I’ve enjoyed nature all my life. I was that kid, tromping in the woods, turning over logs to marvel at the life beneath, watching the patterns of light and shadow on leaves to see the hidden snake. Getting a camera with a good macro, and learning to take close-up shots, has taught me to look even closer – now, even without the camera, I see all kinds of neat things happening that I never even knew were there. Evolution is amazing, and the diversity of life is profound and humbling.
This house has been a revelation as well – our yard backs up to a wooded creek, and we garden organically, so there’s an abundance of life that I think would be missing in a lot of city dwellings. I’ve seen things here that I had previously only heard of, and many that I never even knew existed. We’ve got mantis flies, and tortoise beetles, and cuckoo wasps, and thread snakes. I’ve found several things where I’ve looked them up and read “Not much is known about their diet or habits” and just had to smile and shake my head at the amazing depth and complexity of life.
I found this cool tiny critter one night, luring moths to a sheet with a black light to see what would show up. It’s called Petrophila jaliscalis, less than half an inch long, and my eye was caught by the beautiful spangles on its rear wings. I couldn’t find anything like it, searching on the web. I put a request on Bugguide.net (an amazing resource, if you’re trying to ID something weird) and they pinned it down. This odd genus lives as caterpillars on stones in running water – creeks, streams, rivers.
What I didn’t find out until a lot more recently – there’s a very cool reason for the spangles on its wings. This whole genus mimics jumping spiders to help scare off predators. I found a jumping spider in the kitchen one afternoon, and got the macro lens and the ring light and shot some pictures. I’m still working on getting a firm ID for this spider, asking some smart folks on a Facebook spiders group; so far, it’s looking like Maevia inclemens.
Keep in mind, this whole spider is about the size of a pencil eraser – but with a macro lens, you can see it in magnifying-glass detail.
Here, it’s on the border where the white trim meets the yellow-painted wall… you get a sense of scale from the bubbles in the paint.
and then you adjust the lighting, and you shoot, and you shoot, and you find where the damned thing ran around the corner of the wall, and you move, and you shoot some more, and then you crop, and you adjust… and you get the portrait. I’m not a trained photographer, and I know there’s a lot that I could have done better – but I’m proud of this one.
It wasn’t until I saw an article about a spider-mimicry in metalmark moths, that I thought, “Hmm… those metallic marks look like the ones I saw on the little guy on the sheet!” and started looking into it.
And it all came together. I still want to get a better angled shot, so you can really see the “eye” and “leg” markings in the same positions. If you squint your eyes at the moth, you can definitely see the spider – and if you were some hungry bug, you might think twice. This is one of a dozen or more examples of Batesian mimicry I’ve seen in the yard; we’ve got ant-spiders, and bee-flies, and so many scary eyes.
Another cool link, showing the amazing underwater caterpillar in its *SILKEN CASE* (see, you knew there was going to be silk involved) –
I spent some time in the yard today with my Canon Rebel T2i. I love the convenience of having a camera in my phone, but it just doesn’t have the glass… with a 60mm macro lens, I can get a lot more detail, and catch more interesting things.
This is the Passiflora caerulea vine that has gone into the creekside and grows up the dead sumac bush.
Even with a considerable distance, the macro lens gets right in there.
There’s an ant on this anther.
Another flower on the same vine. The three bees were wrestling all over one another in a pile, and it seemed really odd – they usually do that for pollen, but not so much nectar in the passionflowers. Then, when I was looking at the images in the camera, I realized that they have RIPPED OFF the pollen anthers, and are working them over in the middle of the flower. They remind me of Macbeth’s witches around their cauldron.
A bumblebee on Passiflora incarnata.
This one, I could get right above – so I could focus close, and get a lot of detail. I really do love the camera, and this lens.
It’s the bee’s knees. Those are pollen grains.
Passiflora incarnata “Bill’s Delight.”
Close up on the center of the flower.
These corona filaments swirl around themselves in very odd patterns.
…and this flower is pollinating itself. I just hope it doesn’t go blind. I love how the anther looks like a tongue licking the stigma.
This exceptionally handsome Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus, has set up a territory which includes the fig tree, the Maximilian sunflowers, and part of the creekside brush. He will aggressively chase any of the Fritilaries or other butterflies that come close, and sometimes he even buzzes the wasps. He’s a little petty tyrant.
At least he’s pretty.
I now have four different species of Cestrum – this is Cestrum aurantium “Orange Zest.” It’s hardy in our zone, and shoots out these bundles of cheery orange-yellow flowers all summer long.
I just wish they were as fragrant as their cousins – Cestrum nocturnum is my favorite fragrant flower in the world; I keep a bush in a pot, and bring it in to the bedroom when it’s in flower. It only flowers at night. This one has pretty flowers all day long – but no smell at all.
I have been busy getting two big moth-related events put together, and not blogging about them… I promise I’ll try to get blurbs up about them, because there was a lot of cool stuff and I want to be able to remember and reference them (with photos! Mantisflies, Hercules beetles, scorpions oh my!), but for now, here’s the lovely article that the Dallas Morning News did about our Blacklight the Night at Texas Discovery Gardens last Tuesday! The response from the public was amazingly good, the evening was lovely, and we had a fantastic time.
Photo is by Dallas Morning News contributor Brandon Wade.
This lovely little thing is Passiflora mooreana. It’s easy to suspect the photo for making it look kind of faded and blue, but that’s the way it looks in real life – the whole plant has a kind of sage green tint to it.
a solo shot in the light of the westering sun:
They smell sweet, too. I really love the ones with sweet scents. It’s surprisingly powerful, for such a small flower – the flower is only about two inches across, if that. Here it is next to P. caerulea.
and a closeup of the center:
another one that’s blooming well right now, is Passiflora incarnata “Bill’s Delight,” a pure-white selection of the native species from Companion Plants nursery. I had one of these a year ago, and then it suddenly died from the roots up – it looked like slugs ate the skin off the stem. Now, it’s going gangbusters, sprawling out of its pot and putting up new shoots.
We have two big Golden Orb Weavers in the garden this year – I am going to start feeding them grasshoppers. The mantises aren’t eating them up fast enough.
\and the “Scentsation” rose that I planted for Chris is doing well – I really want for it to start putting out more flowers at a time, but it is still adapting and getting its feet under it.
This is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and have never done. Now, I’ve hung around outside buildings and watched the moths and other night-time insects come and go… but I’ve never done the full-on, out-in-the-woods, light-and-a-sheet type experience, where you trap moths with light and count and observe and all that. So, I figure it’s National Moth Week coming up a month from now, I should do it.
We’re being hosted by the Cedar Ridge Audubon Preserve, (just south of Oak Cliff) with ID guidance and leadership from Dale Clark of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society. We’ll be meeting up at 8:30 PM, and staying until half past midnight, or when we get really tired. Or later, if there are lots of cool moths. It’s not a wildly exciting experience, but it’s got a certain geeky cool factor.
If you’re on Facebook, I’ve set up an event page where you can RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/532248110170072/
It’s pretty straight-forward; we’re gonna look at moths and other bugs that fly up to lights, and look them up in books, and take pictures of them, and let them go after. We won’t be killing or pinning anything, because of the Audubon’s rules, although we will detain the moths to ID and photograph them.
Y’all let me know if you’re interested in coming along!
Here’s a video, with kind of an idea of what to expect:
I’m sorry about the previous post being locked – it’s got a lot of information that’s not quite public domain yet. But the general idea, I can give you….
Before Bill Wyatt passed in 2009, he and I had a talk about getting somebody to replicate his silk reel design.
These nice folks stepped up. I met Roy and Henry at SOAR last October, and they agreed to give it a try. We’re in the process of testing the prototype.
We’ve had a beautiful weather year for the garden. The moist spring turned into a warm but not parched summer, and our fall cold front came almost a month early, bringing lovely cooler nights and plenty of rain. Because of the way our weather works in this part of Texas, it’s almost like we have two springs – everything gets a second wind, picks up, and rejuvenates.
Passiflora “Temptation x Temptation”
Through the summer, I’ve had the occasional bloom on my “Temptation x Temptation” passionflower vine. This is a cross originally made by Volker Sanders in Germany, although I got my plant from Passiflorista on Ebay (Jim Nevers). During the hottest days, the flowers suffered horribly – they looked like they had been under a heat lamp, with wilted petals and limp coronas. I will have to get a photo if it happens again – it was a real surprise the first time. The other types do not have this problem. Now, however, it’s putting out these luscious, plump flowers with the most amazing coloring.
When I have just one in my hand, the flower on “Temptation x Temptation” looks a lot like the “Incense” vine that it is adjacent to (and mingled with) – big, purple, curly flower. But the color is really quite different.
“Incense” (L) and “Temptation x Temptation” (R)
“Incense” on the left, “Temptation x Temptation” on the right. If you look, you can see the different leaves, too – “Incense” has five-fingered leaves, and “Temptation x Temptation has three-fingered.
Close-up of filaments on “Temptation x Temptation”
Very close to, the corona filaments look like something from under the sea – maybe a sea urchin…
Corona filaments on “Temptation x Temptation”
Or a sea anemone.
“Temptation x Temptation” from the side.
From the side, there’s a lot of difference between the two flowers. “Temptation x Temptation” is strongly reflexed – meaning that the petals pull back from the flower and arch downward, so looking from the top you see the corona floating in the air. They’re also very robust and fleshy – this plant is a tetraploid hybrid, meaning that its parent plants were chemically treated during the hybridizing process to give it double the usual number of genes. Tetraploids are famous for thick, hardy plants and big flowers. The anthers on this plant are often a little odd – here, they’re pointing upward at the sky, instead of downward at the theoretical bee that should be pollinating the plant. They sometimes manage to rotate downward before the flower closes, but sometimes not.
Side view of “Incense”
In the side view, “Incense” is nearly flat.
A new addition – this one is “Blue-Eyed Susan,” with parentage similar to “Temptation x Temptation” and another hybrid, “Bucky” bred by Jim Nevers in Florida. I’m hoping with these three tetraploid hybrids, I might be able to get some fruit. “Bucky” in particular is known for good fruit. Because of the different chromosome number, tetraploid (4n) plants can’t set fruit with normal diploid (2n) pollen; they need 4n pollinators.
And this is “Blue Bouqet” – another hybrid, this one made by Richard McCain. This game little plant just got out after traveling cross-country in a postal box; the whole plant isn’t much past a foot tall, but it’s bloomed already. It’s supposed to be more blue, so we’ll see if that happens. A lot of this kind of flower difference comes down to things like humidity, soil chemistry, hours and intensity of sunshine, etc.
The composting worm bin lives in the upstairs bathroom adjacent to my office/studio room. So when things get weird in the bin, I know about it.
I think that I picked up earwig eggs when I added compost from the outdoor compost bin – I always do this to help stock up the micro-flora. However it happened, I started getting more and more earwigs.
The pincers look fierce, but aren’t actually pinchy from what I can tell. They stink a lot if squashed.
There are lots of them. They thrive on the same kind of vegetable waste that I feed the worms, and they’ve reproduced like mad. Of course, my options for insect remediation in the compost worm bin are quite limited.
Traps are usually the best. I looked up how to trap these guys, and most of the sources pointed to a similar technique. A straight-sided can, like soup or tuna, with a mixture of equal parts of molasses (or corn syrup), vegetable oil (with the possibility of a drop of added bacon grease, for fragrance attraction) and soy sauce. Because of what I got hold of in the cabinet first, I’ve tried a couple of different oils. It’s amazingly effective.
This is five or six days worth of earwigs. They mostly end up in the trap overnight, as they are nocturnal. I let it go a few days, then tip the oil out in a non-agricultural part of the yard (the chickens declare the bugs delicious!) and refill and reset. Apparently it works in the garden or house as well.
I have a very definite niche. Many of the things that I do, not a lot of people do. And, I document most of what I do – with lots of pictures, which I post online. So, when people are searching the web for something related to my unusual interests, they often find my pictures. Then, if I’m lucky and they’re polite, they write me and ask for permission to use the pictures. I usually say yes, although it’s case by case; sometimes there’s even a little money involved, or a contributor’s copy of a cool book or magazine. I’m particularly likely to say yes if it’s for a museum supporting science, or for educational materials for schools – the only exception is if it’s for a religious organization promoting pseudo-science. I think that teaching creationism to kids is an insidious and very damaging form of child abuse. Sorry about the soap-box, but it’s something I’ve run into hard a couple of times. If you want to tell children that God made silkworms for the express use of mankind, I respect your Constitutional freedom to say so – but I also have a right to sue if you use my copyrighted pictures without permission.
This time, it was a writer with Scientific American’s website; he was looking for some images to support an article on metamorphosis. So, now, I’ve got a photo on their website, with links back to mine – and it’s a very cool article!
The article with my photo
Another article, related information, same author.