THE HERCULES BEETLE IS BIG BUT NOT DANGEROUS

       Whenever you encounter the eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus), you may be astonished at it size and perhaps fear it might bite you. 

       The eastern Hercules beetle is indeed large, in fact, since it can attain a length of around 2.5 inches, it is probably the largest beetle you will see in your backyard.

       However, while it appears dangerous, it will not bite or sting.  It much prefers to eat rotting fruit or the sap exuded from ash trees than human flesh.

       Both male and female eastern Hercules beetles range in color from olive green, to tan and gray.  Their exoskeletons display multiple black spots. No two beetles have the same number and distribution of spots.  Consequently, researchers use the spots to identify individuals.

       As you can see from the photos that accompany this blog, males sport two pronotal horns that some described as looking like the horns of a rhinoceros. The males use these horns when fighting for the opportunity to mate with females.  Females lack horns.

       Although they are found throughout Georgia, the homeowners that are most apt to find one of these giant beetles are those have yards that feature scattered hardwood trees, especially those where rotten limbs have be allowed to remain on the ground.  Eastern Hercules beetle larvae feed on rotting wood, especially oak.

       Since eastern Hercules beetles are nocturnal, it is unlikely that most of us spot one unless it is drawn to an outside light.

       The strength of eastern Hercules beetles is legendary.  Perhaps that is the reason we sometimes refer to it as the ox or elephant beetle.  It is said that it can lift an object 850 times its own weight.  This is the equivalent of a human lifting nine fully-grown elephants.

       I hope you will have the opportunity to spot this gentle giant in your yard.  It represents one of the countless animals that are hiding in plain sight in our backyards.

        

THE RETURN OF THE GRAY CATBIRD

        For reasons I will never know, gray catbirds chose not to nest in my backyard this year. Since spring, I have been both looking and listening for this secretive bird.  Since I did not hear or see a catbird by the end of the third week in July, I was convinced I would not see one near my home this year.

        However, less than a week ago, one flew in and landed on a wire suet feeder hanging outside my home office.  I could not believe my eyes!  I immediately stopped working at my computer and watched the bird as it ate a couple of chunks of peanut butter-flavored bird pudding. I was just getting ready to snap a photo of the feeding bird when a brown thrasher scared the catbird away when it flew in the claim its share of the food.

        After the thrasher left, the catbird returned and briefly fed again.  Then it vanished.  This time it fed on the bird pudding while it was perched atop the feeder as a downy woodpecker fed while hanging on the side of the feeder.

        Over the years, gray catbirds have rarely visited my feeders. When they have shown up, they have always fed on suet.  I have never seen one eat any birdseed.  However, they are purported to eat fruit-flavored suit, jelly, cornbread, peanut butter and raisins.  They will also occasionally feed at hummingbird feeders.

        While I have not been successful attracting catbirds to my feeders, they will regularly visit my birdbaths.

        The catbirds that inhabit my yard during summers past have apparently been content to feed on berries and invertebrates.  In late summer, they feed on American beautyberries.

        I hope the gray catbird that recently made a late appearance in my yard, will hang around at least until the American beautyberries ripen.  If it does, perhaps it will serenade me with its cat-like call and long (up to 10 minutes) highly variable song.

        As you can tell, I greatly appreciate the return of the catbird.

SWEETSHRUB IS A FRAGRANT ADDITION TO YOUR YARD

     I am surprised that more Georgians are not familiar with the sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus).   Since it bears some of the most fragrant blossoms of any of our native woodland shrubs, you would think that most folks would want it growing in their yard.

     The sweetshrub’s blossoms are maroon in color and produce a pleasing aroma that my wife and I are convinced smells like apples. However, some describe the scent as smelling like spicy strawberries.  Others inhale the shrub’s pleasing aroma and say it reminds them of a mixture of pineapples and bananas.

     Regardless of how you interpret the pleasing odor, the vast majority of us love it.  In fact, some people think so highly of it they plant sweetshrubs near their outside doors.  This allows them to lean over and take a whiff of the flowers before heading out for the day.

     The sweetshrub is also a pollinator plant.  Although Sweetshrub blooms generate pollen used by native bees and butterflies, sap beetles are the plant’s main pollinator.  However, since sap beetles are small (1.4-inch) and nondescript we often overlook them.

 

     The way in which these beetles pollinate sweetshrub blossoms in a little strange.  The fragrant flowers draw the beetles with the scent they emit.  Once the beetles land on the blossoms, they crawl down inside the bloom and begin gathering pollen. Here is where this gets odd.  When the beetles are ready to leave, they have a difficult time exiting the flower. As such, they often remain there until the flower matures enough for its petals to fold back enough for them to depart.  Once they are on the wing, they fly off carrying granules of pollen.  When they land on another sweetshrub blossom, they inadvertently pollenate that flower.

     Sweetshrub is easy to grow from seed, transplants, and cuttings.  While there are cultivars on the market, I have never planted any of them. If you want to be sure you are planting sweetshrubs that produce beautiful maroon blooms, a pleasing apple scent, and pollen relished by pollinators; you cannot go wrong buying plants from reputable nurseries that deal in native plants.

HOW MUCH ARE WE SPENDING ON BIRDSEED AND FEEDERS?

        Few of us keep records of how much we spend annually on wild birdseed and feeders.  However, the Wild Bird Feeding Industry Research Foundation closely monitors our bird feeding habits.

       According to their 2015 report on our purchasing activity, the average American household that feeds birds annually spends an average of $59.73 on food and $39.52 on feeders.

       Although I do not keep a record of my bird feeding expenditures, I am confident I spend much more than this.  How much are you spending on this pastime?

LIST OF NON-NATIVE INVASIVE PLANTS IS A VALUABLE PUBLICATION FOR ALL GEORGIA HOMEOWNERS

       One of the biggest threats to Georgia’s native plants and animals is the spread of exotic plants. Many are capable of destroying native plant and animal communities.

       One way these damaging plants get a foothold is by being planted in backyards across the state.  With this in mind, the Georgia Exotic Plant Council has developed a list of these damaging plants. This valuable publication is available online.  All you have to do to access the list is to Google: List of Non-Native Plants of Georgia.

       If you are concerned about the future of Georgia’s diverse and valuable native plant and animal resources, I urge to you to download this publication today.

BACKYARD SECRET—CHIMNEY SWIFTS CANNOT PERCH ON UTILITY WIRES

       If you ever spot a chimney swift perched on an electrical or telephone line, stop whatever you are doing and take a picture of it.  Your photo would be rare indeed.  This is because ornithologists believe these small birds are incapable of perching in such locations.

       This might seem odd since we routinely see mockingbirds, mourning doves, sparrows, red-shouldered hawks, sparrows, and many other birds perched on the wire.  The reason they are able to perch in such places is the structure of their feet and legs are very different from those of the chimney swift. 

       Instead, the chimney swift’s toes, nails, and legs are suited to cling to vertical surfaces such as upright trunks of trees, walls and the interior surfaces of chimneys.

LOOK FOR LEOPARDS IN YOUR BACKYARD

        From spring into fall, leopards stalk our backyards.  I am not talking about the feline variety.  I am referring to the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia).

        However, like the predator, that roams the wilds of Asia and Africa, the giant leopard moth also has spots.  The spots on its wings vary from black to blue.  Some spots might even have white centers.  Once you see one, you will have no problem understanding why we call it the leopard moth.  Nevertheless, I think you will agree with me that it would have been more appropriate to name it the Dalmatian moth.

       The female leopard moth is smaller than the male. Males have a wingspan of 3.6 inches whereas the female’s wingspan is only 2.25 inches.

       The leopard moth has a variety of host plants including male, cherry, willow, sunflower, cabbage.

       If you want to see one of these handsome moths, the best strategy you can employ is to have the moth come to you.  Fortunately, leopard moths are attracted to lights.  Armed with that tidbit of information, just pull up a lawn chair near an outside light and wait.  (Lights with shorter wavelengths work best.)  If there is a giant leopard moth nearby there is a good chance it will appear.

       When a leopard moth finally shows up chances are will be a male.  For some reason, females do not visit lights as often as the males. 

       As you might expect, some folks will attract more leopard moths than others will.  I have never been able to attract more than one leopard moth at a time to my lights, nevertheless, some homeowners report seeing upwards of a dozen or more.

          

BLOGGER REPORTS GOLDFINCHES LOVE ANISE HYSSOP

       One of the many things I enjoy about blogging is fellow bloggers are often willing to share their wildlife experiences and gardening tips.  Recently blogger Heather N. graciously revealed one of her wildlife gardening tips.

       Heather wrote that each summer one of the plants that goldfinches are drawn to in her yard is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).  She went on to say that these beautiful birds are eating anise hyssop seeds right now.

       Since I am not familiar with the plant, I decided to do a little research on it.  I found that it is native to the northern section of the United States and Canada.  However, this perennial herb is widely planted in many parts of the country, including Georgia.

       The plant produces blooms that attract a number of pollinators such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Its leaves produce a pleasant licorice scent.  Its seeds are also consumed by a number of birds, like goldfinches.

       If Heather had not taken the time to share her wildlife gardening tip, I might not have ever learned of anise hyssop’s value to wildlife. Now that I am aware of it, I hope to find a place for it in my yard.

Thanks Heather!

BREAKING NEWS – HUMMINGBIRDS DO HAVE A SENSE OF SMELL

        We have long been aware that hummingbirds have great eyesight and hearing.  However, biologists have unable to demonstrate that hummingbirds could smell.  However, recent studies conducted by researchers at the University of California Riverside have revealed for the first time that hummingbirds can smell insects that pose a danger to them while they are visiting flowers bearing nectar.  The findings also suggest that this ability helps them avoid danger while feeding.

       According to Erin Wilson Rankin, associate entomology professor and coauthor author of the paper that was published in   the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, “This is pretty exciting, as it is the first clear demonstration of hummingbirds using their sense of smell alone to make foraging decisions and avoid contact with potentially dangerous insects at a flower or feeder.”

       The experiment was deceptively simple.  They provided more than 100 hummingbirds the option of feeding at two feeders.  One feeder contained sugar water and another filled with sugar water and additives that indicated that an insect was present.  One additive was formic acid which is produced by some Formica ants.  This chemical is known to be harmful to humans and mammals alike. The other was an ant attraction chemical. Another chemical tested was a chemical left behind when a European honeybee visits flowers. 

       The hummingbirds seemed oblivious to the honeybee-generated chemical.  However, the birds avoided food laced with both of the ant-based chemicals.

       Since all of the feeders were identical, the only way that the birds could differentiate between the feeders was through their sense of smell.

       It seems like every few years we learn something new and fascinating about hummingbirds.  As such, it begs the question, “What will researchers discover next about these amazing birds?”

THE DANGER POSED BY COPPERHEADS IN GEORGIA YARDS

       The chances of finding a poisonous snake in a Georgia backyard are low.  However, if one does appear, throughout most of the state, it will be a copperhead. One reason for this is the snake is ranges throughout the Peach State except in that portion of the southeastern Coastal Plain below the Altamaha River.  Another reason is copperheads appear to be more tolerant of human development than other species of poisonous snakes.

       While nobody ever wants to find a poisonous snake in their yard, if one does appear, probably the one that you want to see is the copperhead.  It is not an aggressive snake.  As such, more often than not, copperheads will only strike when they are disturbed or folks try to pick them up.

       Unfortunately, copperheads do bite humans. An average of 2,920 copperhead bites occurs annually. The good news is, since copperhead venom is the least potent of any poisonous snake found in North America, copperhead bites are rarely life-threatening.  In fact, only 0.01 percent of these bites are fatal.