Butterflies and Stars all in a morning!

One of the many benefits to getting up sooo early… early being, before Sunrise is that you get to watch the butterflies warming up in the morning light.  Do you like to do photography? Go out early and you will have a better chance of photographing some of the more elusive native butterflies by watching for them resting and doing their warm ups – flexing those wings for flight, on cool Fall mornings.

Here is a Gulf Fritillary in my yard soaking up early morning rays.  When I found myself initially standing outside at 7am gazing around at the night sky one of the first constellations I noticed overhead was Orion the Hunter   Just look for the three belt stars in a row that tell you it’s Orion!   Near the belt stars is the bright planet Jupiter, also overhead and down lower, nearer to Orion is the dog star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major

Gulf Fritillary ButterflyGulf Fritillary Butterfly

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The Backyard Universe is all a Buzzzzz!

I spent most of my day, once it warmed up and the grass dried off, outside working on the half acre.  I watered the little garden, checked the plants for “pests” to re-locate, watered around the labyrinth then decided to clean out and re-fill the Hummingbird feeders.  On walking past our next-to-last declining citrus tree in the yard, a Citrus Greening victim, I noticed pollinators busy at their jobs.  There were the usual bees and various wasps, and then I saw a beautiful little Red Banded Hairstreak butterfly.  (I knew by the shape  it was some kind of a little Hairstreak.)  Hairstreaks are a common butterfly in South West Florida but they are rather small (compare to the bee) and easily missed if you don’t really take the time to LOOK for them on your flowering plants or trees:

02-03-13 Red Banded Hairstreak Bee3Best

Look at the beautiful orange on the wings.. the eye spots and what looks like an M on the hind wing.  If you’ve never watched a Hairstreak before,  try it!   You’ll notice they do some interesting things with their back hind wings.  For one thing, they are usually in motion, being rubbed together much like we’d rub our hands together.  GO ahead, try it!   Now take a much closer look at the picture and you’ll see the hind wings have little “tufts” looking outgrowths on them that stick up.  These will also wiggle around.  Now combine the wiggling tufts on the wings and the wings rubbing together with that big black eye spot and a predator just might think it’s looking at the front end of the butterfly instead of the back end!   Allot of times Hairstreaks will be missing part of their lower wings because this worked so well.  Hairstreaks don’t move around so fast when they have a good source of nectar.  I’ve noticed they like to hang around the area and take it easy usually resting on the blooms like this.

If you have a yard with some citrus in it consider watching and exploring there for Hairstreaks as well as other cool insects like this beautiful  Paper Wasp.

 

 

02-03-131 PaperWasp

Look at his coloration what does it tell you?  There’s lots of hot colors there red, oranges, yellows and black in bold arrangements of color.  The colors say “Keep Back”  “Stay Away” “Leave me alone” or I might hurt you to protect myself.  That’s a fair warning!   So just stand back and watch him in the tree or bush and see what he does.  Why is he on the leaf?  Is he getting pollen or hunting for worms?  If we take time to explore and listen, and question – and do a little research later, there’s allot we can learn. 

Insects truly do receive a bad rap for “intruding” upon “our lifestyles” when  in fact, they are just minding their own business!  Outside even!  Whether it is an ant patrolling a counter or a wasp outside in a tree, or a spider in a web a most common thought is Ewwww!   followed by trying to figure out the best way to dispose of it and that is really a shame for we are all part of this same living, macro organism called Earth.  The outdoors are an amazing place to explore with your family or by yourself so go outside and see what you can find.  There are beautiful creatures and plants to see and explore right outside your home.  

     

 

 

    

a Backyard Universe of Vegetables!

I enjoy veggie gardening as much as I enjoy going out on the trails or star-gazing…  not only is gardening, planting things, good for the mind and body, but also for the soul..   Gardening gets you out into the fresh air working with the soil and plants getting  your hands dirty.  You become aware that the space around your house, your yard, the little patch on earth we call “ours” is home to many other forms of life besides ourselves.  Problems become small..  issues go away quickly as you work and become one with the soil, with the earth and nature.   

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My garden this year (below) is handkerchief sized  at 6′ x 6′  square..  don’t ask me how I got it square, I wasn’t trying LOL.  I spaded the area out, removed the grass, and then added some amendments to it consisting of a couple of shovel fulls of Miracle Grow Gardening Soil and  Osmocoat.   In the background of the image you can see the Labyrinth.  The big bushy plant is Lemon Grass used in my Thai cooking and tea on a hot day. 

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While the garden area  is small it’s already produced several rounds of  Simpson Elite lettuce  and Georgia Collards.  The tomatoes are still coming along with blooms.  I have two heirloom varieties planted:  Mortgage lifter, and Black krim   I also planted a couple of  Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomatoes which are not seen in the image as they are outside of the garden square proper (for another blog.)   I also tried a new green this year, Burpee Senposai Hybrid.   This is an awesome green that goes good in salads with the Simpson (or bib) Elite lettuce.  The leaves are more sturdy and have a good flavor to them.  You can also stir fry it!  

Try adding fresh young Collard leaves to your salad.  They add a spicy not quite bitter taste that is wonderful!   I’ve planted another row Lettuce and Senposai since this photo for later on.  I stagger my crops and rotate them.     I have a few other things I’ve started from seed I won’t mention yet as they haven’t poked their heads up yet – I just got them started yesterday.  Other things I have growing on the lanai are mint and sweet basil..  also good added to a salad.

SO..  If you are tired of  “the same old  thing” veggie wise, or tired of  bagged veggies, consider growing your own.  It’s healthier  and you will know its Pedigree from your online seed research and choice to planting and nurturing  to your plate, and YOU and your family will have grown it yourselves.   It’s not difficult to do and it’s actually fun for everyone.  If you want the kids to eat their veggies, get them involved in growing them!  I know that works because growing up we kids worked and planted and did “pest patrol” on our own half acre garden.  We ate all the things we grew and a few of them raw right there in the field.   Overages I learned to Can and freeze or dry and sometimes we’d have so much overage we’d drive it around our  Suncoast neighborhood in North Fort Myers and sell it from the back of the truck. 

We loved being outside in the fresh air, exploring new things we’d see out among the corn tassels or twisty vines…  What’s that caterpillar?  that flying insect does it bite or sting? how does it move?   We’d look them up in the books and increase our knowledge and it was FUN.  So much fun and enjoyment that I continue to garden and grow things, and hunt critters out among the leaves –  and I’m 50!   Teach your kids to garden and explore the world and to ask questions and most importantly, have FUN!    We can do this at any age… now go get some plants or seeds and start your Backyard Universe Adventure!  Turn off the TV…

I recommend the following books on gardening:

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting

Florida Home Grown The Edible Landscape

Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens

Online Seed Catalogs I love

Totally Tomatoes Vegetable Garden Seed

R.H. Shumway’s has a Beautiful paper catalog!  and is online as well

The Cooks Garden 

When nature Photobombs..

I enjoy going out in the mornings photographing flowers around the half acre.   Both the native and non-native flowers.  This big, bright hibiscus bloomed a couple of days ago which made it an immediate target for an iPhone image, taken with the CameraAwesome app.  I took quite a few images to get one image that hopefully was decent enough to possibly offer a print of (not .)   However, when I got inside and examined the images, I found that I had been PhotoBombed!  At the time I had not noticed they were there… hiding out in the leaves…  but now, they stand out.  And they are in every image that I took.   Do you see them?   Look closely.

I have seen a lot of Photo Bombed images with horses, cats, dogs etc.. bombing someones image.  
But I had never ran across these guys.  Do you see them  yet?

Look closer..

 

Now you see them, and after a while their bright red color will stand out!  A pair of amorous Red Bugs, of which there are four species here in Florida and I think I have, at one time or another, ALL of them in my yard!  These particular ones are called Cotton Stainers.  Dysdercus suturellus.   In 1910  the cotton stainer was a most destructive pest to Cotton in Florida.  

Cotton Stainers lost their dominance on cotton in the mid-twentieth century primarily because of the elimination of it as a viable crop, and the development of pesticides.  Cotton stainers are obviously still around doing damage to some fruits and ornamental plants like my Hibiscus.  Stainers suck juices out of plants, sometimes killing them.  They also PhotoBomb.   No I didn’t kill these guys, I just picked them off my plant and gave them a good lecture!

 

Dragons of the Air and Water

 

 

On the grand scale, Tropical Storm Isaac just missed us but on the smaller scales of things.. insect scales?  it was rough for the insects.  Butterflies are easily affected by high winds and rain.  To survive, they find areas in your yard or woods that are sheltered from winds and driving rains.  Around the house an insect may find a quiet corner to stay in, maybe go up under the eves or anywhere that takes them out of direct wind and rain.

This White Peacock Butterfly is lying down, almost flat in the green dog fennel bushes along the canal at Harns Marsh, here in Lehigh.  How’s that for avoiding bad weather?  Make like a leaf.  At first, I thought I was looking at a leaf!  Insects are affected by subtle changes in heat and even barometric pressure, everything from the smallest ant, to the largest butterfly is affected by heat, light and moisture among other things.

This Peacock Butterfly is weathering high winds by hiding out and laying low in a dog fennel bush.

 

Watching Summer dragonflies buzzing over our backyards, ditches and empty lots, we see a species dependent on the ability to respond to temperature changes in its environment through Thermoregulation.  Thermoregulation is regulating ones internal body temperature even when the surrounding temperature is different.  These animals are also referred to as being ectothermic or just ectotherms – a more common description would be “Cold-Blooded.”  Reptiles, fish and yes, even insects have to regulate their temperatures in order to function and they have learned to do it quite well, not being at the total mercy of their environments.  We see alligators moving in and out of heat and cold to “get just right” or “regulated” internally.

Alligators and lizards have the ability to regulate their internal temperatures by moving around in their environment to cool off in the shadows, or to get warm on a log or bank.   One way for dragonflies to keep from overheating on a hot sunny day is to become less active.  I’m sure you’ve seen a dragonfly perched with its wings pointing forward and down – this is a dragonfly that is regulating its body temperature  by positioning its wings so that they are absorbing less of the suns rays and that dragonflies internal temperature?  around 110 degrees F.

an Ornate Pennant Dragonfly perches on a Blue Butterfly bush in my yard. He’s hunting for other insects to catch on the wing – He’s also conserving energy.

 

Watching dragonflies, we see another highly efficient hunter capable of catching their prey – mosquitos, butterflies, moths etc.. on the wing.  They like to land or “perch” on a stalk to devour their prey.  If they have devoured a moth or a butterfly, all you may see left over on the ground are the wings.  Have you watched a dragonfly eat?  They don’t waste any time and the prey is quickly reduced to wings.  Summer brings us two Dragons to watch, one of the air, and one of the water.

Alligators and Crocs have been around for 200 million years and Dragonflies around 300 million years.  Both of them share similar adaptations that have allowed them to survive in their environments despite being Cold-Blooded.  That’s pretty cool!