Ten Minutes with a Tree

by Carolyn Henderson

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. 

Cicada

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. 

Weird and New Nature Observations

by Sue Ann Kendall

In the past week or so, I’ve seen some pretty darned interesting sights on my north Milam County ranch. I thought I’d share a few with you all. Plus I have a bonus observation from Pamela Neeley.

We’ve been digging a lot of holes for fence poles this week, which stirs up the insect population. A couple of days ago, we saw something wriggling on the ground, and I realized it was a spider I’d never seen before. It had beautiful pale green markings and had a very large abdomen.

I wondered what it was, and iNaturalist indicated it could be an Giant Lichen orbweaver, Araneus bicentaurius. What a beauty. We are in some of the most western areas they are found.

The day before, I has spotted a rabid wolf spider, lying motionless and with its legs all curled up. That was weird. I went to look at something else, and when I came back, I knew what had happened to it. A Rusty Spider Wasp Tachypomplilus ferrugineus had stung it, and now it was dragging it up the wall to wherever it was going to enjoy its spidery meal. It turns out those wasps, which were new to me, prefer wolf spiders as prey.

This looks yummy!

Something else that was new to me this year was my discovery of a bunch of odd-looking, deformed Mexican hat flowers  (Ratibida columnifera or upright prairie coneflower). I wrote about them in my personal blog, but have learned more since, thanks to fellow Chapter member, Linda Jo Conn. Alongside of a field that had grown oats for silage, the flowers didn’t look quite right.

Since I know that the field next to the flowers got sprayed by herbicides more than once (the representatives from our ranch coop gave permission), I wondered if that is what caused the flowers to have extra petals, extra “cones” or oddly shaped flowers. I uploaded some of the images I had to iNaturalist and waited. Sure enough, Linda Jo commented that there’s a word for abnormal growth in vascular plants: FASCIATION. Now, isn’t that cool? The Wikipedia article on fasciation says sometimes it’s caused by hormones or by viral/bacterial infections. But, among the possible causes ARE caused by chemical exposure. Another possibility is excessive cold weather. Guess what we had in February??

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying the insects of summer. Wow, there have been some interesting ones here at the Hermits’ Rest!

And finally, just for fun, I wanted to share a photo Pamela Neeley took of a young praying mantis. Look at its shadow! It’s a giraffe!

A Fly Named Anthrax pluto

by Eric Neubauer

When I review my photos and decide what to upload to iNaturalist, the first thing I do is separate them into broad categories such as flies aka Diptera, and today was the day to work on that group. One was this shaggy, spotted fly found in a wooded area near Alligator Creek.

Sue Ann now declares this her SECOND favorite fly.

I don’t know my flies very well, and trying to identify one I’ve never seen before is like going down Alice’s rabbit hole.

There are so many different kinds of flies. A fair number don’t even have a single observation at iNaturalist, but I thought this one was distinctive enough and I might get lucky. Way down in the low double digit observation totals of Texas flies, I finally found one with similar spots. It was in the Anthrax genus which I’ve never encountered before.

The word “similar” is a dangerous one and it has burned me before, so the next logical step was to search the genus Anthrax in Texas. And what do you know, there was another nearly identical species down in the single digits! Now, how am I going to tell them apart?

The only consistent difference I could see was that the leading edge of the wing of one was solid black and alternated between black and clear on the other. Mine was the one with 7 observations, now increased to 8. The only other observations for this species in North America are four in eastern Canada, oddly enough.

Found Some Austin Natives

by Sue Ann Kendall

I love it when I go for a walk and see things that you’d only see right where I am. This afternoon in Austin, where my housemate and I were enjoying some sun after all that rain over the weekend, I found these guys. Here’s an excerpt from a longer post on my personal blog. Let me know if I’ve mis-identified anything!


Today turned out to be beautiful. Anita and I enjoyed looking at some of the native plants and insects we pass by on our walks. Two were right outside our house, next to a steep rocky slope.

Cedar sage outside the Bobcat Lair (our Austin house)

No matter how hard the landscapers try, they can’t get rid of all the beautiful plants that were here before the development was here. Case in point is the cedar sage you see here. Its native habitat is cedar brakes on caliche, where the ashe junipers are located. They like the rocky hillsides. Yep, that’s accurate! These beautiful flowers cover the rocks our house sits on, right under the native trees that got to stay when the neighborhood was built (now they qualify as “heritage” cedars, so allergic people can’t cut them down).

Slender false pennyroyal

Nearby were these lovely little plants with tiny pink blossoms. There are many tiny plants with pink blossoms this time of year, but these looked different from all the others I’ve been finding. Sure enough, they are slender hedeoma (Hedeoma acinoides). There is not much about them in iNaturalist, but a quick check of their habitat shows it’s mainly the middle of Texas. It’s a local! Further checks on the Wildflower Center site found that their common name is slender false pennyroyal. I learned something new!

At the mailbox, my housemate, Anita, started jumping around, and I saw that there was a large winged insect flying and landing, which caused that reaction. I got everything nice and calm so I could photograph it.

Extreme crane fly closeup.

It appears to be a crane fly, but I’m not sure which one it is. It could be Tipula tricolor or Tipula furca, juding by the wings. I assume someone on iNaturalist will set me straight. I thought it was nice of the crane fly to hold still so I could get such a good picture!


What have you been seeing? Care to share? I’d love to see more posts with your observations in them, to share with our fellow Master Naturalists