Friday, April 16, 2021

A possible explanation

Small phigalia moth

So why are so many caterpillars dying? I asked Wizzie Brown, a program specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension, and here's what she had to say:

"It is probably a virus that has infected a portion of the spring cankerworm population. When caterpillars are infected with a virus, they seek out 'higher ground' to die. This is actually something that allows the virus to be spread throughout the population more readily since the virus needs to be consumed to affect the host. If the caterpillar dies at a higher location, then that will allow the virus to possibly drop and spread over a larger area. Once the caterpillars die, they will look like they are melting as the body breaks down and eventually splits open to release the replicated virus.

"Should you be concerned? I would say no, as it's just nature happening. This is the first reported case I've gotten of this, but it could be happening elsewhere. Viruses are pretty specific to their arthropod host, so I wouldn't think that they would move from an insect to a bird."

Thank you, Wizzie! 

Forest tent caterpillar

Sawfly larva

Cutworm moth

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

What's going on?

Oh, my goodness! I just went outside to hunt caterpillars for iNaturalist and found THIS! The past few days, we'd noticed some messes left by caterpillars on our outside walls but NOT like this! I suspect something's going on nature-wise, but I don't know what. In my 19 years of living in this house, I've never seen this phenomenon. One year, we had LOTS AND LOTS of forest tent caterpillars. But they didn't leave messes like this. There are several species involved, too. Stay tuned. I've got my feelers out.... Reminds me of the Gulf fritillaries several years ago that would melt and then die.


Thankfully, the stains DO come off with water! Thank you, James!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Wild blue indigo

We planted this wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) in April 2014. I had to take photos this year because this is the best it's ever looked. So lush and happy. Despite our blizzards and lack of rain right now, too. 

So far, no genistra broom moth caterpillars, which have devoured this indigo in past springs. But this spring is not over yet! I'll keep an eye out. As a general rule, I let caterpillars eat what they want in our gardens. But not when they totally decimate a plant. 

Except for (always an exception, right?) pipevine plants....I know pipevines come right back after hungry pipevine caterpillars eat a vine to nothing. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Extractigator

Our local birds and squirrels frequently plant hackberry and pecan trees where we do NOT want them in our gardens. Whenever I can, I pull them when they're seedlings and easy to yank. But a lot go unnoticed and keep growing. Then James has to dig them out with a shovel. Ugh! Last year, Jerry S., a fellow Master Naturalist, recommended this gadget. I finally got around to ordering one last month. Yesterday our new Extractigator Junior arrived from Canada. We put it right to work....

Our first hackberry....


Our biggest hackberry!

Monday, April 5, 2021

A magic trapdoor

Awhile ago, James came inside from weed eating the front yard. "Get your camera! I want to show you something really cool," he said. "I've never seen this before." Then he escorted me to the spot. Good eye! He came across the burrow of a trapdoor spider, most likely a Ummidia species, which I have met in the past in our yard. Here's a lovely lady from 2008. These large spiders are closely related to tarantulas. This burrow opening was about the size of a quarter. Such a cool find!


Barbados cherry

Our dwarf Barbados cherry, which we planted in 2013, didn't like our freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions in February. But I can see that it's coming back from the roots. So I did a hard trim back on it yesterday. It was getting messy anyway. I'm posting this for future reference.

Texas vs musk thistle rosettes

In February, I wrote a post about killing musk thistles at my mother's place near Boerne. At the time, I wondered how to tell the difference between a musk thistle and our native Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum). To help, I took some photos of Texas thistles that grow in our Meadow. At the bottom, I'll post a musk thistle photo.

 Below, musk thistle (Carduus nutans), an invasive.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Plant rescues

Bernadette McFarling and Joan Marasek, who are Texas Master Gardeners, came over yesterday afternoon. For an hour, we dug up all kinds of volunteers, like American germander, woolly and western ironweeds, fragrant gaillardia, white avens, standing winecup, pearl milkweed vine, white mistflower, heartleaf skullcap, downy phlox and more. They're gonna pot everyone up and sell them at their chapter's April 17 plant sale here in Blanco. Happy trails, little green friends! 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Hermit thrush

I am NOT a bird photographer. But I was sure happy to be able to grab my digital Nikon camera and get these shots of a hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) for our species list. It's a new one for us. I saw some earlier this year but mistook them for juvenile robins because they "run" in a similar manner. Cool!


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Mandarin tree blooming, too

What a welcome sight! My Texas satsuma mandarin tree (‘Miho’) is blooming this spring. It usually puts on fruit every other year, but it skipped last year for some reason. The last time we had mandarins was October 2018. This tree was given to me by my son for Mother’s Day in 2004. I’ve kept it alive all these years! It was in the garage all winter and survived last month’s frigid temps. A few days ago, James moved it back outside when I saw all the blooms. They need attention from our local bees and other pollinators. 

Peach tree blooming!