Sweet Sheenanigans for February 2023

by Sheri Sweet

Well, it’s past due time for another Sheenanigans so I’ll lump several together!

Last night, I took the Big Hairy Beast (aka Newton, the dog) out for his bedtime constitutional. We were standing on the porch, and both heard a rustling in the Popcorn rosebush (Big Hairy Beast is on a leash because with the slightest movement he’s off! He LOVES to chase the neighbors’ guineas!) I do digress. I didn’t smell a skunk, so everything was OK. Anyway, he rousted out this creature with a LONG skinny tail. At first, I thought it was an opossum. They have a mouth full of sharp little teeth and a nasty disposition and hiss and growl if they are not happy!

The Big Hairy Beast

Seems the Bit Hairy Beast was after Army, the armadillo. Well, armadillos are pretty quick at times and he was chugging right at me – I screeched before I realized it was Army. He charged right over my FOOT and between my legs, then crashed into Fred, the Rock, next to one of the tree trunks that support the porch. Army bounced back, dead canna leaves were flying, and Big Hairy Beast’s teeth clanked against Army’s shell. Army felt his way around Fred, the Rock, and dashed behind some more rose bushes, heading to the HUGE hole he had dug at various times (I expect the rose bush to fall into it any day). Big Hairy Beast hit the end of his leash and couldn’t go any farther.

Army’s hole

Fred, the Rock, is a big sandstone rock we found at Lake Texoma, and we rock-napped him when we lived in Oklahoma. When we moved back to Texas, my daughter had a hissy fit until we agreed to move Fred with us! Uncle Grump lived under Fred, the Rock – he was a very large gray toad with a light stripe down his back – the brand name escapes me right now. Uncle Grump was really grumpy that we took his rock, but now there are several of his relatives living around it down here!

Several weeks ago, I opened our front door, and there was Oooh-Yuk, the six-foot-long Texas rat snake! He has a very neat diamond design on his sides – no, he’s NOT a diamond-backed rattlesnake! In looking at him, I had the idea that his skin would make someone a very nice belt! Ooh-Yuk looked at me and slithered around five inches. I slammed the door and went hunting for Wes to get his gun. Couldn’t find him, so Oooh-Yuk gets to live a little longer. If I catch him trying to rob bird eggs or baby birds, he WILL be a dead Oooh-Yuk, like a couple of his relatives! Yeah, yeah I know! I’m a Texas Master Naturalist and he’s a “good” snake. Unfortunately, I STILL think the only “good” snake is a dead one! So Sorry!


Oh yes, if you want some “fun” and action try kicking the top off a fire ant nest! Be sure to jump back after that! Fire ants do like to get even with you! Nasty things!

Ol’ Mother Nature decided to shake her fist at everyone last week. I don’t know about y’all, but we had several large limbs fall out of our trees or at least break and split down the tree trunks. Some fell across our lane from both directions so we couldn’t get out very easily. You should see the pile of trimmings we have tractored out to the burn piles! Son, Brian, came out today and did quite a bit more trimming for us. The chainsaw is a very alluring piece of equipment for him.

It was icy!

While Brian worked outside, our daughter-in-law Christina, worked inside on some light bulbs I needed changing, Seems like I have acquired a bad relationship with ladders and nine-foot ceilings! Somehow it seems easier to ask the younger generation for help sometimes. Grandsons Eli and Oliver raided the candy jar and drinks from the refrigerator.

See y’all again sometime when I get around to more Sweet Sheenanigans!

Nature Tales: Mockingbird Entertainment

By Pamela Neeley

Yesterday, waiting for my appointment, a testosterone-addled mockingbird was determined to rid the area of the intruder.

The 8-week-old puppy on the other side of the window was fascinated, cautious and mostly curious about the aerial display and pecking.

I watched a bit more than an hour, and learned the mockingbird has been at this all day. He was still defending his territory when I left in late afternoon.

As I recall, several times my Dad had to cover the rear-view mirror on his pickup to deter the same behavior and keep the truck mirror from being broken.

Purple Martin 2023 Update

by Donna Lewis

Hello, everyone who loves Purple Martins. As of today, February 21, 2023, I have five Martins. They arrive one at a time.

The birds

I have opened up all of the gourds now on the rack today. The apartment house is still vacant, so all the northern compartments are still blocked.

When we get straight line rains those compartments get wet sometimes, and I have to remove all the wet pine-needles and replace them.

Last year I only had three pairs in the apartment house. I do not know why since in years past all twenty-seven cavities were occupied. It may be because trees in the vicinity have grown taller and it is harder to gain entrance to the house?

Anyway, it is so nice to have some happy little friends singing to me.

Since our place suffered from the recent ice storm, and trees and limbs are down, it shows us that life goes on. There is always something to sing about.

I also placed the oyster shells out that the birds use for grit. Many other birds visit the platforms I put it on besides the Martins. The Bluebirds and Cardinals really like the shells also.

The grit

So, if you have Martin houses, the birds are on their way to you now!! Yay!

The platforms

Remember which birds you are trying to attract and put out what they need.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.


Wildscape Cleanup Day

by Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist Wildscape at the Bird and Bee Farm was a beehive of activity Saturday afternoon. Quite a few members from the still-in-training to the very experienced showed up to prepare the place for the coming spring bloom and take stock of the damage from the ice storm.

Pruning in progress

Damage was minimal – just the archway – but the plants were in need of haircuts and pruning. Plenty were on hand to get it done. But some has been left for those who couldn’t be there Saturday. The next workday is planned for March. 

Perplexa Needs Help

by Eric Neubauer

“I’m perplexa, and I’ve been lost in the scientific wilderness for nearly 90 years. Can you help me find my siblings?”

Most who have done taxonomic research have run into at least one of those “lost” species that once identified seem to be forgotten. Some are later determined to be a synonym for an earlier species. Others apparently disappear from the ecosystem. Whatever the reason, the Lycosidae family is littered with more than its share. One of those species is doing well enough in Milam County to be found in a second location early this February. It has also been found in a few scattered locations in Texas as well as one in Ohio. Is it exceptionally rare? Is it as sneaky as the Texas panther? It’s impossible to know.

Schizocosa perplexa is a medium sized wolf spider. Its tans, browns, and blacks are a bit richer than other Schizocosa species, and the legs are orange-red under the covering hairs. Its black tummy (venter) is uniquely spectacular with a thin, pale tan stripe down the middle and dozens of pale tan spots and dashes on either side. The unique venter pattern makes species identification easy, but a ventral view is needed to be see it. When I finished taking photos, I let the spider walk out of the container into my hand. I could feel him move slowly to the edge of my palm, pause for an instant, and then hop onto the ground which was about 9″ lower. An awesome experience with a “lost” species.

Here is the species history from the human perspective:

1. 3/25/1935 male only collected at Garland Swimming Pool in Dallas by S. Jones
2. 12/36 male only first described by Elizabeth B. Bryant at Cambridge, MA
3. 1937-1977 crickets?
4. 1978 C.D. Dondale and J.H. Redner decide to exclude perplexa from their revision of the Schizocosa genus, probably due to lack of information.
5. 1979-2017 crickets?
6. 4/14/2018 Sara Jane Rose finds one in Ohio
7. 5/21/2018 Sara Jane Rose uploads and observation on iNaturalist
8. 5/26/2018 Scott Snyder sees a female with egg sac near Temple and uploads observation on iNaturalist. Not identified until 2 years later by me.
9. 5/27/2020 I start seeing these and soon suspect they are perplexa based on Sara Rose’s observation.
10. 3/15/2021 I finally get a ventral view and confirm species.
11. 5/1/2021 Meghan Cassidy (who tentatively identified mine early on) finds a female at Lewisville Lake and uploads observation on iNaturalist.

An early lack of interest and/or funding was likely why it took 83 years to find out what a female looked like. The species deserved more follow up than it got, and that’s something amateur scientists have helped with. As far as I know, I’m the only one who has seen these in the wild on a regular basis. Little is known about their lifestyle, but I can speculate. Evidently, they have a huge range, but only a few locations are known. This year I found late perplexa juveniles at the edge of vernal ponds in wooded areas. A common, smaller Schizocosa species was also present. The smaller species may have been there in search of aquatic insect larvae, and perplexa in search of the smaller Schizocosa. Based on previous observations, the perplexa adults have a greater tendency to be found among died leaves and wander about. If vernal ponds in wooded areas are essential to perplexa growth, flood control projects have probably resulted in insignificantly reduced habitat for them. At the same time, the large number of ponds and lakes have greatly benefited Pardosa wolf spiders.