All posts by Loret

Fritillary Butterfly Gone Rogue

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly Egg on Passiflora incarnata (Maypop) a native larval host

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.

Egg on Blackberry? What gives?

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.

Ok, Using the maypop, that’s more like it.

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.

What’s it gonna eat when it hatches wayyyy out there on a spider silk strand?

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”.

On Bidens alba? the maypop tendril is right there, come on…..FOCUS…get some better aim.

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”
Oh my….another miss….this time on Sida sp.

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.

Addendum:  came across a research study which indicates there may just be a method to their madness: “Egg-laying patterns in butterflies in relation to their phenology and the visual apparency and abundance of their host plants”

 

Ants: Walking Wallendas in My Garden

Dateline:  August 2, 2013*

Acrobat Ants (Crematogaster) at the Bidens buffet

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.

Is the fly guarding the group? or is he trying to figure out how to sneak in

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.

Is the fly sick of waiting?

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.

Food for Acrobat Ants include

“honeydew, extrafloral nectar, scavenged protein from bird and other droppings, carrion”

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.

Okay, what the heck is this?

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.

the remaining vertebrae and urostyle made identification as a frog pretty easy

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:

C. ashmeadi workers make up the majority of this woodpecker’s adult diet, especially in the winter (Hess and James, 1998).

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.

When Garden Drivel Meets World Research

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.

Regal Jumping Spider (Phidippus regius) with invasive cuban treefrog

So, my encounter was included in Dr. Nyffeler’s research paper “A vertebrate-eating jumping spider (Araneae: Salticidae) from Florida, USA”. This week it was published in the Journal of Arachnology, 45(2):238-241 put out by American Arachnological Society. It was one of 8 Florida encounters included in his paper so I’m feeling pretty darn special. *My* spider is picture “D”. I’m also feeling pretty darn good that my mindless drivel may actually have a useful purpose.

In my retirement hobby I feel like I’ve made some extraordinary strides. From writing the newsletter for the local Native Plant Society Chapter to blogging about weekly encounters in my garden, to an interview for the statewide Guide for Real Florida Gardeners (2013 issue) published by Florida Association of Native Nurseries, to a 2013 spread in the nationally published Humane Society Magazine All Animals, and in 2017 The Humane Gardener book by Nancy Lawson. Now I’ve gone International. What’s next…a movie? I can see it now “Lizards on a Car”. HA!

National Moth Week 2015: Central Florida

Dateline: July 24, 2015*

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.

Clouded Crimson Moth on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom

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. 😉

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

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.

A second Palm Skelentonizer shows the antenna
Palm Leaf Skeletonizer can do extensive damage to the fronds of cabbage palms

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 on Bidens alba

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 Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.

Puss Moth Caterpillar DON’T TOUCH!

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.

Samea sp. Nectaring on Bidens Alba

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.

common name of the caterpillars is grapeleaf roller

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.

Coffee anyone?

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.

This Puss Moth caterpillar cocoon never produced an emerged adult.

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.

Not yet identified. Do you recognize me?

*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.

Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

Dateline:  July 25, 2014*

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.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

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.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

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.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
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.

preparing for release
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.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

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!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

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.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

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.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

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.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*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.

Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

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.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

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.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

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.

National Moth Week

Dateline: July 27, 2012*

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) is quite beautiful

It’s about time. This week we celebrate the First National Moth Week (July 23-29, 2012). Butterflies always get the Lepidoptera glory with their flashy colorful dazzle, but there are many more moth species than butterflies. A good many are nocturnal, there also are the diurnal, and some of them can give your basic butterfly a run for their money in terms of being colorful.

Many different angles of a looper moth. You can see how feathery the antenna of moths can be

Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.

Coffee- Loving Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) works on pollination duties

Moths help with pollination, serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats so they certainly have their place in a biodiverse food chain and are deserving of their own special week to bring their importance in a wildlife garden to the forefront.

Ornate markings make some moths special

Take some time and turn on an outdoor light and explore our nighttime flying creatures. Or walk around the garden with an eye to the shrubs and ground and you might find some of the more beautiful day moths. They are cagey though. Moths tend to land upside down, under the leaves, making for a challenging photo op. Given the shear numbers of species, it can often be quite a challenge to identify them as well.

Turn on a light and you might attract some pretty beautiful noctural moths such as this IO Moth

Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species.

Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

So, pick a moth, any moth, and determine what its host plant might be. Just like butterflies, moths are generally quite specific about what the caterpillars will eat. Then provide the host plant and sit back and enjoy another of our wonderful winged creatures.  You’ll see the light!

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria)

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

World Snake Day…And Me Without My Pungi*

Guarding the trash

I find is fascinating how coincidences just seem to automatically happen to me. Today I was headed out to put some cans and bottles into the recycling bin when I was startled by a visitor lounging atop my trash can.

closer look

Although this black racer snake is harmless in that it is of the non-venomous variety, I immediately called Jorja, my English Setter girl and put her inside since I wanted to take some photos and I knew she’d scare my sleek friend away. I did my photo shoot and took a video with my phone.

oh good. He’s into recycling too!

Excited by my encounter I posted the video to Twitter and alerted my good friend Cindy. I was actually kinda proud because she had posted a video of a spider who was doing laps around her lampshade just the day before and I was pleased to have an “action” post of my own.

A bit later in the day Cindy alerted me to the fact that it is actually World Snake Day. Seems there is a day for everything. But how coincidental is it that my buddy showed up on this particular day?

He was maneuvering around the mess on the patio

I’ve written about black racers a couple of times in the past highlighting in one article that they are cannibalistic after watching an encounter with my very own eyes].

climbing the walls

This one seemed intent on catching the exotic brown anoles along the brick skirting around the house. That is encouraging because those exotics take habitat away from our native anoles. Then it started to climb up the side of the house and I thought that was a pretty good idea since (s)he seemed to want to crawl behind the shutters where I know the invasive Cuban tree frogs lurk during daylight. Nothing I like more than my native friends keeping pesky invaders in check.

He did his best imitation of a venomous cottonmouth by flattening his head

The racer did slither along the fence providing more great entertainment and making for a really happy World Snake Day. Hope you enjoyed yours as well.

* Pungi is a wind instrument played by snake charmers on the Indian subcontinent.

Being Green in the Wildlife Garden

Dateline: May 17, 2013*

As I do every morning, I was walking around the property enjoying nature at its best.  I took my normal route past the Rusty Lyonia, Pawpaws and Dwarf Oaks, among others and headed down the bank of the pond into the section that dries up during Florida dry season.  I checked two small temporary pools created from recent rains and watched the tadpoles dance with the diving beetles.

Poised to catch a meal

As I turned my attention to the main section of pond, I was surprised to see a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) standing on the side, poised to grab a meal.  He seemed unfazed with my presence, unlike his compatriots the blue or white herons, which fly off the moment I open the door to the house some 150 feet way.  Not the first time I have met up with a green heron in my pond, but it is an unusual and welcome occurrence.

They stand very still

I watched and photographed as birdy moved stealthily around the perimeter, snagging mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) along the way.  As I walked, we seemed to move in unison, always at exact opposite positions along the pond edge.  He was diligent and obviously very hungry as we spent about 45 minutes doing our opposing dance.  I climbed up the bank at one point and wandered to another part of the yard.

Quick to grab their prey

When I returned, I noticed that the green heron had climbed aboard the tussock (island) at one end of my pond.  When the tussock first appeared, I had visions of wildlife making it a home and my new bird friend made the picture painted in my mind a reality.

Green Heron on the Tussock, my dream vision

Green Herons, small by most heron standards, are “one of the few birds that uses bait to attract fish, it drops such things as bread crusts, insects, and twigs onto the water.”   Fish is the primary diet along with frogs, insects and other invertebrates. They are vocal when they fly in or fly off.

Short and stocky

I gave him some words of warning, advising that I would be VERY annoyed if he ate my new turtle friends and he seemed to stick with the fare of the day, fish.  I hoped that he would snag one of the bluegills or large mouth bass that reside in the depths of the water so I could have that Kodak moment of a wading bird with a fish in his mouth.  It was not to be.  Without warning, my green heron friend flew off leaving me with a good feeling that I am not viewed as a threat to the wildlife friends who come to visit my native plant gardening paradise.

Green Heron is truly a beautiful bird

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on  May 17, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Beneficial Insects: Nice Lice?

Dateline:  April 27, 2012

A dragonfly lands on a branch of my Winged Elm

OK, I’m itchy…I’ve been sitting at the computer scrolling through bugguide.net to try and identify a tiny insect that was on my Winged Elm (Ulmus alata). I was actually giving the tree a once over because it is a larval host for Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and I wanted to see if I had any success thus far by trying to locate larvae. I specifically chose this tree to serve as a butterfly attractant for that species, which I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting.

Whatever is this mysterious bug?

I saw something stationed along a limb and I use the term limb loosely as the tree is a mere sapling. The creature was way too small to see without a magnifying glass or at least reading glasses. I took a photo and headed inside to see what I could see via the magic of computer zoom. It looked a little like a fat caddisfly if a caddisfly would have a bee shape abdomen and long thin antenna. Back outside to get a few more photos. Moving the stick of a limb every which way to get a better shot from different angles sent the little creature on a walk up toward the trunk. Satisfied that at least one or two of the numerous photos would provide a clue, I headed back in on my quest for knowledge.

Top of my new insect friend

Well, scrolling through all the caddisflies proved that wasn’t it. It looked a little like it should be a creature with an aquatic start, but I was having no luck. The wing shape seemed a little moth-like and tiger moth came to mind. Tiger and lichen moths are grouped together so I tried lichen in the search box since that was what the bug seemed intent on. Lo and behold, I found a critter that seemed close… stout barklice. EWWWWWWWWWWW! My immediate reaction was to reach for a nit comb and some Rid® shampoo.

It certainly has long antenna

I searched up a rung or two in the taxonomy and began scrolling through various photos of barklice. FINALLY, I found what I believe is my critter. It is in the Insect Order Psocodea that consists of Barklice, Booklice and Parasitic Lice. I was a little disappointed that it is called Common Barklice…with all this effort, there doesn’t seem to be anything common about it. The scientific name is Cerastipsocus venosus and they don’t feed on living plants. They work as a decomposer/recycler so it is a beneficial addition to the landscape. The Galveston County (TX)  Master Gardeners had this to say:

The term lice as part of the common name of these tree dwellers is quite misleading as these insects are neither parasitic nor louse-like in appearance. Upon being informed of the identification of this insect, the typical response of a gardener is a widening of the eyes and other momentary indications of being aghast! Our Galveston County Extension Horticulture Agent advises us to precede the identification with a notation of Congratulations, you have beneficial insects in your landscape!

I like their style! 😉

Up close, Barklice have a face only a mother could love

This particular species of barklice eats lichen so it is one of nature’s cleanup crewmembers. Some barklice build tents along the trunk and limbs of trees. People are often alarmed by this and seek help in what pesticides to use to clear up the culprits. Since the insects are not harmful the recommendation is to hit them with a spray of water if their habits offend your senses. That should send them on their way…at least for a brief time. Personally, I’m glad they are around at my place. I’m likin my lichen, but sometimes it can really put a coat on a tree so anything that keeps things balanced is a keeper to me. Of course, people have that aesthetic fear of nature…you know…so they feel compelled to disburse the BUGS!

Munching away on lichen they prefer trees with smooth bark

In reading I learned that they often travel in packs and are given the common name of bark cattle since apparently disturbing one sends them all on the run. Thank GOODNESS I only found the one rogue specimen…I may have had a heart attack if I’d found a herd of unidentifiable insects. And, with over 3500 species in Psocomorpha the fact that I was even able to FIND the type of creature, let along the seemingly exact species is a miracle…but I think it is more tenacity and luck. Now, I’m off to find my lasso and see if I can’t get in on the roundup to find this fellow’s friends!

Id say my barklouse is doing a good job!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.