Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gulf Fritillary Fun

 Since moving to Texas in 2008, I have been charmed by the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly.  Its fiery orange inner wings, and silvery outside make it flash as it zooms about the garden.  It is a common butterfly in Austin, but I never get tired of seeing it.  I am such a fan that I think the Gulf Fritillary should replace the Monarch as the Texas State Butterfly.  No offense to the Monarch, as it is also an incredible butterfly with its long migration, warning colors, and its special place in the hearts of children as they learn about life cycles in science class.  The Monarch is the state butterfly of at least 8 different states including Texas, and I think some of the attention can be given to our Gulf Fritillary.

The Gulf Fritillary deserves recognition as the most common representative to the United States of the tropical longwing butterflies (Heliconians.)   Like the Monarch, the Fritillary wears bright warning colors, has a life cycle that can be watched in the backyard (if you live where its food grows), and is large and beautiful enough to get the attention of anyone.  The Passion vine, the fritillary’s host plant, grows with the zest of tropical plants and displays extravagant purple flowers.  The butterfly is almost tame living in backyards, and allowing you to get very close with slow and steady movements.   

This summer and fall, I have been lucky enough to capture much of the Gulf Fritillary's life cycle with my camera, thanks to the passion vine I planted this spring.  Many of the following photos were included in previous posts, but collectively they create a mini story of the Gulf Fritillaries in my yard.

First I planted a Passion vine, and up it goes.

Laying eggs

Little golden egg
Good luck little egg.

Time to eat

Once I counted over 70 caterpillars!

Look at that warning color.  Don't eat me!
A hidden chrysalis looks like a dry leaf. 
All the Leaves are gone

Just hatching!

Zinnas are great for hungry Butterflies.

On the Wing

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bat Quiz

Bat Quiz for Halloween

Since Halloween is coming up, I thought we needed a Bat Quiz. Good Luck!

  1. Bats are in the Chiroptera Order, and Chiroptera means...

  2. Hand Wing
    Old Wing
    Dog Wing
    Night Wing

  3. Different types of bats eat the following except...

  4. Fish
    Dead Meat

  5. There are ___ species of bats in North America

  6. 23

  7. The Flying Fox, the largest bat, can have a wing span of ...

  8. 2 feet
    4 feet
    6 feet
    10 feet

  9. Vampire Bats are found in

  10. Africa
    Creepy old Castles
    Latin and South America
    No were. They don't exist

Thanks for testing your knowledge of a great nocturnal animal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sun Halo

On Monday morning, I saw an amazing Sun Halo!  A Sun Halo is an optical phenomenon that can occur when the sky is filled with thin high floating cirrus clouds.  The clouds are so high up that the water is actually frozen ice crystals, and these crystals act as a prism bending the light around the sun.  Sun dogs, and circumzenithal arcs (upside down rainbows :)) can also be seen when cirrus clouds fill the sky.  Another of my favorite effects to spot is cloud iridescence.  Its rainbow of color can be seen before and after storms in the higher clouds.  I am a little obsessed with optical phenomenon when ever there are high wispy clouds in the sky you can bet that I will be gazing sun ward. 

Optical Phenomenon are also fun because of the mythical associations they possess.  While I am not a believer in the these myths, it is fun to connect to the past when signs from above appeared in the sky.  I look to the sun (with care not to damage my eyes), and in the hopes of seeing something pretty!  Light, ice crystals, colors, and arcs... Beautiful!

Cloud spotter's Guide  A really fun read, and an introduction to a new hobby, cloud spotting!

Sun Halo-Oct 15, 2012 at about 9:30 am

Sun Halo- the line through it is a contrail- airplane tracks 

Sun Halo fading at about 10 am

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Backyard Ecology

The backyard is fun place to observe ecology; predator vs prey interactions, pollinator and plant adaptations, population pikes in response to particular environmental condition, plants fighting for space, and other ecological themes can be observed.  It is invigorating to see life and its complexity just a step outside the door.

I have a hackberry tree that is covered in tiny cottony scale bugs.  These bugs look like tiny flakes of dandruff and are related to aphids, like aphids, their poo is sticky honeydew.  Black mold on the hackberry's leaves drew my attention to these small creatures.  The lower leaves get coated with honeydew, and in a humid environment the honeydew grows mold.  Aphids and cottony scale bugs are wide spread in Austin, as we have had a wet summer; the bugs even made the news.  As I look under leaf after leaf, I discover that the cottony bugs weren't the only insect present; ladybugs, green lace wings, assassin bugs, and several spiders are all eating the cottony bugs.  I might have more concern for the tree if I didn't see natural pest controls at work.  The question is: Will the predators overcome their prey before the tree loses its leaves this fall? 

The property behind our apartment is very hot, and at some point the top soil was removed.  This makes growing very difficult, but this fall we have a very interesting crop.  I have a field of tiny flowers!  There is a waist high wispy yellow flower, a tiny daisy, and a purple ball flower.  All three species are about 1/4" in diameter with no leaves or very small leaves.  The flowers are pretty abundant, but they would make the world's smallest bouquet.  You can imagine my surprise and then realization 'duh' as I observe the tiniest butterflies out in the field.  Petite Pearl Crescents, Ceranunus Blues (which I renamed -peri wink), Orange skippers, and Dainty Sulfurs are all  less than 1/2" long and found in my field of little flowers.  Also hanging from the blooms are honey bees, bee flies, hover flies, mason bees, camouflaged crab spiders, and many more hidden species.  The tiny flowers grow in a harsh environment attracting small bugs, and I don't even have to get in a car to see it.  

What examples of ecology do you enjoy observing day to day?

Its a cutie little silly dog with cutie little yellow flowers!

Orange Skipper with jet plane wings
Damselfly here to eat gnats!
Watch out little Ceranus Blue!
Unidentified Copper

Eastern Amberwings another miniature bug, about 1.25 inches long

Beautiful lollipop spider webs are out in the field too. 

Ladybug larva with cottony bugs on the next leaf.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Good Bugs

The last few weeks I have been getting some fun photos of butterflies and other things in my yard.  Yesterday, was a particularly lucky day; I was able get some nice photos of five different kinds of butterflies and a beetle that I have never seen before!  My zinnias, Turk's Cap, and passion vine are doing the work of attracting the insects, and I just have to move slow and be patient with the camera.  The Turk's Cap has been blooming all summer attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.  I am planting more of Turk's Cap in shady areas of my yard with the seedlings from my established plants.   I'm so glad I planted the passion vine this Spring.  It is host food to the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly and other tropical butterflies that I wish lived in Austin.  I would recommend planting it in your yard if you live in Austin, but don't be surprised if caterpillars try to eat every leaf, or if the vine sends roots to invade near by flower beds.  My tomatoes and peppers are making a fall crop, and I have my fingers crossed that they will ripen before the first freeze.  My big squash plant (if you stretched all the vines together it could be 25 ft) is finally making large pear shaped fruit, but I've never seen a squash quite like this one.  The friend who gave me the seedling swears the seed came from a cucumber seed packet.  Unfortunately the taste is a little bland; I think it may have to turn into zucchini bread!  Plants and bugs are so much fun!  I feel enriched everyday!

Tawny Emperor and Bumble Flower Beetle

Bumble Flower Beetle and Tawny Emperor


Gulf Fritillary laying an Egg

Gulf Fritillary with an Egg

  Gulf Fritillary Egg 

Border Patch

Border Patch

Fatal Metalmark

Pearl Crescent 

Black Swallowtail

Giant Squash plant!

Anoles running away
Ruby-throated Hummingbird waiting for me
to get away from the flowers!