Hippity Hoppity

Happy Easter.  I thought I would dust off an republish my lost post on the adorable Marsh Rabbits that grace my garden.

Dateline: April 6, 2012*

Last week I spotted a bunny rabbit hopping through my neighbor’s yard. Far away, I got a photo that looks more like a painting. But the rabbit appeared to me to be an adult. As I’ve said in the past, my property always provides an article idea for me, and this week very timely and holiday appropriate. I’m thrilled with my encounter. However, rabbits are a joy to some and a bane to others.

Today we had some much needed rain and reluctantly Tanner(2002-20017), the English setter (he who is terrified he might melt) went out the door (with a strong shove from behind). He barely stepped off the patio when I spotted a bunny rabbit hopping in MY yard, in the tall grasses from the semi-dog-free area into the dog area, next to the well pump. I told Tanner to hurry up so I could get him back into the house before the rabbit scent wafted through the air and into his scent-hound nostrils, where, I’m sure he would immediately forget about his rain fear and would give chase. Tanner was quick and quite cooperative, perhaps since the scent of my fresh-perked coffee was quite strong, coming from the exhaust vent.

Tanner hunts in the brush and brambles to no avail

When I called the dog, bunny reversed and headed back, but as I stood quietly on the steps it inched out again to give me a distant photo or two. I stepped quietly to get closer but my movement caused a reverse in direction again. That’s when I spotted more movement…at least two hopping away. It appears that the miracle of birth has taken place and the kits are out on their own. Since I already disturbed them which sent them on their way, I walked back to continue morning photographs of flowers and I heard a squeal when a mockingbird and gray catbird were doing battle along the neighbor fence. There was rustling in the scrub and I saw hopping movement away from the B-52 bomber flights. Here I always thought that bunnies were silent. Apparently they know how to sound the alarm when frightened.

One of the youngsters, a Marsh Rabbit

Upon examination of the photos, I’m leaning toward an identification of Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) over Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). The young seem very dark and the ears look smaller and rounder than the cottontails I’ve seen around. I’ve had Marsh Rabbits in the past…living in my neighbor’s scrub area, but visiting my pond at night, as evidenced by the rabbit trail through the fence. That’s not to say that I haven’t also had Cottontails. Since I didn’t get a good look at the retreat, I can’t say for sure. I know that they weren’t domestic white rabbits that I’ve also seen hopping around, the result of some irresponsible human, I’m sure. Rabbits eat greens many of which some consider “weeds”. Leave some cranesbill, plantain or bidens alba around your vegetable garden and you just might save some of your vegetable plants from the munchers…they might be too full to continue in to the “cash crops”.

A thicket of blackberries and ferns add up to a pretty good dog defense system

I hope that these rabbits are living next door, safe from dog harm, although given the way that Tanner has been working the brambles, they may actually be in my yard. However, much of the bramble, consisting of blackberry, fern and bluestem grasses are apparently impenetrable and a close inspection by me today confirms that there is no way Tanner could get in there. He must just be chasing the scents through the area that looks like a rabbit run.

Large Southern Toad hangs out on the patio

Not to be outdone by bunnies, I had other hippity-hopping visitors the past two weeks. Southern Toads (Bufo terrestris or Anaxyrus terrestris) have visited the patio and I’m grateful. I noticed some palmetto bugs as of late and I appreciate that the toads and snakes generally keep these guys in check. I must say that this week I didn’t see any palmettos…one of the few bugs that creeps out this bug lover. Soon the toads will make their way back to the pond to lay eggs. Despite spending most time on land, toads need water to lay eggs and reproduce. Southern toads eat ants, bees, beetles, crickets, roaches, snails, and other invertebrates.

Also a Southern Toad from last month, a bit smaller and more colorful

So, this is my Easter reminder to you. Eat bunnies…chocolate or marshmallow…please, not my marsh guys as hasenpfeffer, although if you do hunt for food, I really don’t have a problem with that. Hey, we all have a place as predators in the food chain. If you beat the hawks to them, you deserve the reward. I might suggest a different time of year though. If the Easter Bunny sees any pickling spices around, you might just find your basket empty.

Gulf Frittilary Butterfly on my favorite bunny statue

Happy Bunny Day! and here’s to the Toads too!

He may not bring baskets, but hey, they hop too!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 6, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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Population Explosion Spider Style

I recently spotted a tiny spiderling on some native Fleabane in the front meadow.  Although I can’t be sure of the species because it it is a juvenile, it is a member of the Nursery Web Spiders Family (Pisauridae). I thought it would be a good time to republish the lost article on an interesting encounter I had a few years back that involved MANY tiny spiders in this family.

Dateline:   August 24, 2012*

Spiders are Arachnids and are a very diverse and interesting group. They aren’t insects although we tend to refer to them as insects. They have 8 legs rather than 6 like a bug.

Momma takes a well deserved res

There are so many different species of spiders. My fellow team members provided us with a lot of information over the life of this blog. Donna Donabella recently discussed the goldenrod crab spider. Meredith O’Reilly covered an array of them from her garden. Barbara Pintozzi showed some pretty intricate spiderwebs. In the past I’ve covered Yellow Garden Spiders and the venomous Brown Widow.

Spiders are an important food source for birds, and they also capture and eat a lot of different insects, including pest insects, so you should welcome them to your garden.  They are major players in nature’s balance.

Bluestem grasses seems the perfect hiding spot

I was out and about the other day and glanced over at some bluestem grass (Andropogon spp.) which is fuzzy and turning interesting shades of pale blue and green as it readies to send up seed stalks. I eyed a brown “spot” and went over to see what it could be. Hidden along the blades of grass was a spider and when I pulled the grass apart, I realized it was a momma spider, egg sac in her grips.

A female spider carries an egg sac in her fangs

Now on first glance I thought Fishing Spider (Dolomedes spp.), but she didn’t look quite right since I’m most familiar with the six-spotted (D. triton) that usually grace my property and this one didn’t appear to have the identifying spots. I went to bugguide.net to scroll through some Wolf Spiders and couldn’t find a good match either.

Day one, the egg sac reveals its residents

Wolf Spiders and Fishing Spiders are quite similar, although they aren’t in the same family. Fishing Spiders are Nursery Web Spiders (Family Pisauridae) and there are several different species. With Wolf Spiders (Family Lycosidae) the spiderlings stay with the mobile mom, rather than in a stationary nursery. I headed to a search engine to do a little reading on these two species and got my answer by how she carried her egg sac. She is a Fishing Spider!


Wolf Spiders drag their egg sacs behind them from the spinnerets (which are close to that spider’s butt). They then carry the spiderlings on their back. Nursery Web Spiders carry their egg sacs in their fangs or chelicerae and when the miracle of birth takes place they set up a silken web nursery to keep the babies safe. The young are guarded by the female in a nursery web and may number 1,000 or more. This was quite obvious when I stopped by to look the next day.

A full view of day 2

Click on the above picture to see it full size and get the full affect.

The spiderlings seemed to start breaking away into small rounded masses

Fishing Spiders get their common name from their dietary preferences which is aquatic insects and because the have been known to catch small fish. They must have very tiny rods and reels. Amazingly, the fishing spiders have been known to capture frogs and tadpoles using underwater hiding techniques. Oh, and they can walk on water.

The masses start to break up on Day 2

Fishing Spiders can bite, as can most spiders. The pain is supposedly similar to getting stung by a bee or wasp (no personal experience here). For most people their venom doesn’t have an adverse affect. You should watch out if you have sensitivity to spider venom just as some people have to be careful not to get stung by bees and wasps. Keep in mind that the Fishing Spider is more likely to run away from humans than to try to bite them, so this should be a minor concern.

Day one, closeup

As I was writing this article and cropping pictures I was itchy as all get out. Amazing what tricks the mind can play when you have a bunch of creepy crawlies all in one place. I’m enjoying the encounter all the same as I shudder and scratch. May it not have the same affect on you.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 24, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Wildlife Deception as a Defense

I was out and about looking for things to photograph this sunny Sunday when out of the corner of my eye I spied my friend in the above featured photo.  While it may look like a snake, it is actually a legless lizard.  It brought to mind an interesting encounter I had with this native species a few years back, so I thought I would republish the tale of the tail.

Dateline:  August 15, 2014*

Tanner, the English Setter (08/26/02-09/24/17) was headed out for his afternoon stroll of the yard.  I saw something over behind a tall cluster of Bidens alba and it seemed to be thrashing.  Tanner zoomed on over and flushed out a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  The hawk flew off with its feathers somewhat ruffled in the quick getaway.

Ruffled feathers

Tanner headed back to the spot where the hawk had been.  I called him and quickly ran over to see what was up…concerned that the hawk had caught one of the venomous snakes that were around in recent times.  It’s important to remember that even in death snakes can inflict harm via a reflex bite for a considerable amount of time.  I saw something writhing and quickly ushered Tanner off to the house where I grabbed the camera.

Tanner ((08/26/02-09/24/17), always alert for wildlife adventures

Back at the scene of the crime, I relaxed as there was only the tail end of whatever the hawk was enticed by.  No rattle, and too thin to be a cottonmouth…WHEW!  Naturally, needing to share my story, I took a quick video (19 seconds) of the headless creature that seemed quite lively despite lacking its thinking cap.

Then I took a few still shots so I could identify just what wiggling friend this had been before becoming victim to the food chain.  I picked it up and flipped it over the fence into the wildlife area, considering that maybe the hawk would come back once we weren’t around.  Initially I thought it was the end of a black racer snake, but the cut section seemed too clean to have been a snake shredded by the hawk.

the headless horseman

That’s when it dawned on me.  I had the tail end of an Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis), a legless lizard often mistaken for a snake. I confirmed this with my trusty pal Kim of Swamp Girl Adventures who is a naturalist specializing in reptiles.

Most lizards will break free leaving their wiggling tail behind in an attempt to distract their predator while making an escape. This phenomenon is known as autotomy.  This lizard will regenerate the tail over time.

Clean break

The tail seemed to have snapped off cleanly with innards that formed a zigzag pattern.  It looked like it could nicely fit back together using a little super glue if it ever met up with it’s front part.

Glass lizards are native to the southeastern United States.  They eat insects and their larvae, spiders, snails, small snakes and possibly small rodents. In turn they feed snakes and birds. Females lay eggs and stay with them unless threatened.

Bottom was pure white

I didn’t get a real good look at the hawk taking flight, so I can’t be sure if it had the business end of the lizard in its grasp.

I scanned the tree line to see if I could find the hawk and I spotted him far in the distance sitting atop a street light pole on the next block.  With the limited zoom capability of my camera, it is not the best picture but you can tell where his feathers are clearly ruffled.

Ahhhh, there you are!

I headed in and checked the photographs on the computer. Satisfied that there was enough photographic detail to accompany my tale, I went back out to move the tail out into the open where I’m sure some critter(s) would enjoy the doggie bag.  This was 30 minutes later and it was still writhing and twisting.  I don’t know about the hawk, but I’d certainly be deceived into thinking it was alive.

loseup of a complete Glass Lizard from November 2010

We’ll never know if the glass lizard made a clean escape, but it’s another example of Mother Nature’s wonders in my beautiful wildlife garden. Once again I thank her for giving me the idea for my weekly article.  It has been fun to be able to tell the tale of the tail.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 15, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Native Plants for Florida Ponds

Dateline:  October 14, 2012*

Bladderwort (Utricularia spp. likely gibba) grows on my tussock

As you may or may not know, I have a natural wonderland (at least in my eyes) that I call home. I live on a rural acre and Mother Nature planted the majority of my plants. I’m particularly fond of my pond area and am constantly amazed with the new things that pop up at various times of the year.

Oh, I’ve added some plants here and there, mostly larval hosts to increase the available butterfly and moth species for me to enjoy. I also added some trees, either for shade or because they support a lot of wildlife.

The pond is approximately 90’ by 30’ and about 10-15’ at its deepest point (when full during rainy season). It was smaller when I bought the place, but I needed dirt to build up the pad for the house, so I had a guy expand the end of the pond and the “new” section is about 4 foot deep, and goes dry during the winter.

The pond has an amazing array of plants which are native to Florida, certainly too numerous to cover in a single article. The majority probably would not be available commercially (weeds, you know—NOT), but I’ll touch upon a few that probably are likely available from a native plants nursery to add to your own pond.


American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) is an aquatic floating plant which can be aggressive, so I generally recommend planting it in a planter with no holes before adding it to your typical garden pond to keep the rhizomes in check. At my place it has free reign. Waterfowl and mammals eat the seeds. Spiders, dragonflies and pollinators are drawn to the fragrant flowers and large leaves that act as landing stations. The blooms generally only stay open from morning until early afternoon, sad for 9-5 people. This native has a history of ethnobotanical uses, as an astringent, poultice for sores, bronchial and sore throat treatments and other things that I probably wouldn’t try.  😉  The leaves and tubers are also considered edible.


Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) is an emersed plant that spreads by rhizomes. Again it would be prudent to maintain in a planter without drainage holes before placing in a home garden pond. It can reach as much as three feet and does well in the margin of larger ponds. It is also quite common in our drainage ditches, which is where I acquired my initial plant (before they came and dug them out during maintenance). Leaves and seeds are considered edible, but you might have to fight the deer for them. The common name likely comes from pickerel fish.

Water Hyssop; Herb-Of-Grace (Bacopa monnieri) is a ground cover, which works well in pond margins. A larval host for the white peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterfly and nectar source for many species. This herb has many ethnobotanical uses and there is some preliminary research on its use in  Alzheimer’s disease and enhancing memory.

Arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.) grows in pond margins. There are numerous species native to Florida and I host S. graminea or Grassy Arrowhead that has thin leaves. The annual/sometime perennial plant has corms that are said to be edible. Again, pollinators stop by the white flowers with pretty green centers that eventually turn yellow (the centers, not the petals).

Cowbane with Black Swallowtail Larvae

Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis previously Oxypolis filiformis) a.k.a. Water dropwort is an emersed member of the carrot family Apiaceae. It blooms in late summer or early fall and can reach 2-3’ in height. It has white flowers that, along with the leaves provide the perfect food for the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. A great native host so I have no need for fennel, dill or parsley. It provides nectar and attracts pollinators.

Mermaid Weed

Combleaf Mermaid Weed (Proserpinaca pectinata) is a small submersed/emersed plant that can survive in the pond margin when water recedes. It has tiny inconspicuous flowers, but noticeable nutlet type fruit on the stem that is enjoyed by waterfowl. It feeds fish as well as offers them shelter and a place to reproduce. It can be used in aquariums as a bunch plant since it doesn’t mind staying completely under water.

My tussock is crowded with lots of natives, perfect shelter for wildlife

I’m going to finish up with my tussock (surprise island) which has filled in with plants since its appearance last year and is full of yelloweyed grass, bladderwort, some bluestem grass and various sedges.

These are just a few of the naturally occurring natives in and around my pond. Other choices for Florida include Scarlet Rosemallow (Hibiscus coccineus), Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus) and Canna which you should be able to obtain from your local native plant nursery.

*This is an update of a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 14, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Handpicked

This week I had a visit from the featured insect above, which brought to mind my first encounter with this species a few years ago as told in the story which follows below.

As I have evolved and learned more about wildlife gardening, I would not put handpicked insects into soapy water, I would merely squish them and place them in the compost pile to be recycled back into the earth. There is really no need to add soap to our fragile environment.

This weeks’ visitor was found on some of the highly invasive Cogon Grass (Imperata cylindrica). I should only be so lucky that it would be eating that so I didn’t have to work at constantly weeding it out of my landscape. I believe (s)he was just resting since there didn’t seem to be any chewing going on. DRAT!

And now for my original article:

Dateline: April 2011*

Blizzard (June 13, 1998-July 25, 2011)  reminds everyone to wake up and smell the natives

Ok, I’ll bet you thought I was going to write about some exclusive native plant that I found. Truth is, I’m going to write about my young willow (Salix spp.) tree, and I use the term “tree” loosely…more like a sapling. I spotted some insects on it yesterday and we all know I love my bugs, but I’d seen this species last year and cringed. They are the dreaded Cottonwood Leaf Beetle (Chrysomela scripta) which can defoliate young trees in the willow or poplar (Populus spp.) family right before your very eyes.

It will grow up to be a real tree, one of these years

“Under forest conditions, they are often held in check by lady beetle predators which feed on the eggs and pupae”. It seems that only young trees are severely affected. Now, we all know that I don’t use pesticides and I haven’t seen any lady beetles taking on these munchers, so my alternative is to pick them off by hand. Some people think this is too great a task, but if you work it into a routine such as I do, it CAN be done and rather quickly.

Cottonwood bugs also eat willow

The willow is down by the pond, planted just a year or two ago. My Labrador is getting mature (we don’t like to say old) and needs supervision when swimming, since old legs give out easily and stamina isn’t what it used to be. I keep an eye on him in the pond, ready to bring my old lifesaving skills out (if I can remember that far back to when I was a camp counselor and took a course). Generally I wile away the time photographing flowers, insects and the like, pulling a weed or two. Today, I worked handpicking those pesky bugs into my labby monitoring duties.

I armed myself with a recycled water bottle half filled with soapy water and a single disposable glove (those thin ones that you get 100 for a buck). I’ll let you in on a secret…as much as I like my bugs, I don’t like to touch them without something between my skin and them (although I did capture a few crickets barehanded that came loose from a nearby display at an outreach program the other day). Handpicking is not my favorite task, sometimes it creeps me out, but if you want to save a young plant and protect the environment at the same time, it is a necessary thing.

Bug fighting equipment

Blizzard slowly walked into the water and I got busy. I started up top where I saw a few mating. HA! Two at once, into the bottle they went. GOTCHA…a single that I merely flipped into the bottle without having to grab….these guys really don’t fly off. Ut oh, I dropped one, but there he is on a bottom branch. BONUS…4 in one. I continued on, but it became rather mundane after about 4 minutes, so I looked up and cursed at the Grackles and Mockingbirds that were close by. I told them I heard these guys were tasty and they should try them.

Get a ROOM!

Next I spoke to the bugs, enticing them to jump into the bottle “you look a little dirty, why not wash up?” I sputtered, “it’s so hot, don’t you want to cool off?”

Oops! I guess they could have used life jackets

HEY! One I had dropped jumped onto my leg, trying to use me as a ladder back onto the tree. Flip, into the soap he went. I spent about 10-15 minutes or so and was pretty satisfied that I got all the adults. Tomorrow I will have another run at them to see if any survived my scrutiny and I will check and remove eggs and larvae. Bugguide.net, one of my favorite bug ID resources, reveals that there are similar species throughout the U.S. and Texas has it’s very own…fancy too…it is a redhead!

Viceroy Butterfly, a Monarch mimic

In the bugguide remarks it says, “When willows were grown commercially for baskets, these beetles were considered a pest, but now they are of little economic consequence.” But they are of nature-loving consequences to ME. I want to save my willow for the caterpillars of the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) that use it as a larval host. It’s why I added a willow to my beautiful wildlife garden in the first place and those I’ll allow to munch away!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

It Just Stinks…or Does It?

Meet the stinkbugs, a rather diverse group of members of Suborder Heteroptera a.k.a. true bugs.  Some stink bugs are herbivorous and others are predators.

Southern Green Stink Bug 5th Instar

I’ll start with the Southern Green Stinkbug (Nezara viridula), a problem child. This species can cause damage to fruit when they pierce the peel with their sucking mouthparts. Severe damage can cause premature fruit drop and dry areas in the flesh of the fruit. They also are damaging to a wide variety of crop plants; especially damaging to new shoots of cash crops such as soybeans, peas, and cotton.

Southern Green Stink Bug 5th instar nymph

*****

Another herbivore is  Mormidea lugens which doesn’t seem to have a common name. It is extremely tiny as stink bugs go….about 1/4 inch.  Good news is that it is a species native to Florida.  It feeds on seeds of bluegrass (poa spp.)

Stink Bug (Mormidea lugens)

*****

Next up, one of the Red-Shouldered Stink Bugs Thyanta sp. likely perditor.  Considered a pest since they suck juices from plants.

Red Shouldered Stink Bug (Thyanta perditor)

*****

Another pest species would be the Euschistus spp.,  munchers of cotton, soybean, citrus.

Another PEST (likely Euschistus sp.)

*****

The Rice Stink Bug (Oebalus pugnax) uses “grasses (including wheat, rice, corn, and other crops); may attack caterpillars”

Rice Stink Bug (Oebalus pugnax)

*****

Then we get into a somewhat friendlier group. There are some reports that the Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) is predatory. Although it can be a plant feeder, it can also be predaceous, and has been found attacking insect larvae in cotton. So this guy is a little of both…part pest, part good bug.

Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) eats plants but may also eat insect larvae

*****

Next up, we have the Florida Predatory Stink Bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus), which surprisingly is one species you’ll want to have around. They are beneficial because they prey on a variety of plant-damaging bugs, beetles, and caterpillars, including the pest stinkbugs. The nymphs are highly gregarious and can gang up on larger prey. Of all the stinkbugs, they also are the most attractive (IMHO).

One you’ll want to have around, the Predatory Stink bug

*****

Another beneficial is the Anchor Stink Bug (Stiretrus anchorago). According to buguide.net:

“feeds on the larvae of beetles, butterflies, and moths, incl. many pest spp. (notably Mexican Bean Beetle and Japanese Beetle)”

Anchor Stink Bug (Stiretrus anchorago)
markings and color in the Anchor Stink Bug (Stiretrus anchorago) can be highly variable

*****

Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) is another beneficial predatory stink bug:

“…most common predatory stick bug in North America…
This insect is a generalist predator with a broad host range, reportedly attacking 90 insect species over eight orders (De Clercq 2008), including several important economic pests….”

 Spined Soldier Bug
Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris): note the red legs.

At any rate, I don’t recommend handling any of these stinkers. They live up to their common name because when disturbed they secrete a defensive chemical with a disagreeable smell.

Leave the handling of the Stink Bugs to the Spiders (Green Lynx)

So, when you say you have stink bugs in the garden, it can be a bad thing, or it can be a good thing. It sure would be easier if they didn’t all have the same stinky name.

Select resources:

Jason M. Squitier, University of Florida, Publication Number: EENY-16, November 2013. Reviewed: January 2017

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 20, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

A Race to the End

Nearly tripped over a beautiful black racer in the yard yesterday. It brought to mind a fascinating encounter I had a few years back with these fabulous sleek snakes. Thought it was a great time to republish the lost article.

Dateline:  November 2013*

Black Racer Snake

Like snakes? This is a story of snake predation skills, so this is a story for you.  Hate snakes?  One meets his demise so this is a story for you as well.  How is this possible?  Read on…

Meet the Southern Black Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor priapus), a non-venomous slitherer. It just so happens that I was slapped by the snake’s tail.  Truth is I’m not exactly sure who’s tail I was slapped with but a snake’s tail it was.

What? two snakes?

Wandering around out back, not far from the pond, I was moseying along a path that the brush has overgrown a bit.  I innocently stepped on my snake friend having not seen him (her?) in the taller grass.  That’s when the tail slapped me.  As I looked, I was a little taken aback…not from fear, but from astonishment as a bigger snake was wresting with a smaller snake and I’m not sure if the bigger guy slapped me with his own tail, or was swinging the smaller snake around and slapped me with the other guy’s tail.  Or perhaps it was his head I was slapped with.

OMG they’re FIGHTING. The takedown!

I immediately started clicking the camera, but the snakes were thrashing and then backing up. Surprisingly, they move as quickly backward as they do forward. These very dexterous snakes slithered off into some side brush before I could get any clear shots.

Dragging the bounty, trying to hide from that crazy lady with the camera

I was not about to miss photographing this encounter, so I ran over to grab a groundsel sapling that I had just upended and used it as a probe to move away the dried grass and pine needles.  I saw out of the corner of my eye that the snakes had moved in unison to the left.  Still backing up, but slower so that I could at least get some photos.

Getting a good grip on that kid

I watched as the older manhandled the younger flipping and grabbing him by the throat.  I cringed as he took him down (if you are already on the ground, can you be legitimately be “taken down”????). Then I watched in horror as he inhaled him like some sort of fat spaghetti and the smaller snake disappeared ever so slowly.

Ok, I’ve got him

I wasn’t entirely confident in my identification of the smaller snake, so I dashed off a few photos to my trusty pal Swamp Girl of Swamp Girl Adventures fame. She quickly replied that I had two black racer snakes…one adult, one juvenile.  I was confident in my identification of the adult, but juveniles have a range of different color and pattern configurations, so I leave it to the experts to tell me what I am seeing.  These snakes are thin and long…VERY long.  Two to five foot long.

Ewwww! Crunch!

Now, Swamp Girl, also known as Kim, works with snakes and other critters, doing rescue, educational programs with live critters, videos and such.  She reported that she had heard of this type of behavior, but had never actually witnessed it.

The diet of the Black Racer Snake includes insects, lizards, birds, rodents, amphibians and obviously, other snakes.  They consume their bounty live.

Where’s the spaghetti sauce?

Hmmmmm…could my successful rat control endeavors have left my poor snakes hungry and with no alternatives but to resort to this cannibalistic diet???  Now that I think about it, the population of brown anoles seems to have waned somewhat.  But heck, there are still plenty of invasive cuban treefrogs that I would sure love to be rid of, but of course, being non-native to Florida, they aren’t high on the diet list of our native fauna.

It should be noted that Black Racers are pretty adept at climbing trees, so it pays to look up if you are “snake hunting” with your camera.  You can encourage snakes to take up residence in your yard by providing brush and woodpiles or similar materials for them to take cover in.  They also will use burrows in the ground, so get them a mole and an armadillo or two. Hehehe.  They are not aggressive, but they will bite if you corner them.  I can speak from experience that they don’t bite if you step on them…well, at least not when they have a snake in their mouth, or when their head is in the mouth of another snake.

On the other side of it, Black Racer Snakes are eaten by birds, mammals, kingsnakes and ummmm, obviously larger Racers. 😀

The FINALE!

So, we have a clear example of survival of the fittest, or a clear example of bullying, depending on whose side you were on. Another exciting week for me since, as we all know, I need a new encounter story each week and in my never-ending habitat of a yard, Mother Nature refuses to let me down. Mom is handy that way.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

It’s in the Bag…in the Garden

The caterpillar in the featured photo was dining on my Tropical Sage.  I thought it was a good time to republish my lost article on these fascinating creatures that serve as prey for birds, wasps, reptiles and others.

Dateline:  June 1, 2012*

A Bagworm, likely Psyche casta

With my admiration for the insect world, I’m not exactly sure why I find bagworms so creepy. After all, they are merely moth caterpillars with coats on. Perhaps it is the name…conjures up visions of a bag lady sleeping in a box. Now, there are other caterpillars who adorn themselves with debris such as the Wavy Line Emerald Moth and no one calls them bagworms! I suppose since they dress in pretty flower petals rather than leaf debris or sticks that they look a little friendlier. Fellow team member Gail Eichelberger spoke of those caterpillars some time back.

Somehow Emerald Moths look nicer….even though they wear “coats” too!

I guess I’m a little shallow because I don’t view the Emerald Moth larva with the resulting minty-green colored moth as unattractive, but I cringe when I saw bagworms…that is until this week.

Upon close inspection, you can see the caterpillar’s head which makes it less creepy

I was looking to photograph some bees. Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) is a magnet for bees so I headed over to the front patch. There I saw a bagworm MOVE! A new encounter for me. I just assumed they hung there in a type of cocoon stage, not as an active feeder. As I looked closer I saw the little caterpillar’s head sticking out. Suddenly he wasn’t so creepy. I was able to put a face to the unflattering casing.

I got a shot or two but when I got real close the head retracted. When I moved the leaf slightly for a different view, the darn thing fell off…at least I thought it fell off. I found another and got close with the camera and it fell like a ton of bricks, if a ton of bricks was about 2 inches long. I never touched it or the plant so I guess they have a defense mechanism and throw themselves to the ground when threatened. What I find most interesting is that everyone I know that removes bagworms from their plants tosses them on the ground. I suppose they think they are pupating…like I said, I always did. And while I’m sure some are in the pupal stage of life, it seems that others can get right back on the horse (or in this case, the Loosestrife) with no problem.

A different subfamily of Bagworms on Bayberry, though I’m not sure of the true ID

Bagworms may eat leaves, a lot of time on conifers or deciduous trees and some are a pest of orange trees. Some eat lichen, some eat scale insects but they have birds and other insects as predators. Thus, they have their place in the food chain. I haven’t attempted to raise any in captivity to see the resulting moths, but I will at some point, since some of the moths look rather interesting with their feathery antenna. These would be the males of the species since the ladies are flightless and stick to the bag.

This time on Saltbush

Perhaps not the most welcome in a beautiful wildlife garden, but as a relative of a butterfly, I figure they deserve some attention.

Another on Sycamore

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 1, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

The Wildlife Garden Fashionista

Lots of paper wasps scouring the plants these days for critters to provision their nests.  Thought it was a good time to republish my lost post on my relocation efforts.

Dateline:  June 24, 2011*

So, I notice a small paper wasp nest (Polistes spp.) being built at the only bush that is close to the house…I mean, what’s up with them? They have nearly an acre of other areas to set up shop, but noooooooooo, they pick the one shrub that is next to the patio, a groundsel (Baccharis halimifolia). I didn’t want to kill them, they are pollinators, after all and it is National Pollinators Week. So, I headed into the computer to see what I might do. I knew to wait until dusk, but not much else. I put “pesticide-free paper wasp removal” into the search engine. I got a list of entries, but after looking at one or two, I discovered they were still about killing wasps, just being more eco-friendly by luring them into a container with sweets where they would slip and drown in soapy water. Not exactly what I had in mind.

It’s all about teamwork when paper wasps build

Take two. I put “paper wasp nest relocation” into the search engine. Hurrah…there is an Ehow entry entitled “How to Relocate a Wasp Nest Safely”.

1. Find a new location for the nest. 2. Splash the nest with a bucket of water and the wasps will fall down and be unable to fly because their wings will be wet. 3. Remove the nest and tack it up at its new location. When the wasps dry out they will find their nest. 4. Let the wasps do their job and just leave them alone.

The usual caveats were there: wear protective clothing; if you have allergy to bees or wasps find someone else to do this, etc.

So, I don my protective gear: mosquito head net that I purchased for “I don’t know what reason”. Good! face covered. Double layer nylon jacket (which must have been designed with wasp relocation in mind), long pants, socks to stick the long pants into, double layer of garden gloves.

Only the most fashionable outfit will do!

I head out onto the patio with a bucket of water obtained from a rain collector. I walk slowly over to the bush, splash the bucket all at once over the nest and step away, prepared to grab the nest and run before the wasps have time to get up. GUESS WHAT? Not a single wasp moved, why they didn’t even miss a beat in working on their home.

Ok, since I am already dressed like a fool, let me try this one more time. Another bucket, SPLASH…ah, this one got their attention, but still one or two were too busy fashioning the most beautiful nest in the world to even notice. Next, it’s time to try the age-old method of shooting them with a force of water and let them do their own da*n nest relocation.


I head over to the main hose bib that is located down at the well pump. I go to take the sprayhead off so I can use it at the coil hose I keep up at the patio bib. Of course, Murphy’s law…I can’t budge the sprayhead so I find a plastic one that probably should have been placed in the trash 2 years ago. I attach it to the hose on the patio. Well, those coil hoses are not even 1/2-inch tubing and couple that with the sprayhead that was virtually useless, I got a dribble of water that barely reached a foot in front of me, let alone forcefully all the way to the nest. I pulled the sprayhead off, stuck my finger into the hole of the tube and got a more forceful flow of water which I aimed at the poor wasps, who were probably so doubled over laughing that they dispersed long enough for me to knock the nest off with a long stick.

I was extremely satisfied that I escaped unscathed so I coiled the hose back next to the bib and headed in to remove my gear since it really wasn’t attire conducive to the 83-degree temperature. I passed by the window to see the wasps back at the same spot, reassessing their housing location.

Their nest gone, they just start to rebuild

Tomorrow is another day and I suspect I’ll be doing a repeat of today. It’s tough being a beautiful wildlife garden steward, it might just be easier to get the HotShot! NOT!


During National Pollinator Week and at all other times, please take the high road and avoid pesticides.  They don’t differentiate between the unwanted and the beneficials in our gardens.  Explore alternative means to redirect those who might not fit into a certain situation.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 24, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Native Plant Gardening…Reward Worth the Wait

This is a reprint of an article I wrote a few years back (with additional photos).  It is still timely today.

Native Plant Gardening…Reward Worth the Wait
Organic Gardens Today, Spring 2011 Volume 1 Issue 1 Page 10

Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) © 2013

Some gardeners need instant gratification…large trees, plants in full flower and the like. I prefer to experience the reward of watching the transformation of a small seedling, shrub or tree that grows up before my eyes. Gardening with native plants here in Florida is perfect for me.

Native plants tend not to provide instant satisfaction (if your definition of satisfaction is having an immediately mature landscape) but do provide long term results. They slowly evolve, taking a year or two to establish the root system needed to help the plant withstand our rapidly changing weather. We have harsh, hot summers and having a deep-root system helps the plant stay hydrated so it doesn’t wither and die. We can have a freeze during winter which will kill off the upper vegetation, but if the root system is well developed, that plant will spring back as soon as the warmer weather appears. This is important for two reasons…in the long run, you save money and you save work. It isn’t necessary to replace plants every year that succumb to the cold or insect pests and you don’t have to foot a hefty water bill with plants that have thirsty shallow roots.

This photo was taken in 2006 so you can see it grew quite a bit compared to the photo above from 2013.

After the two years or so, they quickly catch up to the more mature offerings but they have staying power, standing up to whatever the weather may throw at them. They are naturally adapted to the Florida conditions. In the meantime, fill in with some annuals until your plants start putting their efforts into the above-ground foliage which will truly be prolific once it comes.

Coral Honeysuckle. If the pole wasn’t there, it would just creep along the ground

I planted a Coral Honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens), two years ago and stuck a large pole in the middle for it to climb up. It looked a little odd in year one and even last year, but my patience is being rewarded this year. Heavy growth has begun to work its way to the top and the beautiful red flowers are sure to draw the hummingbirds. It is now flourishing and I don’t have to worry about watering or fertilizer, it has done it all on its own . I even plan on taking a couple of cuttings to get it started in other areas of my yard. All it took was some patience on my part.

Slowly it grows

Plants native to the area are also adapted to the fluctuating rain of Florida that can be feast or famine, depending on whether it is summer rainy season or our usually dry season of winter. A great many natives are drought tolerant and yet will survive occasional flooding. Native plants perform better by keeping balance among native insects thus avoiding the need of pesticides. You save money by eliminating the need to buy chemicals that can harm your health or poison the aquifer. In the long run, native plants provide for life and the biodiversity needed to support a sustainable landscape. Plants provide for the insects, insects provide for the reptiles and birds; birds keep the pest populations in check and so on up the food chain.

eventually it fills in to provide the perfect nesting location for this mockingbird

I’m blessed to live in a rural location. Unfortunately, the lot was clear-cut except for a few pine trees, but the soil was not altered and it has a pond. Before I learned about native plants and their importance to wildlife I purchased a lot of plants from the local big box stores which are now deceased because I have a pine flatwoods-type ecosystem, parts of which is also occasionally host to standing water. I discovered that the plants I had been choosing were mostly exotics and would do little to feed the resident native wildlife population that I so enjoy watching from my windows. The more I learned, the more I began to let the vacant areas restore themselves naturally and the result is a rich array of numerous wildflower, shrub and tree species and with that insects which serve as food for the many birds that grace my property. One of the more prolific shrubs is southern bayberry that produces great nesting coverage, is a larval host for the Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly as well as several moth species and produces copious amounts of waxy berries that feed birds and mammals through the winter. Mockingbirds are building nests in these shrubs this spring.

Bluebirds March 2010

I currently have bluebirds nesting on my property, as I have for the past several years. They choose my place because I don’t use pesticides and I keep a meadow area that has rich diversity in the form of insects and berry producing shrubs which are so necessary for them to rear their babies. Most baby birds are reared exclusively on insects to meet their protein needs. A feeder full of seed just doesn’t fit the bill to nurture young fledglings. In addition to bluebirds, I’ve also had a couple of Great Crested Flycatchers, Brown-Headed Nuthatches and Pileates Woodpeckers who chose the native shrubs and pine snags as nesting areas. It is quite interesting to watch nature at its best. I also have numerous native green anoles because I allow my shrubs to attain height necessary for them to compete with the invading Cuban anoles. I have regular visits from herons, hawks, kingfishers and even an eagle or two.

You can learn a lot about the value of natives plants in the book Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy which brings to light the importance of redefining what our home landscapes should look like. The time has come to start choosing native plants moving forward in your landscape needs, in order to preserve habitats so future generations can experience the native birds, butterflies and mammals that were more prevalent when we were young. Buy plants from local sources that can be found via Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN). Consider visiting a meeting of your local Florida Native Plant Society Chapter which offers educational programs to help you accomplish landscaping in a water saving, wildlife friendly manner. Most programs are free and the public is encouraged to attend. That’s where I learned a lot and the results are amazing.

This one was propagated from an offshoot of the original plant