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.
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 169: June 18, 2018
High 92º Low 73º
Nothing new so far today, but the giant swallowtail caterpillars continue to grow:
Day 166: June 15, 2018
High 86º Low 71º
Raising butterflies, if you don’t collect them all and put them in a protected enclosure, is filled with the best and worst of everything that happens in nature. Today was filled with a little bit of both. First, the good. Our giant swallowtails keep growing. Here, you can start to see one start to develop the big head that they get, and you can see its different colors blend, allowing them to better camouflage on the tree bark (or look more like poop).
There are a good five or six giant swallowtail caterpillars on the Meyer lemon tree, two larger ones and a few smaller. I don’t expect six giant swallowtail chrysalides, however.
Things happen, as we see with the black swallowtails on our fennel:
Yesterday, I had three black swallowtail caterpillars. Now, one is missing, and the one above has been obviously predated. I didn’t see that smaller insect on it earlier in the day, when I first noticed what had happened. So I don’t think it’s the culprit, but rather a scavenger.
In another part of the yard, I see another insect feeding on a dead millipede:
It wasn’t the prettiest day for insects in the yard, but it’s not always butterflies, ladybugs, and bees.
Day 166 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 67 bug species.
Day 165: June 14, 2018
High 86º Low 70º
Two days later, and you can already see how the giant swallowtail has changed. In our house, we call this the “bird poop” caterpillar:
Day 163: June 12, 2018
High 89º Low 70º
I had been wondering where the butterflies were this year. I know it was warmer last winter, and maybe we had more butterflies year round. But, common, it’s June already! Well, today finally felt like spring in the yard.
For starters, today marked the appearance of what might be my favorite caterpillar, that of the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes):
This will become one big, kind of grody looking caterpillar, one that will camouflage well on the bark of its host plant, our Meyer lemon tree. You’ll notice that right now, it looks similar to a black swallowtail. Once it starts moving through its instars, though, it’ll look much different.
Here’s a closer look:
I found three caterpillars, and one egg:
I went to Native Nurseries after dropping Max off at camp. I asked if they’d seen many monarchs, and while they had seen some, the peak season is still ahead of us. We had a much milder winter last year, which had us swamped with monarchs in March. So I’ll be patient. I’ve been checking the milkweed leaves, but the only thing eating them so far are slugs.
Anyhow, when I got back home, I saw this:
Also exciting- my captive black swallowtail hatched. I thought I had been paying attention to its chrysalis to see if it had darkened, but maybe I didn’t when I got home yesterday? Oh well. I have three small caterpillars in the yard, and may move them into the enclosure to get more chances at getting that footage of them emerging as butterflies.
As we always do in our house, we gathered around to release it in the backyard when I got home from work. It never gets old for the kids, or for me. Max opened the zipper and I got a couple of good shots of this butterfly as it lingered:
Looking at the outside of its wings, you can tell the butterfly’s sex. That top row of yellow dots has smaller dots than a male’s, so this is a female:
It was taking a little while to leave the enclosure, as if maybe frightened by the four large mammals standing around it, staring at it. Max got it to walk onto his finger, from which it flew up and quickly away from us.
It had felt like a slow year for butterflies so far, but I spotted yet another new species for 2018 while out in the yard.
Day 163 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 65 bug species.
Day 155: June 4, 2018
High 93º Low 69º
I was pruning our crepe myrtle trees when I noticed this little white moth hanging out on a branch:
Day 155 total: 1 new bug species.
2018 total: 63 bug species.
Day 152: June 1, 2018
High 90º Low 67º
This morning, my captive black swallowtail got into position to make its chrysalis. Right on the zipper. Before getting big, it had eaten much of the fennel plant in the enclosure. I had a second, smaller caterpillar in there. Unfortunately, I can’t put in a new plant without opening the zipper. So I took the second caterpillar out (there’s a smaller zipper on the side) and put it on the outside fennel.
Black swallowtails are kind of unpredictable. Last year, most of ours spun their chrysalides at night. Since this one made a J in the morning, I could have expected that it would be done by the afternoon. It would have been good to get daylight footage of it making a chrysalis, but it wasn’t possible for me to spend the whole day outside with it. Monarchs are predictable in comparison, usually spinning, and emerging from, their chrysalides between 6-10 am.
Day 151: May 31, 2018
High 90º Low 66º
I feel like I’ve been seeing dragonflies everywhere else, but finally one landed near my camera here in the backyard. Generally, I’ve found that these guys stay put when you get close.
And here’s an interesting thing happening on a weed I let grow tall. Every leaf is curled inward, and covered with a variety of bugs:
I think they’re aphids. Aphids attract ants:
Are these winged insects a mature version of Bug #58, or there to eat them, or somehow living in a symbiotic relationship with them?
I’ve already seen ladybugs in the garden this year, and this specific type. But it’s worth noting its presence, as they like to munch on aphids as well.
And finally, not a bug, but the molted carapace of a bug. One of my favorite things about paying this kind of attention to my backyard bugs is seeing these signs of their life cycles: A molted carapace, a cocoon, and the different eggs and larvae.
Day 151 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 62 bug species.
Day 150: May 30, 2018
High 85º Low 73º
The first black swallowtail I spotted grew big and left. They travel to make their chrysalides, and I’ve never spotted one in the yard. Last year, I shot a bunch of footage of these caterpillars, and I got everything but a swallowtail emerging from a chrysalis. And I want to finish that video. So now, this guy, which is from one of the eggs I posted a few days ago, is in the enclosure.
Day 148: May 28, 2018
High 85º Low 64º
The big news in our garden on this soggy Memorial Day centers on our tomato plants. I pulled these two green tomatoes off of a plant after noticing that they’d been a little eaten. Here’s what I saw:
I went back out and saw that several leaves had a serious problem with these caterpillars. Searching “caterpillars eating tomato leaves,” I saw a photo of these. These are lily caterpillars (Spodoptera picta):
Ouch. I had some work to do, plucking these guys off.
Checking the milkweed (still no monarchs), I saw this thing. Is it a monarch predator?
I also kind of liked this shiny beetle hanging out on this coneflower bud:
And finally, this guy running around on the lip of a pot:
Day 148 total: 4 new bug species.
2018 total: 60 bug species.
Day 145: May 25, 2018
High 91º Low 70º
No new bugs today, but here’s this little cluster of bugs I saw on March 12:
It’s actually a combination of those and the bugs I saw on May 22. Does the wingless bug turn into the winged bug? Or do the two species just socialize? Hmmm…
Day 142: May 22, 2018
High 84º Low 71º
Time to check on the black swallowtail caterpillars. First, I caught the larger one moments after molting. Caterpillars do this as they grow, shedding their skin and changing their form slightly (they then eat the skin, usually). The next change for this one is now the big one: making a chrysalis:
Also, it appears one of the eggs finally hatched:
Seeing the black swallowtail caterpillars makes me want to check the milkweed. No monarchs yet, but here’s a neat bug:
It looks like the same species of sweat bee I saw on March 23, so it’s not a new species for 2018. But I do like the way it looks on this swamp milkweed.
Looking over the milkweed, I also saw these crazy little guys scurrying around the lip of a pot:
And finally, a fly on the hydrangea:
One fun thing about this little bug photography endeavor is that I’m looking closer at these critters, and seeing how much variety there is in fly species, when you look.
Day 142 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 56 bug species.
Day 141: May 21, 2018
High 85º Low 70º
I checked on the black swallowtail caterpillars and eggs, and saw that the caterpillar had grown and progressed to the third (?) instar, right before it reaches its final stage of maturity and makes its chrysalis.
I also saw this cool camouflaged spider on our Meyer lemon tree:
And this guy:
Day 141 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 54 bug species.
Day 139: May 19, 2018
High 92º Low 68º
So yesterday, I spotted two eastern black swallowtail eggs on our fennel, and somehow missed this guy:
This is a first instar black swallowtail caterpillar. One thing I like about this caterpillar is that, compared to other caterpillars I see in the yard, their appearance changes a lot as they grow. So these guys will be fun to watch.
I also saw this tropical checkered-skipper on a squash flower. This is a volunteer plant, so I’m not even sure what kind of squash it is, it just grew out of some compost I mixed into a raised bed around pepper plants.
The outer edge of the wing maintains the checked pattern, which is, as we learned last year, how you would distinguish a tropical checkered from a female white checkered-skipper.
Day 139 total: 1 new bug species.
2018 total: 52 bug species.
Day 138: May 18, 2018
High 88º Low 69º
I really haven’t been seeing too many butterflies in the yard this year. And last year, we started getting monarchs in March, though that winter was much milder. Still, our native species of milkweed have all grown back and are blooming, and we have several milkweed volunteers sprouting in pots (our tropical milkweed, Asclepias currassavica, went to seed last year).
So, while we haven’t yet seen monarchs, I did get a pleasant surprise today in the garden:
This is one of two eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius) eggs I found nestled in one of our fennel plants. We went from 2 to 4 plants last year after two large waves of black swallowtails decimated them.
Day 135: May 15, 2018
High 83º Low 70º
As it has warmed up, more flowers are blooming in the yard. Right now, a couple of swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) plants are in full bloom, and attracting a lot of insect attention. Below is a fly proving that not just bees and butterflies pollinate. I also see that milkweed aphids have gotten themselves in a place where it’s difficult to remove them- if I care about keeping the bloom.
Day 135 total: 1 new bug species.
2018 total: 51 bug species.
Day 124: May 4, 2018
High 90º Low 59º
My kids had the day off from school, so I spent a little extra time in the garden this morning. What I found most interesting were a couple of things attached/ in proximity to a spider (Bug #25 from March 3). One is this leaf with some sort of housing- maybe for eggs? Are they the spiders’?
The web attaches to a mint plant, where I found these eggs (maybe these belong to the spider?):
These two insects were chilling on a milkweed leaf:
I found a couple of different insects on hydrangea leaves:
I kicked over a ball of Spanish moss on our driveway, and this moth flew out. I’m due for a night inspection of the garden with a headlamp, where I’d see more of these guys and their caterpillars:
These interesting holes have appeared on a bare patch. This is the kind of place where native bees might nest. Love me some native pollinators!
Day 124 total: 5 bug species.
2018 total: 50 bug species.
Day 118: April 28, 2018
High 83º Low 49º
These guys were hanging out on a weed growing next to a raised bed:
Day 118 total: 1 new bug species.
2018 total: 45 bug species.
Day 104: April 14, 2018
High 84º Low 59º
I saw something I needed to remove on our swamp milkweed. It looked like something potentially unfriendly to monarch caterpillars (which have yet to arrive). I like spiders, so I relocated it elsewhere in the yard.
And I’m noticing that milkweed aphids are returning. They attract predatory insects that threaten monarch caterpillars. Ab of course they’re harmful to the plant itself.
And then there was this guy on our hydrangea:
Day 104 total: 2 new bug species.
2018 total: 44 bug species.
Day 91: April 1, 2018
High 83º Low 44º
Saw a couple of interesting insects on our fennel flowers today:
And this beetle digging around on a raised bed:
Day 91 total: 3 bug species.
2018 total: 42 bug species.
Day 90: March 31, 2018
High 76º Low 51º
I saw a few things in the garden today:
And then there’s this thistle, which has these green bugs and what appears to be their eggs?
Day 90 total: 4 bug species.
2018 total: 39 bug species.
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:
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: 35 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: 31 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: 30 bug species.
Day 70: March 11, 2018
High 76º Low 44º
Before it warmed up, I saw this spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus) walking around on the ground. Not flying, but walking. Eventually, it got enough sun and flew off. (Edited 6/19/2018- originally identified as a black swallowtail)
Day 70 total: 1 bug species.
2018 total: 29 bug species.
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.
Spider webs and ant piles have popped up around the yard. I took a couple of spider pics:
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Another compost critter.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
I wonder what these guys did during the snow and freeze on January 3. This is what the same leaves looked like that day:
Lastly, I saw these things under one of our coneflower leaves:
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.
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:
This guy scurried back under immediately. The one below never uncurled- perhaps it was hibernating?
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:
I did see something moving outside:
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.
And lastly, we have this in our house:
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.