have had on my property has been in the month of November. And last December I installed their larval host plant, coontie (Zamia pumila), so they might have a reason to stay:

Florida coontie (Zamia punila). Boca Raton, FL, November 24, 2014.

Of course, not every butterfly that stays is happy to have done so:

Atala (Eumaeus atala) hairstreak butterfly that has seen better days. Boca Raton, FL, November 13, 2014.

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October inventory, part two

Wasp, Conura species. Boca Raton, FL, October 30, 2014.

October of 2014 was a tale of two months, it seems. The first half of the month continued the late wet season trend of several days with rainfall, which seems to have increased the number of dragonflies and damselflies in the yard compared to the second half of the month, which had about as many days with rain, but not clustered together as much.

New species for the second half of the month:

Hummingbirds returned; I actually got buzzed by one as I was out lamenting the latest scale infestation on the firebush; they love the red tubular flowers of […]

New Backyard Butterfly: Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis)

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis). Boca Raton, FL, October 17, 2014.

With my new “monthly inventory” program underway, I’m taking a bit more time in the mornings and at lunch out in the yard, weeding when windy, taking pictures when calm. And one day this month, I found something quite rare: a butterfly that’s normally seen (when seen at all) in the Keys or in Cuba! Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis) is an unassuming little guy, like most hairstreaks on the small side. But two curly tails add some visual interest, and the rarity adds even more.

Cech and Tudor, authors of the definitive butterfly guide to the East Coast describe its […]

Monthly inventory

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis genera). Boca Raton, FL, October 3, 2014.

October is a month of transition here in south Florida. The wet days of the rainy season start to taper off, giving way to the first few cooling breaths of our short-lived autumn, eventually to be followed by the drier and steadier days of our wintertime dry season (which usually arrives around November). That doesn’t mean it won’t rain; we still get appreciable rainfall in this last month of the wet season, but the rains are punctuated by spells of drier, cooler weather, that is much welcomed after the long, hot days of summer.

The first […]

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 […]