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.
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!