Reptile Rendezvous: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2020

I suspect my garden is a meeting place for reptiles, and has been, well, since the beginning of the garden.  My constant garden companions are the Green AnolesAnolis carolinensis.  They’re everywhere:  slinking from behind the decorative shutters of my home windows, sidling up the trunks of trees, scurrying  through the undergrowth of the garden.  Sometimes, they come into the house.  Last week, my husband came from the kitchen to where I was in the back of the house, an anole firmly clamped on his finger.  He’d seen it in the kitchen, attempted to corral the lizard, which only encouraged it to dash under the pantry door.  Once in the pantry, the lizard’s options were limited and the intrepid lizard hunter cornered and captured the misplaced green thing. Mr. Anole clamped down on the hub’s finger hanging on with all its might.  Husband showed me his prize, we both had a giggle, then he exited the house to return the rogue reptile to the garden.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to catch a photo of the finger-with-lizard-attached, but it was a quite a sight.  The anole didn’t hurt the hub (nor, the other way around) as its little teeth are…really little and can’t penetrate human skin.  But if you’re a small insect (also known as food), those teeth will inflict some damage.

There are plenty of other reptiles in the garden, as well.  The season of the noisy,  amorous American ToadBufo americanus, has arrived.  Added to the calming sound of the pond waterfall, are now the guttural–and loud!–croaks of these fellas, also in the pond. Looking for feminine toad company, the warty dudes sing mostly after dark, until about midnight.  I like their serenades but wish they’d dial it down, just a bit.  There are little tree frogs, too, that I’ve never seen, but hear each spring and summer, starting now and continuing through July.  Chirp, chirp, chirp go these little frogs, but fall mute as I approach where they sit in the dark, hidden from my eyes.

Recently, the Blue Jays alerted their avian friends (and consequently, the gardener) to this chap:

He/she is a Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri, probably the same adult that I saw briefly last summer.  It’s a little hard to tell from the photo, but this slinky, slithery beauty is about four feet long.  It was lounging on the ground, stretched out along the base of my back fence which borders a neighbor’s property.

The neighbor was working in his back garden, so I peeked over the fence to let him know about the snake–he’s also a wildlife appreciator.  He grabbed a step-stool, peered over the fence and was thrilled to see the gorgeous snake.  We chatted for a bit, then I went indoors.  A little later, he emailed me to say that the snake had scaled (pun intended!) the 6 foot wooden fence and had plopped over onto their property.  Their sweet dog, Tula, was too interested in the snake, so he gently urged the snake to go under an attached fence, to lounge in his dog-free next door neighbor’s back yard.  He contacted the neighbor so that if she saw the snake, she wouldn’t freak out; he assured her that the rat snake isn’t harmful to humans.

Like most snakes, rat snakes are shy and avoid contact with humans.   They eat rats and mice (Yay!), but also birds, bird eggs, and other delectables smaller than themselves.  I’m not thrilled about the bird/baby bird meals, but to have a rat snake in the garden is a gift and confirmation of a healthy ecosystem.  

 

For the first time EVER in my garden, I observed a Texas Spiny LizardSceloporus olivaceus.

Green Anoles are common in my garden, but never-ever have I seen a Texas Spiny Lizard in my outdoor space.  I saw it crawling up the fence separating our back garden from my SIL’s garden.   I used the camera’s zoom feature as I couldn’t get too near this new garden buddy, as it was intent upon skedaddling as I moved in for closer shot.

When I worked at Zilker Botanical Garden, I regularly saw Texas Spiny Lizards; they were my garden companions in that place, much like the Green Anoles are in my home garden.   Like the Anoles, the Spiny Lizards eat insects, but also, smaller vertebrates.  Did you catch that that Anoles??

Spiny Lizards are bigger than Anoles by about three times in length, with more robust bodies.  They also have larger scales, with muted coloring allowing for their camouflage in native trees.  Spiny Lizards typically spend much their time in trees, so maybe they’ve been around, and inexplicably, I never noticed.  Regardless, I’m happy that one, at least once, graced the garden.

 

Then, there’s this clown.

I was watching a swarm of honeybees (yes, mine…) as they made their way to my SIL’s tree in the neighboring garden, when I caught sight of this character.  While I think that Mr. Green’s head (and that expression on his face!) is funny, I also think he’s a clever lizard.  He’s obviously lying in wait for a meal delivery of honeybee.  I’ve witnessed anoles hiding in the foliage of vines or perennials that also produce flowers visited by honeybees, then watched as Anoles snatch their bee prey at lightening speed, retreating into the protection of the foliage for a sweet, crunchy meal.

Nature’s cycles continue, even while we humans are locked-down.  If you’re able, now is a good time to observe events that progress successfully without human intervention and to take comfort in those natural happenings.  I recognize that I speak from a position of privilege:  I have a home, (nothing fancy), but nevertheless, a single family home with accompanying land where I’ve nurtured a full-of-life garden.  I realize that many (most) don’t have what I have and I know that I’m very, very fortunate. 

But nature is a balm in a world turned upside-down and inside…inside.  Be well, look out for your loved ones and neighbors, don’t gather in groups, but make your way outdoors if possible.  And wash your damn hands!

What wild happenings have you seen while you walk, or in your trees, or on the ground?  Please leave a link to your wildlife story when you comment here and good wildlife gardening and watching!

Predator and Prey

As I hand watered a dry patch of garden, two simultaneous movements caught my attention.   One was an earth-colored action along the bed, rustling garden detritus.  Another, a flash of green down the edge of a trellis.

The predator enjoyed the advantage of height and dashed toward the prey, grabbing it out of sight from this observer.  Sprinting back the way it came, the predator stopped to rest, and maybe, to gloat over its catch.

No worries, buddy.  Though I’m impressed with your focus, eyesight, and hunting ability, I’m not interested in your catch; it’s a pasta with grilled veggies dinner for me.

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!