Tag Archives: insects

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.

Bird Population Soaring

Pleased to report that in March 2017 I can add a new nesting bird species to my piece of paradise.  High in the Longleaf Pine Tree (Pinus palustris) Crows have taken up residence. Based on their sound they are more likely Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus) than American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Now we wait to see if they are successful.

This Crow’s nest (Corvus sp. likely ossifragu) sits in the top of a Pine Tree (Pinus sp.)

Dateline:  May 22, 2015*

four healthy eastern bluebirds

Spring 2015 is once again proving to be a banner year for bird broods in my beautiful wildlife garden.  Bluebird brood #2 has successfully hatched and 4 healthy mockingbird babies located in a holly shrub not 15 feet away joined them this past week.  It is dizzying watching the two sets of parents feed the 8 hungry mouths. As the days go by the number of feedings increase and the size of the insects get larger and larger.  Both sets of parents participate in feeding the youngsters.

Mockingbird eggs were in a shrub close to the bluebird nesting box

Earlier this month I spotted a baby dove nestling with one of the parents.  I was lucky to catch sight of them for the next day baby was on its own sitting in the nest and one-day later all was quiet.  The baby looked a good size and must have fledged in the early morning to avoid confrontation with the resident bird dogs.  Doves generally lay two eggs and apparently this brood only one hatched.

Dove baby and parent were spotted in thick shrubbery

Having the right conditions and plenty of readily available food in the form of insects is imperative if you are to be successful in attracting nesting birds to your garden.

two days later baby mourning dove was ready to fledge

The mockingbirds and doves like dense shrubs. The mockingbirds reused a nest from last year in a holly cultivar.  The doves reused a mockingbird nest from last year that was in a bottlebrush shrub.

Mockingbirds were caught in the act of hatching late one evening

I use to hem and haw over whether to leave nest remains or to remove them.  Now I leave them unless they are completely disintegrating.  The birds do refurbish them and I have had successful nestlings in the renovated nests.

Two days later mockingbird babies are getting feathers

Bluebirds are cavity nesters so I maintain a nest box in the yard.  I generally clean out the old nest about two days after fledge, but this time I didn’t get a chance to.  Mom and dad just brought in some clean materials and freshened up the existing nest and as can be seen, the four little ones don’t seem to mind “used” digs at all.

Mockingbirds like to nest in dense shrubs

Plant a variety of native plants to provide larval host materials for the insects that are key to making your garden attractive to birds looking to set up homes.  If they see easy access to a food source, coupled with the right type of habitat, they are sure to stop, stay and raise their young.  Then you can enjoy year after year of entertainment.  A variety of berry-producing shrubs will keep the adults around and satisfied through the winter.  During nesting season birds tend to eat more insects while later in the season and as the winter approaches they seek berries and seeds to fatten up.

The bluebirds start with small insects for the little ones.

I have a variety of blackberry, elderberries, holly and beautyberry shrubs that the birds all seem to relish.  Bluestem grasses, Black-eyed Susan, Bidens alba and a variety of other wildflowers feed the need for seed.  Be sure to have a readily available water source as well.  It can be as simple as a shallow dish or as large as a full size pond.

As the babies get bigger, so does the prey

And don’t be to tidy with the garden.  Leave some dried debris so they have hiding spots that also provides a plethora of building materials.  It won’t be long until the masses take up residence in your own beautiful wildlife garden and you can watch them soar.

This is an update of a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 22, 2015 at the defunct national beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Butterflies are Free

Dateline: March 6, 2015*

Planting beautiful and aromatic nectar sources is an easy way to attract adult pollinators. A flower garden will really draw them in. And everyone enjoys the beautiful colors of the flowers and the butterflies and bees that land.

Larval host plants may get them to STAY rather than just pass through your beautiful wildlife garden

But, it is equally important to provide for the next generation. This means planting larval host plants. Often insects are plant species specific when it comes to where they lay eggs or raise their young.
This of course involves accepting chewed plants or insect housing in the form of galls.

Insect Gall on Wax Myrtle…think pollinators…think bird food!

If you do some research into the butterflies and other beneficial insects that occur in your range, you may be surprised to learn that the plants you spend time yanking out or dousing with weed and feed are the very plants that our insect friends need to feed on. Those lumps you spray to prevent unslightly plant or tree “damage” may house some pretty important pollinators or pest control agents.

So, consider this: the lacier the leaves, the more young feeding which translates into a larger population of butterflies, moths, beetles, etc. which translates into more bird food.  Same with galls which may tarnish the pristine smooth look of a tree branch. Many provide housing for wasps or flies that are excellent pollinators as well as biocontrol for pest species. Think those chewed leaves or bumpy things are unsightly now? Have I given you something to think about?

The saying goes “You catch more flies with honey…”. Well, I say you can get more pollinators with “weeds”.

Fly gall (possibly Eurosta sp.) on Goldenrod
Unknown gall on Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia)
Redbay Psyllid (Trioza magnoliae) gall on Swamp Redbay Tree
gall wasp (possibly Andricus sp.) on live oak tree

Galls come in all shapes and sizes providing interesting textures on plants

Some of my favorite flora volunteers in my Florida garden are:

  1. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), a native groundcover that hosts the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterfly
  2. Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum), a native edible that hosts the Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) butterfly
  3. Cudweed (Gamochaeta spp.), a low growing nondescript flower that hosts the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly
  4. Southern Plantain (Plantago virginica) another low growing nondescript plant that hosts the Buckeye butterfly and provides seeds for numerous ground feeding birds.
  5. Indian Hemp (Sida spp.) a woody shrub-like member of the mallow family that hosts the Checkered Skipper and Mallow Scrub Hairstreak butterflies
  6. Southern Beeblossom (Gaura angustifolia) hosts the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae)…so pretty that it would give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.


This list is not all-inclusive and a few butterflies mentioned are generalists who may use more than one species of plant.  It is just a sampling of what is available to grow butterflies if you just stand back and let it happen. Butterflies in your range may be different and may use completely different plants, so do your research.

These native plants are free in my beautiful wildlife garden…so that makes the butterflies free.  Moths too!

For addition tips on attracting butterflies to your beautiful wildlife garden, check out the archive of The Ultimate Guide to Butterfly Gardening.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 6, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

A Dozen Diurnal Moths

Dateline: August 13, 2015*

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix)

Diurnal moths fly during the day rather than at night like the majority of moths.  Some are quite pretty and are often mistaken for butterflies.  One way to differentiate between the butterflies and moths is to look at the antenna.  Moths have feathered antenna and butterflies have clubbed ends.

So, here is a dozen diurnal moths that have visited my Central Florida yard from time to time.

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix) uses Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) as a larval host in my garden:

Bella Moth nectaring on Bidens alba

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria):

Frosted Wave Moth

Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae) uses Southern Beeblossom  (Oenothera simulans) as a larval host at my place:

Clouded Crimson nectaring on Bidens alba

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) uses Rubiaceae family of plants, including Buttonweed (Spermacoce spp) as larval hosts:

nectaring on Bidens alba

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula):

Diaphania Moth on Bidens alba (are you beginning to see a pattern?)

Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) host: Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa ) :

coffee moth nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida

Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) Hosts: grasses, lichens, and spike-rushes (Eleocharis spp.):

scape moth nectaring on Saltbush; Look at those feathery antenna

Litter Moth (Idia americalis) larvae feed on lichens:

Litter moth

Milky Urola Moth  (Argyria lacteella):

Milky Urola nectaring on Saltbush

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)  lavae feed on grasses; Ligustrum:

snowy urola moth

Yellow-Banded Wasp Moth (Syntomeida ipomoeae) Host: morning-glory (Ipomoea spp.):

wasp moth nectaring on Bidens alba

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) hosts: Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), Castanea pumila, Zea mays:

Spragueia moth resting on leaf of Bidens alba

Add some native larval host plants to attract these beauties and increase their populations your garden.

Larval host Resources:
HOSTS – a Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants
Bugguide.net
Butterflies and Moths of North America

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Love is In the Air in My Native Plant Garden

Last of the Valentine’s Day love series.

Dateline:  February 13, 2015*

It’s that time of year!  Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day 2015, so I thought I would share the annual lovefest in my garden.  I attribute my many reproducing critters to having the host plants they need to survive. They are the native plants that grace my wildlife garden.  A different kind of love involves the predators who enjoy the prey that feed on the native plants.  You can take a look at the partnering of some native plants and insects through the eyes of Ellen Honeycutt and from my place in other past years.

So, I bring you the power of love in my garden:

>Banded Winged Dragonflies find the taller sedge next to the pond a perfect love nest
>Banded Winged Dragonflies find the taller sedge next to the pond a perfect love nest
Brown anoles show no shame on the bricks around the base of the house
Brown anoles show no shame on the bricks around the base of the house
Not to be outdone, the native green anoles take to the fence
Not to be outdone, the native green anoles take to the fence
Diptera find dry plant debris perfect
Diptera find dry plant debris perfect
Although Gulf Fritillary Butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) use Passiflora incarnata as a host, they seem drunk in love from the sweet scent of Bidens alba
Although Gulf Fritillary Butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) use Passiflora incarnata as a host, they seem drunk in love from the sweet scent of Bidens alba
Leaf-footed Bugs (Acanthocephala terminalis) hide in the Coral Honeysuckle
Leaf-footed Bugs (Acanthocephala terminalis) hide in the Coral Honeysuckle
Lilypad Forktail Damselflies (Ischnura kellicotti) prefer the horizontal surface of American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) from which is drawn their common name
Lilypad Forktail Damselflies (Ischnura kellicotti) prefer the horizontal surface of American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) from which is drawn their common name
Lovebugs are always in love as this group shows while nectaring on Tall Elephantfoot (Elephantopus elatus)
Lovebugs are always in love as this group shows while nectaring on Tall Elephantfoot (Elephantopus elatus)
Craneflies hit the blackberries
Craneflies hit the blackberries
Fruitflies use the Bidens alba where the female will lay her eggs keeping the seeds in check
Fruitflies use the Bidens alba where the female will lay her eggs keeping the seeds in check
Mydas Flies like the dried parts of Blue stem grasses
Mydas Flies like the dried parts of Blue stem grasses
Whirlabout Skipper Butterfly (Polites vibex) don't go very far from the grasses which is their larval host
Whirlabout Skipper Butterfly (Polites vibex) don’t go very far from the grasses which is their larval host
argined Leatherwing Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus marginatus) find Rattlesnakemaster (Eryngium yuccifolium) to their liking
Margined Leatherwing Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus marginatus) find Rattlesnakemaster (Eryngium yuccifolium) to their liking
Stinkbugs on the Patridge Pea which is a host for many butterflies as well
Stinkbugs on the Patridge Pea which is a host for many butterflies as well
Last but not least the oldtimers get in on the act as these tattered Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) have a last hurrah
Last but not least the oldtimers get in on the act as these tattered Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) have a last hurrah

Happy Valentine’s Day.  May you show the love of nature by planting your own native plant and wildlife garden.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com . Click the date to view reader comments.

Garden Love is in the Air

Dateline: February 13, 2013*

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and I just thought I would share the love of my garden with you all.  Hmmmmm, maybe that is love IN my garden.  I did a similar article a while back, but there can never be too much L♥VE!  I present to you, some more of my mating friends and what entices them to visit my place.

anoles052110-e1360713863995Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis):  These comical reptiles eat insects so they are attracted to plants, such as Bidens alba, that attract insects.  I’ve written in the past about their affinity for the Syrphid Fly.

syrphidfliesinlove091511-e1360714015279Speaking of Syrphid Flies: They are bee mimics who perform pollination duties. Larvae are predators of aphids, thrips and caterpillars. This couple is likely Toxomerus spp.

deltabeetle052512-e1360714579715Delta Flower Scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta):  Here they are shown on Rattlesnakemaster, but I’ve also found them on Barbara’s Buttons. Larvae are found in decaying wood.

beetlelove052012-e1360714124370Yellow-marked Buprestid Beetles (Acmaeodera spp.): This couple seems to love the Black-eyed Susans.  Larvae are wood borers, maybe not the best thing, but heck, the holes will give haven to solitary bees and I’m sure the birds would add them to the menu…they look “lemony”.

matingbandeddragonflyjune2012-e1360714469324Banded Pennant Dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) stop by the pond since I leave dead branches as landing stations.

matingcassiusblue072812-e1360714432166Cassius Blue Butterfly (Leptotes cassius):  They stop at my place because I provide a native larval host plants, Doctorbush (Plumbago zeylanica aka P. scandens).  This butterfly has been declared a Federally-designated Threatened species due to similarity of appearance to the endangered Miami Blue Butterfly.

matingpalamedesswallowtailsaugust2012a-e1360714498195The Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio palamedes) relies exclusively on Redbay (Persea borbonia) as a larval host, which has been afflicted with laurel wilt disease brought on by a fungus carried by an invasive insect. This beetle’s presence threatens not only the tree, but this beautiful species as well.

These two have a peeping tom hanging out in the lower right hand corner.
These two have a peeping tom hanging out in the lower right hand corner.

Grasshoppers:  Ok, we can’t always love what’s in love around our place, but grasshopper nymphs are a major component of baby bird food, so sometimes in the interest of our wildlife friends, it is necessary for us to look the other way.  These guys are shown on dogfennel, which is unlikely to show any lasting damage.

matinggulffrits091611a-e1360715623368Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) uses Passionvine as a larval host.  At my place, I provide native Passiflora incarnata and this prolific butterfly flutters around in droves.  They even stayed all winter this year and I have had caterpillars throughout the season.

So, this is my troop of lovers.  Who do you love, or who is in your love nest?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com . Click the date to view reader comments.

When Bugs Hug

Continuing the Valentine’s week love, a republish of a lost post. Dateline: February 14, 2014
val-500x400Happy Valentine’s Day 2014.  I’ll start with a disclaimer that not all insects are bugs, but all bugs are insects. For this article I’m lumping arachnids under the bug umbrella too.  Heck, they crawl around, don’t they? Besides, spiders are often the biggest huggers of them all!

In past years for the holiday of love, I’ve posted photos of the mating creatures in my garden.  This year, I’ve decided to go a different route, and share species that are hugging other species.  IPM at its best, it brings on a whole new meaning of love you to death.

So, start humming “Let me put my arms around you Baby” while we take a walk through the garden of love:

Carolina Mantid gives a smooch to a skipper butterfly:mantidskipperjune2012-500x333

Milkweed Assassin Bug (Zelus longipes) offers a big kiss to his diptera friendassassin012412-500x500

This female jumping spider squeezes her grasshopper friendjumpingspidergrasshoppersept2012-500x500

The grasshoppers appear to be a favorite date. This yellow garden spider shows the love too:spiderhopper080311a-500x500

Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata fasciata) put the moves on a skipper butterflyambushbugskipperjuly2013-500x500

The crab spiders always share the love:crabspiderlimejuly2013a-500x500

This Robberfly loves BBB (Big Beautiful Bugs)

robberfly with Horse Fly (Tabaninae)
robberfly with Horse Fly (Tabaninae)

While some Hanging Thieves love bees to death:hangingthiefrobberflyaugust2012-500x500

Others just show the love to the flowers such as this frogfruit:robberfly060910-500x333

A motherly hug is exhibited by a fishing spider as she protects the children:fishingspiderwithsac082012a-500x500

This spider was unaffected by the “cologne” of a stink bugbugshugspiderstinksept2013-500x500

Peacock butterflies can be so beautiful that the garden spiders just can’t resist:toughspiderpeacockaugust2011-500x333

Sometimes the bee killers live up to their name:robberflybeeoct2013-500x500

yet other times they are happy to just receive flowers:robberfly093013-500x500

So I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s day and keep a happy balanced garden by planting native plants and avoiding pesticides. Hug your favorite.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 14, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Love in the Wildlife Garden

Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I decided to dust off some of my past articles of fauna showing the luv.

Dateline: July 15, 2011*

I had a completely different idea for this week’s article, but yesterday, as I reached for the case that holds my binoculars and took them out, I felt something icky and shook my hand to see a Southern Two-striped Walkingstick couple (Anisomorpha buprestoides) fall onto the patio chair. That will teach me to keep my glasses on the unscreened patio.

Walkingsticks
Walkingsticks

A Yellow Garden Spider couple was seen yesterday as well. I also witnessed a pair of Eastern Pondhawk Dragonflies “doing the deed”. Love is in the air in beautiful downtown Holopaw, FL (well, we don’t actually have a “downtown” since the entire town consists of a gas station/convenience store combo and a restaurant…oh, yeah…and a motorcycle sales and accessories shop.
Yellow Garden Spiders
Yellow Garden Spiders

So, without further adieu, I present to you, “Bugs in Luv”. Send the kids to bed.
Leaf-footed Bugs
Leaf-footed Bugs

Green Lynx Spiders:
Green Lynx Spiders
Green Lynx Spiders

Yellow-Marked Beetles:
Flatheaded Bald Cypress Sapwood Borer (Acmaeodera pulchella)
Flatheaded Bald Cypress Sapwood Borer (Acmaeodera pulchella)

Lovebugs:
Lovebugs (Plecia spp.), they live up to their name
Lovebugs (Plecia spp.), they live up to their name

Stink Bugs:
Stink Bugs
Stink Bugs

And last but not least, a pair of Duskywing Butterflies:
Duskywing Butterflies (Erynnis spp.)
Duskywing Butterflies (Erynnis spp.)

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 15, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Spring Nesting Season Isn’t Just for Birds

Hate pesticides?  Concerned with caterpillars devouring your plants?  Mother Nature has a natural solution that you may not be aware of.

Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.
Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.

I was opening the drive gate and next to the post where it locks when open I noticed some dead brush from Bidens alba being utilized by a mason wasp as housing for her nest.  It brought back a memory from the first time I spotted this behavior some years back. Time to dust off the lost article and post it again.

Dateline:  March 23, 2012*

A week or two ago I was out and noticed some activity by the Chickasaw Plum sapling I planted this past fall. The tree is staked with a hollow bamboo stick where an attractive Red and Black Mason Wasp (likely Pachodynerus erynnis) was busy. As I looked closer, I saw that it was dragging a caterpillar into the center of the bamboo. So, this Mason Wasp, also known by the common name Red-marked Pachodynerus is beneficial in the garden since larval stages develop as a parasitoid of caterpillars. It is also beneficial as an adult performing minor pollination duties as it feeds on nectar and pollen.

They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them
They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them

A Mason Wasp is one of the solitary wasps so you really don’t have to fear being stung unless you grab the poor thing. Being solitary, they don’t swarm and they don’t tend to defend their nests. This little bugger didn’t give me a second look, even though I was circling with the camera and was very close.

Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps...place some around your garden
Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps…place some around your garden

Mason wasp parents build mud cells and lay a single egg in each cell placing it on a caterpillar. They capture caterpillars by paralyzing them and the family of choice is Noctuidae, which includes cutworms, armyworms and other destructive pests. They also have been known to feed on beetle larvae.

Dragging prey which will feed the wasp's own larvae
Dragging prey which will feed the wasp’s own larvae

I am waiting for an identification confirmation on the caterpillar that I believe is the larvae of a Pyralid/Crambid moth. After they get the nest set up and the eggs laid, they seal it up with mud which in Florida really is damp sand. Now we wait.

Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth
Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth

This is integrated pest management at it’s best. Why use pesticides when Mother Nature will perform admirably if given the chance.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 23, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly: What Pizzazz

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 22, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) beauty in motion
Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) beauty in motion

Over on Facebook one day, a fellow wildlife gardening blogger remarked about the value of Bidens alba, a wildflower native to Florida. One of my favorite pollinator magnets, I have it growing in various sections of my yard. Every day I find several species of butterflies side by side on the flowers.

Butterflies just love Spanish Needles aka Bidens Alba
Butterflies just love Spanish Needles aka Bidens alba

That same day, I heard a noise next door and peeked out the window to check on my neighbor’s place. The hubby was home and just starting up the lawnmower. A flash of a butterfly caught my attention. There on the B. alba was a large, beautiful Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly (Eurytides marcellus), fluttering madly while sipping nectar.

No matter what the angle, the Zebra Swallowtail shows its beauty
No matter what the angle, the Zebra Swallowtail shows its beauty

I find the Zebra Swallowtail to be one of the more elusive butterflies to photograph so when any opportunity presents itself, I grab my camera and give it a go. Out of character, this guy (or gal) was landing long enough to get a picture. I guess that B. alba nectar was worth lingering over. They generally are so erratic in their flight and landing that you don’t stand much of a chance of a non-blurry photo unless you have a high-end camera…which I don’t. They seem to constantly beat their wings, even while feeding on flowers.

They use Netted Pawpaw as a larval host in my garden
They use Netted Pawpaw as a larval host in my garden

The Zebra Swallowtail is the only native kite swallowtail in Florida. They use a variety of flowers as nectar sources and are fond of mud to obtain moisture. The larval host is Pawpaw (Asimina spp.) with A. triloba as the only host in most of the range, which is the eastern half of the United States. In my garden, they use Netted Pawpaw (A. reticulata). It is sometimes hard to locate the caterpillars since they are usually on the underside of the leaves. New growth is favored over older leaves.

larval host is Pawpaw
larval host is Pawpaw

The zebra swallowtail has different variations. In spring it is a smaller butterfly with pale greenish-white wings. As can be seen in my photos, the summer version is large and really earns its zebra name with the bold black and white stripes. Caterpillars also have different coloring variations. I’ve found greenish yellow with black dots and a yellow and black stripe in April. March produced a tannish green with black, yellow and white stripes. The most interesting I found was late May one year where the caterpillar was black with yellow stripes just starting to show themselves. This caterpillar was the smallest I’ve found, so likely an early instar since the others were much larger.

This is one color version of the caterpillar from April
This is one color version of the caterpillar from April

Of all the butterflies that visit my garden, I’d have to choose the Zebra Swallowtail as the most beautiful. The underside is a site to behold with the vivid red stripe and blue dots against those unmistakable black and white stripes.

Darker version of a caterpillar from March
Darker version of a caterpillar from March

So, if it is within your range, get out to your local native plant nursery and add some pawpaw to your garden. Not only will it attract this butterfly, but the plant also produces edible fruits for other wildlife, including mammals such as you.

A completely different color late one May
A completely different color late one May