These are previous "Pictures Of The Week" on WildlifeTheater.com. You can click on each photo for a larger image.
"FIRST ADULT MONARCHS" 5/17/09
Before Monarchs eclose, or come out of their chrysalis, the chrysalis becomes transparent. This usually starts the night before the butterfly is going to emerge. After they emerge they climb onto something, usually the empty chrysalis, to let their wings fill up with fluid and expand. The butterfly in the middle photo came out of a chrysalis I moved to our garage because it got detached from its original surface. Newly emerged Monarchs have to perch like this for a lot longer than the Black Swallowtails I've seen eclose. The butterfly in the top right photo eclosed at around noon today, and it hung upside down for at least 3 hours before it took its first flight. Even then it only flew about 20 feet, landed on a blade of grass, and started hanging upside down on that. We did have an unusually cool day, and it was really windy, so that may have slowed the process down.
"SAWFLY LARVAE" 5/24/09
This is a new pest I just discovered in our yard. The leaves on our Rose Mallow were being skeletonized, and today I found these small green culprits. Although they look like caterpillars, they're actually the larvae of the Mallow/Hibiscus Sawfly. Adult Sawflies look like thin houseflies, and the larvae only grow to be about 1/2 inch. As you can see they can do a lot of damage, and they can do it quickly. I found as many as 10 larvae on one leaf. They've defoliated about 25% of both our Rose Mallows, so I removed a great number of their population by hand. This will probably be an ongoing battle though, because there could be a new generation of larvae every four weeks for several more months.
"BARN SWALLOW FAMILY PHOTO" 5/31/09
These are the barn swallows that have nested over our front door every year for the last four years. The adults add on to the nest each year, building it a little higher each time. In the nest you can see one of the babies on the left and one on the right, and in the middle you can just see the head of one. There were five eggs, but one of the hatchlings died after it fell out of the nest. Not sure what happened to number five - maybe it's under its siblings? They hatched probably two weeks ago, and should be flying in another week or two.
This is the first time I've seen a Mud Dauber Wasp nest in our yard. Even though the nest is right next to our back door, I never saw the wasp building it so I don't know how quickly it happened. I also haven't seen the wasp -- it may have abandoned the nest once it realized it was in a high-traffic area. At night green tree frogs come to our back patio because we leave the outside light on, which attracts lots of insects for the frogs to eat. This frog wasn't interested in the nest; it was just another part of the wall to him. I don't know if it would have tried to eat a wasp anyway.
"GREEN TREE FROG ON MUD DAUBER NEST" 6/7/09
"MOCKINGBIRD MYSTERY" 6/14/09
Friday morning before work I found the baby bird in the top left photo on the ground under a crape myrtle. This bird was too undeveloped to be learning to fly (in which case I would have left it alone); it still had more pink skin than feathers. Standing on the top of a six-foot ladder I was able to barely reach the nest and set her back inside (it's a myth that an adult bird will reject its baby if a person has handled it -- birds don't have much of a sense of smell). Using a mirror I saw two other baby birds in the nest too. I knew they were mockingbirds because an adult mockingbird was keeping watch nearby. It was not at all aggressive towards me when I was touching the nest, which is contrary to everything I've read about the adults' behavior. It even landed in the branches above my head but didn't try to chase me away. Friday night some severe storms came through the area, and Saturday morning two of the babies were on the ground. One of them didn't look very good, but I put them both back in the nest. When I checked the nest a few hours later, the one had died and I removed it from the nest. Later Saturday night I found a baby on the ground again, and when I put him back in the nest I found the other baby hanging upside down outside the nest -- its foot was caught in the twigs of the nest. Now I'm thinking the nest might be crooked or not tall enough. This time I put the nest inside a hanging basket (top right photo) and hung it in the same place the nest was. With the higher walls, I thought this would eliminate the possibility of a baby bird accidentally falling out. But Sunday morning another bird was on the ground and dead, and now there's just the one left. I can only guess one of three things has been happening: 1) siblicide, where other babies in the nest force their siblings out of the nest; 2) the adult(s) is ejecting the baby birds from the nest for some reason (maybe they're sick?); or 3) another bird is ejecting them from the nest. I can't find any information to validate any of those guesses. It's a complete mystery to me. If anybody out there has any answers you can email me through the link at the top of the page. If this was all too depressing for you, you can watch this happier video from Friday morning when everything seemed fine.
These insects that look like lightning bugs are Soldier Beetles. They show up at certain times of the year in our yard, sometimes by the dozens, and for some reason I've only seen them on yellow flowers. They're generally considered beneficial insects for the garden because they feed on pest insects like aphids. They also eat nectar and pollen but don't damage plants. Their eggs are laid in the soil where the larvae feed on other insects.
"SOLDIER BEETLES ON FENNEL" 6/21/09
"HUMMINGBIRD MOTH" 6/28/09
This Snowberry Clearwing Moth -- and a similar moth called the Nessus Sphinx -- are commonly referred to as Hummingbird Moths because they're often mistaken for very small hummingbirds. The first time I saw one I thought it was a bumblebee. The one in these photos spent several minutes drinking from the flowers of a white butterfly bush and wasn't camera shy at all. The blue on the wing in the photo on the right is a reflection of the sky, not part of the moth's coloring.
"COMMON WHITETAIL DRAGONFLY" 7/5/09
This is a male Common Whitetail Dragonfly basking in the sun. The female has a brown body, more spots on the wings, and doesn't have the white on the wings that the male does. We've had lots of different kinds of dragonflies buzzing around our yard lately catching other flying insects. Some of them won't let you get near them, and some will almost let the camera touch them. I've found that most dragonflies are pretty consistent about where they perch -- they have a few spots that they'll come back to throughout the day and land in exactly the same spot.
This is one of the Skipper butterflies, probably a Fiery Skipper but I'd have to see the top of its wings to know for sure. Skippers are the most common butterflies in our yard. They're small and very fast and seem to be in territorial fights with each other constantly. That's its proboscis coming out of its head like a tongue. It's what butterflies and moths use to suck nectar from flowers.
For the first time, the Barn Swallows that have nested over our front door for the last four years have raised a second brood of chicks in the same season. It's common for Barn Swallows to do this, but we've never seen it. It seems like it was about two weeks after the first fledglings left that they laid the next clutch of eggs. These four new fledglings look like they're ready to take flight. The fourth fledgling is hiding in the photo above, but you can see it in the bad photo below. I took these just a few minutes ago. The parents perch on the opposite end of the doorframe all night.
"2ND BROOD THIS SEASON" 7/19/09
This Paper Wasp was very focused on getting nectar from these milkweed flowers. Like most wasps, Paper Wasps are generally considered beneficial in the garden because they feed on pests like caterpillars. Of course, this means they might be feeding on the caterpillar of a butterfly you'd like to keep around. You can click on each photo for a larger image.
"PAPER WASP ON MILKWEED" 7/26/09
I had never seen an insect like this and had to do some research online to determine that it's an Ambush Bug nymph. Ambush Bugs are in the assassin bug family. They have front legs similar to Praying Mantis legs, which they use to grab their prey. They have a "beak" which they stab their prey with and inject a poison. As their name suggests, they lie in wait, usually on a flower. The adults catch insects much bigger than they are -- bees, moths, wasps.... Hopefully this nymph will eat the aphids surrounding it on a milkweed plant. I believe the white object on the opposite side of the stem is the old skin it just shed. It will eventually grow wings, but apparently Ambush Bugs aren't very good flyers.
"AMBUSH BUG NYMPH" 8/2/09
"SWAMP MILKWEED LEAF BEETLE" 8/9/09
Sometimes I worry about repeating myself when it comes to putting photos/videos/descriptions on this website, so it's always nice when I come across something new. Last weekend I found what looked like a giant Ladybug, or Lady Beetle, on a milkweed plant (a typical ladybug would be the size of the flower buds around this creature). When I couldn't find any answers I asked the people at What's That Bug, and they identified it as a Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle, Labidomera clivicollis, which I had never even heard of. They also gave me a link to more information on the beetle at Bugguide.net. Both these sites are worth checking out, especially when you need help identifying an insect. Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetles eat the milkweed leaves, and the Bugguide link explains the unique way they do it.
"THE FROG THAT SOUNDS LIKE A LAMB" 8/23/09
We've been in our house for 9 1/2 years, but in July we started hearing an animal we'd never heard in our yard before. Click the play button on the toolbar above to hear it from both close and far perspectives. We could never find the animal making the sound, even when it was right under our feet, and it's very loud. After some searching on the Internet, I found out it's the sound of the nocturnal Eastern Narrow-Mouthed Frog. Some sources call it a toad, but it's a frog. They're about one inch long, and as you can see they have sort of a triangle shape. Instead of climbing trees or walls like green tree frogs, these frogs burrow into the ground, which is why they are so hard to find. My wife found this one when she was working in the yard one day, and it's still the only one we've seen even though there must be dozens of them in our yard based on the number of calls we hear from every part of the yard. We got a lot of rain in June and July, and that's what triggers breeding with these frogs. They're also a lot more vocal when it's raining. We haven't heard them much this month. Though you can't see it on the frog in this picture, Eastern Narrow-Mouthed Frogs have a fold of skin behind their eyes that protects the eyes from this frog's favorite food -- ants.
This was the first Praying Mantis I'd seen in our yard. I found it on a Milkweed plant. It was a nymph that hadn't developed wings yet. This one was about 2-3 inches tall. It was a bit shy and tried to crawl away or hide behind leaves if my camera got too close. Praying Mantids blend in to their surroundings and wait for their prey to get close enough that they can grab them with their spiked front legs. They eat mainly insects, including other Praying Mantids, but I've seen reports that they also eat lizards, toads and even hummingbirds. They're generally considered beneficial insects because they eat other insects that can damage plants, but they'll also eat other beneficial insects. Because this one was on a Milkweed plant, Monarch butterflies were probably at risk of becoming a meal. I haven't been able to find this guy again since I took these photos.
"PRAYING MANTIS NYMPH" 8/23/09
"LEOPARD SLUG" 8/30/09
I found this Leopard Slug in our yard one night a few weeks ago. It was the fattest slug I've seen, though maybe not the longest. I put a quarter next to it in the top photo to give you an idea of its size. These slugs eat plant and fungi material and supposedly will eat other slugs. I've never seen any slug damage to the plants we have in our yard, but I hear they're particularly destructive to hostas. Some people deal with slug infestations by putting out "beer traps" -- simply a container of beer set outside overnight that slugs crawl into and die. I think slugs this size might need a case of beer, but they're not bothering me so I won't bother them. Here's a link to a VIDEO of Leopard Slugs mating. They climb a tree and then sort of bungee jump off a branch together, and then it starts getting weird. You have to see it to believe it.
"EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY" 9/6/09, 9/13/09
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is the largest butterfly that visits our yard. Its wingspan can be 4 - 5 inches. They usually won't sit still long enough for me to get a photo, but this one spent about 30 minutes on our Buttonbush. All males are yellow like the one in the photos above, but females have both a light and dark form. The light form is almost identical to the male; the dark form resembles several other butterflies, including the Pipevine Swallowtail and the Black Swallowtail. I posted some older photos of the dark form female below. When the light hits the dark form female just right, you can see the "tiger stripes" in the wings, like in the bottom right photo. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails will use a much broader range of host plants (the plants they lay eggs on and the caterpillars eat) than any of the other butterflies we get in our yard. I've found their caterpillars on a Tulip Poplar and a Serviceberry tree, but dozens of other trees and bushes are host plants as well.
"THE GIRL WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES" 9/20/09
Well, this is actually a male -- a Blue Dasher dragonfly. For whatever reason, this species of dragonfly is the least wary of me when I'm taking photos. It will let me get one or two inches from its face without flying off. Dragonflies, and other insects, have compound eyes made up of thousands of ommatidia. Each of these ommatidia collect separate pieces of visual information which are then "compiled" by the brain. Compound eyes excel at detecting movement, which is one reason why dragonflies are such effective aerial hunters.
Over the last two months we've been raising dozens of Monarch butterflies. As the adult butterflies laid eggs on our potted Milkweed plants, we moved those plants into small (27" x 27" x 48") popup tents to keep the caterpillars and chrysalises safe from predators. Then it's a constant cycle of taking plants that the caterpillars have stripped out of the tent and putting new plants in (and buying out all the Milkweed we can find from local nurseries). I've read that in the wild only 2% of Monarchs will make it from egg to adulthood. We're having much better success than that, although we've had our share of fatalities. Most of the fatalities were from tachinid flies, which lay their eggs on the caterpillar. Then the tachinid fly larva grows inside the caterpillar or chrysalis until it emerges -- you'll see a long string hanging from the caterpillar/chrysalis. Those caterpillars must have been parasitized before we found them in the yard and moved them inside the tents. Some caterpillars died for no apparent reason, but viruses and other illnesses are common. And some chrysalises never open (I'm not hopeful about the dark one in the photo - even though Monarch chrysalises turn dark shortly before the butterfly emerges, they're usually black, not this brownish color). Still, between the chrysalises in our yard and those we've shared with friends, we've released about 30 healthy adults so far and there are a lot more than that still in the tents. In each tent there always seems to be a "hot spot", where a large number of the caterpillars choose to pupate. I've never been able to figure out the common factor that makes one part of the tent more desirable than another.
"MONARCH CHRYSALIS HOT SPOT" 9/27/09
This is a Leaf-Footed Bug that has two Tachinid Fly eggs on its head. It's common for these bugs to be parasizited in this way - they can't reach the eggs to get them off. When the fly larva hatch, they'll burrow into the Leaf-Footed Bug where they'll feed on their host without immediately killing it. The host will die when the larva pupates and the pupa emerges from its body (like the movie Alien). This type of Leaf-Footed Bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus - the only species with the straight white line on its back) feeds on plants, and is sometimes considered a pest because of the damage it does to fruit and vegetable crops. Predators like the Tachinid Fly help keep the population of Leaf-Footed Bugs in check. These flies are general predators and also target caterpillars, including several of the Monarch caterpillars we've been raising. Most of these flies resemble houseflies, but they can usually be distinguished by the bristly hairs on their butts.
"BAD NEWS FOR THIS BUG" 10/4/09
We're up to 78 adult Monarch butterflies that we've released in the last four weeks, and the ones still in chrysalises need to hurry up and eclose. The high temperatures are dropping into the low 60s (40s overnight), and I've read that Monarchs can't fly unless the temperature is at least 50-60 degrees (at 50-55 degrees the sun would need to be out to warm the butterfly enough to fly). Although some types of butterflies can overwinter in their chrysalises, Monarchs -- at least the ones east of the Rocky Mountains -- don't. They either emerge from the chrysalis before winter or they don't survive.
"TIME'S RUNNING OUT" 10/11/09
"SULPHUR BUTTERFLY" 10/18/09
Sorry for the delay, I've been sick all week. Here's one of the Sulphur Butterflies. That's all I've got.
"MATING LEOPARD SLUGS" 10/25/09
On 8/30/09 my Picture of the Week was of a Leopard Slug I found in my yard, and I included this LINK to a YouTube video of leopard slugs mating. Later that week I found these Leopard Slugs mating in the yard. The video will explain it more clearly, but basically a pair of these slugs intertwine and slide down a strand of their own mucus (in the photo on the right you can see how long that strand can be - this one's about 2-3 feet). Then their sex organs extend from the side of their heads and intertwine beneath them (the bluish objects). Afterwards they simply untangle and drop to the ground. In the picture on the right a third Leopard Slug is showing up to the party too late. Above that one you can see the trail the mating slugs left on the way up to their bungee jump.
"INCHWORM INVASION" 11/1/09
I found these "inchworms" this morning on the underside of an evergreen leaf (I believe it's a Photinia bush). Inchworms aren't worms, they're the caterpillars of moths in the Geometridae family. There are over 1,000 species of Geometrid moths in North America. Most of the ones we see in our yard are tiny, delicate moths, like the one in the Picture of the Week from 8/13/06. I'm sure all these just hatched this morning.
"ZELUS EGGS" 11/8/09
At the beginning of September I found several of these egg masses on the leaves of different plants that were close to each other. I believe they're the eggs of Assassin Bugs in the Zelus genus, which includes several different species. They're predators of other insects, so they're considered beneficial in the garden. I suspect we had this many eggs because we had so many milkweed plants: lots of aphids came to eat the milkweed, so Assassin Bugs came to eat the aphids. I believe both of the Assassin Bugs in Photo Gallery 23 are in the Zelus genus.
"BUTTONBUSH ABSTRACT" 11/15/09
I don't know why, but this is one of my favorite photos. It's of our Buttonbush, and it shows two different stages of the flower.
"TROPICAL PASSIONFLOWER" 11/22/09
November's almost over, but our Tropical Passionflower (Passion Vine) just started blooming again. After a cold spell we warmed back up to the 70s, and some plants think it's time to wake up. We planted lots of the hardy (not tropical) Passionflower years ago because it's a host plant for Gulf Fritillary butterflies. This summer I bought this tropical variety in a pot so I could move Gulf Fritillary caterpillars onto it and put it in a protective enclosure, but we had almost none of the caterpillars this year compared to last year. The fruit of the tropical variety is supposed to be really good to eat. I can tell you that the fruit of the hardy variety is not.
Katydids are also known as Long-Horned Grasshoppers. You can see that the antennae are even longer than the insect's body. We don't see them very often in our yard. I took this photo at the end of August on a Malvaviscus bush (I wasn't on the bush, the Katydid was). That's the tip of the red Malvaviscus flower in the background.