Monday, May 23, 2016

Caterpillar nursery

I thought it'd be interesting to film a short video of our pipevine swallowtail caterpillars (Battus philenor) chomping on our pipevine vines (non-native Aristolochia fimbriata). At the very end of this video, you can hear a green heron's guttural call and my gasp of surprise. The bird was right over me!

Sorry about that!

Yesterday afternoon, I planted some freebie cedar sages in the front yard. On my first pass around this flower bed, I didn't notice anything. But on my second loop, I DID. Look closer, and you might, too. 
Yes! I spotted a female Texas spiny lizard in the process of laying eggs in a nice-sized burrow she'd dug. She was NOT happy to see me. As you can tell by her irritated expression in the photos.
I guess she finished depositing her last egg because, suddenly, she scurried away as fast as she could. I felt bad. I didn't mean to scare her, but I did. Inside the hole, I counted at least nine eggs. I checked back discreetly a few times, and she'd returned. I was careful not to startle or bother her. The last time I looked, she was gone, and the hole was neatly covered up. James says the little ones should hatch in 21 days. If I can remember, I'll check the site about then. Little spiny lizards are so cute.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Treasures on our rural land

Stiffstem flax (Linum ridigum)
James and I hiked our land northwest of Blanco over the weekend. I found even more cool native species. Just had to share.
Slender greenthread, also called Navajo tea (Thelesperma simplicifolium)
Likely pink mimosa (Mimosa borealis)
Bird wing passionflower (Passiflora tenuiloba)

Another bird wing passionflower
And another
I found several bird wings, which was really cool.
Yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) also grows on our land.
Recently, James spotted a pipevine caterpillar crawling on the ground. That told me that we've got pipevines growing somewhere. I think that I found them (photo above and below). I'm just not certain which species. Perhaps Virginia snakeroot,  (Aristolochia serpentaria)? Ours resemble this photo.

Yellow passionflower
Virginia snakeroot?
Another snakeroot? We transplanted a few into our Wildscape.
I thought at first this plant and the one below might be bract milkweed, but Marcus at the Wildflower Center didn't think so. Perhaps swanflower (Aristolochia erecta), another pipevine species? If the deer don't munch them down, maybe we can get a definite ID later. I marked them. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pink poppy seeds

When Shirley and Melody from San Antonio came for our April 30 garden gala, Melody brought me a small paper sack filled with pink poppy seed heads. This afternoon, I emptied the heads and tossed the seeds around in our Wildscape. I know poppies aren't native, but I think it's okay to have a few non-natives, especially for pollinators. I tossed in them in a few areas in our back yard and also in the Meadow. We'll see what happens next year. Thank you, Melody! 

Milkweed inventory 2016

Last year, I posted an extensive milkweed inventory, which I thought might be a good way to keep track of what we've got growing in our Wildscape. Well, earlier this month (May 6), I finally got around to marking and counting antelope horns (I use tongue depressors). But after that, I gave up. For one thing, our crop of Indian blankets are WAY too thick to make a complete count of antelope horns and purple milkweed vines in the Meadow. But I did get up to 14 antelope horns, which is a slight increase of maybe three over last year. 

Below are photos of a healthy zizotes milkweed that grows on our neighbor's side of the Meadow. I'm working on getting the species started on our side.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Meet Ted (or was it Fred?)

This afternoon, we had some visitors in our Wildscape. Gail brought over her husband, their daughter Page, and three granddaughters–Michaela, Annabelle and Everlee. Right away, Annabelle found a snail near our fire pit. I smiled. Then I mentioned how James had found LOTS of them this morning after last night's rains. So many, in fact, that he had to dispatch them.

"What does 'dispatch' mean?" Annabelle asked. 

Well. Ah. 

"He sent them to heaven," I answered meekly.
See, quite a while back, I declared war on milk snails (Otala lactea).  I don't care to have these guys in our gardens. They're not native, and they can become quite prolific. I've seen photos of infestations. I don't want an infestation here. So I smush them whenever I meet up with them.
Then I met Ted. Or was it Fred? Slime? I'm not sure what Annabelle  decided on as a final name, but the personable snail went home with her. Nearly the whole time she held him, the little toot stretched his neck out and twisted and turned in his shell. So entertaining. Later, I found myself ignoring a snail when I saw one attached to a plant in the back yard. I forget where.
Anyway, the girls and I came up with all kinds of questions related to Ted (Fred?). Like what does he eat? Does he outgrow his shell? Are his eyes in his antennae? 

I did some quick research and found out that milk snails, which are native to Europe and North Africa, eat foliage (not good).  On the flip side, THEY'RE edible. One source says that these "plant-feeding snails cause only minor damage" and that this species produces "an average of 66 eggs per clutch, and two clutches per month, depositing them in loose soil." Yikes, no wonder they can multiply so quickly! 

Does a snail outgrow his shell? No. As a snail grows, so does its shell. As a snail matures, according to this page, "the number of whorls or spirals which its shell has increases, as do the rings that grow inside the shell. Much like the way we think about tree rings, these rings inside a snail's shell can be used to approximate the snail's age." 

What about eyes? Yes, Annabelle, those tiny black spots at the tips of your snail's antennae ARE eyes! Check out "The Eyes of Snails" for lots more information.   

As for all the other Teds, Freds and Slimes in our Wildscape, I'm afraid I'm still going to....well.....They're not native, remember....Well, hmmmm....I'm just not going to think about them tonight.  

My first mantidfly

Take a look at one unusual insect–-a mantidfly! Cool, eh? It's a first for me in our Wildscape. This one is a Dicromantispa interrupta. I happened to be squatting down to get a better look at a newly planted Texas milkweed. When I tried to brush off what I thought were dried oak flowers, it flew away! I watched where the critter landed in some ball moss, then walked over to get a better look. A mantidfly! Time to get the camera! Part "fly," part praying mantis.