Monday, November 29, 2010

For the birds

Back in the summer, I clipped a "Heloise" column on how to clean a bird bath. Then I promptly forgot about it. The truth is, I stacked more paperwork on top of the clipping, and it got buried. So I was going through my stack just now and found the column.

Here's her advice (July 3, 2010, San Antonio Express-News):

"Add a drop or two of dishwashing liquid and scrub the bath with a stiff brush. Rinse thoroughly. If there is a buildup of algae, add chlorine bleach (in a ratio of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach) to the water and let soak for about 20 minutes. (Any longer will not do any better.) To ensure that no birds drop by for a swim, cover the bath during the bleaching process. After soaking, scrub the bath again with the stiff brush, carefully dump out the water and let the bath air-dry. Then fill with cold, fresh water."

Thanks, Heloise!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Walking on the Wild Side"

Hey, an article I wrote for the San Antonio Express-News made yesterday's Houston Chronicle as well. The Hearst Newspapers corporation owns both publications, and they apparently share the same front pages of some sections, like gardening (if that makes any sense). At any rate, here's the story: "Critter-watching fun begins with providing a good habitat." Enjoy!

UPDATE–I've since received some nice comments on the Chronicle website. Cool!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fungus gnats

I shot this photo Oct. 21 on our copper canyon daisy and posted it on, hoping someone could tell me about the spit-looking liquid. Turns out I piqued more interest in the insects, which were IDed as dark-winged fungus gnats: "Looks like mainly male sciarids (Diptera: Sciaridae) to me. I have never heard nor read about this behavior. Probably a female got stuck and the males were attracted by her pheromones (but this is pure speculation). Did you collect the 'gnat spittle'?" –Bjoern Rulik

Bad me–I didn't do a good job at following up on his request. Sorry, Bjoern!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More butterflies...


You'd think it'd be way past butterfly season, but they're still active. Our fragrant mistflower in the back yard is attracting several species, and the copper canyon daisy bush in the front yard is as well.

Pipevine swallowtail

Southern dogface

American lady

What a bug

Spot-sided coreid
Hypselonotus punctiventris
The kind folks at helped me identify this very interesting-looking bug.

Mama's gone....

Yesterday, I noticed that the mama argiope on the front porch is gone. Yes, her egg sac is fine. Then this afternoon, I looked down and found her remains on the cement.....only legs. She likely died of old age and then something ate her body. That's nature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Late monarch

I'm late in posting this photo. I actually spotted three monarchs come through Monday late afternoon and visit our fragrant mistflower. Man, THEY'RE the late ones!

Friday, November 12, 2010

A mother's love

Look how much even spider mothers love their children. I went to check on my argiope mother and discovered she'd moved her egg sac into the corner. As you can see, she's guarding it. And she will until she dies, probably within a few weeks. After she's gone, then I'll take over and watch over her unborn spiderlings. They won't hatch until sometime next spring.

Isn't she beautiful? Isn't a mother love beautiful?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Butterflies on the mistflower

Late this afternoon, I went outside to soak up some sunshine. While I relaxed on our bench, I watched the butterflies flit around the fragrant mistflower. Surely, I thought to myself, these must be the last of this year's butterflies, mostly skippers (I think). I got up and scrunched down beside the flowers for a closer look. So pretty! Camera time! I spotted some bees, too....

Fiery skipper
(Hylephila phyleus)

Clouded skipper
Lerema accius

I'm guessing a Mexican cactus fly (Copestylum mexicanum)...
UPDATE: On, a reply to my ID inquiry: "You've nailed it. And it's a girl."
Ron Hemberger

A rare queen (they're mostly gone now)

A frisky red admiral (my favorite butterfly)

And a lone bee!

She's gonna be a mama!

If you read my post Spider versus mantis (Oct. 10, 2010), then you'll recall our large argiope (Argiope aurantia) that had been living over a garage door. After a close encounter with a hungry praying mantis, the spider relocated to our front porch, where she's been living ever since. Smart move because we turn on the porch light every night. VoilĂ –plenty of flying insects to eat!

Lately, I've been keeping an eye on her, and awhile ago, I noticed she wasn't on her web. Oh, no! Had she left or died? I stuck my head out the front door. Yay! An egg sac! Looked like maybe she had just laid it. Now that she's done her job, she may die or hang on a few more weeks. I shall miss her but how wonderful to know that we'll have argiope children next spring! It's been a long time since we've had an Argiope aurantia egg sac at the Pink House.

Spiders in and out

As many folks know, I love spiders. Around the house, I let cobweb spiders have their way. Looks messy, I know, but I don't mind. Jumping spiders are my favorites. The more, the merrier. However, I draw the line at bigger spiders, such as wolf spiders. Which brings me to write this post. In the last few weeks, small wolf spiders–about the size of a quarter–have been appearing on our dining room floor. I pick them and escort them outside. This morning, I FOUND ANOTHER ONE! I bet this is the seventh or eighth one. Another guy, too. The last one was a male, too. Could it be the same male wolf spider coming in every time? Nawwwwwwwwww.

But what if?

And oh, yes, I must say: wolf spiders are NOT harmful. So please don't squish'em if they start showing up on your dining room floor.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Acrobatic bee!

James and I ventured outside awhile ago to sow a few seeds and check out the Wildscape. We were strolling past the mallow when I happened to notice this bee, apparently "asleep" but only hanging on by its mandibles! Naturally, I had to fetch the camera so I could document this strange behavior.

James helped hold the branch steady while I snapped away. After James left, I took a few more photos. Finally, the bee had enough, and I noticed that its abdomen was twitching. Sure enough, it buzzed away. But it came back and landed on a different branch.

For awhile, it fidgeted its back legs, and it seemed to be preening itself. Then it stopped and went back to sleep. I've uploaded photos to the experts at We'll see what they have to say....

P.S. I'm guessing it's a species of Anthophora...

UPDATE–This just in from Yes, my bee is an Anthophora californica...a male.

Also, "The 'sleeping' behaviour is called "roosting." I have observed several species of wasps and bees doing this the past year or so. It's really fun to watch a crowd of males roost together, although I think that generally occurs in the summer/early fall. As the weather turns colder, I have only seen individuals doing this. In fact, just today I found an Ammophila wasp roosting in a pine tree. As to what you have here, wait for an expert opinion..."

… Jon Hart, 7 November, 2010 - 4:31 p.m.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Peyton brings over a new caterpillar

This is the fun part of being interested in spiders, insects, plants and NATURE. People ask you questions, and sometimes they bring you LIVE SPECIMENS! My good friend and neighbor, Peyton (he's 11) just brought me this fat caterpillar. He found it on a live oak. We pulled out my Caterpillars of Eastern North America, and he decided this one's a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus). I agree with him. Especially since I've checked in at and found this photo. A Polyphemus moth is in the silkmoth family. Cool!

Monday, November 1, 2010

More weirdness

Meet an unidentified species of a green lacewing larva. Awhile ago, I was outside, filling up a water can, when I spotted this little bugger, scooting along on the brick wall of our house. Strange looking, right? Look closely above, and you can barely see a pair of mandibles, poking out from beneath the debris on its back. According to Charley Elseman on, "Those mandibles act as a syringe, sucking the prey dry, which is how they sometimes end up with intact (but shriveled) aphid bodies stuck on their backs." And apparently, other kinds of dead stuff as well....

Earlier this year, I wrote about the evergreen bagworm, another epitome of weirdness. If you want to know more about this moth larval stage that uses another kind of debris as camouflage, check out "Bag of Worms," which was published in the January 2010 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine.