Tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta)

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.

Subscribe to the WFSU Ecology Blog to receive more videos and articles about our local, natural areas.

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.

I’ll update this page every Monday (it’s just easier to fit in with the rest of my work that way).  

Day 219:  August 11, 2018

High 92º  Low 72º

I looked out my back window today and saw a cardinal pecking at my bean plants.  I went out and saw a curled leaf where I saw it pecking.  It must have made a meal of one of the long-tailed skipper caterpillars.  Butterflies lay dozens of eggs, and only two need to make it to keep a steady population.

But some species, like monarchs, are in decline.  I pay a lot of attention to the monarchs.  I can’t enclose them all, so I do what I can to reduce their predation in the garden.  During one of my night checks, I saw this:

Swamp milkweed beetle larva on milkweed leaf with newly hatched monarch caterpillar.
Swamp milkweed beetle larva on milkweed leaf with newly hatched monarch caterpillar.

From what I’ve read, swamp milkweed beetles do not eat monarch caterpillars.  But they eat the leaves, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some eggs and small caterpillars got eaten.  Milkweed bugs do this, even if they don’t ever seek to eat monarchs.  Anyhow, these beetles are pests, so they have to go anyway.

Taking a closer look at the leaf, you can see that the monarch recently hatched:

Newly hatched monarch caterpillar.
Newly hatched monarch caterpillar.

Day 218:  August 10, 2018

High 92º  Low 72º

It’s caterpillars that eat my garden day on the bug blog.  Let’s start with the granddaddy of pest caterpillars:

Tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta)
Bug #121: Tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), after an all night bender during which it decimated three tomato plants.

I looked out my back door in the morning, and noticed that three of my tomato plants were leafless.  I figured I’d find a fat and happy tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta).  I figured I’d find a few, actually, but this one seems to have had a special kind of feast overnight.

Tobacco hornworm poop, green from the many leaves it had eaten.
Tobacco hornworm poop, green from the many leaves it had eaten.

Anyhow, I once again followed the advice given me by Lilly Anderson-Messec at Native Nurseries when I interviewed her for out butterfly gardening segment: I popped it in the bird feeder:

I peeked out the window every now and then to see if anything would eat such a large, scary looking caterpillar.  I saw a cardinal take a few curious pecks at it.  At some point I looked and it was gone.  Maybe it crawled off, being as large as it was, to make its cocoon and turn into a sphinx moth.

I continued with my garden chores, and pulling a weed, I unearthed another pest caterpillar:

A cutworm, rolled up.

I don’t know my cutworm species, and I can’t tell if this is a larger stage of the cutworm I found earlier in the year.  They come out at night to dine on your plants, and then bury themselves for the day.  Pulling that weed, and its roots, disturbed its day time slumber.

And now for a pest I kind of like:

Long-tailed skipper chrysalis, made of dead leaves.
Long-tailed skipper chrysalis, made of dead leaves.

I was clearing some dead leaves from my bean plants, which I will no longer do without a more careful look.  Some clumped together leaves came apart, and I saw what looked like a large long-tailed skipper sealing itself in, silking the leaves:

Bean roller getting ready to make a chrysalis.
Bean roller getting ready to make a chrysalis.

On a day to day basis, they stay inside a curled up leaf.  You don’t often see them during the day, but you can keep track of their growth by looking at the size of the leaf curls.  After finding this guy, I looked it up and found that they make their chrysalis in dead leaves.  I gave it its leaves back and let it be (the first image of dead leaves I found after).

Day 219 total: 1 new bug species.

2018 total: 121 bug species.

Day 218:  August 9, 2018

High 91º  Low 74º

Even with the macro lens, this scene is so small that I had to zoom way in, and it’s still small.  But this spider is tearing some insect in two:

Tiny spider tearing tiny insect in two.
Bug #118 and 119: Tiny spider tearing tiny insect in two.

I’m sure many of us have seen the following insect.  I finally looked it up and found that this is a bagworm moth caterpillar:

The bag of a bagworm moth, decorated with lichen.
Bug #120: The bag of a bagworm moth, decorated with lichen.

The caterpillar lives inside this bag, which it decorates with bits of vegetation.  When it gets to a certain point, it pupates inside of its bag.  The males will have wings, its females remain wingless.

Cicada nymph shell.
Cicada nymph shell.

And finally here is the empty shell of a cicada nymph.

Day 218 total: 3 new bug species.

2018 total: 120 bug species.

Day 216:  August 7, 2018

High 93º  Low 73º

When a monarch makes a “J” in the evening, you can expect it to make a chrysalis early in the morning.  In the past, they’ve been pretty consistent, and if the kids didn’t have a camp, we could watch them shed their skins to reveal a shiny green chrysalis.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis
Monarch butterfly chrysalis

You have to love the gold trim around the top.

This was the last of the our first batch of monarchs this year, the rest having seemingly been eaten.  But, as it so often happens in our garden, the next generation pops up pretty much immediatley:

Monarch caterpillar egg.
Monarch caterpillar egg.

Not only are there several eggs, but also some of the tiniest of monarch caterpillars:

1st instar monarch caterpillar.
1st instar monarch caterpillar.

And their not the only newborns in this milkweed ecosystem:

Swamp milkweed beetle eggs hatching.
Swamp milkweed beetle eggs hatching.

I figured these orange eggs I kept seeing belonged to swamp milkweed beetles, since the adult appeared in the garden when I first started seeing them.  Here, you can kind of see the black spots on their orange bodies- they’re basically miniature versions of swamp milkweed larvae, visible through a translucent egg.

I’ve read up on them a little and they are a serious pest.  I’ve been squashing their larvae for a few days now.

Spider on milkweed flowers.
Bug #116: Spider on milkweed flowers.

I’ve also been finding a variety of spiders in the milkweed.  It’s a bad year for them in the garden.  Of course, spiders serve an important role in checking pests.  It highlights the importance of clearing the milkweed of pests.  A single small monarch caterpillar doesn’t necessarily attract a lot of attention.  But when predators have their pick of aphids, beetles, and other insects, the plant attracts more of their attention.

The spotless ladybird (Cycloneda sanguinea).
Bug #117: The spotless ladybird (Cycloneda sanguinea), a spotless species of ladybug.

And speaking of beneficial insects, I found this interesting species of ladybug on our pentas.  It’s a spotless ladybird (Cycloneda sanguinea).

Day 216 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 117 bug species.

Day 215:  August 6, 2018

High 93º  Low 75º

Before I left for work this morning, our lone monarch had eaten the last of the milkweed leaves and gotten in position at the top of the enclosure.  Soon, it’ll start spitting out a silky thread and attaching itself to the mesh.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in its “J” when I get home.

fifth instar monarch caterpillar.
Fifth instar monarch caterpillar, just about ready to make a chrysalis.

And also, maybe less exciting, but another new species for the year:

Bug #115: a fly siting on a weed.

And of course, later in the day, our monarch had made its “J.”

Monarch caterpillar in the "j" position, from which it spins a chrysalis.
Monarch caterpillar in the “J” position, from which it spins a chrysalis.

Day 215 total: 1 new bug species.

2018 total: 115 bug species.

Day 214:  August 5, 2018

High 94º  Low 74º

My lone monarch caterpillar, safe inside its enclosure, has gotten big:

Fifth instar monarch caterpillar.
Fifth instar monarch caterpillar.

And meanwhile, back in the garden, I saw this under a milkweed leaf:

Syrphid larvae and eggs among milkweed aphids.
Syrphid larvae and eggs among milkweed aphids.

I’ve never actually read that syrphid larvae kill monarch caterpillars.  But they tend to be on plants where the caterpillars have disappeared.  Last year, after a mass disappearance, I brought my cats in.  I found one dead inside the enclosure, and saw that a syrphid larva had made it in as well.  That led to me researching monarch predators.

Better safe than sorry.  I’ve been trying to clean as many milkweed aphids off of the plants as I can, as they attract predators like the syrphids.

I was out doing yard work, and saw plenty as always.  The crepe myrtle had a few guys buzzing around its pink flowers.  Zooming in, I saw honey bees:

Honey bee pollinating a crepe myrtle flower.
Bug #113: Honey bee pollinating a crepe myrtle flower.

Honey bees aren’t native to North America, but were imported to pollinate crops and make honey.  I wonder if someone nearby has a hive.  Anyhow, there are over 300 species of bee that are native to Florida, many of which live in bare patches of dirt where they can dig a home.  One rested on my weed whacker as I put it down to take a photo of something:

Blue sweat bee.
Blue sweat bee.

It’s not a new species for the year, but still one of my favorites.

Before I cut the grass, I go through and pick up dog poop.  I felt bad to have lifted a piece right off of a dung beetle.  The rest of my time out in the yard, I saw this metallic green flash flying around me.  Finally it found a spot in some leaves and started burrowing.  What did it smell down there?

Dung beetle burrowing in leaves.
Dung beetle burrowing in leaves.

And here’s another species I’ve already seen this year.  This wasp is the same species (maybe the same individual) that carried off a monarch caterpillar last Monday.  Here it is enjoying some nectar on our pentas:

Wasp nectaring on pentas.
Wasp nectaring on pentas.

I saw this guy running around on my driveway.  He was kinda hard to photograph:

Red and black bug on asphalt.
Bug #114: What’s red and black and running all over my driveway?

And finally, when the morning began, there were two larger black swallowtail caterpillars on one fennel plant.  Soon there was one, and then none.

Large black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.

When they’re ready to make a chrysalis, they go far from the plant.  I never really know if they got eaten or whether it was time.  Monarchs and giant swallowtails make it easier that way, they always make their chrysalides right by, or on, the host plant.

Day 214 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 114 bug species.

Day 211:  August 2, 2018

High 78º  Low 73º

My yard seems to have become a hostile place.  I’m down to one monarch caterpillar, and so I’ve decided to put it in our butterfly enclosure:

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed leaf.

It’s getting big.  One reason I didn’t move them all in sooner is that my plants have gotten so big, and I like having whole plants in the enclosure.  I do have one pot with three smaller milkweed plants that volunteered in it, and it looks like enough leaves to get this caterpillar to chrysalize.

Meanwhile, I saw this had happened to one of the larger black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel:

Black swallowtail caterpillar, torn open and oozing green.
Black swallowtail caterpillar, torn open and oozing green.

Day 210:  August 1, 2018

High 83º  Low 73º

Time for my morning monarch caterpillar check.  This was a fun find:

Crab spider lurking in milkweed.
Bug #111: Crab spider lurking in milkweed.

I believe this is a type of crab spider.  I had quite a time trying to grab it.

And finally, I saw something non-horrifying on the milkweed:

Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius/ intricata) necatring on tropical milkweed.
Bug #112: Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius/ intricata) nectaring on tropical milkweed.

It’s a species of butterfly I’ve never noticed in the yard before: a Carolina satyr.  It’s another species whose caterpillars host on grasses.

Day 210 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 112 bug species.

Day 209: July 31, 2018

High 86º  Low 72º

I’ve been checking on the monarchs every morning.  They’ve been growing, so when I see one or two less than I did the day before, they’re likely gone.

Monarch caterpillar under milkweed leaf.

You can use my thumb for a little bit of perspective on the relative size of the caterpillars above and below.  Also, the one below has longer antennae, so it is likely a third instar caterpillar, where the one above is second instar.

Monarch caterpillar under milkweed leaf.

I couldn’t find anything that says slugs eat monarchs.  But they have been eating the milkweed.  Here, a caterpillar has left the plant for this dead shoot, killed in the freezes earlier this year.  It’s been great to see the milkweed rise from the dead after a harsh winter.  Anyhow, caterpillars tend to remove themselves from the plant every once in a while, possibly to molt and move into a new instar phase.

I moved the slug elsewhere, just to be safe.

Monarch caterpillar with slug.

Now what else did I see today?

red and black bug on milkweed.
Bug # 107: red and black bug on milkweed.

So many milkweed associated bugs are red and black.  From my searching, I couldn’t see any species of milkweed bug or milkweed beetle that looks like this.  It doesn’t look friendly, though.

Red and black big on pentas.
Bug #108:Red and black big on pentas.

And here’s another red and black bug, on a pentas plant.  And yet another threatening looking bug lurking around the milkweed:

Crane fly on a string.
Bug #109- a crane fly.

I learned in my bug guide that there are 1600 species of crane flies in North America.  some are predators, but some don’t even eat as adults.  Interesting.

And finally:

Green anole eats housefly.
Bug #110: housefly being eaten by green anole.

Day 209 total: 4 new bug species.

2018 total: 110 bug species.

Day 208: July 30, 2018

High 87º  Low 74º

Today I saw something I have never seen before- a wasp fly off with one of my monarchs:

Wasp eating monarch caterpillar under a milkweed leaf.
Wasp (bug #104) eating monarch caterpillar under a milkweed leaf.

I snapped the photo before I saw that the wasp had a monarch.  When I went to shoo it off, it took the caterpillar with it.  It happened fast.  The wasp just flew in, landed on the underside of the leaf.  I just happened to have a camera in my hand, taking photos of caterpillars.  In the time it took me to snap a photo, the monarch was gone.

It’s the challenge of treating your yard like an ecosystem.  I could remove every wasps nest and smash every wasp I see.  But they likely patrol my tomato and pepper plants in the same way.  But then, I also notice that the largest of my black swallowtail caterpillars has disappeared, and it was nowhere near ready to make a chrysalis.

Here’s the kind of photo I was taking before the abduction:

Monarch caterpillar hiding in milkweed flowers.
Monarch caterpillar hiding in milkweed flowers.

I often see monarch caterpillars of this size hiding in the flowers of the plant, where they’re less exposed.

I was wondering about other caterpillars in my yard.  Looking at the Myer lemon tree, I saw something that looked like a bird poop.  It wasn’t a giant swallowtail, though:

Bug #105: camouflaged as bird poop.

Looking closely, it’s a neat bug.  How much of what looks like bird poop is actually an insect?

After work, I went around the garden with a headlamp and found this under a milkweed leaf.

Milkweed beetle under a milkweed leaf, night.
Bug #106: Swamp milkweed beetle.

Milkweed beetles aren’t known to eat monarch caterpillars, but it seems I have less caterpillars every time I check.  I feel like anything that eats the leaves might chomp through eggs or smaller cats.  Or at the very least, it could attract the attention of predators.

Day 208 total: 3 new bug species.

2018 total: 106 bug species.

Day 207: July 29, 2018

High 93º  Low 74º

I didn’t see any new bug species today, but instead, I saw a mature form of an insect whose caterpillar has been eating in my garden:

Long-tailed skipper butterfly nectaring on pentas.
Long-tailed skipper butterfly nectaring on pentas.

I took my camera out because I saw a black swallowtail laying even more eggs on my fennel (which already have over a dozen black swallowtail caterpillars on them).  It flew off, but I then saw this adult long-tailed skipper.  Its caterpillars are called bean rollers, and I’ve been seeing them on my bean plants.  This is the best look I’ve gotten at an adult this year.

In other news, the monarchs are still eating away:

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.
Likely, those black specs are little monarch poops. These caterpillars eat and poop a lot.

Looking at the milkweed, I spotted what I thought were orange milkweed aphids.  Instead, I saw they were eggs:

Orange insect eggs on milkweed.
Orange insect eggs on milkweed.

The eggs likely belongs to an insect that will harm the plant, and by extension, the monarch caterpillars.

Day 206: July 28, 2018

High 92º  Low 74º

Well, finally.  I was wondering if I’d ever see them.  There’s a way they eat a milkweed leaf that’s different than slugs (our main milkweed predator so far this year) or insects like those I saw earlier this week. The leaves today were cut more smoothly than I’d seen this year.  So I turned one over:

Small monarch caterpillar (maybe 2nd instar) on milkweed leaf.
Bug # 101: Small monarch caterpillar (maybe 2nd instar) on milkweed leaf.

We have about a half a dozen, maybe slightly more.  I keep finding them.

On our fennel, this batch of black swallowtails is getting bigger.  Well, one of them is.  Where did the other one go?

Black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.

I saw something I couldn’t identify.  Beetle larva?

Bug #102: ???

I realize I’ve been finding this critter’s empty shells, and thinking a bee had molted.  Time for some research.

I also saw a woolly aphid.  The ones I’d seen previously were white, so this darker one was kind of neat:

Wooly aphid
Bug #103: Woolly aphid

I flipped it over to see the bug-looking part of it:

Day 208 total: 3 new bug species.

2018 total: 103 bug species.

Day 204: July 26, 2018

High 92º  Low 75º

I saw the ends of milkweed leaves eaten off and got excited.  I turned it over to see this:

An insect eating milkweed
Bug #100: An insect eating milkweed.

Still no monarchs, but what is this?  And will it attract beneficial insects that might eat monarchs?  I saw the aphid-eating syrphid larvae on my plants last week, and started removing all milkweed aphids.  Does this guy need to go as well?

Also, we have a new batch of black swallowtail caterpillars.  And so my quest to shoot one emerging from a chrysalis continues:

Two black swallowtail caterpillars atop a fennel stalk.
Two black swallowtail caterpillars atop a fennel stalk.

These guys decimated this fennel stalk, and started knocking each other around.  I’ve seen these caterpillars battle each other.  I’ve even seen one destroy another one that was trying to make its chrysalis.  These guys are rough.

Day 204 total: 1 new bug species.

2018 total: 100 bug species.

Day 202: July 24, 2018

High 92º  Low 71º

I went to work early in the morning, and on my way out, I saw this:

Syrphid fly eating a moth.
Syrphid fly eating a moth (Bug #98).

It appears to be a syrphid fly.  Last week, I saw its larvae on my milkweed plants for the first time this year.  They are a bee mimic.  I snapped a quick photo of it with my phone before it flew off with its prey, a white moth.

When I got back home in the afternoon, my son Max and I came across water with little swimming things in it.  We transferred the water to a small white tub, and I took out a waterproof camera with a good macro-mode:

These are mosquito larvae, bug #99 on the year.  I’m constantly dumping out water from the rain we’ve been having.  It was kind of cool to see these guys before they grew to prey on me and my family.

Day 202 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 99 bug species.

Day 201: July 23, 2018

High 92º  Low 72º

I’ve ben seeing stinkbugs in the yard, and a couple of different species, evidently.  As I’d mentioned earlier, I picked up a stink bug guide at the FAMU Entomology table at the Tallahassee Science Festival last fall.  These are garden pests with many lookalikes that are beneficial insects, so it’s good to know who’s who.  Below, we see Proxys punctulatus, which is listed as a less common species.

Proxys punctulatus, a stink bug species, on spiderwort buds.
Bug #95, Proxys punctulatus, a stink bug species, on spiderwort buds. Also, Bug #96, a red and black insect seen at the lower right of the photo.

I’ve also ben seeing a lot of moths lately, though many are in flight or quickly fly away upon being discovered:

White, black, and brown moth.
Bug #97: White, black, and brown moth.

And next is either another oak gall (we saw a couple of different types last week) or some other type of insect nest in our oak tree:

Oak gall?
Oak gall?

Day 201 total: 3 new bug species.

2018 total: 97 bug species.

Day 200: July 22, 2018

High 95º  Low 75º

Here’s a species I saw in the yard earlier in the year, but not a regular visitor:

White-checkered skipper.
White-checkered skipper.

I picked a tomato from the garden, and found this guy on the towel:

Bug #88- beetle found on a tomato.
Bug #88- beetle found on a tomato.

I have no idea whether is this is harmful or not, but it’s the only one I’ve seen and my tomato plants aren’t getting eaten that I can tell.

As I was cleaning up outside, I saw something interesting in a pile of leaves.  Something big and insect-like.  I took it out, and it was a dead cicada.  Specifically, an annual cicada, a name given to cicada species that appear every summer.  Periodic cicadas brood underground for several years and appear less frequently.

Bug #88- beetle found on a tomato.
Bug #89- annual cicada.

Next are a few things I’m not sure about.  The yard was hopping with bugs between the storms.  Edit 8-2-18: The following two images are leafhoppers of two different species.  Leafhoppers suck on plant sap, and are known to carry diseases between plants.  They can be serious pests.

Bug #90 Leafhopper.
Bug #91, leafhopper on gloxinia leaf.
Bug #92, on dead fennel growth.
Bug #92, on dead fennel growth.

This one looks like a photo I saw of a gall wasp when I was researching oak galls:

Bug #93: oak wasp?
Bug #93: gall wasp?

And here are a couple of dragonflies.  I haven’t seen one with these colors in the yard yet.  I think this is a blue dasher:

Bug #94 dragonfly (possibly blue dasher).
Bug #94 dragonfly (possibly blue dasher).

I think I’ve seen the species below before, but now that I’m Googling dragonfly species, this looks like a darner (Aeshnidae family).  Judging by the wings, this one’s seen some action.

Dragonfly, likely a darner (Aeshnidae family).
Dragonfly, likely a darner (Aeshnidae family).

Day 200 total: 7 new bug species.

2018 total: 94 bug species.

Day 198: July 20, 2018

High 87º  Low 76º

Okay, let’s look at our milkweed again.  No monarch eggs.  But I think here, we have a syphid larva starting to metamorphose.  Here’s a critter we’ve been seeing plenty of.  If we had monarchs, I’d remove them, as I suspect they eat caterpillars (their main food is another milkweed consumer- oleander aphids).

Syphid larva metamorphosing?
Syphid larva metamorphosing?

The critter below is a syrphid pupa.  Now the larva is starting to make its transformation into a fly resembling a bee.  Let’s see if I’m diligent and catch this when its skin is transparent, and we can see the fly inside.

Syphid larva metamorphosing?
Syphid pupa.

Below is yet another garden pest, a wooly aphid:

Wooly aphid.
Bug #86- woolly aphid.

And here’s a critter I need to ID when I have time:

Bug #87

Day 198 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 87 bug species.

Day 197: July 19, 2018

High 89º  Low 75º

Looking at the oak tree again today, I see another type of oak gall (containing the larva of a gall wasp).  I think the little hole means these wasps are out and about:

Oak gall.
Oak gall.

Day 196: July 18, 2018

High 91º  Low 75º

Kind of a crazy morning.  I opened the back door, and several Carolina wrens flew out of the yard.  One was in our Meyer lemon tree, it looked to me like it was close to the giant swallowtail chrysalis.  And then I saw this:

Empty giant swallowtail chrysalis.
Empty giant swallowtail chrysalis.

I don’t think the wrens did this.  Or do I?  It looks like too neat a job, to leave the shell intact and attached to the tree, which eating its insides.  I did have a friend describe a cardinal that ate a giant swallowtail that was trying to chysalize on her door frame- birds do love caterpillars, and wrens are no exception.

This is the backyard ecosystem we try to maintain.  We have a bird feeder, and wrens have always made nests in our hanging plants.  These wrens might be the fledglings I found on my porch in April:

Carolina wren fledgelings- future swallowtail killers?
Carolina wren fledgelings- future swallowtail killers?

Anyhow, it’s likely that the swallowtail emerged from its chrysalis earlier in the day (or emerged and was eaten?).  I do know that these birds, when they have their nests, scour the yard for caterpillars.  And I know that includes both the ones I like and the ones I maybe don’t love.

Also in the yard, a critter with an important ecological niche:

Dung beetle pushing dog poop.
Bug #85: Dung beetle cleaning up a mess in my yard.

If I don’t clean up after the dog in a timely manner, sometimes I find dung beetles.  I’ve been interested lately in what happens when plants and animals die and decompose.  Other plants, animals, and fungi do their part to break them down.  The same thing happens to animal waste in our wild spaces.

Day 196 total: 1 new bug species.

2018 total: 85 bug species.

Day 195: July 17, 2018

High 91º  Low 75º

This morning, I started thinking about the oak moths I found mating under the oak tree.  I went looking for caterpillars and found this:

Oak gall, or oak apple, on oak leaf.
Oak gall, or oak apple, on oak leaf.

This is an oak gall.  This is caused by oak wasps in the family Cynipidae.  These wasps inject their larvae into the oak tree, along with chemicals that cause these growths.  There are many types of galls.  When the wasps are mature, they pop out of the gall.

And here, below, we have one of the garden visitors which has most interested me over the last few years, the syphid larva (I first saw them last night):

Syphid larva on milkweed leaf.
Syphid larva on milkweed leaf.

When I first encountered these and learned about them, I was ecstatic.  The syrphid is a fly that mimics the look of a bee as a defense, and their larva feeds on milkweed aphids.  This is a natural way of controlling pests- great!  Then, last year, I began to suspect that they may eat monarch caterpillars as well.  While I haven’t found any documentation of this behavior, I started seeing that other beneficial insects like ladybugs do prey on monarchs.  To the milkweed, after all, the monarch is a pest (even if we like them).

And still no monarch caterpillars this year…

Day 194: July 16, 2018

High 89º  Low 76º

I’m not sure what I’m seeing here, crawling up the fencepost:

Bug #83- a type of wooly aphid?

I came out at night with a headlamp to see what might be eating any garden plants.  We have some large long-tail skipper larva, AKA bean rollers:

Long-tail skipper caterpillars on pole bean plants, feeding at night.
Long-tail skipper caterpillars on pole bean plants, feeding at night.

It’s been a few weeks since I last saw these guys, so I can assume that those have made their transformation, and that these are another wave of butterfly larvae.

Long-tailed skipper butterfly caterpillar eating the leaf of a pole bean plant.
Long-tailed skipper butterfly caterpillar eating the leaf of a pole bean plant.

Another interesting find for the night is that, while we were gone on vacation, milkweed aphids have become a big presence in the yard.  If you look closely in this picture, you can see two of their natural predators (I’ll have a better photo of them tomorrow, in daylight).

Bug # 84, syrphid larvae eating milkweed aphids on tropical milkweed flowers.
Bug # 84, syrphid larvae eating milkweed aphids on tropical milkweed flowers.

Day 194 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 84 bug species.

Day 193: July 15, 2018

High 92º  Low 73º

We got back from our vacation late last night.  It had obviously rained some while we were gone, and the yard needed some serious work.  Unsurprisingly, I ended up seeing a TON of bugs.  I don’t often get to spend this kind of time in the yard; it was fulfilling to do so, and I got to see plenty of what lives in my yard.

Let’s start by checking on our giant swallowtail caterpillars:

E,pty giant swallowtail chrysalis.

This guy hatched when we were gone.  So we missed seeing it.  However, the second caterpillar had made its chrysalis, which is still here:

Giant swallowtail chrysalis.

We’ll keep an eye on that one.  It’s a beautiful butterfly.

Anyhow, I got my hands dirty today, but also kept a camera nearby as I worked.  What did I see?

Clouded skipper on lantana.
Bug #75: Clouded skipper (Lerema accius) nectaring on lantana.

Clouded skipper larva feed on grasses, so maybe this was attracted by the long grass on our lawn (which I cut- sorry!).  Or maybe it was hosted and born on my lawn during our vacation.

Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae nigrior) on lantana.
Bug #76: Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae nigrior) on lantana.

These are regular visitors in our yard, but the first I’ve seen here this year.

Next is a butterfly I’ve never seen in my yard, and perhaps because it’s so small.  But I was keeping an eye out for anything flying, and looking to snap photos.  Notice the “hairs” protruding from the wings.  They move, and I had thought that maybe it was carrying a spider or some insect on its wings.  Can you see this on its wings:

Red banded hairstreak sunning on camellia leaf.
Bug #77: Red banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) sunning on camellia leaf.

I was raking leaves, but left some under the camellias where I found it.  This is where red-banded hairstreaks lay eggs.

As I mowed my lawn, I tried to keep little clusters of flowers intact.  I was surprised to see this happening on a thistle plant:

Two orange-tipped oakworm moths (Anisota senatoria), apparently mating.
Bug #78: Two orange-tipped oakworm moths (Anisota senatoria), apparently mating.

Reading up on this species, I learned that the female is larger.  This thistle is under an oak tree, and the female will lay eggs on an oak leaf.  Something for me to keep an eye on, and hopefully the eggs and caterpillars end up on lower branches that I can see.

Pulling vines, I found what I think is a moth caterpillar:

Moth caterpillar?
Bug #79: Moth caterpillar?

I a patch of grass I’d just cut, I saw something running fast, and carrying what looked like a leaf.  It wasn’t until I zoomed in that I saw it was a caterpillar.  I wish I knew what kind it was, but I also wasn’t looking to disrupt the thread waisted wasp’s meal:

Common Thread Waisted Wasp (Ammophila procera) with its prey, a green caterpillar.
Bugs #80 and 81: Common Thread Waisted Wasp (Ammophila procera) with its prey, a green caterpillar.

And finally, here’s what I wish was a better photo of a common buckeye (Junonia coenia):

Common buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Bug #82: Common buckeye (Junonia coenia).

I also saw a long tailed skipper fly away from my camera, perhaps this had been one of the caterpillars I had previously seen on my bean plants.

So, did I see so many insects because I’d let my lawn grow, and then cut it, agitating critters that were hiding there?  I saw species that used grasses and fallen leaves as host plants, so maybe.  But it might just be that summer is progressing, and more things are out.  And I was in the yard during the hot parts of the day to see them.

The one thing I haven’t seen yet is monarchs.  I have three types of milkweed flowering (butterfly weed, tropical, and white swamp), and perhaps a fourth about to (pink swamp).  On my vacation, I visited two Massachusetts Audubon sanctuaries, and saw plenty of monarchs and milkweed.  And I saw plenty in the marshes by where we stayed.  They’ve been passing through our area, I’ve heard, though not in large numbers.  When they do come, we’ll have plenty of larval food.

Day 193 total: 8 new bug species.

2018 total: 82 bug species.

Day 176: June 28, 2018

High 97º  Low 74º

Last pic before vacation: a giant swallowtail chrysalis:

Giant swallowtail chrysalis hanging from Meyer lemon tree.

Day 176: June 27, 2018

High 95º  Low 74º

I had limited time outside today as I get ready to go on vacation, but I did have time to check on my giant swallowtails.  I was excited to see one get into position to make a chrysalis:

Giant swallowtail in position to make chrysalis.

I’ll check back on that one when I can.  The other giant swallowtail also has something interesting going on.  Its “tongue” seems like it’s stuck:

Giant swallowtail with its tongue stuck out.

It’s been like that for days.

Day 176: June 25, 2018

High 90º  Low 74º

Watering my plants this morning, I checked on my favorite garden guest:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar.
Giant swallowtail caterpillar.

The giant swallowtail caterpillars have gotten nice and big.  Here, you can see how well its patterning matches that of the lichen covered branch on its host plant, the Meyer lemon tree.

Day 173: June 22, 2018

High 94º  Low 75º

I saw some new species at night, but first, let’s look at the giant swallowtail caterpillars:

Giant swallowtail caterpillr on Meyer lemon tree branch.

I had forgotten that they do this when water gets on them:

Giant swallowtail sticks its tongue out.

I’ve been told this excretes an odor found offensive by predators.  Black swallowtails stick their tongues out in the same way.

I’ve been making the rounds every night, shining my headlamp on various plants.  Some of our pole bean plant leaves were looking especially torn up, and I saw that the long-tailed skipper caterpillars had gotten bigger.

Long-tailed skipper caterpillar.

I also spied these garden pests.  It’s been quite a week for seeing the enemies of gardeners:

Bug #73- White flies.
Bug #73- White flies.

And it gets worse.  I saw this cutworm nibbling on a strawberry leaf:

Cutworm eating a strawberry flower.
Bug #74- Cutworm eating a strawberry flower.

Cutworms come out at night, so it’s worth inspecting plants then.  A lot of garden pests, which include butterfly species, come out at night.  When I started doing this a few years back, I started learning about different species of caterpillars and decided that I wanted to keep some (long-tailed skippers) and most definitely had to remove others.  I typically follow the advice given me by Lilly Anderson-Messec at Native Nurseries when shooting a segment on butterfly gardening.  The species I remove, I place in the bird feeder.  That way, they can at least fulfill an ecological role in the garden.

Day 170 total: 2 new bug species.

2018 total: 74 bug species.

Day 172: June 21, 2018

High 97º  Low 78º

I saw a couple of interesting things today.  First, I almost walked into this spider in the process of killing a may beetle:

Spider in the process of killing a may beetle in its web.
Bugs #69 and 70: spider in the process of killing a may beetle in its web.

Also today, I encountered possibly my least favorite garden insect.  We haven’t grown squash plants for years because of squash vine borers (Melittia cucurbitae).  This is a moth, and like any moth or butterfly, they have larval food plants.  And we tend to favor the prettier butterfly caterpillars, even if the eat our lemon and bean plant leaves.

The squash vine borer, however, is particularly insidious.  It doesn’t just graze leaves, it destroys the entire plant.  And it does it from within.  The moth lays eggs on the leaves; one year my wife, Amy picked over a hundred off of our handful of plants.  The larvae are born and the bore into the plant.  Sometimes that initial damage isn’t terribly obvious, and the plant grows and creates nice looking squash or zucchini.  And then you notice a hole on your vegetables, with orange frass oozing out of it.

This year’s plants didn’t get that far.  A couple of plants volunteered out of our compost, and I thought it would be neat to see if they made it (and curious to see what kind of squash they were).  This year the plant flowered, but eventually failed.  This is the first thing I saw when I pulled it out:

Squash vine borer (Melittia cucurbitae) lingering on a dead squash plant.
Bug #71: Squash vine borer larva (Melittia cucurbitae) lingering on a dead squash plant.

And speaking of garden pests, I also found this stink bug:

Consperse stink bug (Eustichistus conspersus) on a milkweed leaf.
Bug #72: Consperse stink bug (Eustichistus conspersus) on a milkweed leaf.

Last fall, my family and I attended the 6th Annual Tallahassee Science Festival at Kleman Plaza.  There, Florida A&M University entomology students were passing out stink bug guides, which is how I identified the bug above.

At night, I inspected the bean plants.  Notice that the whole leaf is curled over now, and not just small sections.  The caterpillars are getting bigger.

Curled bean plant leaf, containing a long-tailed skipper caterpillar.

Day 172 total: 4 new bug species.

2018 total: 72 bug species.

Day 171: June 20, 2018

High 98º  Low 77º

Today one of the long-tailed skipper caterpillars was out on open leaf, so I was able to get a better photo of it.  They’re still pretty small.  You can see the damage they’ve caused to the leaf:

Long-tailed skipper on a torn up bean plant leaf.

I tried to find these guys out in the open at night, but no luck.  I did find quite a lot more empty eggs:

Long-tailed skipper eggs under a bean plant leaf.

And of course I keep watching and photographing the giant swallowtail caterpillars as they grow.  I love how their heads are looking right now:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar, close up.

Day 170: June 19, 2018

High 97º  Low 75º

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at the leaves of our bean plants with the same attention with which I watch out milkweed leaves.  And today, I finally saw the sign I had been looking for.  We have our third species of butterfly caterpillar for the year:

Bean plant leaf with small folds

Many of the leaves had this very specific kind of tearing, where parts of the leaf are rolled up.  This is the work of the long tail skipper caterpillar (Urbanus proteus), otherwise known as the bean roller.  They’ll leave these little rolls at night to graze on leaves.  But sometimes I can turn the leaves around and see one poking out of its fold.

Long-tailed skipper caterpillar (Urbanus proteus) in a bean leaf fold.
Bug # 68: Long-tailed skipper caterpillar (Urbanus proteus) in a bean leaf fold.

Turning the leaf over, I also saw its recently evacuated egg:

Empty long-tailed skipper egg on bean plant.
Empty long-tailed skipper egg on bean plant.

These can technically be considered a garden pest.  I find, however, that while they tear up quite a few leaves, I still am typically able to harvest quite a lot of green beans, peas, etc.

Elsewhere in the garden, the giant swallowtail caterpillars continue to grow:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar on Meyer Lemon tree leaf.

There appear to be only two now- probably the two larger ones.

Day 170 total: 1 new bug species.

2018 total: 68 bug species.

Day 169: June 18, 2018

High 92º  Low 73º

Nothing new so far today, but the giant swallowtail caterpillars continue to grow:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar

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).

Giant swallowtail caterpillar.

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:

Black swallowtail, dead and being scavenged.
Bug #66, scavenging a dead black swallowtail caterpillar.

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:

Insect scavenging a millipede.
Bug #67- Insect scavenging a 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:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar, second or third instar. DIGITAL CAMERA

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):

Bug #63: Giant swallowtail caterpillar on Meyer lemon tree.
Bug #64: Giant swallowtail caterpillar on Meyer lemon tree.

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:

Giant swallowtail caterpillar on Meyer lemon tree.

I found three caterpillars, and one egg:

Giant swallowtail egg on Meyer lemon tree.
Giant swallowtail 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:

Black swallowtail, recently hatched from its chrysalis.
Black swallowtail, recently hatched from its chrysalis.

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:

Black swallowtail with busted chrysalis.
Here it is with its chrysalis.

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:

Female black swallowtail butterfly.

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.

Max, aged 7, with a black swallowtail butterfly perched on his finger.

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.

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), sunning on a bell pepper leaf.
Bug #65: Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), sunning on a bell pepper leaf.

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:

Bug #62: Small white moth on crepe myrtle.
Bug #63: Small white moth on crepe myrtle.

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 swallowtail in its “J” position, ready to spin its chrysalis.

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.

Black swallowtail chrysalis.
Black swallowtail chrysalis.

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.

Dragonfly perched on leafless milkweed stalks.
Bug #60: dragonlfy.

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:

Bug #61: Some kind of aphid?

I think they’re aphids.  Aphids attract ants:

Bug #62: 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.

Ladybug.
Ladybug.

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.

Black swallowtail caterpillar, in its final instar.

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:

Lily caterpillars on a green tomato.
Bug #57: Lily caterpillars, a tomato plant pest.

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):

Lily caterpillars consume a tomato leaf.

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?

Bug #57: Creepy red eyed thing on swamp milkweed.
Bug #58: Creepy red eyed thing on swamp milkweed.

I also kind of liked this shiny beetle hanging out on this coneflower bud:

Bug #58: beetle on an emerging coneflower.
Bug #59: beetle on an emerging coneflower.

And finally, this guy running around on the lip of a pot:

Bug #59: maybe a silverfish?
Bug #60: Probably an earwig.

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:

Cluster of bugs

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:

Black swallowtail moments after molting into its final instar.

Also, it appears one of the eggs finally hatched:

First instar (recently hatched) black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.
First instar (recently hatched) black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.

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:

Bug #54: Running bugs!
Bug #55: Running bugs!

And finally, a fly on the hydrangea:

Bug #55: a fly on a hydrangea leaf.
Bug #56: a fly on a hydrangea leaf.

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.

Black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.

I also saw this cool camouflaged spider on our Meyer lemon tree:

Green translucent spider on Meyer lemon tree leaf.
Bug #53: green translucent spider on Meyer lemon tree leaf.

And this guy:

Red and black bug on leaf with ants.
Bug #54: Red and black bug on leaf with ants.

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:

Black swallowtail caterpillar on fennel.

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.

Tropical checkered skipper on squash flower.
Bug #52: Tropical checkered skipper on squash flower.

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:

Black swallowtail egg on fennel.

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.

Fly pollinating swamp milkweed, with milkweed aphids beneath.
Bug #51- a house fly on swamp milkweed, with milkweed aphids sheltered by the flowers.

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:

Bugs #46 and 47 on swamp milkweed.

I found a couple of different insects on hydrangea leaves:

Bug #48 on a hydrangea leaf.
Bug #49 on a hydrangea leaf.

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:

Bug #50- a moth.

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:

Bug #45

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.

Bug #43- spider on swamp milkweed.

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.

Milkweed aphids have returned.

And then there was this guy on our hydrangea:

Bug #44

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:

Bug #40
Bug #41

And this beetle digging around on a raised bed:

Bug #42- beetle.

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:

Bug # 36- grasshopper
Bug # 37- a wasp?
Bug # 38- long legged fly.

And then there’s this thistle, which has these green bugs and what appears to be their eggs?

Bug #39
Insect eggs on thistle.

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:

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: 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)

Spicebush swallowtail
Bug #29: Spicebush 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.

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.

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