Category Archives: April

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.

Spring Preparation

Dateline: April 1, 2011*

I headed out to my local big-box store yesterday to lay in supplies for the spring season.

I grabbed one of those dolly carts rather than a regular shopping cart so I had enough room for the spreader and other items on my list. I loaded up granular weed killer and the largest bag of 30-10-10 lawn fertilizer that I could find to put in that spreader. The new concentrate of bug killer that attaches to a hose so it can easily be sprayed for great distances and coverage has a good shelf life, so I bought several. I found that there are also fertilizers that come in similar spray form so I added a few of them and a new hose so I can be sure to reach down around my pond area. I am so grateful that you no longer have to mix and pour. Spray and go is quite a handy feature. I got an automatic pump spray of the grass and weed killer to keep the driveway tidy. How cool are these new items?

I headed to the plant section and was awed by the light purple color of Mexican petunias and the fact that they grow and fill in so quickly so I picked up ten 1-gallon containers to cover a blank area of my garden. The Nandina looked so pretty and I’m sure the birds will be thrilled with the berries, so I got five 3-gallon containers to start an informal hedge.

I had a choice of mulches, but I love that pretty red color and since it is the cheapest choice, 20 bags of cypress mulch was carefully squeezed in my small SUV.

Then, I headed home to get started on making my yard beautiful.

April Fool!

If you care about life and the environment, never buy or use what I have listed above. There is rarely a reason to need chemicals in your yard. Consider making compost for your fertilizer needs, avoiding monocultures and providing a balanced habitat so that nature can do the work for you. Don’t rely on the store when it comes to plants…check the plant’s scientific name to ensure that it is not invasive to your area. Avoid exotics that don’t belong in the habitat you are blessed with. Concentrate on working with nature rather than trying to conform to what the purveyors of garden chemicals “think” your landscape should look like. Don’t conform just because that’s what plants are offered at discount nurseries…take the high road and buy quality native plants from a native plant nursery. For your mulching needs, use recycled yard wastes or mulch made from removal of invasive melaleuca or bags from sustainable sources such as pine straw.

Don’t be fooled by the chemical companies who tout unnecessary elements of garden care. They are in business to make money. And we here at Wildlife Garden have no motivation other than trying to promote and protect wildlife for our future generations by offering conversation from our own experiences in providing natural habitat for God’s creatures.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 1, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Enjoying Little Things in the Garden

Dateline:  April 25, 2014*

Little Yellow Butterflies

I started a blog series in January 2013 that I call “Central Florida Critter of the Day”. I publish a photo highlighting the fauna of Florida, be it insect, spider, bird, mammal, reptile…you get the idea.  Some form of living creature that I find hanging around in or near my beautiful wildlife garden.

I try to provide a little information about these creatures, sometimes what they eat, sometimes what eats them and their benefit to the garden.  I always try to include an appropriate follow-up link to find further information.

Little Yellow Butterfly Egg on Sensitive Pea

This week was no different, so the other day I published a photo of the egg of the Little Yellow Butterfly. That’s the common name for Pyrisitia lisa. Appropriate, eh?

On Facebook, someone left the comment “Goodness, how did you see that egg?”  Truth is I have old eyes and if it were not for the fact that I was chasing the adult butterfly around to get a photo, I never would have found it on my own.   How did I see it?  Hmm, did I EVEN see it?

Fact is, I pretty much leaned down with the ol’ point and shoot camera and snapped a photo of the location where I saw the butterfly maneuver her ovipositor toward the host plant. An ovipositor is an organ at the end of the female butterfly’s abdomen through which she deposits her eggs. Mom butterflies lay their eggs on or close to the plants that the young will eat. Known as larval hosts, it is handy to know what plant species provide food for butterfly larvae in your area.

Great Southern White Butterfly Eggs on the underside of a Pepperweed leaf

Some eggs are miniscule and the only way I am ever going to see them or the caterpillars is to watch where mom drops the eggs.  This Little Yellow chose the larval host Sensitive Pea (Chamaecrista nictitans), a lovely plant native to Florida.  This particular species of butterflies use both members of the pea family that grace my property.  The other plant is Partridge pea (C. fasciculata).  Some of you may know these as the genus Cassia, a synonym.

This will give you an idea of how small butterfly eggs are.

Fast forward a day or two, I was getting ready to run some errands and as I was approaching the car, I noticed a Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) dancing around some of the wildflowers.  I knew there was the larval host among those wildflowers.  At my place, this butterfly uses Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) as a preferred host.

Since I don’t have a phone with a camera, I made a mental note of the location and jumped in the car.  Later on, after I returned and the groceries were put away, I headed out to the general area where I saw the butterfly and crouched down to nose around some of the plants.  I was rewarded by finding a few eggs.  Then I noticed some minute caterpillars on the plant as well.

Southern White Caterpillar

I have found the eggs before by watching mom lay them, but I never was able to find the caterpillars.  Now I know why.  OMG, are they SMALL.

So I share the photos of my adventure to give you an idea of what you will be looking for if you are inclined to hunt for butterfly eggs.  It’s a lot harder than an Easter Egg hunt.

Happily there are a bunch of cats!

Do you kill or pull unsightly “weeds”?  Since I was a little girl there are a lot less butterflies fluttering around.  Oddly, around the 1960s it became fashionable to have the perfect manicured lawn, and people used chemicals and muscle to removed “unsightly” things that peeked up through the carpet of green.   It would seem there is a correlation between these two events. As we change and reshape Mom Nature’s habitat, the native fauna is suffering and even disappearing.

Cats try to hide in the fold of a leaf, but the leaves are very skinny

Now you know where the butterflies have gone.  Many have disappeared because people don’t realize that by removing certain plants they deem unnecessary, they are, in fact, throwing away their butterflies.  Don’t be one of those people.

This 10 footer should have been easy to spot 😉

Instead, learn to appreciate and encourage these larval hosts. Get out your magnifying glass and hunt around. Or do what I do…point, shoot and head to the computer to zoom in on the fascinating little bits of life in your beautiful wildlife garden.

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)
Southern White Butterfly. Don’t throw these beauties away

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Reward of “Weeds”

Dateline: April 13, 2012*

Pepperweed, larval host, edible by humans, so the seeds are somewhat prolific, roots are shallow allowing you to keep it in check

Central Florida. I’m a big believer in “let it grow, let it grow, let it grow” (hey, we have no white stuff down here, and I love that tune). I’ve learned to be the great observer in the garden and often by happenstance I get my best wildlife encounter rewards from a passing flash in the yard. This is when I generally learn something new about nature. This week, while walking the garden I got a few more rewards from “weeds”.

Technically, a weed is “a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing it is not wanted.” For some reason our society (present company excluded) has taken to planting things which are technically out of place and calling it beautiful. The plants that should be actual residents of the given habitat are scalped, pulled or, worse yet, sprayed to keep them at bay. Fact is they are doing nature and our environment an injustice by replacing what Mother Nature is trying to provide naturally for her creatures. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I appreciate the less than lovely more so than what is touted as proper landscape materials in many garden magazines.

I have a meadow of rich diversity. Many would call it a weed patch. The plants occur naturally, so they are far from weeds in my eyes.

Great Southern White Butterfly Caterpillar eggs. Sometimes the weeds provide the rewards

The other day I was watching a white butterfly flit from plant to plant. It was spending a lot of time around the Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum). I tried to photograph the butterfly but it moved too fast, or perhaps I am just to slow. I’d seen similar before and knew I had a photo somewhere but I really wasn’t positive of the identity. Searching, I discovered it is a Great Southern White (Ascia monuste). I’d say it is a positive I.D. since the larval hosts include members of Mustard family (Brassicaceae) and Pepperweed qualifies. Further reading stated eggs are laid groups of about 20 and on close inspection of one of the plants, I saw tiny yellowish-orange dots dangling from a leaf of the plant. My old photo also shows blue antenna clubs.

Great Southern White Butterfly If you don’t leave some less desirable native plants, you’d miss out on this beauty

Being a little selfish and not wanting the lizards to eat the eggs I potted up the plant and placed it within a butterfly net. Since then the eggs have disappeared but I haven’t seen any caterpillars. Of course caterpillars are cagey. Read on.

American Lady Caterpillar on native cudweed shows the reward of weeds

Yesterday I saw an American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) busy by the Cudweed (Gamochaeta spp.). Again I tried to photograph, but it was not to be. I did head over to the plant it was near to inspect for eggs, but old eyes couldn’t find any. Then I noticed a web-type tent at the top of the plant and took a small stick to knead it apart. AHA! A caterpillar! I grabbed the plant and headed over to a display case with a screened top. Again, I am being selfish, but my curiosity and educational thirst has gotten the better of me. I’ll feed it daily and wait for it to go through metamorphosis.

Hidden in a web-like tent on this cudweed, is a future American Lady Butterfly

I felt so rewarded by my new encounters. So, if you want to learn close-up about your native fauna, stop fighting Mother Nature and consider that the beauty of your garden could be coming from the visitors that will grace it. If you leave the flora for those that belong in your beautiful wildlife garden you’ll see beauty beyond belief. Reward from “weeds”…Food for thought.

American Lady Butterfly….the Reward of Weeds

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Ladies of the Day

This is a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 3, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

A gal from April 2015 resting on some native rush.
A gal from April 2015 resting on some native rush.

Notwithstanding their common name, I’ll start by clarifying that they aren’t all ladies.  After all, in North America the order odonata need male and female to reproduce. I’m not clear how these insects acquired their common name.  Damselflies are an interesting group of insects. Predatory in both larval and adult stages, these are insects you really want to visit your beautiful wildlife garden since mosquitoes are on the menu.

Male Citrine Forktail Damselfly
Male Citrine Forktail Damselfly

Pretty much attracting damselflies (Suborder Anisoptera) goes hand in hand with attracting dragonflies (Suborder Zygoptera).  They have similar needs.  Water source, no pesticides and some dry brush as landing stations.  They have slightly different looks which makes differentiating the suborders pretty easy.

How tiny are they? this one is on the seeds of Ticktrefoil (Desmodium sp.)
How tiny are they? this one is on the seeds of Ticktrefoil (Desmodium sp.)

This is the Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata) one of the Narrow-winged Damselflies (Family Coenagrionidae).  The Citrine Forktail is said to be the smallest damselfly in North America.citrinedamselflyHatPinApr2014This species behaves a little differently than a lot of odonata.  I often see them far away from the water, landing on grasses in the meadow.  This year they are in record numbers at my place.  I sometimes see 3, 4 and 5 at a time often just before dusk.  Considering that they are about an inch or less long, it is pretty amazing that I can see them at all.

Mom heads out on her own to lay the eggs
Mom heads out on her own to lay the eggs

Unlike many damselfly species, the Citrine Forktail pair doesn’t stay together in a copulating posture while laying eggs.  Mom goes it alone, laying eggs on vegetation on or near the surface of the water.

she lays eggs on vegetation very near the water
she lays eggs on vegetation very near the water

The color variations on this species are vast.  There is an orange female and an olive female (which sometimes looks pale blue to me).  The males have yellow abdomens with greenish color bodies/heads.

laying eggs
laying eggs

It is nice to see this delicate insect flitting from sedge to sedge. And knowing that they may be munching on some biting insects in the process makes them a personal favorite in my beautiful wildlife garden.

Olive colored female on Florida Native Plant Southern Bayberry; Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
Olive colored female on Florida Native Plant Southern Bayberry; Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera)

Garden Bells are Ringing: the Heath Family

This is an update to an original tale published by Loret T. Setters on April 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Rusty Lyonia lives up to its name with the colorful pubescence
Rusty Lyonia lives up to its name with the colorful pubescence

I love spring. You can almost hear the pretty bell flowers of a few shrubs in my native plant garden ringing as they sway in the breeze. I’m talking about members of the Heath (Ericaceae) family. The Heath family includes about 70 genera with over 1,500 species of plants. I’m sure you have at least one offering from this extensive family in your own garden (think: azaleas, rhododendrons, laurels, blueberries or cranberries as potential candidates). This spring I had 5 different species in bloom in my garden.

Coastalplain Staggerbush a.k.a. Rusty Lyonia has creamy flowers that are urceolate.
Coastalplain Staggerbush a.k.a. Rusty Lyonia has creamy flowers that are urceolate.

Two members of the Lyonia genus are residents in my natural area. Coastalplain Staggerbush (L. fruticosa) is one of the more visually interesting plants. The common name of Rusty Lyonia comes from the colorful pubescence that is sprinkled over the new growth of leaves. It is thought to protect new growth from harmful insects. This shrub is found in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. It has a high drought tolerance yet holds its own in areas inundated by seasonal rains. It is popular with deer and pollinators.

The flowers of Fetterbush change as they age
The flowers of Fetterbush change color as they age

The second member of this genus is Fetterbush (L. lucida). The native range covers a bit more of the southeast. The pretty flowers, which can be a rich dark or pale pink depending upon the age of bloom, are constantly abuzz at my place. Solitary bees seem especially enamoured of this beauty. This species may be toxic to livestock and “specific use of Fetterbush by wildlife has not been reported” although the habitat associated with it are important to a huge variety of southeastern wildlife including the “black bear, white-tailed deer, bobcat, marsh rabbit, squirrels, diamond-back rattlesnake, alligators, pine barrens tree frog, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.”

Pale Pink and pretty is Fetterbush
Pale Pink and pretty is Fetterbush

Next up is Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.). There is a native species of blueberry in nearly every state in the US (click on the “Subordinate Taxa” tab to bring up the maps of species appropriate for your area).  My restored area produces Shiny Blueberry (V. myrsinites) which is evergreen but has a low compact growth with fruits smaller than cultivated. Still, they are tasty to many mammals (including me) and birds such as ruffed grouse, wild turkey, quail and the northern bobwhite.

Shiny Blueberry has compact bell shaped flowers
Shiny Blueberry has compact bell shaped flowers

Other bird species that use a larger variety of Vaccinium spp. include ring-necked pheasant, scarlet tanager, gray catbird, thrushes, towhees, thrashers, and bluebirds. This genus of plants has excellent wildlife benefit and is a worthy addition to any wildlife or edible garden.

Fruits of Shiny Blueberry are tasty and attract wildlife
Fruits of Shiny Blueberry are tasty and attract wildlife

In 2012 I purchased a Tree Sparkleberry (V. arboreum) at a native plant sale to extend my Heath family collection.

Sparkleberry newly planted in 2012
Sparkleberry newly planted in 2012

It was a slow grow in the beginning, but I finally got some fruit in 2016 and it appears to be established and ready to reach high to the sky.  Often new plantings work to establish their root systems for the first few years so don’t be overly concerned if your plant isn’t producing abundant leaves or fruits during this important establishment time.

In 2016 it has produced red fruits
2016: first year for the Sparkleberry fruit

Finally, I have a small smattering of Dwarf Huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa) which look very similar to blueberries.

Huckleberry flowers may be the prettiest Heath of all
Huckleberry flowers may be the prettiest Heath of all

It is, however, a different genus. Gaylussacia spp. are native to eastern US. This genus of plants is known to provide extensive wildlife benefit including food for multiple mammals and birds, nesting cover for birds and it also serves as a larval host for The Huckleberry Sphinx, (Paonias astylus). Henry’s Elfin and the Brown Elfin within their range. They also are a nectar source for bumblebees and other native bees. Definitely a worthy addition to the garden if appropriate for your area.
huckleberry042510

So, make a visit to your local native plant nursery and explore all the options of the Heath Family. You’ll be glad you did and so will your local wildlife.

Life Cycle of the Long-Leaf Pine Tree

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 16, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
GreenpineconeMay2013-1024x768I live in a Pine Flatwoods Ecosystem and have been allowing several Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) and Slash Pine (P. elliottii) trees to naturally restore on various spots of my property. The property had been clear-cut by prior owners, sans a few of these pines.

NP-pinebloomJune2012Longleaf Pine is an evergreen, hurricane resistant tree that can reach a massive height of up to 120 ft. It is native to the southern United States from Virginia down to Florida and across to Texas.  It is monoecious (bears both seed and pollen cones in separate structures on the same plant).

There are various stages of growth in a Longleaf Pine Tree. In addition to several mature specimens I have about 15 or more that are in various growing lifecycles.

Male flower pollen cone is called a catkin.
Male flower pollen cone is called a catkin.

Seed stage: seeds are winged and are contained within female pinecones.  The male pollen cones are called catkins. The seeds are sometimes referred to as “pine nuts” and are used in cooking.

female cones contain the seeds.
female cones contain the seeds.

Grass stage: can last one to seven years, depending upon competition with other plants. This is when the root system is established. At this stage, more grows beneath the soil than above and the pine is virtually immune to fire, which is a common occurrence in pine ecosystems. Note that the tree is capable of sprouting from the root collar if its top is damaged.

In the grass stage it can sometimes be mistaken for native grasses such as wiregrass.
In the grass stage it can sometimes be mistaken for native grasses such as wiregrass.

Bottlebrush stage: a white tip, known as a candle, begins to emerge. The bottlebrush stage is when it works on gaining height, bark begins to form, but no branches are apparent. This stage can last a couple of years.

this year’s newest bottlebrush stage member
this year’s newest bottlebrush stage member

Sapling stage: As the young pine reaches 6-10 feet, it starts to form the lateral branching of this stage which lasts several years.

When lateral branches begin it starts the sapling stage.
When lateral branches begin it starts the sapling stage.

Mature stage: where they grow from 60-110 feet.  It begins producing cones when it reaches about 30 years of age or 10 inches diameter. Pinecones are fun to use in craft projects such as natural bird feeders (smear with peanut butter and roll in seeds) or sprinkle with glitter to make a lovely holiday table display.

a different tree beginning sapling stage
a different tree beginning sapling stage

Old growth: (nearly nonexistent with clear cutting in the early 1900s)

This is mature stage, bordering on “old growth” stage
This is mature stage, bordering on “old growth” stage

Death: The height of these lanky trees just begs lightening bolts to hit so they meet their demise. Other causes of death can be disturbance of root systems.  At this point they are referred to as “snags“.

When the lightening strikes, a new life stage begin for the tree
When the lightening strikes, a new life stage begin for the tree

After Death: the last stage and one that is surprisingly vital to providing for wildlife in a biodiverse ecosystem.

Pileated Woodpecker visiting snag shows why the after death stage is enchanting
Pileated Woodpecker visiting snag shows why the after death stage is enchanting
pine straw
pine straw

The needles make excellent mulch known as pine straw. The Long Leaf Pine tree has needles in bundles of 3 (or occasionally 4)  known as fascicles. The needles are 8 to 18 inches long.

an older bottlebrush stage
an older bottlebrush stage

The Slash Pine species are similar but grow a little more quickly. To distinguish Slash Pines look for needles in fascicles of 2 or occasionally 3 that are 5 to 12 inches long.

Red bellied woodpeckers are fans
Red bellied woodpeckers are fans

Sixty-eight species of birds utilize Longleaf Pine trees. It addition, it provides habitat and food for numerous mammals and reptiles.

Pine warblers seek insects in decomposing wood
Pine warblers seek insects in decomposing wood

Insect decomposers recycle the rotting wood. These decomposing insects are vital protein food resources for developing birds and mammals.

Lollipop stage:  A cross between grass, bottlebrush and sapling stages, possibly a specimen regenerated from the collar after damage.  Ok, I made this stage up  :-)

Lollipop stage
Lollipop stage

So, as you can see, all stages play an important role.  It is an amazing journey to watch the age progression of the Longleaf pines. Patience required but amply rewarded with so much beauty, diversity and activity.

Textures of nature: the pine candle closeup
Textures of nature: the pine candle closeup