In Search of Ant Lions

Suna learned about ant lions this week.

The Hermits' Rest

A set of fortuitous circumstances have led me to have something more in the naturalist vein to write about. I’ve been missing those things! It all started when I was in the horse pen, and noticed all these cool paths in the dirt.

In addition to the trails, there are a couple of donkey hoof prints, to liven things up.

I couldn’t remember what made those trails, though I was sure I used to know, so I posted about it on Facebook. I got some cute and silly guesses, then, as I’d hoped, someone from around Cameron reminded me of the answer. Burton, who’d been in my Master Naturalist class, identified them as ant lion, or doodlebug, trails. These Myrmeleontidae (it means ant lion!) are commonly called “doodlebugs,” because their trails make them look like they’re doodling around.

I knew THESE were ant ions!

The reason I should have known…

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Predator and Prey Brochure

Predator and Prey Brochure: A Collaboration Between Texas Master Naturalists in the El Camino Real Chapter and All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc.

(Primary Contributors: Donna Lewis, Cindy Bolch, Joyce Conner, Helen Laughlin, and Carla Conner)

The Texas Master Naturalist mission is to develop a corps of well-educated “Master Volunteers” to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated toward the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. All members receive training and learn strategies to restore and conserve our local and state indigenous species and habitats.

One of the missions of All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc. is to promote respect and compassion for all wildlife through public education and awareness.

Because their missions align, four Texas Master Naturalist members in the El Camino Real Chapter (Milam County) attended a 3-hour training session at All Things Wild (ATW) in 2019. Thereafter, a relationship formed between the two organizations that included the chapter providing supplies and providing release locations for rehabilitated animals.

Learn more about me in the new brochure! Photo by @jenni.heller via Twenty20.

In 2020 the El Camino Real Chapter and All Things Wild partnered to create a brochure titled “Predator and Prey,” which is geared towards educating the public about some interesting things regarding wildlife, specifically in Milam County. Many of our wildlife creatures are sometimes mistakenly considered pests when actually these animals are quite beneficial to humans and the environment.

You can download the whole brochure at the end of this article.

This brochure illustrates the interdependence of some of Milam County’s most common mammals through individual descriptions and through a food web. It was designed by graphic artist Carla Conner, an ATW volunteer.

During our research for the brochure we learned new things and gained an even greater appreciation about the included wildlife. For example, we learned that both opossums and skunks are immune to snake venom and that both will eat venomous snakes. We also learned that raccoons do not wash their food, as many people believe. Instead, they will wet their food in their paws to gather sensory information about what they are about to eat. We hope you learn new information from the brochure too.

An online copy of the brochure is included at the end of this article. Look for the hard copy in the fall at your community library and Chamber of Commerce. You will also be able to get copies at the All Things Wild Rehabilitation center. Brochures for members of the chapter will also be available at the Hermit Haus; just let Sue Ann know you want to come get some. You are also welcome to print out a personal copy from this blog.

We hope that knowing more about these amazing wildlife neighbors will lead to more respect and protection of them. Learn and explore the wonderous world of wild animals so that you too can hear “The Call of the Wild.”

Download your own copy here!

The Barking Baby

By Donna Lewis

A few days ago, I was headed out to the back pasture when I walked right up to a tiny Pocket Gopher with his little back end up in the air as he was digging in the ground.

Dirt was flying everywhere.  He must have gotten out in the open because there was no tunnel to dive into.

I’m thinking… buddy you need to watch what you’re doing or one of my dogs will get you because you are not paying attention.

So I reached down and touched him on his little tail.

Lordy mercy…he jumped up and started running around my boot barking at me.

I was laughing so hard.

I had my camera in my pocket so I took a photo of him.  He was really telling me what he thought.

Angry little pocket gopher!

And no, I never kill these little creatures, even though they eat things in my garden. They aerate the soil and add organic matter to the areas where they are. So they do some good for us. 

Everything has a purpose.

Big Versus Little in Nature

by Carolyn Henderson

I have developed a relationship with a Yellow Garden Spider over the spring and summer this year, all courtesy of a tomato plant. Then, a kleptoparasitic Theridiidae genera intruded. This illustrated that big does not always win. 

This large yellow spider (pictured) showed up on my tomato plant (I only planted one) when it reached about two feet tall, sometime in April. It set up house, via a web, and seemed to just stay parked there. It never moved off the web nor did it bother my plant. The tomatoes grew all around it, and I picked them without problem. The growing spider and I were coexisting on friendly terms. I eventually posted it on iNaturalist, and it reached research grade. The tomato plant has become spindly and leaves are turning brown. I normally would have removed it by now, but I didn’t want to remove the spider’s home. 

On Wednesday, my son noticed some very small, metallic spiders on the web with the big one. The big spider had snared and wrapped its daily catch in webbing, and these little spiders were attempting to get at it. You can see it in the pictures.

I thought at first that they were recently hatched babies of the big spider, but I was wrong. I posted a picture on iNaturalist and a helpful identifier who goes by chuuuuung said the little spider is a kleptoparasitic Theridiidae genera – a thieving parasite. The little thieves were going to work on the big spider’s catch. (We are trying to get a video to attach, so come back later if you see this message.)

I have left them both alone. Nature is nature, and you definitely  don’t always win if you are larger. Today (8-6), the garden spider caught a good size wasp and wrapped it up. The Theridiidae were waiting in the outer reaches of the web to take their shot at it.  Meanwhile, the tomato plant is growing more tomatoes. 

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.