Friday, July 27, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - Tobacco Hornworm

A Yard Critter of the Week detective story.

This morning, while walking in the garden, I noticed the tomato plants looking a bit ragged. When we were away, deer had gotten into the garden, but after a week home the damage was suspicious. This called for some investigating. Investigating means looking for the telltale signs of caterpillars.

Frass (aka "caterpillar poop).

And after looking around I found the source, a Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar.

Not one but three, on two different tomato plants.

At about four inches long, it is almost fully grown. Fully grown caterpillars climb down from plants and make cocoons in the soil. The pupal stage can take a few weeks up to a few months, depending on the time of year. In the fall, pupae will stay in the ground until the spring, and in the spring the moth will emerge in about two to four weeks.

The pupae turn into large moths with four- to six-inch wingspans. They often are mistaken for small hummingbirds when they fly during the day and hover helicopter style to nectar on flowers, which is why they are also called Hummingbird or Hawk Moths.

I have yet to see the moth. But the caterpillars sure are voracious eaters, making their presence obvious.

This younger instar has lots of eating still to do. It's good that I planted four tomato plants for these caterpillars!


You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Thanks to guest blogger Patty Rehn. The words and images are hers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

It's National Moth Week!

So I went mothing.

Polyphemus Silkworm Moth

I spent the weekend in the Poconos with my friend, moth and all things nature enthusiast, Edie.  She has a great nature blog:

She has a beautiful house and yard full of native plants and trees.  Great for supporting the local fauna. There is plenty of Virginia Creeper growing in her yard, so it is not surprising to find a Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth.

National Moth Week is happening now.  Many parks, preserves and nature centers are hosting moth events. David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty, along with The Friends of the East Brunswick Environment Commission started National Moth Week in 2012. Yay for New Jersians!!  You can check out the web site for locations to moth:

Virgin Tiger Moth

Mothing is such an easy activity. Set up a bright light and sheet and let the moths come to you! 

The Angel

The Smaller Parasa is in the slug moth family. What a name for such a cute moth.

Notice the green lines on the nape of the this Banded Tussock and the delicate translucency of its wings.

There are over 12,000 species of moths in North America, so IDing them can be a challenge.  How the moth sits on the sheet is helpful in making an ID.  The Lesser Grapvine Looper sits with its tail up.

Where the Mottled Prominent is tented. Look for the subtle green hues.

While both this Lunate Zale and the Basswood Leafroller below have their wings spread out.

Other moths are quick to identify.  You can see why this moth is called the Harris's Three Spot.

Confused Hapola

Not all moths come to the sheet, but they are attracted by the light, so it pays to look around.  

Beautiful Wood-nymph

Tulip-Tree Silkmoth

Other insects are attracted to the light.  I love this mayfly's googly eyes.

One of the most colorful and beautiful moths of the night was the Small-eyed Sphinx. This moth has purple and blue colors plus what looks like an orange star right in the center, just below its head. 

We had such a fantastic night of mothing.  Get out there!


Thanks to guest blogger Patty Rehn. The words and images are all hers.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.

We arrived home from our Spokane - Glacier - Coeur d'Alene trip early evening yesterday, and Patty, during her patrol of the gardens (damn deer!), spotted this "snake". But it wasn't at snake, it was a caterpillar.

Some very cool mimicry going on here.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
Looking like a snake has its advantages. No doubt the birds that spy it jump away in surprise upon spotting. Although it does appear to have a friendly smile.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
It has been a slow year so far for butterflies in our yard. But in addition to this we've, (where we've = Patty) have found Monarch caterpillars in the yard as well. Hopefully things are picking up.

This is the butterfly, which we've seen flittering about the yard (although this image is not from the yard; I'll keep trying ...).

πŸ›πŸ›πŸ› πŸ¦‹ πŸ›πŸ›πŸ›

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - Bold Jumping Spider

Bold Jumping Spider.

Shown here with a Gypsy Moth Caterpillar as its prey.

It was nice to have an ally in our fight against the Gypsy Moths, which reached plagues status this year.

This spider has an interesting pattern on it's abdomen (click the image to bigafy it).

For reasons that don't really make any sense, the pattern reminds me of Strong Bad of Homer Star Runner fame.

I said it didn't make any sense,

The spider is rather common in the yard in May and apparently enjoys caterpillars, as can be seen in this post.


You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - Purple-lined Sallow Caterpillar

Purple-Lined Sallow Caterpillar.

Shown here on Common Milkweed, which is not listed as a food plant in any reference I looked at. Curious.

Patty, who as a teacher has the summer off and who can thus spend all day in the gardens, spotted it while spending all day in the gardens.

I was at work. In boring meetings. I so prefer not working. Alas, I, like many people, am dependently wealthy.

I'm not sure what is was doing on this leaf, as this caterpillar prefers to eat flower buds.

Here is an image Patty took earlier (while I was at work):

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
Munching away on the milkweed flower buds.

πŸ›πŸ› πŸ¦‹ πŸ›πŸ›

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Another Front ...

... has been opened in the War on Lawn.

The Bench Garden.

(You'll likely need to bigafy the images, done as always by clicking on them, to see the bench.)

The Opening Salvo
The first step is the laying of the cardboard. Patty and I, mostly Patty, were able to bring home cardboard from our respective workplaces. The technique we use to prepare the garden space is referred to as "Lasagna Gardening" due to the use of layers. The cardboard serves to cut off sunlight from the plants beneath, mostly weeds, killing them while at the same time ensuring the nutrients return to the soil below. The cardboard eventually decays away.

You can also see that we've started the border, using landscape timbers that we found around the yard.

Securing the Territory
The next step is to cover the cardboard with dirt, in this case compost we purchased from a local landscape company. This further blocks sunlight while at the same time holding the cardboard in place. Otherwise, with the first strong wind you've cardboard all about the yard. You can also see we've started to place logs and stumps in the garden. These provide shelter for insects such as native bees and for critters such as frogs, toads, and chipmunks. The stumps also make fine platform feeders for birds and butterflies.

Assuming Control
The next step is to mulch. We use Salt Hay as our mulch material. It is relatively cheap, easy to obtain, covers well, looks nice, biodegrades, and doesn't survive in our habit. The last point is significant in that any seeds of the hay, or of any plants mixed in, will not grow in our yard. Thus it adds no weeds and helps to prevent weeds sprouting in the compost layer.

The final steps were to remove the internal fences, which had been protecting two small trees from the ravages of deer, and redeploy the posts as a perimeter fence. We used fishing line on the redeployed posts to deter deer from entering. The thought is that deer can't see the fishing line, walk into it, and feeling something touch them bolt away in surprise. If you bigafy you'll also see some Wireless Deer Fence posts strategically placed outside the garden.

But to paraphrase the folks on ESPN, when it comes to deer you can't stop them, you can only hope to contain them. We've had good results with the Wireless Deer Fence posts, but they're not perfect. So for this garden we're trying a two prong solution to the deer problem. If only the war on deer was as easy to win as the one on lawn.


Now that the garden area has been created we'll be slowly adding plants throughout the summer. And come next spring we expect a lush native plant garden. So be sure to check back in a year or so.