Tag Archives: florida

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.

The Mydas Touch

Dateline: May 13, 2011*

Lynx spider eating stink bug (a good thing)

I’m always excited when I find a new species to add to my “Florida buggy life-list”. Yes, I maintain a sort of life list of the insects and spiders that I am able to identify in my beautiful wildlife garden. I then try to determine whether of not they can prove to be beneficial in the garden. Some are a mixed bag, such as the Green Lynx spider. It is a spider, so it eats destructive bugs and is a food source for birds, but it also has a habit of eating pollinators. I tend to like them having observed grasshoppers in their clutches. I just hope that the pollinators are smart enough to avoid their grasp. At any rate, I suppose it is Mother Nature keeping us in balance. If a certain insect seems destructive, I learn how to control them without resorting to chemicals, much as I did with the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle where I used handpicking as my method of control. (Editor’s note:  as I have evolved and learned more about wildlife gardening, I would not put handpicked insects into soapy water, I would merely squish them and place them in the compost pile to be recycled back into the earth.)

Lynx eating pollinator (not such a good thing)

Amazingly, I find new insect species all the time, despite having lived in this location 5 years. This week was no exception. I was outside with the dogs having an afternoon stroll in record high heat when I saw a VERY LARGE insect land on the wood chip mulch pile. I was excited because it was something I had never seen before. I had to race to get a camera and unfortunately, the one that was “loaded” was my zoom camera which I generally don’t use for the insect pictures since I’m not good at getting close-up detail with it (thus the less-than-quality photo). I zeroed in as best I could and snapped a few shots. My initial thought was that it was some sort of robberfly.

When “new bug” flew off, I headed to the computer to do some research. “Black orange robberfly Florida” was what I put into my Goodsearch search engine that is powered by Yahoo (not a Google fan). I scanned the results and saw there was a listing from whatsthatbug.com, a favorite insect ID site of mine. Sure enough, there was a picture of my finding, Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus). Then, as I always do, I headed on over to bugguide.net to confirm my findings and to see what information I could learn:

Adults sometimes found on flowers, presumably taking nectar. Some sources say adults take caterpillars, flies, bees, and true bugs. Others are skeptical of this. Bugguide further expands, “Eggs are laid singly in soil or rotting wood. … Mydas larvae prey on beetle larvae, esp. those of June beetles. Larvae pupate close to soil (or wood?) surface… Adults are active only in mid-summer. Mating system in this species unknown.”

Mydas Fly

Since the University of Florida didn’t have it listed as a “Featured Creature”, I turned to the University of Arkansas who, in addition to behavioral data, stated:

“…Adults were long presumed to be predaceous, but the lack of mandibles along with other features of mouthpart morphology and observations of flower feeding tend to indicate that they consume nectar.”… Larvae are associated with decaying stumps and logs, where they feed on scarab beetle larvae.

Bottom line: I vote beneficial. Flower feeding always produces some pollination ability. Got grubs? Mydas Fly larvae will help in control, although the birds might not want to share those delectables.

What are your favorite insects?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.


When Birds Recycle

Dateline: February 3, 2012*

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) found and used this nest in a Live Oak tree

I was out and about on Sunday, cleaning up after the dogs and looking for wildlife of interest. January is not always the best time of year to find things, but Florida has experienced a relatively warm winter and spring is in the air so we have our fair share of resident wildlife meandering around. I spotted a Saltmarsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) and a Pinewoods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis). I passed by the young live oak and was leaning down under some branches when I heard the sharp whistle of a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) taking flight. The sound created by their flapping wings during takeoff is unmistakable. I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so startled. Heck, I was close enough to feel a breeze in my ear.

I stopped and leaned under this live oak tree

I often see the Mourning Doves, which are native to all of North America, high up in the trees, hanging out on power lines and down pecking around the bottom of the pond in a section that is exposed during the current dry season. They are fond of the areas alongside the driveway which has a lot of Cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) growing, a plant native to most of North America. Cranesbill provides an excellent source of natural, non-toxic bird seed, if you avoid use of chemicals in your yard. Be wary if you use a weed and feed, as this plant is on many chemical company hit lists to be killed for some unknown reason.

Doves like a view from power wires

I’d never really seen the Mourning Doves low in the trees before, so I glanced at where the bird may have been perched and noticed two bright white eggs, sitting up in a nest. I laughed because now I understood why the bird was at my ear height.

Two perfect eggs

I’m not sure whom the doves’ real estate agent was, but I’m hoping they got a good buy on this nest. It is a “resale” home that was constructed by Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) last year. The Mockingbirds didn’t have much luck with this location. I have a picture of four eggs one day, and none a day or two later. Victims of some raccoon, hawk or snake’s breakfast, I suppose…or perhaps all three met for elevenses.

Pop (?) keeping those eggs warm!

I looked up the Mourning Dove nesting behavior and found that they lay 2 white eggs in a loosely made nest of sticks and twigs placed in low bushes and tall trees, more rarely on the ground. As you can see in the photo, there are two eggs, soooooo…MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Now, was this a lazy dove? Since Mockingbirds also make nests of loose sticks and twigs I’m attributing the reuse by the dove as being smart and eco-friendly, you know…wanting to recycle…no unnecessary development.

I’ve often been conflicted about whether to remove a bird nest after the miracle of birth has taken place and they leave. I know as I monitor my bluebirds, I need to remove the nest a day after they fledge as it is extremely dirty and can harbor parasites. Bluebird parents will come back a week or two later and quickly build a new nest for a second or third brood if there is enough time left in the season. I’m more inclined to leave the nest of Mockingbirds. I have witnessed them reuse the same nest on more than one occasion. On the other side of the coin, I’ve also had wasps take over a previously used nest, in a less than convenient location. Decisions, decisions.

Cranesbill, also called Wild Geranium are great natives to attract doves.

Mourning Doves are the most hunted migratory game bird (think squab) in North America although they are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since they are granivorous , they eat agricultural crops such as corn, millet, wheat and even peanuts. For a native plant diet, they exist on a variety of grasses, spurges (Croton spp.), goosefoots, lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), saltbushes (Atriplex spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Pricklypoppy (Argemone spp.), Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp), Smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), hemp (Cannabis sativa) (my kinda bird), Purslanes (Brassica spp.), Pines (Pinus spp.) and my favorite, Wild Geranium (G. carolinianum), as stated above. Get those meadows planted but if you include Cannabis make sure you have bail money.

Grit is essential component of diet, but why they eat it is unknown. But eat it they do, since they routinely spend some time on my crushed rock driveway. They also like some animal matter, primarily snails. The need for surface water is imperative, so to attract these guys, start planning those ponds.

Snails, such as these native Southern Flatcoils (Polygyra spp.) are a part of a Dove’s diet.

These birds appear to eat fast. They save the food they forage in their crop (that dangly thing at their neck) and digest it later when they settle in to roost. The young are raised on “crop milk,” a unique secretion of the cells of the crop wall provided by both mom and pop.

Mom (?) sees that incubation is continuous

Mourning Doves incubate continuously for 14-15 days, with the male often taking the day shift and the female taking the night shift. They will build where humans frequent and if they feel threatened, parents will use the “nest distraction” technique (fly out of the nest in the hopes you don’t see it) or “broken wing feign” strategy (flapping around on the ground, as if injured). Right now, I need to keep away from that area. I got one photo of the eggs since the opportunity presented itself (glad I keep my point and shoot camera with me). I also got the photo of pop? sitting on the eggs from a distance. Ahhh…the beauty of a zoom camera. Now, “grandmama” will patiently await little heads to appear, but I will do so from across the yard watching through field glasses.

As far as the nest? I’m just curious if the Mockingbirds were savvy enough to downplay the reason they decided to move.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 3, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Planted for the Birds, by the Birds

Dateline: August 13, 2011*

Propagation can take place by several means: we break apart large clumps of plants at the roots and plant elsewhere or share with others, we gather seeds and plant or share with others, the wind blows seeds, mammals and other critters carry seeds from place to place and there are many other methods, including propagation by bird. They eat the seeds, which travel through their systems, and plant them, “pre-fertilized” when they stop to rest and…ahem…poop. Sometimes they plant in excellent locations, sometimes in not so excellent locations.

Eastern Bluebird grabs a Beautyberry to plant

I thought, today we’d walk around part of my Florida yard to see what appeared along the fence line, under the flagpole, under a wax myrtle shrub and under a pine. I’ll call this my “Planted for the Birds, by the Birds” tour. At my house, as long as the birds are planting Florida native plants, they pretty much have free rein in their choice of location. Sometimes where they choose to locate a plant will become the centerpiece for a new gardening bed.

Palamedes Caterpillar on Red Bay during better days

Let’s start with a lovely Red Bay (Persea borbonia) that was planted next to an alien Pyracantha. This showed up under the branch of a very tall pine. Now, many people would have removed the Red Bay as being out of place, but I mulched around it and tried to help it grow, with the intention of removing the Pyracantha once the Red Bay reached a certain height and was established. I loved that I had something native coming up to replace a non-native that was gifted to me when I first moved here. The Red Bay did well for two years, even encouraging Palamedes Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio palamedes) to leave their eggs, but it succumbed this past winter. Maybe it didn’t like the location but I think, in part, it met its demise since it was taken over by galls. Now, galls alone shouldn’t be harmful to this type of shrub, except for the fact that it was such a youngster and there were a LOT of galls. I still plan on pulling out the Pyracantha** after I replace the deceased Red Bay with a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) seedling that was passed on to me from a native plant sale. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the Red Maple. I still hold out hope that a Red Bay will appear somewhere in the yard and “stick” next time.

I think too many of these red bay psyllid galls resulted in the young tree’s demise

In the front section of the yard I noticed that a Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) was coming up all on it’s own along the fence. This will happen often since birds will eat the berries and rest on a close-by fencetop. Think: WOW these birds are smart to plant a natural hedge to cover that ugly fence. While this might be in a somewhat crowded location, I like when nature plants things and I pretty much have decided to go with the flow. Beautyberries provide food for insects, birds, mammals and humans alike, and their bright purple-y-pink berries are eye-catching so from my perspective, they are a welcome addition no matter where they appear.

a baby beautyberry among blackberries and native grasses at the fence

Not far from the new Beautyberry is some Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) crawling it’s way out from under a Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera). I have a friend who told me I don’t want Virginia Creeper in my yard. Well, maybe she doesn’t want Virginia Creeper in her yard, but I’ve been gathering free seedlings from another friend who, like me, thinks it is a great vine that will provide for wildlife. We tend toward more informal gardening styles. Again, Virginia Creeper provides berries for birds to eat and good coverage for nesting purposes, so I think they are pretty smart to plant it for themselves and I’m only happy to help by adding more to their landscape design.

Virginia Creeper creeping out from Under Wax Myrtle is ok by me

Along the same fence as the beautyberry I noticed black-eyed Susans had begun to sprout on the outside. My initial planting of Rudbeckia hirta was in the back pollinator garden area. Based on new location, I’m guessing that birdy picked a few samples seeds and is sharing the wealth in the front garden. The more, the merrier.

They added black-eyed Susans next to the culvert among the camphorweed

I was thrilled this year to see Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) appear next to one of my pine snags. The berries are a favorite among song birds, but use caution in maintaining a bird-planted location as they are also poisonous to humans, so keep them out of the reach of inquisitive kids. Young shoots are said to be edible, but given that the mature plant is poisonous, I wouldn’t play around with it myself. I’ll stick to other ethnobotanical uses such as using the juice to make dye or ink which we’ve used at outreach programs to teach kids about great everyday uses for native plants. A while back a Pokeberry began growing in an area near my electric box. I decided to move it outside the back fence. It didn’t make it. That’s one of the reasons that I generally let the locations chosen by the birds be the locations that the plant gets to stay in. How I wish I had just let the darn plant be. My tinkering killed the poor thing and I’m sure the birds were annoyed with me.

Big green leaves and interesting buds make pokeberry pretty even before the fruits show up

I also discovered an Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) stalk growing out of the planting area around the flagpole that holds my American flag. The mockingbirds just love to rest up top and I’m sure that’s how this newcomer arrived. Perhaps not the best location…I suppose I could have dug it up and moved it, but I thought back to the pokeberry brouhaha and opted to just leave it be. I now look on it with loving eyes, although I’m sure others would be rolling their eyes.  But that’s ok. It was planted for the birds, by the birds, and maybe they just know best.

The elderberry stalk is almost as tall as the flagpole

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 3, 2010 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

**Update: The alien is gone and instead of putting the maple in, I  added a one gallon Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) which seems to be adapting nicely having gotten its first berries in 2016.

Will the Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly Survive?

Dateline: September 7, 2012*

The Palamedes is a Majestic Swallowtail Butterfly that relies on Redbay and Swampbay trees as larval hosts

There’s an errant killer on the loose in Florida and other southeastern states. The ambrosia beetle likely arrived on packing materials from Taiwan, Japan or India, their native lands. First discovered in Georgia in 2002, these beetles carry a fungal disease known as Laurel Wilt and it is rapidly spreading.

I had heard about laurel wilt several years ago and didn’t give it much thought since it was far north of my county in Central Florida. Then, in 2009, I started to notice on my own street globs of brown, dying trees within the wooded areas. These are our beloved Redbay (Persea borbonia) trees. I had a small sapling that some bird had planted in my back yard and it seemed to be doing quite well. Then, it died a quick death. I called Forest Services and they came and took the sapling, but there was no conclusive proof that it was laurel wilt that killed my particular tree. However, the Forest Ranger did report that the trees in our wooded areas were victims of this disease that has no cure.

I was pleased to see an early instar of the Palamedes Caterpillar in late August

Not only is this invasive critter killing off our trees, there is also the potential that the Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio palamedes) could become extinct since the Redbay is the only host plant for this butterfly. Two other butterflies can use the Redbay as a host, the Spicebush Swallowtail (P. troilus) and Schaus’ Swallowtail (P. aristodemus), but both of these species have additional plants that can serve as hosts so the loss of the Redbay isn’t as threatening to them.

A later instar of the Palamedes Butterfly taken in 2010 on my now-deceased redbay

I was thrilled recently when a Facebook friend correctly identified a mating pair of butterflies that I identified as Black Swallowtails as Palamedes. Hope springs eternal. I have noticed a few Redbay saplings appearing along the fence line planted by resting birds that, after feasting on the Redbay berries, expel the seeds well “fertilized”. The scent of the leaves when crushed between my fingers is heavenly and proof positive that it is a Redbay or Swamp Bay.

A mating pair gives hope that the species will be maintained

In checking a young sapling recently, I was rewarded with the siting of an early instar palamedes butterfly caterpillar. He was munching away and will hopefully grow big and strong, build his chrysalis and emerge as a wonderful reproducing adult.

There is some hope based on studies of the recovery of Redbay (pdf dated December 2009):

“While the presence of redbay regeneration and the occasional discovery of live, larger-diameter saplings in the aftermath of a laurel wilt epidemic suggest that redbay will not go extinct, populations of mature redbay are nonetheless being dramatically reduced.”

The loss of Redbay also affects a number of our fauna since the berries are a food source for several different songbirds, wild turkeys, quail and black bears. Deer browse the leaves. It is the only known host of the redbay psyllid (Trioza magnoliae) a type of insect gall that is host to a type of wasp and a type of midge and also serves as a bird food source. You can see where devastation trickles down the food chain.

Galls may not be pretty, but they are home to insects important in the food chain

What the long-term affect of laurel wilt and the loss of mature redbays will have on the Palamedes remains to be seen. I’m just glad that some are still making a home at my place. They certainly are a majestic butterfly and it would be a terrible tragedy to lose them.

To help prevent the spread of the beetle that causes laurel wilt and other equally devastating invasive pests, DON’T MOVE FIREWOOD for camping or transport it for home use. What seem to be simple actions can have terrible affects on our native plants and those that rely on them for their existence.

Update March 2017:

Since initially publishing this article I have MANY saplings of swamp and/or redbay trees gracing my property and find eggs pretty regularly. Just this week I spotted a Palamedes Butterfly laying eggs on a Swamp Bay Tree (Persea palustris) out front.

Palamedes Butterfly laying eggs in a Swampbay tree

Of course, now all hands are on deck to find a cure because of the potential harm to the Florida Avocado industry (note that Persea americana is an introduced species to Florida). Recent reports seem to have some potential good news in that area: “Repellant could keep dangerous beetles away from avocado trees”.

To me it is annoying that the efforts to rein in this invasive only proportionally increased when it was determined that a “cash crop” could be affected.  Sad that the same value isn’t place on our native plants or native fauna.   What does that say about our species?

* This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 7, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Don’t Skip the Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly

Dateline:  March 13, 2015*

I spotted a skipper butterfly flitting from leaf to leaf on the ticktrefoil (Desmodium spp.). This woody somewhat vine-y genus of plants has many different species.  I’m still not confident in my identification to species, and I tend to think that this one is D. incanum which is introduced rather than the native although there is some debate by experts that it may well be native and IRC in South Florida treats it as such.

Desmodium sp. likely incanum commonly called Ticktrefoil or Beggar’s-ticks

Since I saw the butterfly on this particular plant, at least I could be sure of the butterfly identification.
Shown on blackberry

Meet the Long-tailed Skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus). The photos of the adults are from prior encounters. I wasn’t quick enough to snap a photo of my early spring arrival.  I did however get a photograph of the eggs shown in the top photo.

Larval Host Plants: Numerous members of the Pea family (Fabaceae) including Beaked Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum), American Wisteria (Wisteria americana), Kudzu (Pueraria Montana), and ticktrefoils (Desmodium spp.) Source: Florida Museum of Natural History

Long-tail Skipper Caterpillar aka leafroller

These dicot skippers (Subfamily Eudaminae) are larger than some of the more typical grass skippers seen.  They are prolific at my place.  The caterpillars are commonly called “bean leafrollers” and are looked down upon because they may be a pest of commercial bean growing operations.  They have plenty of Desmodium in my yard so I won’t worry about snap beans or peas…I would just relocate the cats to an ornamental plant and save my “cash crops”.

They are nocturnal feeders so you can find the caterpillars hidden away in “tents” made of rolled up leaves…thus the common name for the wiggly stage.

They are quite beautiful butterflies.  The turquoise blue iridescent coloring of the back and body is elegant and looks like rich fur.

They are interesting to watch as they nectar at a variety of flowers.  If you are in their range, it is worth looking out for the Long-tailed Skipper in your beautiful wildlife garden.

nectaring on Aster

*This is an update of a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Florida State Butterfly: Zebra Longwing

Dateline: July 6, 2012*

Florida’s State Butterfly, the Zebra Longwing

I got a treat this past week when I saw the wide, lazy flapping of long black and yellow wings. A Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly was making the rounds near my passionvine. I’ve only been graced with this beauty of a butterfly on one prior occasion and it was only a fly-through. Hard freezes in recent years have relegated our state butterfly back further south, but I was assured by butterfly expert Jaret C. Daniels of the Florida Museum of Natural History that it was just a matter of time before this beauty made a comeback in our area. He came and spoke to our chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society several months back.

It has been worth the wait!

This larval host planted in shade will attract the Longwings

There is a trick to attracting this butterfly. While having passionvine available as the host plant, it needs a further step. This butterfly will not lay eggs on passionvine that is in the sun. It needs shade. After a couple of years of meandering around my property with a mind of its own, my Passiflora incarnata has snaked it’s way behind the shed and now is creeping up the tiedown on the west side of the shed. It is sheltered enough from the sun to FINALLY get one of these beautiful butterflies to lay some eggs.

lusters of eggs on new leaf growth

The Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida. Not every state has a designated butterfly, but many do. There are a few interesting things about this particular species. They are the only butterflies that eat pollen. The butterflies themselves will gather in groups to rest much like the monarchs do when they return to Mexico . I patiently await the emergence of many so I can witness this phenomenon.

early instar caterpillar can be mistaken for gulf fritillary larvae

They lay clusters of eggs on fresh new leaf growth. Early instars of the caterpillars resemble the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) larvae, which also use passionvine as a larval host. However, rather than the brash orange of the frits, the orange of the Longwings cats is just a slightly milkier white in color. Later instars will be the recognizable black and white.

later instars are easily recognizable as to species

Sometimes it just takes patience to attract wildlife to your garden. Research what is required to attract the particular species you are interested in. Keep in mind that you need to determine if they are compatible with your conditions. Do they belong in your area? Do you have the correct plants? Are those plants situated in proper conditions such as sun or shade?

Laying eggs….hopefully long into the future

I’ve waited 5 years while the P. incarnata set into the correct conditions to attract those that have added to my species life list this week. Other plants that will host this butterfly are yellow passion flower (Passiflora lutea) and corky-stemmed passion flower (Passiflora suberosa).  If you plant it right, they will come.

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

Viceroy Butterfly Puts up a Smokescreen

Dateline:  October 12, 2012*

Viceroy Butterfly Caterpillar makes short order of the leaves of this willow

The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) practices mimicry. One theory is that the Müllerian relationship with the milkweed butterflies helps keep the numbers of both species up by fooling birds into thinking they are all rather toxic, so less are eaten as appetizers.

From a distance, hard to distinguish from a monarch or queen, the black line across the hindwing is the giveaway

And, it may just be that all these species are unpleasant to eat. Mind you, I’m not tasting any of them soon, especially since the Viceroy adults are fond of feeding on rotten fruit, feces and carrion.

Ventral view

In Florida, they take on the coloring of the Monarch and Queen butterflies depending upon location within the state. These two milkweed butterflies build up toxins from their host, making them distasteful to predators. Viceroys are said to have a bitter taste from the salicylic acid consumed on its own larval host, the Willow (Salix spp.), Poplar and Cottonwood (Populus spp.), so they have their own off-taste, though it may not be as toxic as the Danaus genus of milkweed eaters.

The caterpillars look a little like bird droppings

The Viceroy has several subspecies giving it a wide and varied range across the United States and Canada. Another interesting aspect of the Viceroy butterfly is the fact that it forms occasional natural hybrids with the red spotted purple (Limenitis astyanax), who’s range covers the eastern half of the US. Although the same genus of butterfly, they are a mimic and a non-mimic. Gives new meaning to embrace all your brothers and sisters.

Different caterpillar instars have different looks. This one is darker so the “saddle” is more prominent

A while ago when I spotted my first viceroy butterfly, I read up on what was needed in the way of a larval host. I then specifically purchased a native willow tree to put next to my pond, which encourages them to reproduce in my garden, not just stop by for a spot of nectar. The same goes for other species of butterflies. Read up on what larval hosts will attract those butterflies that you’d like to see more of and plant it. I have been rewarded many times over, proving that if you plant it they will come.

Visiting Muscadine Grapevine in 2015

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 12, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Dateline: July 29, 2011*

Female nectaring on Bidens alba (photo from 2015)

A while back I was enthralled watching a pair of Crescent Butterflies fluttering around, preparing to mate so I made a video slideshow (1 minute 28 seconds) with a “tongue-in-cheek” caption narrative of my photoshoot.

The Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) is in the Nymphalidae Family, Subfamily: Nymphalinae which are commonly known as the True Brushfoots. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of about one to 1.5 inches. The larval host for this butterfly includes several species of smooth-leaved true asters (Aster spp. aka Symphyotrichum spp.) For nectar they like Bidens alba, Blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and, as can be seen in the video, Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).

“One of the most abundant small butterflies in eastern North America, the pearl crescent is fond of most open locations, including old fields, roadsides, and pastures. It flies quickly and low to the ground, and often perches in low vegetation. The pearl crescent is orange above with numerous black markings and black wing borders. Females are slightly larger than males and have more pattern elements. The hind wings below vary depending on the temperature and daylength the developing larvae go through. Cool-season forms tend to be darker and more heavily marked.”

shown on Sentitive pea, Asters are the larval host for Pearl Crescent Butterflies

Try adding asters and some of their favorite nectar sources to attract this fun butterfly. I hope you enjoy the show!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 29, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.