Giant swallowtail butterfly with damaged wing

The Backyard Bug Blog

National Geographic has declared 2018 the year of the bird. On this page of the WFSU Ecology Blog, however, it’s the year of the bug.

Here’s the idea:  I’m taking photos of every bug I see in my yard for the entirety of the year.  I’ll identify it if I know what it is, and I may look up others if I have time.  My goal is to see how many different insects, spiders, worms, etc. I’ll have seen by the end of the year.

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We’ll see how bugs interact with different plants, the soil, and each other.  Who’s eating whom?  What are they doing in different seasons?  Let’s take a look:

Newer entries will be added at the top of the page.

Day 82: March 23, 2018

High 72º  Low 35º

I was air drying a tent fly in the backyard, which had gotten folded over somehow.  When I unfolded it, I found this bee seeking shelter from a cold morning:

The afternoon was much more insect friendly, and there was a lot to see.  One was a favorite insect of mine, a blue sweat bee, here pollinating the flowers of one of our fennel plants.

And then, hiding under a tomato leaf, I saw this ladybug:

A ladybug hiding under a tomato leaf.

And, maybe not as exciting as the other bugs but a part of our backyard ecosystem nonetheless, is this guy:

I’m starting to see more and more butterflies, with caterpillars soon to follow, I’m sure.

Day 82 total: 4 bug species.

2018 total: 34 bug species.

Day 72: March 13, 2018

High 63º  Low 33º

The Meyer lemon tree continues to be a reliable host for several plant species.  Like many of the species we saw during the colder winter months, this is a translucent green.  Perhaps this is an adult version of one of those bugs?  I have some research to do when my video deadlines slow down.

Day 72 total: 1 bug species.

2018 total: 30 bug species.

Day 71: March 12, 2018

High 60º  Low 43º

I noticed these guys hanging on behind a terra cotta pot before work one chilly morning.

I also went into the Apalachicola National Forest today with Dr. Walter Tschinkle, for a segment on his work with ants.  He makes metal castings of ant nests, creating a three dimensional image of tunnels and rooms running several feet deep.  This will air on April 26 at 8 pm ET on WFSU-TV’s Local Routes.

Day 71 total: 1 bug species.

2018 total: 29 bug species.

Day 70: March 11, 2018

High 76º  Low 44º

Before it warmed up, I saw this eastern swallowtail butterfly walking around on the ground.  Not flying, but walking.  Eventually, it got enough sun and flew off.  I thought perhaps one of the many caterpillars we hosted in the backyard, hatched after overwintering.  But that wing looks a little scratchy, like this butterfly has seen some action.

Eastern swallowtail butterfly.

Day 70 total: 1 bug species.

2018 total: 28 bug species (This total already includes a black swallowtail chrysalis).

Day 69: March 10, 2018

High 68º  Low 33º

Not a terribly warm day, but I did see this bee walking around on the ground.  Perhaps the cold was keeping it grounded?

Getting up close with the macro, I could see that it was pollinating a fallen, kind of shriveled flower.  A sign that not much in the yard is blooming yet.

Day 69 total: 1 bug species.

2018 total: 28 bug species.

Day 62: March 3, 2018

High 74º  Low 43º

Got a little bit done in the garden today, and saw a few things.

Bug 25: Spider.

Spider webs and ant piles have popped up around the yard.  I took a couple of spider pics:

Bug 26: Small, translucent spider.

And back on our Meyer lemon tree, ants appeared to be feeding on these insects.  They look different than the previous aphids, but perhaps they’re a different species, or stage of the same species?

Bug 27: Aphids? and ants.

A bumblebee quickly flew by me, but they’ll be easier to capture on camera when I have more flowers in bloom.  Anyhow, something was pollinating our blueberries:

Blueberry blossoms.

And lastly, our milkweed is starting to re-sprout after dying back in the cold.  After last year’s mild winter, monarchs migrated earlier than we expected.  Our plants weren’t too big yet, and Native Nursery didn’t have many for sale.  We’ll see how it goes this year.

Tropical milkweed growing back as temperatures warm. Our native swamp milkweed plants managed to hang on.

Tropical milkweed growing back as temperatures warm. Our native swamp milkweed plants managed to hang on.

Day 62 total: 3 bug species.

2018 total: 27 bug species.

Day 49: February 18, 2018

High 83º  Low 61º

It’s been warmer the last few weeks, but I’ve had to work weekends, I’ve been sick, I’ve been out of town.  So I haven’t been keeping up with bug pics.  But today, I had some (long overdue) work to do in the garden.  I’ll need to start bringing out the DSLR to capture flying insects, and I think that should also be easier when more flowers are in bloom.

aphids and ants on Meyer Lemon flower buds.

Bugs 17 and 18: Aphids and ants on Meyer Lemon flower buds.

A lot of plants are starting to flower in the yard, and our Meyer lemon tree has a couple or three dozen.  I found a few covered with aphids, which of course attract their predators, ants.  I saw a ladybug quickly in the yard, and this is perhaps why.

Bug 19: a winged predator finds aphids.

It’s not the best pic, but this winged predator found a meal on those Meyer lemon buds.  I want those lemons, but I’m also curious to see these buds’ food web if I let them be for a little while.  Hmmm…

Bug 19: A spider.

Bug 20: A spider.

This was on the kids’ sand table.  Just as a seasonal note, we can see that here in mid-February we have started getting that pollen coating.

Ants on the compost.

There are so many ant species.  Some will be more obviously different from each other, but I couldn’t say that these are different than what was on the lemon tree.  I found these in a compost pile.

Bug 21: crawling out of the compost.

Another compost critter.

Bug species 22: on a leaf in my raised bed.

I broke up the soil in one of my raised beds and planted some seeds.  There were a lot more bugs than when I dug in the dirt, for curiosity’s sake, on January 3, our snow day.  I did see the same couple of bug species I saw that day, and a few more that must have dug down deeper for warmth.

Bug 23: Down in the dirt.

Bug 24: Roly-Poly!

I looked up roly poly bugs.  They’re actually terrestrial crustaceans, a type of wood lice in the Armadillidiidae family.

Day 49 total: 8 bug species.

2018 total: 24 bug species.

Day 15: January 15, 2018

High 60º  Low 27º

Bug 16- eggs under a smilax leaf.

It warmed up nicely this afternoon.  Not any bugs flying around that I saw, but I’ve been turning over leaves to see what’s hiding there.  I found these eggs under a smilax vine leaf.

Day 7 total: 1 bug species.

2018 total: 16 bug species.

Day 7: January 7, 2018

High 57º  Low 22º

I found something kind of interesting when cleaning up on the side of our house.  It looks like a moth cocoon.  Something to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks, or months.  Some moths overwinter just like the swallowtail butterfly chysalides we have in our kitchen (scroll to January 1).

Moth cocoon hanging from the top of a porch.

Bug 12: moth cocoon.

I also found three more insect species on our Meyer lemon tree.  The more I look, the more I find.  I’ll have to start doing the same with other trees on our property.  Each is an ecosystem unto themselves.

The first insect I saw on the lemon tree is another little green translucent critter.  It’s interesting how many of the creatures I find on it share this trait.

Bug 13.

I also found a couple of spiky little guys.  I see them a lot when I look for giant swallowtail caterpillars, which start out kind of spiky looking themselves.

Spiky insect on Meyer lemon tree.

Bug 14.

Spiky insect on Meyer lemon tree.

Bug 15.

When I was in the yard today, I saw a handful of robins in the trees above.  Yesterday, I saw just a single robin.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flock of them roaming the neighborhood soon, as they do this time of year.

Day 7 total: 4 bug species.

2018 total: 15 bug species.

Day 6: January 6, 2018

High 53º  Low 22º

Today I took my search for bugs to our Meyer lemon tree.  This is a potted tree (most of our yard is paved), yielding a handful of lemons a year.  It also hosts a handful of giant swallowtail caterpillars every year.

Surprisingly, I found quite a few bugs on a cold day.

Bugs 7 and 8.

These guys are so small, I didn’t entirely get what I was seeing until later when I zoomed in:

The bigger bug looks like it’s eating the smaller red ones.  Or maybe those are its babies?  And then there is that shell of another bug nearby- maybe its prey?  Or maybe a casualty of the cold.  I saw a few white “bug ghosts:”

And I saw another green translucent insect:

Bug 9.

It looks similar to the other bug, but with white eyes instead of red.  And it kind of looks like it has false eyes on the tip of its abdomen.

I also saw this green translucent spider:

Bug 10.

I wonder what these guys did during the snow and freeze on January 3.  This is what the same leaves looked like that day:

The frozen leaves of a Meyer lemon tree.

Lastly, I saw these things under one of our coneflower leaves:

Bug 11.

I’ve been seeing a Carolina wren poking around the edges of the yard.  This usually means they’re building a nest- usually in one of our hanging plants.  I’ll have to keep an eye out.  The main food they’ll feed their nestlings is insects- caterpillars, grasshoppers, and even spiders.

Day 6 total: 5 bug species.

2018 total: 11 bug species.

Day 3: January 3, 2018

High 47º  Low 24º

It snowed in Tallahassee today, the most snow we’ve seen here since 1989.

A fallow raised garden bed, covered in snow.

A fallow raised garden bed, covered in snow.

Not a day to see a lot of bugs out and about.  However, it did occur to me that bugs have to go somewhere when it’s cold.  So I took a trowel to a corner of the yard where a leaf pile was decomposing into soil.  Here is what I saw:

Bug 5.

This guy scurried back under immediately.  The one below never uncurled- perhaps it was hibernating?

Bug 6.

I was curious to keep digging, but I had other chores and so did the bugs- breaking down leaves to make them soil.  I figure I’ll see plenty more bugs in the dirt when I plant for the spring.

When I was out in the yard today, I saw a yellow rumped warbler- a migratory bird escaping a much colder place than here.

Day 3 total: 2 bug species.

2018 total: 6 bug species.

Day 1: January 1, 2018

High 44º  Low 33º

It was a cold day, but I still saw some bugs.  First was this guy, dead in my driveway:

Green insect, with views from above and below.

Bug 1

I did see something moving outside:

Little orange milkweed aphids on tropical milkweed (Asclepias currassavica), along with larger black bugs.

Bugs 2 & 3: Little orange milkweed aphids on tropical milkweed (Asclepias currassavica), along with larger black bugs.

I had just cut back my tropical milkweed plants, as we should all do after Thanksgiving.  As we learned in our segment on pollinator gardening, tropical milkweed is not native to our area, and its flowers don’t die back in the winter.  The thing is, when those flowers don’t die off, they carry OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a parasite that affects monarch butterfly mortality.  That’s why we clip the plants to six inches after Thanksgiving.

These orange milkweed aphids also endanger the monarch caterpillars we like to raise in our yard.  While they don’t affect the caterpillars directly, they can attract monarch predators.

And lastly, we have this in our house:

These are black swallowtail butterfly chrysalides. The two on the outside have hatched.

Bug 4: These are black swallowtail butterfly chrysalides. The two on the outside have hatched.

Last summer, we brought some black swallowtail caterpillars into our house.  They aren’t as predictable as monarchs- they make chrysalides at night and it’s hard to tell when they might hatch.  Here we see three chrysalides.  The two on the outside hatched in November of 2017.  However, if they don’t hatch before it gets cold, swallowtail species overwinter.

If you’re keeping an overwintering chrysalis in your house, be careful not to let it get too hot, or it will hatch (and not thrive outside).  You can keep the outside, just be careful to keep them safe from little critters that might eat them.

I have a lot of footage of these caterpillars.  When I get a shot of one hatching (2 left, and still so unpredictable), I’ll produce a video.

Day 1 total: 4 bug species.

2018 total: 4 bug species.