Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, August 29, 2011

Black Widow

When you garden in the South one must always be mindful of certain insects that can be harmful to humans and pets. Georgia is home to three venomous spiders...the brown recluse, northern black widow and the southern black widow.

This weekend my husband was moving some stack stone rocks to create a new pathway through the side garden. He was about to pick up this rock when he saw this beauty.

Black widow spiders are the largest of the cobweb weaver spiders. They are very common in nature and like dark, small spaces and are often found between rocks, log piles, in dark sheltered spots like the corners of your mailbox or in your propane meter tank. 

The female is shiny black or brown-black and sometimes has a row of red spots on top of her abdomen. She has a red hour glass on her underside (which I didn't get a photo of) and is venomous. The females can grow to be 1 1/2" long with its legs extended and this one is certainly that big. The male spider has red spots on its abdomen with white lines radiating out to the sides. The male is NOT venomous. 

They belong to the genus Latrodectus which in Greek means "biting in secret". They really only bite in self defense when they accidentally come in contact with humans. Most bites feel like a pin prick which are the spiders fangs injecting a very small amount of highly toxic venom. If you are bitten you will know immediately. The venom works will get bad cramps, followed by breathing problems, a high fever and then great pain. A black widow's venom is fifteen times more potent than a rattlesnake. The southern black widow is reported to have the most severe bite. It usually isn't deadly if medical attention is received immediately.

The female spider will mature in about 90 days and live another 180 days. She will lay somewhere around 9 egg sacks in one summer. Each egg sack can contain between 400-900 eggs. They incubate for 20 to 30 days. Like praying mantis, usually only a few survive due to cannibalism. This mother had two egg sacks she was trying to protect.

Black widows typically eat other insects, their favorite being mud-dauber wasps. But they also have enemies. Some parasitic wasps will sting and paralyze the black widow. It is also a favorite of the Praying Mantis.

Fortunately my husband saw this spider before he picked up the rock and was good enough to call me to grab my camera. He knows me too well.

Linking up for Macro Monday.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Party at the Fig Tree

Apparently my Brown Turkey Fig is THE place to hang out if you are one of the "bad boys" in the garden. I use this term loosely because I actually love having all these insects around!

I found this praying mantis tucked away on the underside of a fig leaf.

She watched me closely turning her head to keep an eye on me at every angle.

This baby katydid camouflaged herself very well. Can you see her? Her body is aligned with the stem of the fig leaf and her legs are spread mimicking the veins on the leaf. Very clever indeed!

This larger katydid was simply trying to blend in hoping I wouldn't see her. She kept very still while I poked my lens in her face.

This one wouldn't have any of it and decided to saunter off to find a quieter place.

These bearded robber flies really took a shine to each other. And you guessed it, on my fig tree! (A shout out to Elachee Nature Center, my local nature preserve, who helped identify these flies for me.)

Here is a closer look at this cool insect. They feed on other insects especially deer flies and horse flies but also flying ants and grasshoppers. They overtake them in flight at high speeds. I can tell you they made a lot of noise when they came in for a landing.

The large leaves on the fig tree make an excellent landing pad for the winged creatures in my garden and a great hiding place for those predators waiting to attack their prey. Not to mention it provides delicious fruit for us (and the birds).

I am linking up today with Camera Critters.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Brushfoots

One of the best represented butterfly families in my garden at this time of year are the Brush-footed butterflies. They are easily identified by their shorter forelegs which are frequently hairy and look like brushes.

This American Lady blends in very nicely amongst the mulch. Had she not moved when I walked by I would have missed her all together.

When she opened her wings to bask in the morning sun the light shone through her wings glowing a beautiful orange .

The ladies are common across all of North America. To attract these try plants in the aster family. The caterpillars eat thistles and cudweeds which are in abundance in the empty lots surrounding my house.

Another group of the Brushfoot family are the Fritillaries. They are large, orange butterflies with brightly silvered or white spots on their underwings.

The Gulf Fritillary lay their eggs on native passion vines and maypops.

I found this Great Spangled Fritillary basking on my shrubbery before it took off to drink nectar at the nearby Buddleia bush. Caterpillars feed on violets of which I have many growing wild in my woodland garden.

The Admirals are another member of the Brushfoots. The one most common in my garden is the Red-spotted Purple.

With its brilliant blue and red spots it is often confused with the Pipevine Swallowtail but doesn't have the tails like the swallowtail. The Red-spotted purple host plants include wild cherry, poplars, and hawthorns.

Unlike most butterflies that feed on nectar, they feed mostly on decaying organic matter, rotting fruit and moisture from damp sand. They often find their food source in my compost bin but another method is to provide over ripe fruit in a suet feeder.

The Crescents are small versions of fritillaries. Their host plant is the aster and are most often seen on milkweeds, black-eyed susans, asters and coreopsis. However, I caught this one on my lantana.

Just an friendly reminder that butterflies are dependent upon plants to provide nourishment for their young and nectar from flowers for their adult food. Many butterflies are dependent upon a few specific plants for their survival and some of these plants are dependent upon unique habitats for their survival. Therefore, habitat conservation is needed. Butterfly gardening is one way to help and enjoy the benefits of seeing these gorgeous creatures up close in your garden.

I am linking up today for Macro Monday. Take a look at all the amazing macros taken by fellow bloggers. Happy Monday y'all!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Peek a Boo

Found this baby anole trying to hide out on a hosta yesterday morning. 
He was playing peek-a-boo with me.

Of course mom was keeping an eye on her little guy from the tree.

Always making sure that I wasn't a threat.

While baby crawled around trying his best to blend in with the hosta leaves

always watching me out of the corner of his eye.

How can you not adore this face?

I am joining Blogging from Bolivia for Macro Friday and Camera Critters.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A "C" of caterpillars

While scouting my garden yesterday morning I notice that there were several leafless twigs on one of my blueberry shrubs. So a closer inspection was necessary. What I found sent shivers down my spine.

A mass of caterpillars all huddled together. Yuck! I knew these wouldn't be caterpillars that turned into glorious butterflies instead they would turn into some type of moth. Of course I had to find out exactly what type they are.

They are yellow and brown/black stripped, moderately covered in long white hairs with black heads. They look very much like a yellow-necked caterpillar but I think they resemble another Datana, the Drexel's Datana. I used my steadfast caterpillar book (a Princeton Field Guide) "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" by David L. Wagner as a guide to iding this caterpillar. 

The young caterpillars tend to feed together on a single leaf and gradually disperse onto nearby foliage as they grow. When disturbed, as in me getting close to take a photo, they lift their front and hind quarters to make the letter C shape with their bodies. It is actually pretty cool to watch them wriggling along and then all of a sudden freeze into a letter C.

I read that they can be voracious on blueberry bushes as well as witch hazel. Whereas they only skeletonize the foliage their foraging can retard the growth of the plant. So I decided that they will have to go. I don't want them to wander to my other blueberry shrubs or find my witch hazel. And, I am not going to wait around for the Tachinid flies to parasitize them. Instead I enlisted the help of my seven year old son who was thrilled to pick them off the shrub.

Once he had picked them all off of course he had to count how many there were. He had 41 total! I hope he didn't miss any!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What is left of Summer: GBBD August

Finding myself in the middle of August I am wondering where our summer has gone. I know according to the calendar and certainly the weather we are in the throws of summer but my kids are back to school already and all our summer fun is a distant memory. So it is back to the grind (ugh!) but this also means that I get to spend a little more time in the garden.

My pass along Canna is starting to bud and is a favorite spot for the katydid. Can you see it hanging out between the buds?

The milkweed is continuing to bloom and the butterflies are thankful. I was recently learned that butterflies do not reproduce when it is too hot. This certainly explains why I am seeing fewer butterflies this summer.

The two beauty berry shrubs in my garden are both producing berries already! A sign that autumn is just around the corner?

The Early Amethyst (Callicarpa dichotoma) 

This sedum is a fabulous performer and is just starting to bloom. The green blooms will turn pink in the fall. I had three plants, two feel prey to the voles but I rescued them just in time to root the stems that were left behind. They are thriving on the back deck and waiting to be replanted this fall (with vole proofing). I don't know why the voles didn't touch this one.

Autumn Fire Sedum

The Russian Sage has been a constant bloomer and the bees are on it from dawn to dusk.

This salvia greggii 'Navajo Rose' has been a favorite of the hummingbirds

The annuals are providing much needed color in the garden.


Portulaca 'samba pink'

Texas Sage 'Coral Nymph'

There are still some surprises in the vegetable garden. The last of the fruit and vegetables are producing before the fall garden goes in.

Sweet 100


volunteer watermelon

Today, I am joining May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Pop on over to to take a trip around the bloggasphere to see all the August blooms.