A Fly Named Anthrax pluto

by Eric Neubauer

When I review my photos and decide what to upload to iNaturalist, the first thing I do is separate them into broad categories such as flies aka Diptera, and today was the day to work on that group. One was this shaggy, spotted fly found in a wooded area near Alligator Creek.

Sue Ann now declares this her SECOND favorite fly.

I don’t know my flies very well, and trying to identify one I’ve never seen before is like going down Alice’s rabbit hole.

There are so many different kinds of flies. A fair number don’t even have a single observation at iNaturalist, but I thought this one was distinctive enough and I might get lucky. Way down in the low double digit observation totals of Texas flies, I finally found one with similar spots. It was in the Anthrax genus which I’ve never encountered before.

The word “similar” is a dangerous one and it has burned me before, so the next logical step was to search the genus Anthrax in Texas. And what do you know, there was another nearly identical species down in the single digits! Now, how am I going to tell them apart?

The only consistent difference I could see was that the leading edge of the wing of one was solid black and alternated between black and clear on the other. Mine was the one with 7 observations, now increased to 8. The only other observations for this species in North America are four in eastern Canada, oddly enough.

Making the Best Out of the Materials You Have Available

… the essence of engineering

by Eric Neubauer

I was hardly a fan of spiders, but circumstances have determined otherwise. The pandemic has kept me almost exclusively at home, and the Texas Blacklands appear to be excellent habitat for wolf spiders (Lycosidae).

In the past, getting identifications down to the species level almost always ended up in frustration, except for Rabidosa rabida. I have identified at least three other genera on my property, and there are likely to be more.

Rabid Wolf Spider Rabidosa rabida. Photo by the author.

This year, I decided to make observations of them as they grew up. My goal was to upload at least a hundred observations to iNaturalist before trying to identify them down to species level. I passed my goal by getting 23 in 43 minutes a few days ago.

This Thin-legged Wolf Spider (Genus Pardosa) is a young one. Photo by the author.

Lycosidae are generally considered nocturnal, but this isn’t entirely true. Daytime hunting is hit or miss, but a combination of high humidity after a rain, temperatures in the high 70s, and cloudy skies apparently combined to bring them out in the middle of the day.

This one is not identified yet. Photo by the author.

There is also a matter of technique. I’ve found that closely cut grass next to high grass is the best place to look and photograph them. You can just walk around slowly and watch for movement, but many will escape into the high grass. If you lead with one foot along the edge of the high grass, this flushes more of them into the low grass where they can be photographed.

There is one particular species that is so well camouflaged it’s impossible to see unless it moves. Right now, they are mostly a half to an inch long including the legs, and they are old enough to identify the genus.

Brush-legged Split Wolf Spider Schizocosa ocreata. Photo by the author.

You may also see holes of various sizes in the ground. At present, many are probably Lycosidae burrows. They can be enticed out with a blade of grass, but I’ve found they disappear back down their burrows too quickly to photograph, making it a two person job whenever that becomes an option again.

My habitat is returning prairie on blackland with paths mown through the high grass. Confirmed genera: Hogna, Pardosa, Rabidosa, and Schizocosa. Other non-Lycosidae genera including Dolomedes are encountered.

Midnight Madness

by Catherine Johnson

Before the storm hit last night, two young canine siblings were barking at something. Their mom sleeps indoors and only barks when she knows something bad is going on.

I was watching a movie, but walked out in gown and flip flops. I immediately heard loud rattling.  Our snake killer, Boscoe,  was facing what turned out to be a 3-foot rattlesnake. 

I went and told everyone to get up. They also came out wearing flip flops, but Daughter had us all spotlights.

I found my gun but no shells, while my husband and daughter were in a daze. During a great uproar and shouting, we were able to get dogs in house, kill the snake and tend to Boscoe, who had huge fang marks on his nose. 

Fang marks are near his eyes. Lower left and higher right, across the black strip.

Boscoe got nervous staying inside and ran off in the storm after I brought a doghouse on the porch.  I saw him at 5 am again.  The Warrior.

Poor Boscoe!

Babies Everywhere

by Donna Lewis
(with additional photos by Sue Ann Kendall)

This is Suna’s Phoebe mom, eating sunflower seeds and amaranth, or waiting on a fly.

Anywhere I look I have baby birds right now, which is a wonderful thing for a naturalist. Who could be bored right now with so many little creatures to look at?

On our front porch we have a nest with five tiny Eastern Phoebes. They are fly-catchers and love things with wings.

This morning mama tried to force a giant beetle down her youngest daughter and I thought for awhile I might have to preform the Hine-lick procedure…

Donna’s Phoebe babies taking a nap
Suna has a phoebe nest atop an old swallow nest.

Then in my Blue-bird houses I have five babies in one house and six babies in another. Again, bugs are on the menu.  This year the Blue-birds decided to run off the Purple Martins so they could use their perch to look for predators near their houses.

Over in our barn I have a nest of baby Carolina Wrens in a bucket that was hanging on the wall. If you have never seen a wren baby you would not believe how tiny they are. They are the cutest little things ever. There are only three babies.

Up in the oak trees about 18 feet high we have some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Now talk about a tiny house. You can barely see it. It is wrapped in moss and is very concealed.

I love this quote.

There are ton’s of Cardinal nests everywhere. They eat bugs and from my feeders. I have them year round.  They are regulars here.

Then at last my beautiful Purple Martins, who came very late this year, are starting to lay their eggs finally. That unfortunately will cause the babies to mature during the hottest time of the year. 

I have seven nests with eggs and more that have not started yet.  I have the fewest Martins than ever at this site.  There are many potential reasons for this, and it’s hard to determine for sure.

But the ones I do have sing to me, and it’s all worth the trouble.

Nature is everywhere you are.  All you have to do is look.

Heaven on earth.

Hummingbirds in Milam County

by Donna Lewis

It is getting hot every day now, so it is important to remember a few tips for our smallest bird friends. They need  fresh water just like every living thing.

My hummers like to fly though a small sprinkler that I put out just for them every afternoon around 5:30 pm.  I place it under a tree for shade and a sense of security. They cool down and get a bath at the same time.  It’s fun to see them play.

Hummingbirds enjoy a little shower. Image by @murophoto via Twenty20.

We also need to remember that hot weather will make the sugar water ferment very fast. So,  clean and put out new nectar in the feeders at least every 3 to 4 days. Sugar water should be 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

Hummingbirds like fresh nectar. Image from Creative Commons.

Native plants are actually the best food for them. They also like little bugs for protein. Their favorite plant here at my place is the Coral Honeysuckle I have on a fence. They spend more time drinking from its tubular flowers than drinking from the feeders.

Tubular flowers are the best! Photo by  @malisunshine via Twenty20

Its good to place the feeders under some shade if you can.  This keeps the sugar water from getting so hot.

Right now the males are doing their courtship dance.  A high deep dive in a U shape pattern in front of a potential bride..

Ladies… you get to pick.