A Fly Mystery

by Eric Neubauer, elaborated upon by Sue Ann Kendall

A long while back I observed about a half dozen flies of an unknown species, which baffled everyone on iNaturalist. The genus has finally been identified.

Visit the observation on iNaturalist if you want to learn how experts go about narrowing down what genus and species an observation might be. The users aispinsects (Arturo Santos) and tpape (Dr. Thomas Pape of the Natural History Museum of Denmark) worked together through the ID process under that observation, though most was done by Santos. Thank goodness the photos were so good, as details like veining are very helpful in identifying flies. It’s gratifying to see two true experts helping out with the identification of this unusual fly with very small eyes and an atypical head shape.

One thing we do know about these flies is that the fly maggots are parasitic on lizards. You can see an infected anole lizard on the iNat page for Lepidodexia if your stomach is strong (that’s from Sue Ann).

As often happens with the oddities I get fixated on, I’m immediately top observer. There are only ten observations of the Lepidodexia on iNat at present (one new one happened recently). No doubt there are others as yet unidentified.

I need to look at flies some more.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Pape’s comments. He thinks he knows the species for the fly, but is not sure:

“The large flesh fly genus Lepidodexia is mainly Neotropical and has several very tachinid-like species. There are a few Nearctic species, and the present certainly fits the genus and may very well be Lepidodexia hirculus, see: http://diptera.dk/sarco/Detail_s.php?RecordNumber=11734
Very little is known on the biology of species of Lepidodexia, but they include as varied breeding records as live frogs, lizards, snails and earthworms.”

Santos is a wonderful contributor to iNat and has helped identify many flies around the world. He’s a citizen scientist at its best!

Reduce and Reuse Plastic, but Don’t Recycle

by Mike Conner

The following are my opinions, based on a good bit of reading but not rigorous research.

Paper, steel, modern-tin, aluminum, and glass cause minimal harm if they are “lost” into the environment. (Roadside non-plastic trash is more an esthetic issue than an environmental issue.) Many chemicals and metals are also harmful, but these should not be present in household recycling.

Plastic on the other hand causes lots of problems if it is “lost” into the environment.

Tiny, micro, and nano particles of plastic are polluting our food, soil, and water to a remarkable extent. Much of this comes from Styrofoam which quickly breaks down into micro pieces that don’t further decompose. A lot comes come coatings that break down into “forever” chemicals. Pretty much all plastic breaks down in the ocean into smaller and smaller pieces, but these pieces remain plastic; they don’t decompose.

Plastic film, complex shapes (like the harness for a six-pack of cans, or a net, or a tangle of string or rope), and small, swallowable parts are causing lots of harm to wildlife, especially in the oceans.

Plastic recycling barely works. Most estimates guess that only about 10% of recycled plastic is actually recycled and the rest is discarded. Actually, the percentage is much lower for everything but standard plastic drink bottles. Plastic bottles are more readily recycled because they are easy to identify and because they are all made from the same somewhat-recyclable plastic. Note that they are, sadly, not very reusable, as cleaning them causes them to start leaching chemicals into their contents.

In North America (including the USA) there are essentially no open public trash dumps. Here we have landfills, which are regulated, and modern ones are quite well designed and managed. The rest of the world, and especially the countries to which recycling materials are shipped, still heavily rely on open trash dumps, many located near rivers. These dumps, plus fishing fleets, account for most of the plastic that pollutes many rivers and all oceans.

In the US it seems that the processing stream for recycled plastic is poorly documented, but it is estimated that about 40% of US recycled plastic is still shipped overseas. So, when you recycle plastic, you have two possibilities:

1) It gets sent to a US-based recycler, where a small percentage is recycled, and most is disposed of in a well-managed landfill. In this case, you have increased the energy cost of disposing of your plastic with the benefit that some may have been saved from going into a well-managed landfill.

2) It gets shipped overseas, where the vast majority of it will end up in an open dump, and a good fraction will end up polluting the environment.

So, my conclusion is that we should recycle everything we can (especially things like electronics that contain heavy metals and bad chemicals) except plastic. I think the case for recycling plastic drink bottles is borderline, but for everything else it is better to put plastic in the trash.  And, of course, we should avoid single-use plastic when reasonable to do so. (The case for some plastic packaging (like shopping bags and containers) is complex, as sometimes the environmental cost of non-plastic packaging is considerably higher.)

And always remember that recycling is the last term in — reduce, reuse, and recycle.

An article with some interesting background information about landfills and municipal recycling is: This California city asked where its recycling went. The answer wasn’t pretty.  

A Good Time Was Had by All

By Sue Ann Kendall

Last Friday we held our December meeting at the Milam Community Theater building in Cameron, and instead of a speaker, we had a party! Members volunteered to decorate tables, and the themes were just beautiful.

Our party team did a great job planning the meal, which was provided by the Thorndale Meat Market (fantastic place to shop or cater your party). Guests enjoyed pork loin and prime rib, along with amazing potatoes and asparagus. Desserts were provided by Master Naturalists. I wanted to steal a couple, especially the amazing chocolate Bundt cake with cream cheese and cherries.

We had some quite good Texas wine donated, too, so it was festive! Of course, there were vegetarian and non-alcoholic options.

I didn’t get a good picture of the wine table but it’s back there.

We all had a great time at dinner with our friends, and had even more fun at the actual meeting, where everyone gave end of year reports. I didn’t know it was happening, so I didn’t give a blog report. I will post one here before the end of the year.

Judging from all the smiles I think fun was had.

Now for the big highlights. We honored some of our members for their service. This warmed all our hearts, I know. Linda Jo Conn was honored for 5,000 hours of volunteer service. Her enthusiasm inspires us all. We are so grateful for her ideas for activities that got us through the pandemic.

The next recognition was for your faithful blog contributor, Donna Lewis, who has attained the huge milestone of 10,000 volunteer hours! That’s truly a significant event! All those hours helping purple martins and sharing with the community earned her a beautiful pin and certificate. It was great to be there to honor her.

Next, I’d like to thank Carolyn Henderson for coming up with the idea to acknowledge people in the chapter who make big contributions, our previously unsung heroes. It was especially gratifying to see that the first award didn’t go to a member, but to Patricia Coombs, sister of our blogging friend Catherine! Patricia has been attending meetings to help with the hospitality and anything else she can help with. We are all grateful!

Thanks!

The next well-deserved thanks went out to Lisa Milewski, who has been serving as our volunteer hours coordinator for more years than she’d like to (who wants to learn the job and help out?). That woman, who you always see smiling with the president when achievements are handed out, has done an incredible job keeping track of our hours and making sure they are entered into the Volunteer Management System correctly. Plus, that smile!

The final award went to another tireless worker, and all-around fun guy, Don Travis. Don has been the group’s communications director for fifteen years and has spent many, many hours building out the chapter website. Besides that, he gets our speaker presentations on the shiny new chapter laptop and presented onscreen. He also helped greatly with our Zoom meetings during the pandemic (it was very helpful to me, while I was trying to hold the group together). Good work, Don. (He would also love a helper or replacement.)

We are very proud of what our small, isolated chapter has accomplished!

Congratulations!

After the meeting we had our annual white elephant gift exchange, which is always fun. Lots of stealing and action occurred, because there were some great gifts! Enjoy these photos of attendees and action. Sorry I couldn’t get everyone in. I tried! click a photo to see the whole thing.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Winter Weather

by Donna Lewis

Is it December?  Maybe I missed something somewhere.  This warm weather is not only messing up my trying to figure out whether I wear sweatpants or shorts, but it has a real effect on the wildlife and plants.

I have hundreds of Gulf Coast Fritillaries coming awake when they should be over wintering snug in their chrysalis forms.

So… Why is this not good for them? Look outside, there are very few, if any, nectar plants for them.  Hardly any wildflowers are in bloom and our own gardens have gone to sleep as they should.  All we can do is watch, learn, and wait for Mother Nature to do her thing.

The birds that are here in Central Texas are also wondering, hello, what is going on?

While warm weather helps them have more insects to eat for this time of the year it also causes them to think about mating and producing a new family.

Bad idea.  If they do that, the cold weather will finally arrive and kill the eggs.

Confusing for sure.

Now, let’s also not forget as we prepare for the winter to come, that we can do a few things to help our friends out.

Extra seeds, mealworms, water, and shelter like old limbs and falling leaves are some things that we can provide.

And of course, leaving some land natural, as it was originally, is what they need.

I have included some photos I just took this week showing some of the chrysalis on our front porch.  I see them daily emerging into beautiful butterflies.

Remember the wildlife every day.  Nature gives us her best every day.

You become what you believe.

And remember who you are gardening for.