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 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.