Sunday, March 17, 2013

Clearwing Moth

Last year, we had Hemaris caterpillars on the coral honeysuckle. And, like Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar, they proceeded to devour the plants. In fact, we had to re-locate several of them from a spindly little vine to a set of more robust plants in the backyard. That was a win-win: the pitiful honeysuckle survived the onslaught, the caterpillars got more food, and the new honeysuckle was right on the back porch, so it was much easier to watch the feast.

Nom nom nom. poop. Nom nom nom. poop (Lifestyle of the average caterpillar)

They're grew to be big caterpillars: I could feel their weight when they crawled on my hand. Beautifully colored as larvae, they metamorphose into a pretty interesting critter, too.

Hemaris caterpillars become Hemaris moths, a.k.a. Clearwing moths, a.a.k.a. Bumblebee moths. They buzz around plants with their transparent wings, sipping nectar while pretending mightily that they are Dangerous Bees with Very Large Sharp Stingers, so you should Certainly Leave Them Alone.

I was reminded of my caterpillar friends and their honeysuckle buffet when I spotted an adult this afternoon, drinking from a patch of henbit.

I hope this means that there will be more Hemaris caterpillars this year. I'll keep an eye out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Our three dogs keep us updated on important happenings outside. Hot-air balloons flying over OUR house, woodpeckers munching on OUR birdseed, maurading armadillos digging up OUR grubs...It's a wonder those poor puppies ever get any sleep.

Co-Sheriffs Meg (left) and Tessa (right)
Deputy Finn

A few days ago a weather system brought in some high winds. I noticed the dogs were barking a lot, while looking straight up. I investigated, and found a weatherbeaten taurpalin was stuck high in a pecan tree near the porch. "Not much we can do about that, deputies. Carry on." A few days later, I noticed it on the ground, apparently blown out of the tree. Yesterday, when I went to grab it and throw it away, it was gone again.

Back to this morning. All three dogs were hysterical, bouncing on the deck, looking up, then at me, as if I needed to DO SOMETHING. The culprit?

I guess the squirrel dragged the lightweight tarp back up into the tree yesterday, and was busily working at taking it apart,  pulling it into little fibrous shreds. It would then haul a big mouthful of tarp fluff into the crotch of the next tree, where it disappeared. Moments later, it was back for another load.

I guess I'm glad that my procrastination gave the squirrel (and future little squirrels) a nice fluffy nest. AND I'm happy to know where the nest is located. I'll be waiting impatiently for little ones to appear.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Be careful, tree: someone's following you!

Natalie's "Tree Year" blog came to an end in December 2011, but the idea stuck with a lot of people. Simply choose a tree, and use words and pictures to "follow" it over the course of a year. Lucy, over at Loose and Leafy, has kindly offered to keep up with bloggers who are tree-following.

When I decided to follow a tree, it was pretty hard to choose one. Maybe a big bur oak, with acorns like golf balls? Or one of the southern prickly ashes, whose bark is covered with spiny pyramids? There are pecan trees, and walnut trees and cedar trees and hackberry trees in the Not So Big Woods.  Big ones, too: mature trees that arch high overhead, with trunks that my arms can't circle.

But in the end, I chose a young cedar elm. It's about 7-8 years old, growing within a few yards of its probable parent tree. It's the center of our circular gravel drive, in an area we enclosed with big limestone rocks and railroad ties.

At this time of year, the tree doesn't have any leaves, and it was hard to get a picture of it against the backdrop of all of the other trees that also don't have any leaves. Here, it's silhouetted against the storage shed.

The droughts of the last 2 summers haven't had as much of an effect on this tree as on most others. It got the benefit of the water that we gave the roses that are planted around it, and the dribble from the morning filling of the birdbath. In the picture below, you can see the birdbath flat on the ground on the right side.

Right now, the circumference of the tree is about 8 1/4 inches just below the main fork. It has an important job:  providing perching branches for the songbirds that hang out at the feeder station just a couple of feet away. The twigs are tiny little things, a few of them showing the corky wing-like structures that make it easy to confuse the cedar elm with the winged elm.

I picked this tree because it's so small. As fascinating as the big trees are, I love the idea of having the branches of my "followed" tree right down at a level where I can get at them. Spring is springing here in North Central Texas, so changes are sure to be coming soon.