These are previous "Pictures Of The Week" on WildlifeTheater.com. You can click on each photo for a larger image.
"GREEN LACEWING EGGS" 12/6/09
These are the eggs of the beneficial Green Lacewing. The eggs are attached to the ends of slender strands, which helps prevent cannibalism. The larvae are such voracious eaters when they hatch that they would devour each other without this kind of separation. I've found Green Lacewing eggs on plants, brick walls, doorframes...and the eggs can be oriented in any direction. You can order Green Lacewing eggs online to add to your garden, but we have so many naturally in our yard that I've never needed to order them. I do remove the eggs from plants where butterfly caterpillars have just hatched because even though the Green Lacewing larvae are called "aphid lions", they'll eat just about any insect they can.
We have several mounds of this Coral Fungus growing in one of our flowerbeds. It feeds on decaying organic matter. There are several types of Coral Fungi, some of which are edible, but I don't know which kind this is, so I won't be eating it. For more information on this and other fungi, HERE's a guy who really knows his 'shrooms.
"CORAL FUNGUS" 1/3/10
"HOW CROSSVINE GETS ITS NAME" 4/18/10
This is the center of the stem of Crossivne (Bignonia capreaolata) that gives the plant its name. Crossvine is a good North American native plant and an incredibly fast grower. It tends to swallow everything around it. The trumpet-shaped flowers bloom in the spring just in time for the northward migration of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.
"BARN SWALLOWS 2010" 4/25/10
This is the fifth year these Barn Swallows have nested over our front door. Each year they come back and build the nest a little bit higher. Right now there are five eggs in the nest. The photos on the right are our view if we peek out the front door (luckily we don't use the front door very often). You can click on any of the photos to make them larger. There are lots of videos and photos of these Barn Swallows through the years on this website.
"MOURNING DOVE NEST" 5/2/10
Even though Mourning Doves are some of most common birds in our yard, this is the first time I've found one of their nests. It's in a Crape Myrtle tree about seven feet off the ground. The nest doesn't look very sturdy, but it just withstood a weekend of seriously intense weather. There are only two eggs in the nest, which is normal for Mourning Doves. The birds are so big I don't know how they're going to fit in that small nest once they hatch.
"FLOWER FLY" 5/9/10
This is a Syrphid Fly, also known as a Flower Fly or a Hover Fly. I believe the flower it's on is a Soapwort, but I'm not sure because it came from a bag of mixed wildflower seeds. Planting those seeds may have been a bad idea because I'm sure there were lots of non-native plants (like Soapwort, which is native to Europe but has naturalized in North America). Hopefully there weren't any invasive plants included -- time will tell. Syrphid Flies are beneficial garden insects because their larvae feed on common pests like aphids.
This Stink Bug is using its proboscis to suck the juice out of the berry of the Serviceberry tree. Serviceberries are great trees that are native to North America. In early spring our Serviceberries have white flowers before the leaves come in, the tiny fruit is delicious (even to humans), and they're host plants for some butterflies including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Mockingbirds love the fruit, but this is the first time I've seen an insect eating it.
"STINK BUG ON SERVICEBERRY" 5/16/10
"MOCKINGBIRD EGGS" 5/23/10
This Mockingbird nest is about seven feet off the ground. I used a small mirror to get a photo of the eggs. The Mockingbirds were not happy with me at all. They're pretty ferocious defenders of the nest - squawking and swooping at you if you come to close. I even felt one brush the back of my neck while I was walking away.
"WHO NEEDS A WEB?" 5/30/10
A Jumping Spider caught a fly as big as he is. They're one of the fastest types of spider, which makes them great hunters as you can see. Spiders that don't use webs to catch prey are called active hunters. These spiders have eight eyes, four of which you can see prominently on the front of their head.
This is another flower from the seed mix I shouldn't have planted. If you want a wildflower seed mix, search online for native mixtures. That way you won't introduce anything invasive to your yard. The one good thing about this seed mix is it's given me new subjects to photograph.
"UNKNOWN WILDFLOWER" 6/6/10
These are the Barn Swallows that return to this nest over our front door every year. The pictured fledglings left the nest a few weeks ago - four out of five survived to adulthood. Now the parents are sitting on another clutch of eggs (some seasons they only produce one clutch of eggs). As you can see, they make quite a mess, but we'd be sad if they didn't come back. This is the fifth year we've had them, so this "habitat" has helped raise about 25 Barn Swallows to adulthood.
"FIRST FLEDGLINGS OF 2010" 6/13/10
Also known as Sow Bugs, Pill Bugs, and Woodlice, Roly Polys are common in our yard, but this was the first time I ever saw them mating. They're not insects, they're crustaceans. They actually breathe with gills instead of lungs. They get the name Roly Poly because when threatened (or touched by people) they roll up into a ball. Click HERE for 10 cool facts about Roly Polys.
"MATING ROLY POLYS" 6/20/10
"FIRST CATERPILLARS OF 2010" 6/27/10
I just found these yesterday, which seems really late in the year for our first caterpillars. On the left is a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on its host plant Passion Flower. On the right is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on one of its host plants, Fennel. I found about 20 of the Black Swallowtail caterpillars and just the one Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. They're in protective enclosures now. Last year a Monarch butterfly laid about 100 eggs in the first week of April, but we haven't seen a single Monarch caterpillar this year.
"PIGGYBACK CHRYSALISES" 7/4/10
This is the first time I've ever seen a caterpillar form its chrysalis on another chrysalis. These are two Black Swallowtail pupae in a protective enclosure. I'm not sure if the second one will interfere with the first one eclosing, but I'll keep an eye on it.
I was only able to get one shot of this skink before it ran off, and I haven't seen it again. I've seen two different explanations online for skinks growing two tails. One is that its tail was injured but not removed, but it started growing a second tail at the site of the injury anyway. The other is that its tail was broken off, the new one started to grow, and then the new one was injured, so it regrew two tails at once. Not sure what happened in this case.
PICTURE OF THE WEEK: "TWO-TAILED SKINK" 7/11/10
"DRAGONFLY ON PATIO LIGHT" 7/18/10
We very rarely see dragonflies come to our patio light. I've always assumed that the ones that do are older and disoriented because they're not chasing the insects that are drawn to the light - they're always incactive like this one was. This is a female Common Whitetail - the males have a white abdomen so the females are stuck with the name even though their abdomens are brown. This one has a hitchhiker on one of its wings on the left. It looks like some type of leafhopper.
"LADY BEETLE LARVA EATING APHIDS" 7/25/10
These photos are from last year. This hasn't been a good year for Milkweed and the animal life that thrives on it. We haven't had any Monarchs lay eggs on it, and we haven't seen any aphids. When there are aphids, they're a favorite meal of Lady Beetle (Ladybug) larvae. It's hard to believe that these alligator-looking creatures turn into Lady Beetles.
"WANDERING GLIDER DRAGONFLY" 8/1/10
I'm pretty sure this is a female Wandering Glider Dragonfly. This is the first time I've seen this kind of dragonfly, even though it's common throughout the U.S. (and the world - its nickname is the Globe Skimmer). Supposedly they even fly across oceans, but that seems like a difficult thing to monitor. We have several in our yard now throughout the day, so they must have just had a local breeding explosion.
Eyespots on animals are generally believed to keep predators away, and nature wasn't taking any chances with the Common Buckeye butterfly. With eight eyespots above and 14 below (not all Common Buckeyes have this many eyespots below), it definitely looks like an animal you can't sneak up on. This is the first year that they've truly been "common" in our yard. I've probably seen 10 at a time on our butterfly bushes.
"THE EYES HAVE IT" 8/8/10
"COFFEE-LOVING PYRAUSTA MOTH" 8/15/10
This is a tiny, tiny, tiny moth - it could fit on your fingernail. Its scientific name is Pyrausta tyralis. It gets its common name from the host plant its caterpillars feed on - Wild Coffee. Wild Coffee is a shrub I had never heard of until I started looking for information on this moth. If that is the larvae's only host plant, I don't know how the species survives here since I've never seen Wild Coffee or heard of anyone who grows it. The scientific name for Wild Coffee is Psychotria nervosa - I wonder if the caterpillars are bouncing off the walls after every meal.
Stink Bugs and other Assassin Bugs are common predators of caterpillars (although many types of these bugs are herbivorous - they only eat plants). They insert their beak/proboscis into the caterpillar and suck all the juices out. Caterpillars, like the Black Swallowtail pictured, are defenseless. Even the toxins Monarch caterpillars ingest from eating Milkweed don't deter these bugs. The predators will also pierce the chrysalis and devour the caterpillar/butterfly that way. This can be a good thing when there are "pest" caterpillars whose populations need to be controlled. But when "beneficial" caterpillars are being killed it's not so good. That's why we move the caterpillars we find into protective enclosures. My favorite is THIS one. It's four feet tall, which is a good size for potted Milkweed plants (for Monarchs), Fennel (for Black Swallowtails) and Passion Flower (for Gulf Fritillaries). And it's sealed all the way around, even the floor. Pedatory insects will find their way in through even tiny openings. The protective enclosures have to be cleaned regularly to prevent disease and monitored daily so adult butterflies can be let out, otherwise they'll starve. The biggest challenge is having enough of the host plant because the caterpillars go through it fast.
"WHY CATERPILLARS NEED PROTECTING" 8/29/10
"QUESTION MARK BUTTERFLY" 9/5/10
This is the first Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) butterfly on this site. It was hanging out on a hummingbird feeder. I rotated the photo on the right so you could see where the butterfly gets its name. On the lower hindwing there's a silver/white curve and dot that looks like a question mark if you fill in the blank. The adults feed on dung, fruit, and dead animals. The host plants for the caterpillars include elm trees, hackberry trees, and nettle. Surprisingly, the adults usually don't lay their eggs on the host plants -- the caterpillars have to find them on their own. In the photo on the left, the dark hindwings indicate this is a "summer form" Question Mark. The "winter forms" have the same orange coloring on their hindwings as their forewings.
These Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies were mating in flight as well as when perching. They're very small butterflies - an inch or less. Animals in my yard don't get much privacy.
"MATING BUTTERFLIES" 9/12/10
"LEOPARD FROG" 9/19/10
At night I can usually find this Southern Leopard Frog hanging out in our small 30-gallon pond. I had to put rocks in it because the sides of the pond are so smooth that some animals (toads, beetles, spiders) can't get out if the water doesn't go all the way to the top. Now they can use the rocks to climb out.
"WHITE FUZZY CATERPILLAR" 9/26/10
I think this is the caterpillar of the Virginia Tiger Moth (Spilosoma virginica), sometimes called a Woolly Bear. These are usually yellow, but they can be white. They typically eat weedy plants like clover. I'm not sure what flower this caterpillar is on because it was part of a seed mix I planted.
This Praying Mantis was near our back patio light one night about a month ago. It's the first time I've seen one with red eyes - apparently their eyes darken in low light. You can see the spikes on its forearms it uses to catch prey. I wasn't sure if it would try to catch the Green Tree Frogs that hang out in that area at night, so I moved it just to be safe.
"PRAYING MANTIS AT NIGHT" 10/10/10
"LATE BLOOMERS" 10/24/10
This weekend I moved a vine that had piled up in my yard, and at least three of the smallest Green Tree Frogs I've seen were underneath it. They quickly jumped into a flowerbed for cover. We also got the first rain we'd had in about two months, and last night we had lots of Green Tree Frogs at our back patio light. Some of them were pretty small (that's my thumb), but not as small - or at least not as skinny - as the ones I saw earlier in the day. During "frog season", it's always a challenge to open and close the back door without letting the Green Tree Frogs jump into the house - or worse, let one get into the crack of the door before we close it. Luckily we haven't squished any yet. We'll probably need grief counseling if we ever do.
"NO PRINCE" 10/31/10
I found this guy (or girl) the last time we were in Hot Springs. Walking Sticks (Stick Bugs) are masters of camouflage, which protects them from predators. They eat leaves, not other insects. These are the longest North American insects - six to seven inches long.
"WALKING STICK FROM HOT SPRINGS" 11/14/10
"THANKSGIVING HAWK" 11/28/10
On Thanksgiving Day this hawk landed on a bird feeder in our backyard. I'm sure he was looking for a Thanksgiving bird of his own. I don't know what kind it is - it looks bigger than the Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks we usually see in our yard. I took these through the window while it was raining, so they're not very good. If you can tell what kind of hawk this is send me an email. There's video of this hawk, including its takeoff, HERE.
"EVERGREEN BAGWORM COCOONS" 4/3/11
In the back corner of our yard there's a small cedar bush that was there when we moved in. I recently found about a dozen of these Bagworm (which is actually a moth) cocoons on it. When I was a kid, we would squish these to keep them from damaging the trees. They're considered serious pests, but I've never noticed any damage from them in my yard, and I'm not a fan of the cedar bush so I don't care if they eat it. Someday I hope to catch one of the caterpillars making its cocoon on video, because it looks like such an elaborate process. The cocoons I found were about three inches long. In the picture on the right, you can see where a moth emerged out the bottom through its pupal case. HERE's a link to more information about Bagworms and their unusual lifecycle (the females spend their entire lives in the cocoon).
"JUST PASSING THROUGH" 4/10/11
I found this guy in our pond today. It's not much of a pond, just 30 gallons, but since he's only about 2 inches I guess it's plenty big for him. He's a Red-Eared Slider. "Red-Eared" comes from the reddish stripe behind his eye. "Slider" comes from their behavior of sliding off logs or rocks into the water when they feel threatened. He'll get much larger. We occasionally have these turtles pass through our yard because there are some lakes in our neighborhood. Click HERE to watch a video of one of our dogs investigating a baby Red-Eared Slider he found in our yard years ago.
This is the sixth year this pair of Barn Swallows (or their offspring) have come to our front door to nest. Unfortunately, over the winter someone took the nest down because she thought it was a wasp's nest. I wasn't sure whether the Barn Swallows would relocate because of that, but when they showed back up they just started rebuilding. In the photo above, you can see the remains of the nest that was removed - after years of adding on to it the nest had gotten really tall. Below the end of the bird's tail, you can see where they've started rebuilding. The mud on the blue metal doorframe is the new nest "foundation". It's been about two weeks since I took this photo, and it looks like the new nest is about complete (I'll post photos soon.) They built this one a little differently. It seems wider, and it extends farther out to the right. On this site there are lots of photos and videos of these Barn Swallows through the last six years - building the nests, feeding the babies, etc... Just browse through the other pages and you'll find them.
"STARTING FROM SCRATCH" 4/24/11
This Green Tree Frog was hiding in one of our evergreen bushes. Can you find him? You can click on the image to make it bigger. If you want more of a challenge, click HERE.
"GREEN TREE FROG CAMOUFLAGE" 5/8/11
"SHOWY EVENING PRIMROSE" 5/15/11
Despite its name, this flower blooms during the day. Most types of Evening Primrose bloom in the evening and close by sunrise. I'm not sure why this species (Oenothera speciosa) still has "Evening" in its name. I ordered some of them earlier this year from Sunlight Gardens, a nursery in East Tennessee that carries lots of native plants like this one. I'll have to wait and see what kind of wildlife it attracts this year. Butterflies? Bees? Hummingbirds? From a distance, the two-inch flowers look mostly white. The pink doesn't really become obvious until you get closer.
This is a still shot from some video I recorded. This paper wasp is cleaning its arms, antennae and face like a cat. I never knew they did this. You can click to watch the video HERE.
"PAPER WASP TAKING A BATH" 5/29/11
"VARIEGATED FRITILLARY CATERPILLAR AND CHRYSALIS" 6/5/11
I've seen Variegated Fritillary butterflies in our yard before, but this is the first Variegated Fritillary caterpillar and chrysalis I've seen. Gulf Fritillaries are one of our most common butterflies, and the caterpillars are very similar except the Variegated Fritillary caterpillar has white markings. It's surprising how different the chrysalises are. This caterpillar was on Passion Flower, but it has several other host plants it can use.
I first saw (and heard) this unusual frog last year, when after a period of heavy rains they were suddenly everywhere in our yard. They've proven impossible to find when you're looking for them, however, even when you can hear them right underneath you - and all around you. In fact, probably the only way you'll ever know they're around is by their call. These are the frogs that sound like bleating lambs, and they're really loud. It makes me laugh every time I hear one. I found this one by accident when I moved a rock this April and he was underneath it. I think he was still hibernating because he wasn't very active. They are usually burrowed into the ground, which is what makes them so elusive. Click below to hear the sound they make.
"EASTERN NARROW-MOUTHED FROG" 6/12/11
"FROG EGGS" 6/19/11
This is the first year I've had frog eggs in my pond, probably because this is the first year I've put floating plants in the water. I'm not sure what kind of frog laid these - maybe a Leopard frog. I don't think they're Eastern Narrow-Mouthed Frog eggs, because a few days later I found some more eggs that were about half the size of these, and I'm sure the smaller ones are Eastern Narrow-Mouthed Frogs. Toads lay their eggs in long strings, and frogs lay them in big masses like this. I saw these in the morning, and they were gone in the afternoon - something must have eaten them. There have been more eggs laid since then, and there are a lot of frog and toad tadpoles right now.
"VARIEGATED FRITILLARY BUTTERFLY" 6/26/11
About five Variegated Fritillary caterpillars that I've found in my yard this year have made it to adulthood. The one in these photos is the same one I videotaped eclosing, or coming out of its chrysalis, HERE.
"ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER" 7/10/11
This is a toad tadpole in the middle of several new frog tadpoles. It's been a very active year for toad and frog eggs in my pond. It seems that storms set off a breeding frenzy with the Eastern Narrow-Mouthed Frogs and other frogs. After heavy rains there's a concert of mating calls, and the next day I find egg masses in the pond. I would guess that some species are opportunistic breeders who usually need puddles from rain to breed in, then go through metamorphosis quickly before the puddle evaporates. Even though this pond is a constant water source for them, instinct still rules.
The caterpillar on the left is a Gulf Fritillary, and the caterpillar on the right is a Variegated Fritillary. The Gulf Fritillary is basically solid orange (don't be confused by the white reflections from my camera flash), and the Variegated Fritillary is identical with the addition of white stripes down its body. As you can see they both eat the same host plant, Passionvine. The chrysalis of the Variegated Fritillary is much more ornate than the Gulf Fritillary's. You can find pictures and videos of both the chrysalises and the adults on this site. Variegated Fritillaries are much more rare in my yard. For every 100 Gulf Fritillaries I find, I might have 1 Variegated Fritillary.
"SOLID VS STRIPES" 10/2/11
"BARN SWALLOWS, YEAR SEVEN" 04/14/12
They're back. For the seventh year these Barn Swallows have returned to their nest over my front door. Some years they've built it up a lot higher, but so far this year it looks like they're just doing some minor touch-ups. There should be eggs soon.
"SIX-SPOTTED FISHING SPIDER" 06/10/12
The Six-Spotted Fishing Spider doesn't get its name from the spots you can see in these photos. It has six spots underneath its abdomen. It can walk on water and dive for prey. It's a fairly large spider, and can eat things as big as small frogs and fish.
In the top photo, the circular objects are frog eggs - probably of the Eastern Narrow Mouthed Frog. In the bottom photo, you can see the spider's array of eight eyes.
My yard is crawling with different types of Assassin Bugs right now. They usually camp out on a flower and wait for an insect to get too close. Then they grab it and pierce it with their tube-like "beaks" called rostrums. They inject a saliva that liquifies the inside of the insect and then suck everything out. While I was photographing this Assassin Bug, it kept repositioning the fly and inserting its rostrum into different parts of the body. I've read that they will "stab" people if they're being harrassed...I've never tried to confirm that.
"STOP AND SMELL THE FLOWERS, UNLESS..." 06/17/12
I had to really crop the top photo, so it's not very sharp. I saw this Jumping Spider jumping across a flower bed with something on its back. It looks to me like it's a smaller spider, facing backwards. I found lots of images online of Jumping Spiders carrying masses of newly hatched spiders on their backs, but nothing like this. I saw the spider in the bottom photo later. If it's the same one, it must have dropped the kid off at soccer practice or something.
"JUMPING SPIDER WITH PASSENGER" 06/24/12
"WALKING ON WATER" 07/1/12
Paper Wasps make frequent stops at my small pond to get a drink of water. Some of them like to land on the Water Lettuce plants and lean down, but some land directly on the water like this one.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: "RED-BANDED HAIRSTREAK" 07/9/12
This was the first time I'd seen a Red-Banded Hairstreak in my yard. There are lots of different kinds of Hairstreaks, and they're very hard to tell apart. The only one I can easily recognize is the Gray Hairstreak because it's so common in my yard.
"VISITOR IN THE WATERING CAN" 08/12/12
I was surprised this weekend to find this guy about six feet up in a tree. I think this is a young rat. He was eating the berries from an American Beautyberry bush, and they must have been really good because it was a long time before he realized I was just a few feet away from him.
"TREE CLIMBER" 08/26/12
"LOCAL GREENWAY HDR PHOTOS" 09/2/12
Today I went to the local Greenway and experimented with HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and in a nutshell you take multiple photos (usually three) at slightly different exposures (using a tripod), then process the images together using special software. The software blends the three photographs so you get a greater range of light and dark areas in the final photo. You can find some amazing examples of HDR photos on the Internet.
"HUMMINGBIRDS AT MALVAVISCUS BUSH" 09/9/12
Malvaviscus may be the only plant I have that Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (the only hummingbirds I get in my yard) will choose over a feeder. It's a great native plant to have in your yard. The biggest one I have is about seven feet tall and five feet wide. It's covered in flowers, and blooms in synch with the hummingbird migration in my area. When hummingbirds visit the flowers, they get pollen on their forehead and then pollinate other flowers. You can watch a video of a hummingbird on this plant HERE.
"RELEASING EASTERN BLACK SWALLOWTAIL" 09/30/12
When I find caterpillars on their host plants in my yard, I move them into protective tents along with some of the host plants. This protects them from predators like birds, assassin bugs, and wasps. So far this year I've released 134 butterflies from the tents - 6 Variegated Fritillaries, 126 Gulf Fritillaries, and 2 Eastern Black Swallowtails, pictured above. I probably have another 100 Fritillary caterpillars and chrysalises in tents, and I keep finding more caterpillars on the Passionvine in my yard. As usual, I'll probably run out of Passionvine for them, so if you know anybody who has some in the Memphis area, send them my way.
"GULF FRITILLARY CHRYSALIS" 10/7/12
I found this Gulf Fritillary chrysalis in the yard this morning on a Strawberry Bush (also known as Hearts-A-Burstin' because of the way the fruit opens). I may move it inside for safety, because virtually every chrysalis I've found in my yard has been parasitized. The bottom image is an HDR photo - 3 images at different exposures blended together.
"GULF FRITILLARIES MATING" 2/17/13
"BLACK SWALLOWTAIL CHRYSALIS" 3/10/13