Saturday, June 27, 2015

Milkweed seed pod

Seed pod of the green milkweed vine

A beautiful weed

Purple bindweed

Still mystified (not any more!)

The little plant that I transplanted two years ago from my uncle's home in San Marcos ("A chapter closes") still survives. But I still haven't figured out what it is. I had guessed something in the mint family. But I'm still not sure. It was growing in the front yard like a weed. Any ideas?
UPDATE JUNE 29, 2015 Melody and Melissa advised that my mystery plant looks like Gregg's tubetongue (Justicia pilosella). I tend to agree. Check out this photo of the flower and compare it to my photo above. Awesome! I believe this mystery is SOLVED! Thanks, y'all!!

Blue-winged what?

Never know what I'm gonna see in our Wildscape when I wander around. Awhile ago, I was out with my camera, hunting a big orange hornet-like insect when I spotted these nectaring on the mountain mint. With help from online sources, I was able to identify them as blue-winged wasps (Scolia dubia). The photo above is not that great but good enough for identification purposes.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mydas flies

The last couple of days, James and I have spotted a large black wasp hanging out in the back yard. I saw one again this afternoon. So later, I grabbed my camera and went back outside in hopes of snagging some pictures of one. Not more than two or three minutes later, I saw THREE tussle under a tomato plant. Then two coupled together flew off (above). I followed them and managed to get a few good shots. 

Then I went back and found the third under the tomato plant. Oh, he didn't look so good. In fact, I wondered if he'd been mortally wounded. Nope. A minute or two later, he started moving and flexing his wings. I left the drama so I could download my photos and identify them.

What I learned is that these large insects are not wasps but wasp-mimic FLIES. Cool! More specifically, these are mydas flies in the genus Mydas. I was relieved to find out that they're NOT saw flies (my mallows are safe from more hungry larvae). However, now I'm wondering what mydas fly larvae eat? Hopefully, not plants!

PINK aphids!

As soon as my milkweed plants get big enough, here come the aphids. Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii), to be exact.
In April, we planted a butterfly gaura that has whitish pink flowers. Look what showed up! PINK aphids! Nature can be color coordinated when she wants to be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bad caterpillars return

This is when I'm extra glad that I blog and keep track of what goes on in our Wildscape. I'd been noticing caterpillars on our still-young blue wild indigo. Awhile ago, I finally looked back at past posts and read about "Bad caterpillars" in May 2010. That month, I found numerous caterpillars on our young Texas mountain laurel in the Meadow.

Now trust me, I believe in live and let live. I hate to kill ANYTHING. But these genistra broom moth caterpillars (Uresiphita reversalis), if I'd allowed them to keep going, were going to kill my plant. Thus, I made the executive decision to execute all that I could find and pick off. This caterpillar is also called the sophora worm because it primarily feeds on Texas mountain laurels, which is a Sophora. Older, well established plants can usually survive loads of caterpillars. But our indigo is less than two years old so I didn't want to take a chance.

In case you're wondering, I drowned the caterpillars with a dash of Dawn thrown in. No photos of that wicked deed, of course. Please forgive me!

Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye on the saw fly larva that are busily munching away on our velvetleaf mallow. Hope I don't have to eliminate some of them so the mallow survives. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A new sphinx

My iPad dinged yesterday while I was working at my desk. A text? For me? Wow. That's rare. And COOL! Wes sent me the photo above and asked that I call him. Which I did. 

"That's a sphinx moth!" I told him. He said he'd spotted it while working in Bandera. Naturally, I proceeded to post info on his Facebook page. At first, I assumed that it was a white-lined sphinx, which we have here in Blanco. Then I noticed that the wings were different. Hmmmmmmmm....

A little investigation turned up the correct name: vine sphinx (Eumorpha vitis). Awesome! I love solving mysteries of the nature kind.

A bee fly

Bee fly in our Meadow, subfamily Anthracinae

A likely nuisance plant

What the heck IS that? See that tall, gangly multi-branched plant that I allowed to grow and have space in our gardens? I've been wondering for the longest time about it. So I finally emailed a photo to wildlife biologist Ricky Linex with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and asked him. 

"Looks like something related to mare’s tail, Conyza canadensis," he wrote back. "Google images may show you what it will look like in flower.  If it is this plant, it is just a weed and should be pulled and not allowed to make seed."

I checked and found a species account for "horseweed." Why would he consider it a "weed" (other than "weed" is part of its common name)? I was curious.

That's a "throwback to my days talking to farmers and ranchers," he replied. "Livestock won’t eat it, deer don’t prefer it, and seeds are pretty small for birds. It grows up and takes moisture and sunlight away from other plants but offers very little value. Perhaps it has some value for pollinators. There are natives that can be weeds. The blooms are many small whitish flowers and not too impressive."

I think for the time being that I'm going to let it flower and see what they look like. Then I'll cut them off. No point in allowing them to reseed, as Ricky recommends.

P.S. Conyza canadensis is mentioned in this interesting article, "Profiles of spontaneous urban plants."

Monday, June 22, 2015

MORE purple "caterpillars"

So look at what James spotted yesterday on our velvetleaf mallow! Sawfly larva, just like the ones Pi found in her yard recently. I had just posted about them, then Melody commented about Neil Sperry's June 18 column, which touched on sawflies. Naturally, we're not going to any kind of control on ours. I'm hoping the abundance of birds in our Wildscape will take care of some of them.

P.S. I posted some of these images on, and Rose sent me to this link, "Unidentified mallow-feeding sawfly larvae." Seems our larvae may not be Cimbex americana after all.

UPDATE: They are Neoptilia tora.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Purple caterpillars?

When Pi told me that she had PURPLE caterpillars in her Blanco yard, I said SEND ME A PHOTO! And wow, was she right! Those are INDEED purple critters of some sorts. 

Smart me. I got online and Googled "purple caterpillars." Voila! Instant answer–these are sawfly larvae, likely Neoptilia tora

So what are sawflies? Glad you asked because I want to know, too. According to what I briefly read, sawflies are neither flies nor wasps. The name "sawfly" refers to the female's sawlike ovipositor that cuts into plant tissues to deposit eggs. 

UPDATED August 16, 2015...My images in moved by Mike Quinn from "Unidenitifed mallow-feeding purple sawfly larvae" to "Neoptilia tora."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Milkweeds and bugs

So lately, I've been drawn to white fluff out in the Meadow. Once again, I'm sure the neighbors must think I'm nuts, standing there, leaning over into tall grass for long minutes at a time. What I'm doing to separating milkweed seeds from the floss (fluff) and collecting them, either in my hand or today I stuck them in my shorts pocket. 

See that lone brown milkweed seed on the leaf? I nabbed it and others I spotted atop leaves. 

Then I spread the seeds in other spots in the Meadow. Here's hoping we have even more antelope horns and purple milkweed vines next season or year!
Oh, yeah, I spotted this VERY orange bug (above) while leaning over, picking seeds. It's a bug, that's for sure. But I'm guessing it's a milkweed bug that had just freshly molted. Below is a whole mess of milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on a milkweed pod. 

Wildscape scenes

A jay baby

I was out with my camera this afternoon when I heard and saw a pair of bluejays acting suspiciously like parents. You know, like they were nervous. So I nosed around a bit, and, sure enough, I spotted a jay baby up in the oak branches! Cute, eh? We've had such an abundance of bird babies this year. It's been a lot of fun, watching all the little bird kids flitting around our Wildscape.