Last week I turned on my porch light every night at “dark thirty” to attract moths I could photograph and submit to the National Moth Week 2021 project on iNaturalist.org. This year was a bit cooler and more moist than most of the past years, and also a bit brighter because of the full moon. Although I thought I did pretty well with my very basic mothing equipment and a “point-shoot-and-hope” camera, I was amazed by the quality and quantity of observations my Texas Master Naturalist / iNaturalist friends across the state of Texas submitted.
Becoming a Master Naturalist has truly changed my life for the better. One thing that’s enriched my life is using iNaturalist. I’ve learned so much about the world around me, in particular right where I live. Our property is north of Cameron and has woods, pastures, a creek, springs, and an arroyo. That means there’s lots to see! I thought I’d share some of the summer life from this year.
First off, I’ve learned to look down and look for anything on a leaf that doesn’t look like a leaf. However, this beetle wasn’t hard to spot. It’s teeny tiny, but was so shiny it caught my eye. I think I now have a favorite beetle, and have plenty here for it to eat!
The Mottled Tortoise Beetle is a member of the Leaf Beetle family. It is found on morning glory flowers, leaves, and vines as well as milkweed plants. Their spiny, flat larvae look more like little dark centipedes and they eat these plants while they grow and develop into rounder, shiny adults. Though they may punch holes into the leaves of the plants, they rarely cause enough harm to damage or kill the plant unless it is young or a seedling. They are not considered an agricultural pest or threat.
This week, I’m supposed to have been looking for moths, for this year’s National Moth Week collection. However, I’ve only located two. One is bright and cheery, plus it was on my car, which made it easy to see, while the other is one of those common brown ones that will soon be legion if the chickens don’t eat more of the armyworm moth caterpillars. I spotted it, because it was something that didn’t look like a leaf, but was on one of our tomatoes (which got damaged thanks to herbicide drift from the cotton across the road, grr.)
I’m always on the lookout for things that are blooming, because one of my goals when I retire is to compare when I have uploaded flowers over different years to see if they change. That’s why I keep recording observations on the ranch, even though it doesn’t count for Master Naturalist hours unless it’s part of an approved project (so, the beetle doesn’t count, but the moths do). I’m just curious about my local ecosystem and don’t need awards to motivate me at this point!
Most of the flowers I’ve been finding are in the pink to purple family, except those snake apples. I just learned they can also be called globeberries. Huh.
Of course, there are lots and lots of insects, particularly the differential grasshoppers who are dominating every moment of my outdoor life. Chickens like them a lot, though. The spiders have been interesting this year, though, and I’ve seen some new ones. I’ll also share the deep black beetle and one of the snakes that has been eating the eggs my hens produce. They seem to have gotten smarter and stopped hanging around in the hen house, which makes them easier to find and dispose of.
So, what’s thriving over where you live? Have you seen any of these species? We love it when you share your experiences on our blog! Contact me at ecrmnpresident at gmail.
On a hot, humid day this week, I ventured out in the early evening to see what I could find to post on iNaturalist. Because of the aforementioned humid heat, I didn’t go far. I decided to peruse a Texas Ash tree in my backyard. This tree took a hard hit from the freeze earlier this year, and I am doubtful it will survive, but nature seems to think otherwise. I spent 10 minutes looking over the tree and found nine species on it.
Butterflies, spiders and bugs were all over it. I first happened upon a live Superb Dog-day Cicada before it molted from those prehistoric looking shells they leave attached to everything. There were two shells and a live one that I think was trying to get out of it’s shell. It succeeded. I checked back the next day, and the shell was attached to a leaf with out the Cicada in it. It had a little white thing attached to it pre-shedding (molting?) and post-shedding that the other two shells didn’t have on them. These are the cicadas we get every year in Central Texas. I haven’t seen one of the 17 year versions.
Next, I found two types of beetles and an ant hanging out together. I took a picture of the small, brown stink bug and got a larger Green Beetle and ant with it. The smaller brown beetle was identified as a Southern Green Stink Bug on iNat. I didn’t attempt to identify the type of ant. I thought the Green Beetle was a leaf when I took the picture. I also found a Dock Bug (per the closest thing I could find that looked like in on iNat). It could be a juvenile leaf-legged beetle. These look very prehistoric. The armor clad look makes me think of ancient Samurai warriors. Another type of beetle-looking bug was also abundant. It is identified as a Acanthocephala terminalis on iNat.
On that same tree, were several Seven-spotted Lady Beetles, Hackberry Emperors, and Garden Orbweavers. The Hackberry Emperors camouflage well when on the bark of the tree with their wings up. That’s nine different species cohabitating on one tree in close proximity to each other.
In a nearby bush, I found a Mealybug Destroyer with it’s children?. The “destroyer” name seems inappropriate for the small, fluffy white insect. Note in the picture that there is a much larger one (compared to the others) and three very small ones. The three small ones are in a straight line behind the large one. There was a Texas Ironclad Beetle, a Flesh Fly, and a Condylostylus. The last one, a very colorful and small flying insect, is numerous and difficult to take a clear shot of because of it’s size. A better camera than I have is needed.
A quick walk in my backyard produced a large array of nature to observe. And, I had more than one thing to post on iNat. If you are interested in joining iNaturalist, go to www.inaturalist.org to get started. Linda Jo Conn is the go-to person for our club on anything iNat.
Hint: If you want your post verified quickly to get research grade status, post it of a bird, butterfly or bee/wasp. I’ve had my bird posts verified before I finish the post.
One of the things I like about being a Master Naturalist is that I have learned to be a more careful observer, wherever I go. I’m happiest that I’ve been entering what I see on our ranch into iNaturalist, because I can see when flowers bloom or go to seed every year, when butterflies arrive, etc. Today’s butterflies included these:
Even though our observations on our own property no longer are approved by the state office, I still observe for my own study and analysis. I have a project where all observations here are stored.
This year’s been pretty interesting, which shouldn’t be surprising after the weird weather. I’ve been quite surprised to see common plants, like Indian paintbrush, not as prominent, with some new plants popping up.
One plant we have in super abundance is this annual trampweed (Facelisretusa). It’s really pretty in early spring. Then, when it blossoms, you don’t really see the flowers, just white buds, followed by exuberant star-shaped seed heads.
I’d never noticed this plant before, and it’s everywhere this year. Now it’s one of my favorites.
Another plant I’d never noticed around here is small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica). It’s another one of those tiny flowers from up high. At first I thought it was that chickweed or something.
Once you touch it, though, you know it’s different. You also know how it got its name. It’s sticky! It could certainly catch a fly. You can see all the hairs in the photos.
The little flowers range from pink to white. I had honestly never seen it before. Did I not notice it or did it come in with floods? Is it something that grows better after a hard freeze or two? I’m sure I just didn’t notice it, even though I’ve been trying so hard to identify everything here!
The third “new” plant I wasn’t even sure of its ID. None of the things that are suggested on iNaturalist really match the way it looks, but since I know plants can differ in color from place to place, labeled it dwarf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium minus), and hooray, I was right! Linda Jo identified it for me. It’s another tiny little fellow, but it’s really pretty.
Another “new” plant really isn’t new. It’s a pink evening primrose. But I never saw one so white. I thought it was a petunia from a distance.
That’s quite a contrast to the usual ones, though they do come in many shades of pink.
There, I hope you’ve enjoyed a small selection of the fun discoveries I make right on the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. I’m so glad I’ve learned so much about nature in this one special place, thanks to joining the Texas Master Naturalist program.
Please join me, Donna, Pamela, Carolyn, and the others who have shared the nature where they live! Send me your pictures and some words, and let’s share the beauty in our part of the state.
“Belly Hunting” for teeny, tiny flowers is hard on the leg muscles. On Sunday, I went to Wilson Ledbetter Park to take pictures to post to the Great Texas Wildlife Trails (GTWT) Adopt-a-Loop project in iNaturalist. It was a follow-up to pictures posted in February before the Great Freeze of 2021. I discovered that the park is covered in teeny, tiny flowers, and plenty of larger one, too.
If you attended the March meeting of ECRMN, you remember that Monique Reed, retired Botanist for the state, called it belly hunting because it requires getting down on their level which is really low. I opted for a lot of squatting trying to stay out of the way of the ants.
Some of the teeny flowers I encountered were Field Madder, Common Stork’s-bill (very pretty flower), Bird’s-eye Speedwell in abundance, Black Medick, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Carolina Crane’s-bill. It isn’t difficult to find them because they are currently abundant in Wilson Ledbetter Park. I have included pictures of these flowers. Often, I came across patches with five or six of these in a space about the size of a square yard. I didn’t see any bees out there, which is a little worrisome, but there were several types of butterflies, flies and ants.
I also recorded the larger flowers – which don’t require frequent squatting. I challenge you to locate Grape Hyacinth, Texas Baby Blue Eyes (some of these are twice the normal size that I’ve always found), Poppy “Winecup” Mallow, Cretanweed (they have darkened lines at the edges of the petals but look similar to dandelions), two different types of Blue-eyed Grass, Fine-leaf Fournerved Daisy, Floating Primrose Willow, and Canadian Meadow Garlic. Here’s a hint: the last two are located near/in the lake/pond. Some are on the fence by the cemetery.
If you’re active in iNaturalist, they’re easy to get identified. If you’re not, you can sign up. It’s free. Enjoy a walk in the park surrounded by many types of flowers, birds and butterflies. I will buy lunch for the first person to find all those flowers at Wilson Ledbetter who posts the pictures in a blog here. I am not liable for any bee stings – in case they show up.