Welcome to Our Blog

Hello, friends. This blog is where the El Camino Real Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists shares news, articles, and reflections. You’ll find our posts right under this introduction. We encourage your comments and likes, and of course, shares!

Texas Parks and Wildlife
AgriLife Extension

The Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Our chapter meets monthly on the second Thursday of the month in Milano, Texas.

Our Mission: To develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.

The Big Kahuna Lizard Thing

by Donna Lewis

Just the other day, I was in my garden and leaned against an oak tree with my hand. Something heavy and wet then scooted  across my hand. Boy, I pulled my hand back just in time to see the biggest lizard looking thing I ever saw in my garden!

Broad-headed skink, iNaturalist photo by (c) Alan R. Biggs. Creative Commons. 

After I composed myself, I looked a little closer to the beast. It was the biggest skink I ever came across. It climbed up to the higher parts of the tree and ducked inside a hole.

It turned out to be a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps). This fellow likes dead trees usually near a forest environment. That makes another good use for a snag (dead tree).

These skinks can look very different. This one is from © Dawn Carrie, and was observed July 3 of this year.

This skink eats insects and other small lizards. I was glad to discover that humans were not on the list.

It was pretty neat seeing it. Keep your eyes open, and maybe you’ll see one, too.

Nature has amazing creatures everywhere. You just need to look.

The Entertaining Prairie Boopie

by Sue Ann Kendall

[I wrote a similar piece for my personal blog, but thought it might be good to also have it appear here.]

This being a big year for the hoppers, I thought I’d learn more about the ones here at the Hermits’ Rest, and I’ve been sharing some photos here and there, and did a post on their cool names. I am not able to get them by net (even though I keep saying I’ll buy one, I forget), so most of my photos are rather blurry, but I’ve had fun identifying them, with help from my expert friend and student Master Naturalist, Eric N., on iNaturalist.

Most of the grasshoppers you see around the ranch are boopedons, a name you just have to love. More on them later.

By the dark color and size, I now know this is a male.

I did find a really pretty grasshopper (if you think they can be pretty) with a cool name over by our church office on Friday. These are the Obscure Bird grasshoppers (Schistocerca obscura). The stripes on their backs and the dots on their legs make them very striking.

Back at the ranch, today I went on a hunt, and only found one grasshopper-like insects that weren’t Boopedon (to be precise, the prairie boopie, the best name ever), a katydid.

It turns out that male and female prairie boopies (Boopedon gracile) look very different, so what I’d thought was a different species, was, indeed, just a female of the same species. I learned this when I FINALLY found a detailed article on them.

I also learned that “Prairie boopies are typically found in dense grasses, including prairies, rangeland, and savanna habitats. In Oklahoma, this species was reported to be more abundant in overgrazed prairies than natural ones.” (This is from Grasshoppers of the Western US, a really interesting site.) I’m happy to know they aren’t officially classified as pests (unless you hate grasshoppers, I guess).

Anyhow, as I went about observing away, I realized the front field was a like a sea, with little bobbing boopie boats on it.

Every brown thing you see is a grasshopper. Bobbing boopies.

Then I noticed that they were very fond of the nightshade plants next to the driveway.

Twelve boopies jumped off this plant when I took another step closer.

I quickly realized these grasshoppers are at the height of adulthood. Most of them were mating. They don’t need privacy (being grasshoppers). You can see how different the female looks in this picture.

That’s four of them. And do you see why I am annoyed all the rain skirted us today?

As I walk along, I tend to send boopies flying away (but only males, because I just learned the females are flightless!). Here’s video proof. Warning: I think I sing. Lucky for you it’s only 35 seconds long.

Other than how hard these guys feel when they hit me as I drive Hilda, I’ve gotten fond of these guys. Both Vlassic and the chickens love to eat them, and at the moment I don’t have any tender plants they will kill.

It’s been fun watching them grow, and I guess somewhere out there will soon be a lot of grasshopper eggs. I’ll have to look those up next…sigh, no I won’t. I’m crushed: “Little is known about the reproduction of prairie boopies” (from the above web link). Well, we have plenty of them here, even though they apparently aren’t often found in high densities (I beg to differ).

I’d call that a high density.

I guess I’ll be booping along now. That’s all I know about the prairie boopie. I lie. They are also known as the graceful range grasshopper, and were identified by Rehn in 1904.

Plants for Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds in Summer

by Donna Lewis

The summer heat and dry conditions make us wonder… what the heck can I plant that will help the hummingbirds and the butterflies?  And of course, it has to be something that is easy to take care of.

I have found that the Coral Honeysuckle Vine and the Flame Acanthus bush fit the bill. Both are visited by butterflies and hummers.  A two-for-one deal.

The coral honeysuckle is in the back on the fence. In front is our friend the passion vine.

The Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a climbing vine that can also grow as a ground cover. It is ever blooming in some years. It likes sandy loams, clay, and poor soils.

How much better can it get?  You can grow it in the full sun or part shade. It goes great on an arbor or on a fence like I have it.

By the way, this is not the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle.

The flame acanthus is in the rear, on the fence. In front of it are zinnias and Salvia gregii.

The next plant that loves our summers is the Flame Acanthus bush (Anisacanthus quadrifidus). It’s extremely drought tolerant , gets no diseases, and is easy to grow. Again both hummers and butterflies like it.

This bush will die down in the winter. Cut it back in the spring before it starts to green up.

Both of these are great plants for hot and dry conditions. They need no fertilizers and little water once established.

Be adaptable and watch what your garden and wildlife like.   Then your garden will be successful in an ever changing world.

I hope you will always see the wonder and beauty in nature.

Wolf Spider Mystery

by Eric Neubauer

I’ve been watching a large population of Hogna wolf spiders growing up on my property since winter. I’ve submitted photographs to both iNaturalist and BugGuide, and people there don’t hesitate to confirm them all as Hogna antelucana.

Specimen of hogna wolf spider with the vee shape pinched shut.

Nevertheless, I found I can easily sort them into two groups from a fairly young age on. The markings on this species are quite variable in general, but one reliable difference between the two groups is in a lightly colored vee shape near the back of the head. The vee points toward the back and is open at about a 35 degree angle on one type and is pinched shut on the other.

Specimen with an open vee shape.

There are other small differences, but they are harder to define and less consistent.

At first I thought it might be a case of sexual dimmorphism, but lately I think there may be two different species.

The dark one.

The third example has the open vee, hard to see because the spider is looking up, and is very dark with none of the warmer tones these spiders usually have. It is the only one like that I’ve seen and perhaps lacks the ability to produce an orangish pigment.

It is one of several mysteries to keeping life interesting.