With daily temperatures soaring into the 90s and above, we Georgians have been spending as much time as possible inside our comfortable air-conditioned homes. Without the luxury of having a cool refuge to escape to when the hot sun is beating down, our backyard wildlife neighbors have to employ other means to beat the heat. Recently my wife spotted a Halloween pennant dragonfly doing just that.
A couple of weeks ago while watering the flowers on our deck she noticed a Halloween pennant dragonfly perched on the dead branch of a red salvia plant. Instead of perching with its wings parallel to the ground, the beautiful gold dragonfly had arranged its body so that its tail was pointing upwards toward the heavens. At first, she thought the insect just happened to land in the awkward position. However, several times during the next few minutes the dragonfly flew off and then returned to the same spot. Each time it landed in the normal manner and then quickly rearranged its body so its abdomen faced upward like an obelisk. This made it look much like a miniature Washington Monument.
It seems the Halloween pennant was employing an odd strategy to keep cool. By positioning itself with its abdomen pointing skyward, it was reducing the surface area of its body exposed that was exposed to the sun’s ray. With less direct sunlight striking its body, it kept itself cooler than it would have been if it perched in a normal position.
Isn’t nature amazing?
For quite some time I have been documenting butterflies nectaring on a wide range of cultivated and native plants. This effort has helped me gain a better appreciation of which species of butterflies use which plants. Every so often, I encounter a butterfly nectaring on a plant I never realized they visited.
For example, a few days ago my wife and I checked our bronze fennel for black swallowtail eggs and/or eggs. Much to our chagrin, we did not find either. However, my wife did make a fascinating discovery. When she called me over to look at what she had found, I was surprised to see six red-banded hairstreaks nectaring on a bronze fennel’s pale yellow blossoms.
Although we have been growing bronze fennel in our garden for a number of years, we never considered the well-known black swallowtail host plant a source of nectar for butterflies. Oh sure, we routinely see the blossoms routinely visited by sweat bees and other native pollinators, but never a red-banded hairstreak other butterfly. Yet, here were half a dozen beautiful red-banded hairstreaks so engrossed in sipping nectar they never attempted to fly away in spite of the fact we were standing only a few feet away from them.
A quick check of the literature and Internet failed to uncover any mention of red-banded hairstreaks using the plant as a source of nectar. In fact, most authors simply mentioned it was visited by a number of pollinators; however, none said it was source of nectar for butterflies.
While my wife’s sighting may not be an
important scientific find, it was important to us. It
advanced our understanding of the unbelievably
complex relationships that exist between the plants
and animals that live just outside our backdoor.
Some of our most fascinating and important backyard wildlife neighbors are pollinating insects. Unfortunately, populations of many of these critters are declining. In an effort of assess the number of these pollinators across the state, the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension is conducting the first Georgia statewide pollinator census. The count will be held August 23 and 24, 2019.
Becky Griffin, UGA Extension school garden and pollinator census coordinator is inviting private citizens, families, clubs, school classes and other groups to cooperate.
The count is fashioned after the highly successful Great Backyard Bird Count. Consequently, whereas you do not have to be an expert in bird identification take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, you don’t have to be able to identify the insect pollinators that visit your garden. Participants are simply asked to separate pollinators into eight groups (carpenter bees, bumble bees, honey bees, small bees, wasps, flies, butterflies/moths, and other insects. An easy to understand online guide to these insects can be downloaded from the Great Georgia Pollinator Census website (GGaPC.org).
Here is what you need to do to participate:
- Visit the Great Georgia Pollinator Census website and download the GGPC Observation Sheet. The sheet can be used to record your sightings.
- Select a single plant growing in your yard that you know attracts pollinators.
- Count the pollinators landing on the plant during a 15-minute period.
- Visit the website once more and upload the results of your count.
I sincerely hope that you become citizen scientist and participate in the state’s first-of-its-kind pollinator count. If you do, you will be helping conserve these valuable insects.
If you have any questions regarding the census, contact mailto:Becky Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how many birds migrate in North America each fall? If so, chances are more birds are on the move each fall than you ever imagined. Those folks that make their living studying birds estimate that some five billion birds migrate across our continent each autumn.
Some of these birds nest, feed, or pass through our yards. With that in mind, keep your eyes peeled for the appearance of some of these long-distance travelers in your yard. One way that you can attract these birds is by operating a mister. Misters have the reputation of attracting a wide assortment of birds that are otherwise rarely seen in backyard settings.
Since the migration is well underway, now is a great time to set up a mister in your yard.
Having studied hummingbirds for decades, I have learned the folks that usually attract the most birds to their yards are those that plant a wide variety of flowering plants that offer the birds plenty of food from spring through fall; supplemented with sugar water served in feeders. There is no better time to witness this than August.
I say this because hummingbirds are more abundant in our yards right now than they have been at any time earlier this year. As such, if you have planted a wide variety of nectar-laden plants, this is a great time to see which of these plants these tiny-feathered jewels favor during the heat of summer. The abundance of hummingbirds gives you the opportunity to assess their food preferences in a very short period.
For years, my wife and I have been planting a host of different plants for hummingbirds. Right now, by far, the plant most often visited by hummingbirds is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). This Georgia native produces an abundance of scarlet red one-inch long tubular-shaped flowers.
We are growing scarlet sage in flowerbeds with companion plants such as black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, zinnia, blanket flower, and cosmos. We also have it planted in containers on our deck. Some containers contain nothing other than scarlet sage. However, since it produces an abundance of seed, some of the seeds dropped last year somehow found their way into nearby pots where my wife is rooting buddleia and roses. Additionally, scarlet sage has volunteered in containers where she scattered the seeds of zinnias, blanket flowers, and black-eyed Susans this spring. Scarlet sage is growing well there too.
From morning to dusk, hummingbirds repeatedly visit the scarlet sage blooms more often than those of lantana, zinnia, trumpet creeper, Turk’s cap, purple salvia, hosta, Mexican sunflower, and other hummingbird favorites. This plant has literally become a hummingbird magnet.
While I thoroughly enjoy watching rubythroats feeding at scarlet sage blooms planted about the yard, I especially enjoy those growing in containers on our deck. Regardless of whether I am working on the deck or sitting nearby the plants enjoying a cup of coffee and having the birds feed a few feet away.
If you do not have as much hummingbird activity around the flowering plants blooming in your yard right now, I suggest you begin planting hummingbird food plants. By including them in your gardens, next year your yard will be more beautiful, hummingbirds will have more food choices and the numbers of hummers using your yard should increase. Now that is called a win, win, win situation.
Can you name the plant that displays flowers that contain the greatest volume of nectar? It is not Mexican cigar, red hot poker, Turk’s cap or one of the scores of other alien plants we plant in our gardens to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. You might be surprised to learn it is a native woody vine known as trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans).
This plant commonly grows in yards across the state. However, in many cases it is considered a weed and not recognized as a valuable hummingbird food plant. The reason for this is it will climb on houses and other manmade structures. However, if you plant it alongside an arbor, trellis, or fence away from a building, it can be an asset instead of a liability. Trumpet creep can also be trained to take on the form of a small tree.
Believe it or not, one of our most misidentified butterflies is the eastern tiger swallowtail. This might come as a surprise to you since it is our state butterfly and is one of the largest butterflies that visits our yards. This reason for this is this gorgeous butterfly has two color phases.
The wings of the males are predominantly yellow and marked with vertical stripes. This is the color form most people recognize. Females, on the other hand come in either yellow or black phases. If you look closely at the wings of a dark female, you will usually seen telltale black stripes. The black form of the eastern swallowtail is the phase many people do not realize is also an eastern tiger swallowtail.
In middle Georgia, my neck of the woods, more than 90 percent of all female eastern tiger swallowtails are black. However, dark females are far less common in some other parts of the country. Some lepidopterists – folks that study butterflies – suggest that the percentage of dark females is greatest where pipevine swallowtails are most abundant. For example, black females are far less common in New England and others parts of the butterfly’s range.
Interestingly, dark females are prone to produce dark daughters while yellow females usually have yellow mothers.
Dark females have a better chance of surviving long enough to lay eggs than yellow females. The reason why is that dark females look much like the poisonous pipevine swallowtail. The pipevine has an extremely bitter taste. If bird or other predator tries to eat one, it rarely goes back for seconds or even attacks a butterfly that looks like it.
I would be interested in know the percentage of black females to yellow females you see in your yard. If you conduct a survey of the eastern tiger swallowtails in your yards, let me know what you find.
The gray squirrel uses its tail to help to help balance itself as it climbs and jumps from limb to limb, an even break its fall when is tumbles from a limb high above the ground. Unbelievably on bright sunny days, the gray squirrel flips its bushy tail over its back and utilizes it as a parasol to keep the rays of the sun from overheating its body.
During the current heat wave, when we step outside into our backyards one might think we have entered Sonora Desert. With daily temperatures hovering in the 90s and heat indexes soaring well above 100˚F, trying to keep cool is next to impossible. While it is difficult for us to keep cool in this oppressive heat, rest assured it also tough for our bird neighbors.
One way in which our bodies try to keep us cool is by sweating. When perspiration builds up on our skin and evaporates into the air. Although none of us like to be covered with sweat, sweating does help keep us from overheating. Since birds do not have any sweat glands, one of the ways in which they eliminate excess body heat is through a behavior called gular fluttering (more commonly known as panting).
When a bird is panting, it opens its mouth and flutters its neck muscles. This increases the airflow across the airsacs in its lungs. This, in turn, helps excess heat and moisture to pass from a bird’s lungs into the air expelled when the bird breathes out.
Now you know why birds don’t sweat the heat.