True to Form: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2019

As summer muddles along here in Central Texas with fairly typical heat and humidity, this gardener slows down. Even so, I can’t resist the daily pull of the garden, even in mid-afternoon heat: too much action, life, and beauty greet my visits and I don’t want to miss it any of it.  Local wildlife isn’t bothered one bit by the long, sunny days–if water is available.  True to form, my mid-to-late summer garden provides good wildlife watching.

During spring and autumn bird migration, I’ll slice fruit and affix the pieces to a fence for the weary, hungry and thirsty birds.   While spring migratory season is over and fall migration has yet to begin, some extra oranges found their way to my kitchen and I wanted to share them with, ahem, the birds.

This rascal isn’t a bird, but I’ll bet you knew that already.

This Fan of the Orange is an Eastern Fox SquirrelSciurus niger.  Many types of birds and mammals enjoy fruit, and if you grow–or attempt to grow–fruit trees, this won’t be news to you.  While my orange offers were targeted for birds, I don’t mind (too much) that the squirrel devoured the juicy fruit.

Green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are active for most of the year, except for the deep of winter.  In summer, it’s rare that I’m in my garden that I don’t see at least one of these garden cuties.  I like the way this one drapes its claw over the leaf edge of the Twist-leaf yucca, Yucca rupicola. The lizard looks like it’s in total command of the situation.  I  expect the anole to don a pair of shades or a hip hat, and sip from an adult-lizard beverage of choice.

 

Nature’s life and death dramas play all the time in my garden.  Oregano blooms, favored by a variety of pollinators, make good perches for garden predators and Milkweed Assasin bugsZelus longipes, commonly hang out on the oregano and hunt.   This assasin had the poor honeybee firmly vised.

A closer look at the assassination.

Excepting a surfeit of predators (which I’ve never seen), I let pollinators and predators go about their business–no matter the outcome.   In nature, it’s all about balance.

This has been the Summer of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia.  Several generations hatched, morphed in caterpillar stages, and then flitted through the garden as adults.  I grow plenty of sunflower types and those plants have nurtured a boon of butterflies, which have been pops of moving color in both larval and adult stages.

To encourage butterflies in your garden, tolerance for munched leaves is a must.

Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on host plants.  Then larvae hatch and eat the foliage of those plants.  The foliage isn’t pristine during the caterpillar progressive meals, but once the eating frenzy is finished and the cats are sequestered in their cocoons, the foliage recovers. A common fallacy is that there is something wrong with foliage that has been eaten, and that the offending insects must be destroyed.  But insects and plants evolved together and share synchronistic relationships:  plants are required for healthy insect populations and insects utilizing their host plants for food eat only what they need for their next stage of development and generally won’t eat foliage to the detriment of plants–nature just doesn’t work that way.  Plants usually rebound to provide for the next generation of pollinators.   As for problematic, invasive insects (for example, aphids and red spider mites), a few blasts of water will usually take care of them.

 

Big, beautiful Southern Carpenter beesXylocopa micans, usually show up in mid-summer and this year a couple arrived on cue.  I like this bum-shot of the bodacious bee.

No, it doesn’t have a red tail issuing from its backside, but instead, the bee is perched over the flower, its proboscis (unseen) thrust into the base of the plant, slurping nectar.  This activity is known as nectar stealing or robbing and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to aid pollination.  The thief either eats a hole into the tissue of the flower, or exploits a hole already in existence, then–proboscis engaged–sips away, bypassing the more typical pollination process.

When pollinators land on flowers and drink from the center of the flower where the reproductive parts are located, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship:  the pollinator gets nectar, the plant is pollinated and reproduction happens.  So is nectar robbing actually theft and is pollination averted?  Maybe not, as the insect (or other pollinator), land on the bloom in such a way that its various body parts make contact with the reproductive parts of the flower.  After nectar robbing from one flower while lying all over that flower, the bee then flies to other flowers.  With pollen grains attached to the bee’s abdomen, legs, and parts unknown, grains are deposited on the following flowers and pollination is achieved.

These gorgeous bees are so large that when one buzzes by me, I feel a slight whoosh in the air!  I’ve seen them at different plants, but in my garden they prefer Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Addendum:  I thought this bee was probably a Southern Carpenter, but for good measure, before I published, I sent an identification request to BugGuide.net.  The first response I received was, I believe, incorrect as it suggested the bee was a species from California.  That would be hard as the bee and I reside in Texas.  However, I’ve since received a second identification (Friday August 9) suggesting that this bee is a Large Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa mexicanorum. 

 So…welcome to the wonderful world of insect identification!

So what’s in your garden as summer plods along?  Please post about your garden critters and leave a link  to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!

29 thoughts on “True to Form: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2019

  1. Oh I love the southern carpenter bees too- they are just so BIG! Mine prefers the blooms on our Mexican Olive tree- I’m wracking my brain but I honestly think that’s the only flowers I’ve seen it at!

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    • They are fun to have around! Interesting that yours have focused on the Olive blooms, while mine seem most interested in Turkscap. I’ve seen them check out other blooms, but they really like the Turks. Last year, they stayed in my garden until November–I hope that happens this year.

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  2. That is a gorgeous butterfly, and I LOVE the Anole shot! He does indeed look like king of his turf! This autumn, I’m invited to give a talk on Naturalistic Gardening to a neighborhood association here in Portland. I’m going to share the kind of sentiment you stated so well here: “But insects and plants evolved together and share synchronistic relationships: plants are required for healthy insect populations and insects utilizing their host plants for food eat only what they need for their next stage of development and generally won’t eat foliage to the detriment of plants–nature just doesn’t work that way. ” Maybe I won’t be as eloquent as you, but it makes all the sense in the world. Haven’t started making my presentation yet, but I’m giving it a lot of thought, so thank you for yet another inspiring post! 🙂

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    • Haha–I have no suggestions for you. I was happily feeding peanuts to my woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice and oh so many others–then a squirrel discovered the feeder and he/she turned into a pig. I can still put a few peanuts out, but only just after sunup and just before sundown. They are garden devils.

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  3. I saw a carpenter bee on my tomatoes and was happy for the sight! Only wishing it would attack the giant leaf cutters also on my tomatoes but so far, the leaf cutter damage isn’t putting a noticeable dent in anything so… Nature’s balance is balanced.

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    • I love, love carpenter bees! I’ve also had leafcutter damage (earlier in the season), but never get to see the bees working. Usually, they don’t hurt much of anything. Balance.

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    • Foliage is not supposed to be pristine, but we’ve been taught differently in the past 50-70 years. And you’re right that there’s always something to observe.

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  4. I think I might have a photo of a southern carpenter bee at a ladies’ tresses orchid. I do have a leaf-cutter bee building a nest in a boat I’m currently working on. They’re more common than you’d think in that environment: there are a lot of nooks and crannies on a boat.

    I like the bordered patch butterfly; I’ve never seen or heard of that one. I did see a lot of swallowtails at the Watson preserve last weekend, along with sulphurs and some sort of little brown job I couldn’t identify.

    As for insects and plants, have I ever mentioned Neltje Blanchan’s book Nature’s Garden to you? The subtitle is “An Aid to Knowledge of Our Wild Flowers and Their Insect Visitors.” It’s a hefty 400 pages, and my edition was published in 1907. She writes beautifully, and winningly, of the need to recognize and honor the insect/flower relationship. The Preface is a gem. Look at this paragraph:

    “Is it enough to know merely the name of the flower you meet in the meadow? The blossom has an inner meaning, hopes and fears that inspire its brief existence, a scheme of salvation for its species in the struggle for survival that it has been slowly perfecting with some insect’s help through the ages…. Ages before men cultivated gardens, they had tiny helpers they knew not of. Gardeners win all the glory of producing a Lawson pink or a new chrysantemum… but they take up the work where the insects left it off after countless centuries of toil.”

    And so on. If you ever can find a copy of the book, I think you’d love it. There are about 500 species covered, and some great colored plates and drawings.

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  5. You are much kinder to your squirrels than I. I’m afraid I chase them away when they get going on the bird feeders. It is amazing how much wildlife is still out there in this heat. Your bordered patch is one of the prettiest I ave ever seen.

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    • Rest assured, Jenny, I yell at and chase the squirrels away. Alas, they always come back. My sister-in-law bought something called “squirrel sauce” which is a hot sauce (VERY) that you can mix with seeds or peanuts. Birds don’t notice it, but it keeps the squirrels away. What I have noticed, specifically with the peanuts, is that a squirrel will eat some, but they don’t eat all that much. Certainly, they’re not eating as much as the darned starlings did in the spring and early summer.

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