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!

First Day

It’s the first day of Spring: a season of hope, renewal, life.

If you’re able, go for a walk; wave to your neighbors and say ‘hi’ from a safe distance. 

Observe the fresh, green growth on trees and bursts of color with flowers.   Listen to birdsong; watch expectant parent birds carry leaf and grass to their nesting sites. 

Life continues.

Open your windows, breathe in deeply the passing breeze.   Keep in touch with loved ones:  help your neighbors, especially the elderly and others,  most vulnerable.  

Stay safe.

 

Yellow or Mexican Butterfly Vine (Mascagnia macroptera): A Seasonal Look

While not the real deal, I welcome these butterfly doppelgangers to my garden:

The chartreuse seedpod is beginning its morph to the mature-seed incarnation.

This golden toast heralds the final seed product.

 

These two seed pod examples develop on a fabulous vine, the Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vineMascagnia macroptera. 

Butterfly vine is a native to Mexico, but grows southward into Central America.  Several sources I’ve come across mention that the early English naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks, observed Butterfly vine growing in Brazil.  

I’ve grown my Butterfly vine for at least a decade, maybe longer–I don’t remember exactly when I planted it.  The thick, twisted main trunk confirms that mine isn’t a newby vine.

I first came across Butterfly vine when I was a volunteer gardener at my children’s elementary school about 20 years ago.  One grew at the back of a portable building, with western exposure and no water source readily available.  I recall that it was summer that I found the vine–a Texas summer, folks–and the vine was as fresh as a daisy and blooming its clusters of petite yellow flowers.

Full sun, drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and attractive?  Yep,  that’s a vine for me!

My Butterfly vine grows in an opposite situation, receiving only dappled or diffused light, depending on the season. Yet it thrives with the same great qualities as in full sun, though with fewer blooms most years.  The only maintenance that I employ with this vine is the same one that I do with my hair: tuck away those annoying, wayward tendrils that fall into my face!  I’ve never experienced any negative issues with this vine:  no debilitating diseases, no invasive insects.  

During a hard winter, where there’s at least one multi-day freeze well into the 20s or teens, the vine may be rendered dormant.  The last cold winter like that was in 2014.

The “butterflies” certainly held their own that winter, even when the rest of the vine suffered freeze damage.

Even with the vine losing its leaves to the hard freeze, the foliage returned vigorously from the roots and along the mature stems once longer days and warmer temperatures arrived.

Last year’s winter was mild, but a late, hard freeze blasted through in March. This is how the vine responded:

The vine lost a good portion–but not all–of its leaves; what was lost, came back quickly.  

In a mild winter like this one of 2019-20,  the vine retains its evergreen habit.

With climate change, I’m guessing that this vine is now mostly an evergreen for my  USDA zone 8B garden.  According to Monrovia, Butterfly vine grows in USDA zones 8-10.  I can imagine that for gardens growing significantly farther north than my own,  the vine is an annual or semi-annual plant.  

The vine flushes out during the wet and cool spring months, preparing for its summer/autumn blooming.

Green-n-growing-n-fresh is Butterfly vine’s contribution to the summer garden.  Typically, the yellow flowers don’t appear until mid-to-late summer, sometimes not until autumn.   In full sun, the flowers appear earlier and are more numerous.  Flowers on my vine are scattered, given the shady conditions that they grow in.

The number of bloom clusters also varies according to rainfall or irrigation.  I don’t water much–just twice per month during summer–but if there’s decent rainfall in late July, August, or September, the vine yellows-up nicely.  The vine weathers drought beautifully; I’ve never seen it wilt, nor does it lose leaves during that time.  But for its yellow beauties to perform, some extra wet stuff is an appreciated must.

Butterflies and honeybees sip the nectar, and I’ve seen lizards and smaller songbirds hide in the lush foliage, so I think Butterfly vine qualifies as a solid wildlife plant. 

Even with minimal rainfall, there are still pops of yellow along the vine. The vine blooms throughout autumn, with blooms eventually morphing into their seed-producing, butterfly selves. 

If you live in USDA zones 8-10 plant this lovely, fast-growing, water-wise vine. Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vine is friendly to a variety of pollinators and provides cover for other wildlife.  It’s not invasive and works well on trellises, fences, and arbors. Most years, you and your wild garden buddies will enjoy its spring and summer glory and its evergreen foliage in winter. In a mild winter, the vine retains its foliage and its butterflies. After a hard freeze, all bets are off.

But with this vine, you might have butterflies year-round!!

 

Spring:

Summer/Autumn:

 

Winter:

…or,