Monarch Caterpillars in the House!

by Donna Lewis

On Maya 4, I was so happy to discover two monarch caterpillars feeding on the milkweed a group of our Master Naturalists planted on our properties last year. This species of milkweed is Asclepias asperula, common name Antelope Horns or Spider Milkweed.

Of the twenty-four plants I received from a grant Cathy Johnson procured for us, only these few survived. Gophers tunneled under all the others and they did not regrow.

But… look what found them!  There are two monarch caterpillars munching away on them.

There were also two species of bees, a wasp, a variegated fritillary, and a hairstreak butterfly.    Everyone wanted in on the action.

Interesting was the fact that the Monarchs were eating the stems not the leaves? I do not know why that was. Something to learn about.

The main thing to take away is that while it may seem like a minor event…two more monarchs made it into our world.

So yes, we can make a difference!

Who are you gardening for?

The Great Caterpillar Run

by Donna Lewis

On May 2, I went out to the pollinator garden to work, and all I saw was black Pipe-vine caterpillars on the march to find more pipe-vine plants. They ate all the ones I have in my garden right down to the ground and are even eating the stems right now.  It’s a feast going on….

The vines, before

I almost stepped on a bunch of them.

Off it goes!

I got my camera, took a few shots and then carefully walked out of the garden.

The vines, after

They will go out to the pasture and find their native vine until they are big enough to make a chrysalis  and then become a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

Nothing left but future butterflies.

In several weeks, my plants will completely grow back and the process begins again. Last year I had four complete cycles.

The caterpillars can be black or dark red.

That is amazing.

PS: Out near where Donna lives, Suna saw at least a dozen of the adults enjoying Indian blanket flowers. Sadly, she was unable to stop the vehicle fast enough for a photo, but it was a beautiful sight.

Pipevine Swallowtail

by Donna Lewis

There has been lots of activity in the pipevine area of my garden.

The first baby pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) of the year. These are the black form of the larva. There is also a red form. I will probably have both later on in the month.

This is a species of butterfly that is common around Milam County, so, I am sure there is a native pipevine that it uses as its host plant. My goal this year is to find it, and take some photos.

You will know this butterfly by the blue-metallic hind wings.

Photo taken April 20 at Canyon Lake by dnvarga on iNaturalist. Used with permission.

The pipevine plant I have in my garden is a naturalized version from Brazil. It is apparently safe (not invasive).  It is hard to come by, because the caterpillars will eat it to the ground in 24 hours. Thankfully, it has grown back 4 to 5 times each year. This plant has a toxic ingredient like milkweed to protect the adult butterfly.

 I really like these little guys.  They do not sting you and are interesting to watch.

Who are you gardening for?

First Monarch Caterpillar

by Donna Lewis

The first tiny monarch caterpillar in my garden for this year! It is a first instar and very little. Of course, the only milkweed I have right now is pretty tiny also.

The photo is not the best, because the wind was really blowing the camera around.

Still, it’s pretty exciting to see the little thing that will grow up to be a magnificent monarch butterfly.

Reach for the stars, little one.

Signs of Spring: Herons

More and more of the native wildflowers are blooming, but the other sign of spring here in northern Milam County are birds working hard to make new birds. This morning, I looked out at the pond behind our house and saw a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage.

Look closely

I realized he had a big stick in his mouth. He’s making a nest! I think the nest is over by the creek. I do look forward to seeing the family.

Off to the nest.

I spot lots more little flowers on my walks. I often have to memorize where I see them when I’m horseback so I can come back and get pictures. Here are some recent arrivals.

Butterflies are everywhere, too. They are enjoying the dandelion blossoms mostly. I still haven’t gotten a red admiral to sit still, but they are also here.

It’s so much fun to watch the seasons unfold. It’s also fun to listen. Cardinals are calling loudly this morning, but they have competition from a woodpecker who’s giving a concert by pecking on different parts of a tree and varying the tone of its pecks. What fun. Barn swallows are swiping and chirping.

And the heron is chiming in, along with the crows. I miss the flock of starlings that descended yesterday and really made things loud!

The source of morning concerts at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch.

But wait! Late addition! Just now I found Snappy, or more likely child of Snappy, one of our big snapping turtles. The original Snappy is much larger.

If you want Latin names for my observations or to see more, visit the Hermits’ Rest Ranch Flora and Fauna project on iNaturalist!