A Lepidoptera Midwife Stays Busy

Man, where does the time go? I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks! This summer I had two kinds of caterpillars that I fed and kept while they did their caterpillar thing and became what they become. If you’ve never done this, you might want to give it a try. You can see what it feels like to be a midwife for our Lepidoptera friends. Hint: it’s fun.

First, I’ll tell you about the day I went to the Big Box Hardware Store to check for marked down plants. It was the end of gardening season and that’s a good time to find things like parsley. Parsley lives for a whole year, so I like to get a plant every six months or so. Anyway, I found some parsley I wanted and when I took it to the register to see if the checker could mark it down, she and another employee were surprised that I wanted it. This plant was almost totally consumed and what was eating it was still there! Three swallowtail butterfly caterpillars were munching away. The plant was from a company that sets the prices and the store couldn’t mark it down, but that’s OK. I bought it anyway, because I wanted the caterpillars.

When I got them home I had to figure out how to set this up. Rather than a big jar for each one in the kitchen, I went for this in hubby’s study:

Caterpillar Nursery

Caterpillar Nursery

This is made with window screen that I cut in a strip and sewed together and covered it with net. I did add more clothespins after losing caterpillars. The little jar and bottle had a bit of water and parsley in them. The tops should be small enough or else covered, so the caterpillars can’t fall in the water. Also, never, never, never feed them parsley that isn’t organic. I learned that the hard way once. They will die if they eat parsley that has been sprayed with insecticide.  After seeing what happened to the caterpillars, I haven’t bought parsley that wasn’t organic, no matter who was going to eat it!

I learned something this year. When they start crawling all over the place, they are looking for a place to ‘hang out’ while they go through the process of metamorphosis. Otherwise, they just eat and sleep. One of them got out and I put him back in. He found one of the sticks I’d set up for him and attached himself. Then another one got out and I couldn’t find him. The third one attached to a stick. Eventually, they all came out of their chrysalises. Even the one that was lost. (We still haven’t found his chrysalis! And I’ll keep records next year, so I’ll know exactly how many days from one caterpillar event to the next.)

What is funny to me about the one I lost is that I looked around the living room one morning to see if he was flitting about the room. It felt like it was time. An hour or two later, hubby told me he found my butterfly. It was in his study. We very carefully caught it inside the screen and netting and took him outside. The only photos I got were taken in the house.

The butterfly who was lost.

The butterfly who was lost.

Something cool happened with the third one. One morning when I first got out of bed, I went in there to take a look at him. I’d never done that at that time of day, and there he was on the stick he’d chosen and he was moving his mouth from side to side. What on earth? Making his support, that’s what. In less than half an hour, they make the support that will hold them in place while their body goes through the changes. Boy, I sure was thankful to have been able to see this! I’ve raised a few butterflies and never caught that. When I wrote about butterflies a few years ago, I had no idea how they did this. You can check out videos of it on YouTube. It’s really awesome to see.

Then the third one hatched; this photo may be of the first one. In any case, this is what he looked like. Every time I let one go, I say to him, “Be Free!”

Welcome to the butterfly life!

Welcome to the butterfly life!

There were also some other caterpillars in my yard that I don’t remember ever seeing. They are big and thick and green with a red and white stripe down their sides and they aren’t exactly fuzzy, but what they have on their bodies looks like bushes. Bushes? Yep. That’s what I thought, and so did my cousin when I showed him. We both thought this is one wild-looking critter.

Io moth caterpillar

Io moth caterpillar

Just for fun, here’s my cat watching through the foil I put on the back door during the summer. I had to fix a peep-hole for him.

Captain

Captain

Those ‘bushes’ can sting but it doesn’t feel like an asp, which feels like getting hit with a hammer. It just burns a bit. Yeah, that’s the voice of experience you hear. I was trimming the Turk’s cap and one got me on the arm. The first thing I did was run hot water on it. By the time my arm was turning pink from the hot water, it wasn’t stinging any more. I think the hot water must neutralize the toxins. It was still swollen though like little hives. I didn’t take a photo of my arm, but I did go on a search for the caterpillar. I knew what I was looking for because I’d seen one, put him in a jar, then later let him go. During the time I had that one I looked them up and found a YouTube video of a guy letting one sting his arm so we could all see what happens. That’s how I knew what got me. (Bless your heart, and thanks for the video, Dude!)

So, I found him and put him in a jar, then found more. Before it was all over, I had seven of these fellows in a gallon jar. I fed them leaves every day. They have all made cocoons under the dirt and so far, two have come out and been set free. They are Io moths and boy, are they pretty!

See the pretty 'eyes' on his lower wings?

See the pretty ‘eyes’ on his lower wings?

I’m sorry about the focus there. I have a cool little camera, but it focused on the wrong thing. The other five may overwinter in the jar and hatch out next year. I read online that they do that, and so was surprised when these first two didn’t. My guess is that the length of days signals them on what to do?

So, those were some adventures with caterpillars this year. The jar with the five cocoons will spend the winter on the front porch where I can keep an eye on it, and the cocoons will be in their natural environment as far as light and temperatures. Yesterday, I put the caterpillar house up in the attic. Next year, along about early June it will time to take it down and go caterpillar hunting.

The Artist Is A Superhero?: a fish story

Hubby wanted to show me a place where he and one of our sons went fishing last month, so we went to this place today. It’s a wildlife refuge down by the beach. Nice! It’s quiet. We were sitting on a little fishing pier eating our lunch and I was thinking about how all I could hear were birds, the wind blowing through the grasses and the waves of the lake lapping against the rocks at the shore. No ghetto sounds, no traffic sounds. Nice. Quiet. Relaxing.

As we were leaving, we drove over a narrow wooden bridge where a couple of guys were fishing, and one, Fisherman #1, had hung something big. Hubby slowed down to see what he had on his line, but he couldn’t pull it in. He was hollering at us asking if we had a gaff hook. His buddy, Fisherman #2,  was headed over to him with a crab net. We didn’t have a gaff hook or anything that would be helpful, but out of curiosity, we got out of the truck and went over to see what he had going on there.

He had hung a good-sized gar on half a mullet. We watched for several minutes as he reeled it in and then let it run a bit, trying to tire it out so he could try to drag it up on the shore. During the battle, there was some discussion about what a fish tale this would be, hung a big gar on half a mullet with a 10-pound test line and a old ragged-out fishing rod. While all this was going on, hubby walked a few feet away just looking at the water, while I stayed there watching and asking how the fish would be cooked when he finally caught it. The two fishermen (possibly taking advantage of hubby being out of earshot?) decided to talk a bit rough about the fish and use the word “ghetto” two or three times. I wanted to laugh, but I know sometimes I shouldn’t do that, so I didn’t. I just thought that they must be trying to horrify me or something, which is what I thought was so funny since I live in the ghetto myself.

Then hubby came back over and they started talking about how if they had something to hit it with, they could konk it in the head and drag it on out of the water.  Fisherman #2 said if he had a pistol he could just pop it with that. I told him I was thinking the same thing. They looked kind of surprised and Fisherman #1 said he left his pistol at home. I said I did, too. Then we probably both wondered if the other one had a gun with them or not.

Finally, Fisherman #1 told his buddy to use the crab net to push the gar. He would get it close to the bank and his buddy could get the tail in the net and it would keep the fish from being able to thrash about, and with one of them pushing with the net and the other one pulling on the line, maybe they could get him out of the water. It worked! They got the fish out of the water, but he was on the bank and it was sloped and he was still close to the water and if he started flipping and flopping, he might go right back down the bank and back into the water and they’d have to start all over.

So, there was a big discussion about what to do between the two of them. That’s when my Jones kicked in. At some point, I become all action. I’m done with talking when I see what to do and I’m ready to do it. I forgot it wasn’t my fish and before Fisherman #1 could say, “Lady, what are you doing with my fish?!” I had moved over to where the fish was and told Fisherman #1 to keep the line tight. I stooped down and grabbed a fin behind one of the gills. Boy, that was slippery! I was surprised by how heavy this fish was, and said so, then I grabbed his gill, then his other gill and pulled. That’s how the fish got to the top of the bank.

So, now what? I just jumped in and did that and what would they think? Uh, I wasn’t sure. As I stood up, I said, “Y’all don’t tell nobody I did that!” That’s my ghetto talk. I didn’t think they would want to tell their friends that a 102 pound white lady just grabbed their gar by the gills and pulled him up a hill. They said, “What? Don’t tell nobody you did that?” Fisherman #2 said, “She wasn’t even scared!” and Fisherman #1 said again, “Don’t tell?” In the middle of all their surprise and discussion about not telling, and about getting this posted on some board someplace, I noticed the pretty pattern on the gar’s head and scales and so I told them, “Look at the pretty pattern, isn’t that pretty?” and I told them I’m an artist.  I’m sure it was all pretty surreal to them at that point!

Fisherman #1 was still not wanting to not tell, and along with a “God bless you” and a handshake, he said, “I’m tagging you on Facebook! What is your name?” I just laughed and told him I’m an artist. So, he said “The Artist” is what he would call me on there, and hubby and I left. Just like a Superhero, do the deed and skeedadle while everybody is still happy.

Ya’ Reckon These Eggs Belong To Our Rat Snake?

A few months ago, I was getting the concrete blocks around the garden all in order, and preparing to put up a fence. We had expanded the garden and I needed to fill in some space with blocks, and also there were weeds to pull. We have some of those concrete block with holes in them laying on their sides, with the holes up, but with some concrete scallop edging laying on top of them. It covers the holes and I like the little scalloped edges.

Why keep the concrete when we’re putting up a fence? Because an armadillo won’t dig under it if there’s concrete there. Well, maybe not just one armadillo. Sometimes in the morning, my yard looks like there was a whole group of drunken golfers out there all night.

Anyway, the edging wasn’t all lined up perfectly, and a snake found a way into the hole. “What a nice protected place to lay my eggs,” she thought. I’m sure she thought that, and also, thanked me.

 

Snake Eggs

Snake Eggs

 

Since finding the eggs, we’ve seen a huge rat snake at least three times in our garden. (I don’t know where the babies went; haven’t seen a single young one.) She’s (I just know it’s a she and she’s the momma of those eggs) almost as long as my broom handle. I figured that out by seeing where her head was and where her tail was at the same time and putting the broom on the ground where she had been. I speak to her every time I see her. I’ve tried to work along side of her. She’s just not friendly. She runs from me. Which is why I tell folks not to run from snakes. Why run from something that’s already running from you?

Finches and Hummers and More

How pretty! I look out at the bird feeders and see goldfinches and house finches, too. The goldfinches are getting their yellow on and they are just gorgeous. And if the feed runs out, as it did this morning, a goldfinch will fly up to the window to let me know.

I’ve been asked what I feed the birds. I’ve used different things, but I always have black oil sunflower seed. Some folks think you have to buy thistle seed for the goldfinches, but I’ve run out and they are happy with the sunflower seed.

I get raw peanuts for the blue jays who usually make an announcement from the sweet gum tree before swooping down to grab one. When I hear them, I tell my cat, “Incoming!” so he knows to watch for them. We call all this bird activity kitty movies. Well, I call it that; the cat is pretty quiet, but happy.

I have some safflower seed that I got for a special treat, but I probably won’t buy that again. I put it on the platform feeder. The doves didn’t read all the books that say they are ground feeders and they are up there eating safflower seed. Those silly birds even get on the hanging feeders although they’d rather eat off the platform. If they wipe it clean and all they are left with is what’s hanging, they will flutter up against the windows trying to get me to put more seed out for them.

Sometimes, I’ve bought a mix of different seed, but still it’s not necessary. I guess if a person wants to discourage certain birds, maybe that’s a good idea, but if your budget is tight, sunflower seed (black oil seems to be best) is fine for everyone, even for the buntings that come through in spring.

Speaking of migration, it’s time to brush up on those birds that we only see once or twice a year. I really like to use Cornell Lab’s site. This morning, I used this to look at hummingbirds. I like the way they have it set up so you can see birds that are similar and compare them.

Last week, I watched the male rufous hummingbird sit on a branch near the feeder. He was constantly twitching his head from side to side, watching as if there was another bird that wanted to come to the feeder.  After a few minutes, sure enough, another hummer showed up. I’m almost positive it’s a male ruby-throat.  I figured he must be a scout. I’m not sure why they send a scout to find the groceries, when all they are going to do is fight over feeders once everybody gets here. The two of them spent a few days chasing each other and then the rufous left.

Now a female ruby-throat is here.  There was some confusion when I saw streaks on her throat, but as she sat on a branch preening, I saw that she has the forked tail of a ruby-throat. Yesterday I saw three different hummers and I’m not sure I can identify all of them. I’m really having to watch this closely and not assume anything since so many others are here in the winter. I may call a lady from the Audubon Society who gave a talk on hummers, and see if she makes house calls.

I’m really new to this as far as these other species goes. We used to put up feeders in the spring and take them down in fall after everyone left. I started leaving mine up four winters ago, hoping for a rufous. The first two years there was no rufous, but there was a buff-bellied hummingbird who spent the whole winter here both years. Last winter, I may have misidentified a few birds that I thought were female ruby-throats. This winter I learned there are several hummingbirds that the books used to say didn’t come here, but they do in the winter. If you live near the Gulf of Mexico in the Southern US, don’t ever take your hummingbird feeders down. Mine are staying up all the time, unless there’s a hurricane or a freeze. No one will stay through the winter who should be leaving, and you just never know who might show up.

All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?

I’m so excited about this it’s hard to get my thoughts organized (plus, it’s Monday), but I’m going to try. Saturday, I went to a talk on feeding hummingbirds through the winter. I learned that there are more different kinds of hummingbirds that come to the Texas Gulf Coast in the winter than I ever knew! And a lot of them are difficult to identify.

We’ve had a buff-bellied hummingbird spend a couple of winters here. He was easy. He’s bigger than other hummers and he has a curved orange bill. We’ve missed him the past two years. Or, her. It’s impossible to tell the male from the female.

My son saw what I thought was a female ruby-throat in January, and he said it was most likely a female black-chinned. What? That bird comes here? I had no idea. Those two females are difficult to tell apart. Plus, I didn’t look at my book; I thought only the ruby-throat and the rufous were common here.

On Saturday, I learned that there are eight different hummingbirds that have been seen in Jefferson County, Texas. Ruby-throated, black-chinned, Anna’s, rufous, Allen’s, calliope, broad-tailed, buff-bellied, broad-billed and green-breasted mango hummingbirds. That is quite a list, and as I was reading over the material we were given, I realized that I had a male black-chinned hummingbird at my feeder. He had black under the bill and purple under the black, and I thought it was the way the winter light was messing with things. Another way to distinguish the ruby-throat from the black-chinned is the black-chinned will flick it’s tail while feeding. My neighbor and I both remember seeing a hummer do that at our feeders.

So, who has identified all those birds? People from the Audubon Society, and they know their birds. The lady who was giving the talk told us that  her husband takes a photo of each bird at their feeder each morning. He takes the photos (right through the kitchen window), then puts them on the computer and enlarges them. This way they are able to tell each bird apart by little details in their markings. They can also see distinctive characteristics of each species with a photo that it’s really hard, if not impossible, to see through binoculars. Several of these birds are very similar.

And, it seems my books are really out of date as far as their range maps go. I need to get an up to date book, and you do, too, if yours are not the latest. Some birds have changed their addresses, and that, along with programs that allow any of us to report what we see, has really changed what we thought we knew.

Here is a website my son told me about so I could read up on identifying the black-chinned and the ruby-throat. I can hardly wait until next winter!

A Short Note About This Winter’s Birds

My bird feeding has been erratic the past several weeks, mostly due to my misadventures with my back. So, there has mostly not been any bird feeding. My back is fine now and the other day I put some seed out. Finally, I’ve got a goldfinch. I even saw two of them while ago. My neighbors down the street haven’t seen any yet and they have had seed out, so I guess I haven’t been missing anything and these are the first ones.  Last year we started seeing them in November. Not sure if that was unusual, or if this year is unusual.

I’ve had a few hummingbirds. There are at least two rufous hummingbirds and at least one ruby-throated. I think one of the rufous is a young male, the other is female, as is the ruby-throated.

I have no idea where the blue jays went. I haven’t seen one in months and I wish they would come back. They have attitude and they are so pretty; I love to watch them.

Mostly, there are tons of sparrows. Well, birdtons anyway. I think they are pretty; the shades of brown are nice to look at. There are doves, too, of course. I’d just like some variety. I have seen a few warblers in the vines on the fence, but I’m so out of practice identifying warblers that I can’t tell you what kind are out there.

I sure miss putting out the lard, peanut butter, flour….all that good stuff mixed up. It’s got gluten in it, so I can’t have flour and cornmeal in my kitchen. I could feed them gluten-free flour and cornmeal, but that is pretty expensive. So, I can’t. I’m keeping an eye out for substitutes though. If I find anything, I’ll try to post it here in case someone else is in the same boat.

Well, I just thought that if anyone is wondering where the goldfinches are and what else might be making an appearance on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, I’d give y’all a little report.

Happy Birding!

ADDENDUM: Be sure to read “All Those Hummingbirds Will Come HERE?”, written on March 11, 2013. I misidentified some birds!

What a Day!

A different kind of Christmas tree this year, a stowaway, shopping for ankle weights, a really sore back and a Celiac-y me won what? Where did this all start?

Uh, maybe yesterday when I starting thinking about getting a Norfolk Pine, or some small something that we could decorate for Christmas, instead of the whole big tree.  I stopped in at a locally owned nursery to see what they had, with plans to ask hubby what he would like to do. The nursery had Norfolk Pines, and when I asked, hubby said he was all for something small. He works retail and he’s tired.

Today I was lifting a box. I did it like the guy in the drawing of how not to do it. You know, the one with the big X over the stick figure who is leaning out too far. What happened when I did that is all the muscles in my lower back that I overworked two days ago while pulling weeds went all wonky on me and got super tight. They were mostly better yesterday, but not anymore.

When hubby got off work today we went to a different nursery to see if they had more than Norfolk Pines because I’d had second thoughts about getting one of those. If I could keep the thing alive it would get too big for the room. We found a Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub and got it. I am really excited about that because I’ve wanted one for a long time. When we are finished using it as a Christmas tree/shrub, it will go outside. This will involve moving a bunch of stuff in the front yard, like moving furniture, but a lot more work with shovels and such. I’ve been wanting to do that anyway.

After we got the plant we went to look at ankle weights. I got a book at Goodwill a few weeks ago, “Strong Women Stay Young,” and I need some ankle weights so I can do the exercises. I’m doing my best in that department – trying to be strong and sort of young. I used to hit the floor running in the morning. Now I try to hit the floor without a splat. So, here we are going into the store and I can barely stand up straight and I’m walking like I’m 99 years old on account of my misadventure with the box, but I’m going to look at weights. Really felt weird to be in such shape while shopping for exercise equipment.

Now, for the thing I won. There was a food drive yesterday and I contributed. A lady at the collection table told me to fill out a coupon for a raffle. This was after I’d been to the plant nursery. I saw a Norfolk Pine among the prizes. I thought I might win that and we could use it for our Christmas tree. I had a feeling I was going to win something. I did and it wasn’t the Pine.

I got a phone call today and was told that I won a bakery tray from the bakery at the grocery store where the food drive was held. I thought, “I can’t eat that and don’t want it in my house because I’m so sensitive gluten” but what I said was, “Oh! Thank you!” and I immediately began to think of who I could give it to. I decided my son and his girlfriend (who is also a friend of mine) could eat it and she could keep it at her house. So, tonight she and I went to pick it up.

Guess what? My photo as a raffle winner – taken while holding the (beautiful, delicious I’m sure!) bakery tray – will be on TV because one of the local stations was doing the food drive along with the Southeast Texas Food Bank. I was laughing. I had to tell the lady at the store who gave me my prize and took my photo that all my friends know I can’t eat gluten and here I’ll be on TV holding a bakery tray.

Oh! I almost forgot. The stowaway. He was a brown lizard and he was on the plant that we bought. I was taking the tag off and looking at the shrub when saw him clinging to a limb, and I’m sure hoping that I wouldn’t see him. I caught him and was going to put him outside when I noticed markings that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on a lizard. I wanted to look him up so I decided to put him in a pickle jar while I looked up lizards online. He made a leap for freedom and I tried to catch him but the cat got him first.

Well, I reckon this is enough living for a day. G’night, good folks. I’m going to hobble off to bed now.