July’s Parade: Wildlife Wednesday, July 2016

Welcome to the July 2016 edition of Wildlife Wednesday.  The United States marked its 240th birthday on Monday and today we mark the 2nd birthday of this wildlife gardening meme! I appreciate and thank all who’ve participated in Wildlife Wednesday.  Each first Wednesday, I’m impressed and inspired by the fabulous photos and compelling anecdotes that avid wildlife gardeners share when they post for the meme.  And for those who’ve tuned in each month to read–a big kiss on the cheek for your interest in and love for wildlife.

Kudos to you all!

Wildlife gardening is an activity that everyone can take part in.  Especially in urban areas, planting for birds, pollinators, and other wild animals helps balance ongoing damage to natural zones and allows our world to heal–if just a little bit–by providing for those who can’t speak for themselves and with whom we share our world.

As July sees celebratory parades with accompanying banners and fireworks, I thought I’d host my own parade of critters that I’ve profiled during this past month.  So, strike up the band and wave your gardening flags, here are July’s wild things!


The garden has been full of Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) flitting and feeding this past month.


Gulf Fritillary nectaring on a Turk’s cap bloom (Malvaviscus arboreus). Look at that long proboscis.


I enjoyed this guy’s visit earlier in the month: Green Heron, Butorides virescens.


Standing stalwart, ready to pounce in the bog.


Impressionist coloration.


“I spy with my yellow eye…a gambusia!”



Beautiful metallic native bee enjoying the bounty of a passalong daylily.



Female leafcutter bee, also a native, gathering pollen for her offspring from a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).



Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) showing off pretty wings.



Soldier beetle (Cantharidae family), one of many pollinators who live and thrive in my garden.


As June progressed and summer has settled in for the duration, damsels and dragons zoom around in the garden, landing here and there on pond and plants, adding their special charm to summer’s wild festivities.

This dreamy (ahem, unclear) shot is, I believe, an Eastern RingtailErpetogomphus designatus.  


Supposedly common in the Austin area, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed the privilege of meeting this kind of dragonfly before.  According to several sources, the males have a slightly larger “club” at the end of the abdomen, also orange-colored, but this one has neither quality.  My guess is that she’s a she.

Giving firework colors a run for their money, Neon Skimmers, Libellula croceipennis, grace my garden regularly from June to November and are always welcome.



During National Pollinator Week, I profiled the Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes,  butterflies who make their nurseries in my garden, but who travel as adults throughout the neighborhood to nectar and mate.  In my garden, there are several currently in metamorph stage, attached to stems and hidden from predators.  I photographed this winged jewel on the morning of emergence.


A newly emerged adult, drying its wings near its former home.



A newly vacated chrysalis.

Butterfly and moth chrysalises are so well camouflaged that it’s a gift to find them–lucky me this time!!

Butterflies are easy to appreciate because of their beauty and daytime winging and nectaring habits.  But moths, common at dark and more subtly pattered and colored, also contribute to pollination and play an equally important role in a balanced ecosystem. Like many, my knowledge of moths is woefully inadequate.  I can tell you that this is a moth, but haven’t found the exact identification.


It reminds me though of a rock climber, sans ropes, hanging on to the rock, before advancing upwards.

Spiders are back!  I enjoy watching the Black-and-yellow Argiope spiders that are common in Austin gardens, including my own.  I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a clear shot of the top, more decorative part of the spider, and then realized that I was quite fortunate to have a clear view of the usually hidden underside of this female argiope.


It looks like she’s snagged one of my darling honeybees for a meal.  Well, I’m not so crazy about that part of a garden spider, but tolerance of hunting and acceptance of the fate of prey is part of wildlife gardening.  Everyone must eat, which usually means that something was alive and no longer is.


I usually observe and photograph the green form of the Green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis, like so:



But these cheeky ones also blush brown when necessary, as camouflage from predators.


This anole blends in well with the wooden fence.


This anole hides with the backdrop of a limestone wall.

And gardeners!

And finally, there was this dude:


You want a piece of me?!



This Leaf-footed bugAcanthocephala terminalis, practically dared me to catch a photo as it traveled the length of a Soft-leaf yucca leaf, toward this camera-wielding gardener.


I’m walkin’ here!


It looks like he’s dancing a jig as he made it to the end of the leaf.

But in the end, I’m bigger, more technologically advanced (sort of…), and higher up on the food chain, so yeah, I was able to catch him/her in a plucky stance.


This bug sports decorative feet and antennae.

There are a wide variety of Coreidae, or Leaf-footed bugs, in this area and I enjoy seeing them in my garden.  They do feed on plants, but I’ve never seen serious foliage damage from them, or at least, none that I’m aware of.   I’m sure there are some leaves, less than pristine, which owe their damage to the bugs’ meal preferences, but it’s nothing that I lose sleep over.  Keeping abreast of who inhabits and visits your garden will ensure that no serious “pest” damage occurs.  Usually, a spritz of water, once or twice, is all that is needed to discourage less-than-welcome marauding insects. Pesticides, even “organic” pesticides are highly damaging to many garden creatures, and not only the ones targeted.  A garden is alive and fulfilling its purpose when it nurtures a wide diversity of critters–insects, spiders, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and chemicals are anathema to a healthy, diverse wildlife community.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for July Wildlife Wednesday Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Bee Mama Missive: Bee Story

Meet Woody and Buzz.


You know Woody and Buzz, don’t you?  Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, the first of the full-length Pixar films which debuted in 1995. We’re continuing the trend of using cartoon character names for our newest beehives, which began with our older and original two hives, Scar and Mufasa, named after characters in The Lion King.   Mufasa the Hive died in December due to an infestation of varroa mites, but Scar is buzzing along just fine.


In fact, we took three (heavy!) combs of honey from Scar this past weekend.


Whoop!!  Spring honey!

Buzz and Woody are Langstroth hives.  I’ve written about our travails with Scar and Mufasa–both Warre hives–and we’ve been planning two new Langstroth hives for quite a while.   Langstroth hives are considerably easier to work with and we finally hived these babies a month ago. We were planning to hive them in April, but a serious bicycle accident two days before the hiving waylaid Bee Daddy for a time and it was only recently that we finished final touches on the hives and then picked up our new bee-gals.


I now understand why Langstroth hives are the industry standard–they’re SO much easier to work with than the Warre hives.

All the preparations are the same, of course: donning the hot bee suit,


…readying the beekeepers’ paraphernalia,


…and firing up the smoker.


But the actual hiving with those lovely frames,


…which fit together with ease, coupled with the larger boxes that they’re placed in, make this beekeeper’s life much easier.

Warre hives Scar and Mufasa were great learning tools and truthfully, we were fairly successful with them–we’ve had darling honeybees and their queens made other darling honeybees and the whole bunch-a-bees made oodles of gooey, delicious honey. But the cramped conditions of the smaller hives, along with top bars rather than frames, made things tricky these past two years as we kept tabs on our bees or when we pulled honey out of the hives.  So we did what others before us have done and transitioned to Langstroth hives.

While Bee Daddy was in the garage with his beloved power tool companions, fitting the Langstroth brood box like such a puzzle,


…I was arranging our bee “yard” for the new ladies.


Meanwhile, the Buzz and Woody bee gals were sitting on the living room floor, stuck in their cages, no doubt annoyed and tapping their tiny toes, anxiously awaiting their new homes.

Putting together the hives, we start with a plinth which has a screened bottom board, which will make it easier to check for the dreaded varroa mites.


I set each brood box atop each plinth.




Per instructions, we placed four brood frames (where the worker bees build their honeycomb and make honey, and the queen lays eggs) on one side in each box.



We added the outside boardman feeders already filled with sugar-water syrup at a 1:1 ratio. Most beekeepers use trough feeders located inside the boxes, but we’ve used the boardmans and prefer not to open the hives each time we add fresh sugar-water.

Time to hive!!  We pull up the embedded cans containing their syrup in the traveling cages,


…which also holds the queens’ cages, attached with the orange tabs.




Queens from commercial apiaries usually arrive in their own separate cages from the workers.  Our bees come from BeeWeaver Apiaries, located here in Texas.


At one end of the queen cage is sugar fondant to feed the queen until she’s safely hived.  The beekeeper pokes a hole in the fondant just prior to placing the cage in the hive so that the queen doesn’t work too hard eating through the fondant on her way to her subjects.


The orange tabs attached to the queen cages allow us to thumb-tack each cage onto one of the frames in each box.


It usually takes a few days for the queen to eat through the fondant and join her girl gang.   By the time the queen enters the hive, her pheromones are dispersed throughout the hive and all the worker bees love her so and will follow her to the ends of the earth.

Once the frames are in, the queen cage attached, we pour some bees onto the queen cage.  Then the entire traveling cage, with the rest of the ready-to-work workers, is situated cozily in the remaining open area of the box!  The worker bees will exit the traveling box and begin their work in the hive:  building comb, taking care of the queen, foraging, taking out dead bees, whatever is required of each.


Wow, that was easy!

We placed the lids on top,



…and added the roofs.  Bee Mama sat for a well-earned break!


Interestingly, later that afternoon, I was watching the hives and Buzz became buzzy–and loud.  Bees vomited out of the hive.  I left to fetch Bee Daddy so he could observe the mass exodus as well and when we returned, who was crawling around on the ground but Ms. Queen Buzz.  Honeybees were swarming all over the area.  We captured Ms. Queen in a glass and gently (you REALLY don’t want to squish your queen!) placed her toward the back of the hive. All the bees followed her directly into hive.  If only humans could follow directions so well.  I suspect that initially we may have place her too close to the hive opening and she managed to find the door to the great outdoors–which is not good for a bee hive.

That was exciting.

Since then, all seems well with both hives–they’re actively foraging and sipping syrup to augment their diet.


We’ve checked the hives twice since hiving and both queens are doing their job and laying eggs: there are larvae of different ages and even adult bees emerging.



Bees know how to stay on task!  We removed the traveling boxes and queen cages from the brood boxes a few days after hiving and added the remainder of the frames. There are still only four frames with any significant amount of comb, but there was more comb at the second check than the first–good progress.  I’m still feeding the bees, though they’re drinking less from the feeders with each passing week.


Buzz and Woody are the gentlest bees we’ve ever hosted.  I think we could work them without smoke, they’re such laid back ladies.

Laid back,




…but busy.





Hole originally drilled in limestone to hold a shelf on an outside wall of my home, but taken over by a native bee and packed with soil and pollen.

Holes are a good thing.


Holes drilled by a native bee in a log and also in the wood frame on my back patio.

Holes in wood and masonry and bare ground and leaves suggest that pollinators are at work and planning for the next generation.

Continuing  the celebration of National Pollinator Week, let’s talk  about those critters making the round holes: let’s talk native, or wild bees.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey on native bees, there are roughly 20,000 native bee species in the world, about 4,000 of which are endemic to  the U.S.  Native bees are found on every continent (except Antarctica) and are some of the most important, if unnoticed and unappreciated, of the hard-working pollinators.

Many native bees are so tiny that you wouldn’t see them unless you’re really looking.


Tiny miner bee on a Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis).

Other native bees, like this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis, are larger.


Horsefly-like carpenter bee on a Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia). Additionally, check out the holes on the petals–probably made by a leafcutter bee.

Native bees are remarkably beautiful.


Colorful metallic sweat bee on a Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).

Regardless of size or looks, native bees are the bomb when it comes to pollinating abilities. They are some of the best and most efficient pollinators you’ll ever want to invite into your garden.

Not all native bees make holes in wood or leaves and petals for their nests, but they all need certain environmental qualities to live and thrive.  We know that native bees are declining and some of the common reasons are as follows:  reduction of habitat, pesticide use, lack of pollinator plants.

How can you be a part of the solution to slow the native bee decline? Make your garden welcoming to these important creatures. Many native bees (like bumblebees) nest in the ground. You can allow a portion–it doesn’t have to be a large area–of your property to host some bare soil: no mulch, no cement, no hardscaping, no garden or turf of any sort.  I keep a fenced-off work and storage area where my compost bin is located.  It’s not mulched, though I’ve allowed some native plants to seed out. (I just can’t help myself.)  To some eyes, it’s “messy,” but to native bees’ eyes, it’s a welcoming neighborhood with good homes for their babies. And we all want good homes for our babies, right?   A sterile, uber-clean look is not something that native bees like.  While I haven’t spent much time searching the area for bees’ nests, I have noticed that my gardens host more native bees since I allowed this area some wildness.

Many home gardeners are building native bee/insect hotels and that’s a fun way to help native bees find protected homes for their offspring.


This leafcutter bee flew in and out of the hole over the course of several days.



When she was done, she’d packed the hole holding her eggs with pollen, leaves and who knows what else. Her babies are safe and sound.


Here’s the same bee type nectaring away on a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

I wrote about my insect hotels here, but there’s plenty of information available on the Internet or through garden resources about building insect hotels or houses. These are simple and fun projects to do with kids.


One of the easiest things that will allow native bees to settle in to your garden is to leave firewood (that you won’t use) or downed tree limbs on your property.


Certain species drill into wood and lay their eggs, so it’s a effortless way to ensure that they have a safe home for their bee babies.


Horsefly-like carpenter bee working in her nest in a wood log.

I’ve laid logs of wood in various spots around my garden; bees have no trouble finding the wood and getting to work making nice homes for their families.  If you cut down a tree, keep some of the wood and maybe even the stump.  You can drill holes to give your native bees a head start, or leave them to it.  Either way, it’s a win and native bees and your garden will be healthier for it .

Another way to help slow the decline of native bees in your area is to refrain from pesticide use.  There are myriad reasons why home gardeners shouldn’t rely on pesticides, but allowing native bees to nectar and collect pollen, and to create those cool holes in leaves for their nests, are but a couple.  Remember that pesticides kill–that’s their job.  For example, if you’re spraying for adult mosquitoes,  the pesticide will kill bees, butterflies, moths, and all other insects that the chemical comes in contact with.  Pesticides don’t discriminate–they kill all “pests”, aka, insects.

Plant for pollinators!!  That’s the fun part.  It’s best to use native bloomers if you can get them.


Horsefly-like carpenter bee working a Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus).


Leafcutter bee on a Purple coneflower.


Mason bee (Osmia) (?) on Golden groundsel (Packera obovata).



Horsefly-like carpenter bee on Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’).

If native plants are not readily available, choose well-adapted, non-native perennials and annuals and have fun planting!


Metallic sweat bee on passalong daylily.

Don’t forget that flowers bloom in seasons other than spring–plant for year-round flowering (even in winter if you live in a mild climate) so that pollinators are kept busy and happy.  You’ll enjoy the beauty of the blossoms and the insects that visit and you’ll help repair the world in your own back yard. And front yard too!

When my children were little, we enjoyed observing the the visits of giant, gentle bumblebees–you know the type, the huge black, yellow and fuzzy bees.  The bees were especially fond of a large salvia shrub with blue blooms and at times, there were 20 or 30 of these bees working the blooms all at the same time.  They were fascinating to watch–so focused and single-minded as they gathered nectar and pollen and so gentle, that I could pet them. (I didn’t do that in front of my little ones. No sense in encouraging that!)

There was a field not far from our street, full of native wildflowers and grasses.  Of course, it was going to be developed at some point and in fact, two new neighborhood streets with tidy little single family homes were built over the field.  From a neighborhood perspective, it was the best possible outcome; certainly better than a hotel or yet another shopping center.  But after the construction began, we never saw the bumbles again.

Not one.

Not ever.

I recently saw a giant black and yellow and fuzzy bumblebee in my back garden.  I only saw her twice, didn’t get a good photo of her, but she was there, early two mornings, working the flowers.  I have no idea where her home is.  I can only hope there are more like her and that they have a safe ground home somewhere and plenty to survive on.

Pollinators are life–they pollinate the food we eat, products we use, and they make the world a lovelier and more interesting place in which to live.  Pollinators deserve our attention and respect; they deserve to live.  If you don’t have a pollinator garden, well, why not give it a whirl?  It’s not hard to plant for pollinators–you’ll be amazed by their beauty and impressed with their work ethic.

Happy National Pollinator Week!