I remember when I first moved to Florida I saw what I thought was a HUGE mosquito, thinking that there were mutant bugs down here, big enough to drain a body of blood in one gulp. They certainly look like mosquitoes, but the poor critters are swatted and squished all due to a case of mistaken identity. The flying mimics are actually crane flies and they don’t bite.
Crane flies are beneficial in our gardens. Some species’ larvae are aquatic while others spend their youth in the soil. Both break down organic matter, returning nutrients to their respective habitats. As with most of nature, occasionally too much of a good thing can pose a problem. Some crane fly species can be a pest to agriculture. That’s why it is so important to have a balanced garden. Avoid pesticide use as chemicals kill the good bugs as well as the bad, and often kill those bugs that will control others to avoid them becoming pests.
Both larval and adult crane flies provide an important food source for birds, reptiles, spiders, fish and other insects such as dragonflies, mantids, centipedes and beetles. Fishermen have been known to use the larval stage of members of the family Tipulidae (Large Crane Flies) as bait. As you can see, there are plenty of predators to keep the population in order.
Tipulidae is the largest family in the Order Diptera. Given this, identification can be mind-boggling. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a crane fly at that identification key link. Suffice to say I was unable (or unwilling) to crawl around counting wing lines or antenna segments…that and I really don’t wear my reading glasses when I am walking around the property calling on critters for a photo shoot. Old eyes can’t see tiny nuances.
Crane flies undergo complete metamorphosis. Some species have an elongated rostrum (think Pinocchio), a straw-like appendage used to draw nectar from flowers. Thus, we can conclude that they also perform pollination duties.
I noticed that most of the time when I see the adults fly it is when it is slightly damp or overcast, so if it is daytime and you see a mutant mosquito, take a good look before you swat. You may be saving the life of an insect that will help your wildlife garden grow more beautiful.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 11, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
Pine needles fall and drift lazily into the pond as the Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) produce copious amounts of seeds that stick to the dogs’ fur, my socks and every bit of clothing in the laundry. The Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) berries change with their wonderful aroma and pretty blue coloring. The American Beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) ripen to purple joy. The fruits of the Dahoon (Ilex cassine) turn bright red alerting the birds that look down from the blinding sunny skies to this important food source as they return to their winter homes from the north. The sun is much lower in the sky and intense in brightness but the breezes keep us cool.
The edible garden renews itself preparing those delicious winter tomatoes and peppers. Celery that looked dead from the heat begins to green up again. Asters prepare their burst of blooms to provide nectar for the bees, butterflies and other pollinators that are with us year round.
Yes, autumn occurs in Florida and while it may differ from other parts of the country, we still have nice subtle shades of browns, yellows and oranges heralding the change of season. The Cypress trees (Taxodium spp.) turn from green to yellow to brown as they begin to drop their needles in anticipation of winter. The Red Maples (Acer rubrum) provide a wonderful color palette.
Tall native grasses bend in the wind as the fluffy tan seedheads shake free to travel in the breeze, planting their next generation and giving the birds a natural meal. The rich golds of several Goldenrod genus (Solidago spp., Euthamia spp. and Bigelowia spp.) coupled with Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia) and Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) would give any Northeastern state a run for its money come late September and October.
I’ve heard countless times how some people could never move to Florida because they would miss the seasons changing. When I first moved here I was convinced I would too, but I have found that I love autumn in Florida just as much as I enjoyed it up north. The seasons here change just like everyone else’s do; it is just a matter of watching to see the beauty that Mother Nature provides in your specific area. It certainly is glorious no matter where you live.
*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 21, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
It is Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) season at my place. Every year at this time they set up shop…often you’ll find them hovering and protecting their egg sac for weeks. Momma does tend to the little ones. While technically spiders are not insects as they have 8 legs (they are Arachnids), most of us refer to them as bugs since they hang out in plants and can be creepy crawlies.
In the past I’ve seen the Lynx spiders mostly on the Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) or Carolina Redroot(Lachnanthes caroliana) Occasionally they’ll live and nest in the leaves of the American Beautyberry Shrubs (Callicarpa americana). All of these plants are native here in Florida.
This year I found they are expanding their choice of flora, perhaps it is because they have expanded their taste palate. Tasty morsels in various forms appear all over the garden.
The Green Lynx Spiders are hunting spiders that live on a diet of insects. While it often partakes in pest species such as leaf-footed or stink bugs, it may just as easily grab pollinators, making it a mixed bag of beneficial depending on your view in the wildlife garden.
This week I had a fun encounter in that I saw two Green Lynx Spiders wrestling over a pollinator. I’m guessing a syrphid fly. The spiders were lurking for a few days on the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis), an emersed plant at the edge of my pond. The larger of the two spiders had the insect in its grasp. They started a sort of boxing match as the small one headed down the plant taking a swipe at the larger. As they were bobbing and weaving they each swatted at each other while the other flinched.
Water Cowbane, a member of the carrot family, is a Florida Native larval host for the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. I did notice some missing caterpillars, but didn’t actually catch the lynx spiders in the act. Since there were Longjawed Orbweaver Spiders (Tetragnatha spp.) and Arabesque Orbweaver Spiders (Neoscona arabesca) nesting nearby, I’m not going to place the blame unless I see with my own eyes. It could have been any of the lurkers, some with their fancy webs and quick movements.
I didn’t hang around long enough to observe which of the two Lynx won the battle of the bug, but both spiders were there the next day and the formerly-flying insect was gone. Perhaps they decided on a truce and to share dinner.
The Green Lynx Spider uses a silk line, but doesn’t actually construct a web. It captures its prey by pouncing on the unsuspecting victim, likely when the victims are getting drunk from feeding on nectar and not paying attention.
I was a bit dismayed that on one particular day, I saw one Lynx with a pretty little dragonfly in its grasp. Alas, I’ve learned that nature has its ways and we shouldn’t place a higher value on the life of one native species over another.
At any rate, there is plenty of Spider activity throughout the garden. I am patiently waiting for the miracle of birth as there are many egg sacs in the various plants around my place.
Past years has shown that a spider birth is an event not to be missed. If you think that octets might be a handful, just imagine a hundred spiders all vying for sustenance. It is a sight to behold. Of course you’ll probably get a bit itchy at the view.
The Green Lynx Spider is not considered harmful although as with most spiders, it can bite. Of course if you are allergic to arachnids, you should be prudent in interacting with any spider.
With their eyecatching bright green coloring and their willingness to stand their ground while being observed, the green Lynx Spider is a welcome addition to my wildlife garden.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
When most people see aphids on their plants they immediately seek help on how to eliminate them often grabbing a bottle of soapy water or some other recommended concoction. Me? I get positively giddy with delight.
You see, aphids are on one of the low rungs on the web of life partner’s ladder. They serve as a feast for others, growing a variety of pollinators and ultimately reptiles, amphibians and birds. Where there are aphids, critters on the next link in the food chain are sure to follow.
I’ve written before how aphids are much like butterflies in that they flock to particular host plants. You can often identify the species by using the aphid host database although you might only narrow things down to genus.
This week I got giddy…VERY giddy. I spotted some aphids on the Bidens alba, my all-time favorite Florida native plant. You would be hard-pressed to find any aphid damage on the B. alba…it grows quickly and any chewing or sucking damage is quickly covered by new leaf growth. More importantly, what followed my spotting of the aphids was a parade of critters and the benefits abound.
In my research I learned about a new-to-me aphid web of life partner. The Braconid wasp. While cropping photos I noticed an insect I was not familiar with. Turns out it was an “aphid mummy”. Braconid wasps in the subfamily Aphidiinae are parasitoids and oviposit their eggs in aphids. What I was seeing was an aphid that had been parasitized. Soon a tiny beneficial wasp will emerge.
The waste aphids produce is known as [honeydew]. I found the following of interest:
So, if you remove aphids from your plants you may defeat attracting future generations of beneficials. Given, I would treat aphids on a houseplant by wiping them off since natural predators won’t have ready access to perform pest control indoors and thus the plant would suffer. On the other hand, its seems that aphids on your outdoor plants can benefit your garden by attracting those wonderful pollinators, predators and parasitoids especially those whose larvae use aphids as hosts.
Don’t spray the aphids and then buy commercial ladybugs in an attempt to keep them in check. Likely, you’ll only to have them fly off. If you already removed the aphids or discouraged them in any way, adult ladybugs will go to lay their eggs where there is an ample supply of the host for their young…like my house. 😉
While other branches of the Bidens had signs of aphids from time to time, the branch in the original photo was scoured clean within a day. Give natural control a chance to develop and hopefully you will see the circle of life perform beautifully at your place too.
Tip: Group different genera of plants native to your area using the “right plant, right place” theory and avoid monocultures. That way your garden will attract a mix of native insects and predators and never look overly chewed since it will have balance just like Mother Nature intended.
ENTFACT-105: Ladybugs by Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Hoffmann, M.P. and Frodsham, A.C. (1993) Natural Enemies of Vegetable Insect Pests. Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 63 pp. (Anthony Shelton, editor). Accessed August 27, 2017, from http://www.biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/
I’m an observer of nature which is how I learn things. Sometimes nature can throw a curve ball. Through my kitchen window I spotted a Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly nectaring at the Bidens alba just off my patio. Being a favorite butterfly of mine I grabbed my trusty Nikon point and shoot from the dining table and headed out to try to stealthily creep up to get a photo of this beauty in constant motion for my “Central Florida Critter of the Day” blog. I got a few shots and was satisfied I probably had a good one to share.
Since I only write about what happens in my own yard, I learned a long time ago to not use a SD card in my camera because I’d never get back in the house if I had unlimited shot capacity at hand. I allow myself the 20 or so high quality photos that can be captured on the camera’s internal memory. That way I get back inside within a reasonable amount of time, am not overwhelmed with too many photos or choices and I don’t get a sunburn. I also rarely go back inside without full capacity on the camera being used…I believe in efficiency and there is ALWAYS something of interest to be photographed in nature. It is a habit that has served me well…although it can be a bit frustrating at times to get that “memory full” message when an amazing creature is in front of you. Still, there is a delete button to make room for a once in a lifetime shot.
At any rate, I glanced up and saw a Gulf Fritillary Butterfly(Agraulis vanillae) fluttering over where the Florida native Maypop Vine chose to pop up this year. I figured I’d finish off my photos over there. That’s when I noticed that she laid an egg on the blackberry stem hidden within the maypop. I took a photo as she fluttered beneath my hands.
I got another shot of her actually hitting the intended maypop target with an egg. I was in the middle of taking a photo of a planthopper when I noticed Miss Frit had laid an egg on a single silk strand of a web of the resident Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider (Leucauge argyra). The butterfly continued to flutter around when I saw her lay an egg on some Sida rhombifolia. That’s when she fluttered so close to me that I swear she was trying to lay an egg on ME. This butterfly had gone rogue…laying everywhere. Even the Bidens alba was “egged”.
So, what did I learn?
Not all butterflies have good aim;
Just because a butterfly lays an egg on a plant doesn’t necessarily mean it is a host plant;
The adage “Close only counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades)” needs to add “and butterfly egg laying”
There were plenty of visitors stopping by including a dragonfly, a few wasps, ants and others that I’m sure won’t care which buffet the eggs are on.
There are all sorts of ants and I was drawn to a group that was hanging out on a leaf of Bidens alba, a Florida native plant that is a bundle of biodiversity. This group of ants was like none I had ever seen before. Medium sized, shiny and with a heart shaped abdomen. What I found more interesting is that it was a reasonable gathering of say 50 or so, not thousands as I would normally expect of ant conventions.
They were engrossed in eating some white looking glop, the color resembling Elmer’s glue gone bad. A lone fly was off to the side, standing watch. I snapped a few photos to see if a closer look via zoom would tell me what was so fascinating as to draw this crowd.
I learned these valentine looking scavengers are called Acrobat Ants. They are in the Genus Crematogaster. I’m not ready to get these guys down to the species level with 10 different species in Florida that look rather alike to me. I got itchy just looking for Genus.
The habit of bending the gaster up over the thorax when disturbed is likely how it got the common name Acrobat Ant. The worker looks a little like he’s walking on his hands, so to speak.
Even a close zoom look didn’t reveal what the glop was but based on the listed foods, I figured it must have been bird poop.
The next day I returned to the scene of the crime and all the ants were gone, as was the fly. There, on the leaf was a tiny spine bone.
My first thought was to dial up Dr. Temperance Brennan. Of course she’s a fictional anthropologist and these bones seemed way too small to be human, so I opted to use an Internet search engine. “T-i-n-y V-e-r-t-e-b-r-a-t-e” I tapped into the search box. Up popped some news results about a certain frog being the world’s smallest vertebrate.
I recalled seeing a lot of the juvenile invasive Cuban treefrogs in recent weeks, so I thought that frog might fit the bill. Next search: F-r-o-g S-k-e-l-e-t-o-n. Up popped a very nice image of a labeled bullfrog skeleton.
Eureka!!!! The vertebrae matched my find. And, the small pointy piece is a urostyle. And to think I failed biology. Look at me now Ms. BiologyTeacherWho’sNameIForgot.
I wonder where the rest of the frog bones went. Did the acrobat ants bury the evidence? Who did the actual killing? Was the fly merely a witness? Or did he have a role in this massacre? Well, I’m no “Bones”, so it shall remain a mystery.
At any rate, acrobat ants play a role in carrion cleanup, like vultures but on a smaller scale. And, I’ve learned that they are an important food resource for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker:
It seems that Acrobat ants are found in damp or rotting wood so they aren’t as big a house pest as many other ant species. They may even cue you in to water infiltration problems if you find them in your home. Another interesting new species to add to my buggy life list.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 2, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
In 2009 when I began writing about my garden encounters I felt good that I was getting the word out about the importance of native plants in the scheme of things. At that time I had no idea just how important they are since I was clueless about how each creature performs a vital role in the rungs on the food chain and often are dependent on a single plant as a host. It was a hobby I embraced as I found I liked learning about creatures’ interaction with plants and I also love to spin a yarn as anyone who knows me could attest.
With each new encounter I became more aware of the circle of life and that even aphids can be important in the scheme of things. Killing one creature that we may not hold in awe ultimately will result in less food for someone higher up. I threw away my soapy water bottle in which I dropped leaf-eating beetles. I stopped picking off the bagworm “cocoons” that I was told were so bad for my plants. I started the practice of “live and let live”. A chewed plant is not something to frown about …it is something to rejoice. It just might help grow a baby bird in the making.
I have a few blogs that I write. Back in January 2016 I received a comment on one of my “Central Florida Critter of the Day” posts from an arachnologist in Switzerland.
Dr. Martin Nyffeler, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Basel was requesting the use of my photo and encounter of a Regal Jumping Spider who had a treefrog in his clutches. Dr. Nyffeler has studied and published many research papers on spiders. Things I find fascinating…like spiders eating various critters including fish and bats. He was in the process of putting together a research paper on spiders eating vertebrates and my treefroggy encounter qualified.
I was thrilled that someone internationally known for spider research was interested in my little rendezvous with nature. I knew that my encounter was not a normal, run-of-the-mill occurrence, but I didn’t realize that it might just be rare.
Well, another year has passed and we are in the midst of National Moth Week. It started back in 2012 and I have reported on moths I find at my place each year (2012, 2013, 2014). In keeping with that tradition, I am reporting this year on some different moths that have made an appearance at my place for 2014/2015. While the list is not all-inclusive it will give you some idea of what I find and, if I know, what plants attract them to my garden. There are a great many of repeat visitors from years past and several that I haven’t had time and/or success in identifying.
In 2014 I reported on my first encounter with an adult Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). The larval host has had a recent scientific name change to Oenothera simulans from Gaura angustifolia from which the butterfly species appears to have been named. Southern Beeblossom is still the common name. I just wonder if the poor butterfly is going to need identity therapy. 😉
Another new-to-me adult was the Palm Leaf Skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). Prior to this year I had only encountered the damage of the larvae to my Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Since I only have one of these trees I do clip off the severely affected fronds since it is a young tree and I don’t want it to meet its demise. I have been doing a little research on the moth and Chalcid Wasps are indicated as potential predators. I have seen adult Conura sp. wasps at my place and Horismenus ignotus is reported as “likely the primary parasite of the larva” (source: Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington pg. 76-7) and a Tachinid fly may be a parasite of the larva. I’m on the lookout now for these natural predators with my fingers crossed.
This week I spotted a Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) shown at the start of this article. A brightly colored and diurnal (day flying) moth that is another personal favorite. According to HOSTS database, larval hosts are in the Rubiaceae family of plants, including Spermacoce brachysepala and S. tetraquetra. While I don’t have those specific species at my place, I do have two similar buttonweed species in that genus.
As with many moths, getting a photo of the Florella Moth was somewhat tricky. Many moth species are inclined to land on the underside of plant leaves and are quick to fly when the big bad photographer stoops down to get a shot. I lucked out that after a three minute chase, it landed on the leaf of some Bidens alba which was somewhat taller so I didn’t have to bend so far.
Mournful Sphinx Moth(Enyo lugubris) larvae feed on plants in the grape family (Vitaceae) including Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species. Still haven’t found a caterpillar for this species, but I see where HOSTS database also includes Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) as a potential host, so I’ll have to start paying close attention since that native vine is also growing at my place.
Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.
Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) a.k.a. Puss or Asp caterpillar moth is polyphagous (eating many different species of plants) including oak, citrus, and at my place: wax myrtle or the redbud that is shown in the picture. The caterpillars of this species contain toxic spines so I remove them from the areas of the yard that the dogs have access to in order to prevent potential envenomation. I tried to raise one in a breeding container and it moved to cocoon stage, but never emerged and the cocoon began to disintegrate. Perhaps I’ll see an adult some time in the future.
Groundsel Plume Moth (Hellinsia balanotes) a.k.a. Baccharis Borer Plume Moth uses Groundsel Bush a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as the host. I’ve plenty of larval hosts for these babies.
This Samea sp. may be a Salvinia Stem-borer (S. multiplicalis) or Assembly Moth (S. ecclesialis). Both are found in my locality and are difficult to distinguish.
A Crambid Snout Moth (Desmia sp.) is another hard to identify to species. It may be D. funeralis or D. maculalis which use the same species of hosts as the above mentioned Mournful Sphinx. D. deploralis is another possibility since I have Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), a Florida Native Plant which was documented as a host via a bugguide.net entry.
Since I mentioned Wild Coffee, always happy to share a photo of the tiny and beautiful Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) moth that also feeds on it. Here it is nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida.
There are thousands of beautiful moths, so check out what native plants fuel their needs and if you have the appropriate habitat, begin adding them to your beautiful wildlife garden to encourage these important beneficials who then fuel those higher up in the food chain.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 24, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
The third annual National Moth Week is winding down. This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014. The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.
The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars. One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.
I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh. So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.
I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes. Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.
So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container. While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.
I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio. I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp. The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.
I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!
After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source. After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators. Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.
For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013. As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden. Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.
I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day. Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.
There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.
And there are shiny moths:
I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.
How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.
There are moths that have unusual shapes:
And some that have interesting markings:
Some are in love:
Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.
Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth. And put on your party hat to join the festivities.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.