Remarkably, spiders annually eat more insects than bats and birds combined. In spite of this, they are one of the least appreciated animals that inhabit our yards.
With that in mind, the next time that you spot a spider in your garden, don’t kill it. Spiders play a key role in the ecology of our yards. As such, they help control all sorts of insects and other invertebrates. In addition, they are important sources of protein for scores of animals such as birds. For example, tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds and great crested flycatchers are just two of the birds that dine on spiders.
The red-banded hairstreak is one of our smallest and seemingly most fragile butterflies. Whenever I am fortunate enough to spot one of these tiny flying jewels, I realize that they have little chance of surviving the attack of a predator. Without the benefit of speed or camouflage, they must rely on deception to avoid becoming a meal.
The red-banded is one of a handful of hairstreaks that inhabit my yard. Like the other hairstreaks, the red-banded’s hindwings bear short, slender extensions often referred to as tails or hairs. In addition, two black spots adorn the trailing edge of each hindwing. These spots serve as false eyes. They, along with the projections that look like antennae, are keys to the red-banded hairstreak’s ability to deter predators.
Whenever you look at a red-banded hairstreak perched on a leaf or flower you will notice its hindwings are in constant motion. When one wing goes up other goes down. The constant movement of the butterfly’s wings makes a bird believe it is looking at the head of the insect. As such, when it attacks what it perceives to be the head of its prey, it ends up with nothing more than pieces of the insect’s wings. This gives the butterfly the opportunity to fly away without suffering a lethal wound.
However, Dr. Andrei Sourakov, a scientist with the University of Florida, has conducted experiments that strongly suggest that the hairstreak’s ruse might actually serve to protect it from attacks of another predator known as the jumping spider. When the biologist placed hairstreaks that had their false heads cut off in the same container with jumping spiders, the spiders always attacked the butterflies’ true heads. However, when he placed hairstreaks possessing complete wings in a container containing the predators, the spiders only attacked the butterfly’s false heads.
I am certain the hairstreaks’ behavior dupes birds into striking at their false heads too. However, due to the jumping spider’s greater abundance, it makes sense, that the deception aids the butterflies from fooling spiders more than birds.
This is just another case where research is forcing us to question our long-held beliefs concerning the natural world.
I know that you are going to be elated to learn that a new spider has taken up residence in Georgia. This large colorful arachnid is the joro spider and is native to China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.
According to University of Georgia biologists, that spider was initially located in Hochston, Georgia in 1983. The current range of the joro spider in the Peach State includes Hall, Jackson, Gwinnett, and Madison Counties in Georgia’s northeast quadrant. The spider has also turned up in Greenville, South Carolina.
While nobody knows how it made its way to the United States, Richard Hoebeke, curator of the University of Georgia’s Museum of Natural History believes that the showy spiders probably hitched a ride to Georgia on shipping crates transported on container ships from ports in Japan and China.
The joro spider is not a spider that lurks in the dark corners of old barns or haunted houses. While in has been found living in plain sight in woodlands; it also seems to prefer to live near humans. The first indication that joro spiders are living nearby is often the appearance of a large orb-shaped web. When the light catches these webs just right, they take on a golden sheen.
The female joro spider has a body that measures 0.68-0.98 inches in length. In addition, when spread out, its eight legs span anywhere from three to four inches.
Many folks are afraid a spider will bite them. Fortunately, the joro spider is not aggressive. However, for some unknown reason if a joro spider bites you, unless you are highly allegoric to its venom, the bite will give about the same amount of discomfort as a bee sting.
Based on how far the joro spider has expanded its range in well less than a decade, it appears it will continue its range expansion unabated. Meanwhile, the UGA biologists working at the Museum of Natural History are requesting our help in plotting the spider’s marc across the state.
With that in mind, if you spot what you believe to be a joro spider, take a picture of it, and send it to Richard Hoebeke at firstname.lastname@example.org along with the date and location of your sighting.
There are a number tactics folks employ to deter bees, yellow jackets, and wasps from their feeders. Here is one you may not have considered: avoid using feeders decorated with yellow features.
Most often, yellow is used to decorate the artificial flowers surrounding feeding portals. I am not sure why manufacturers go to so much trouble to include yellow in the color scheme of a feeder. Perhaps they feel yellow flowers look more realistic, or attractive. Who knows? One thing we do know is hummingbirds are attracted to the color red found on such places as the feeder base and top. As such, using yellow on a feeder does not enhance the chances that hummingbirds will use it.
When yellow is used to decorate a feeder, it simply makes the feeder more appealing to bees, yellow jackets, and wasps. The reason for this is honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets are attracted to the color yellow. Consequently, in theory, feeders that do not feature the color yellow should not be visited by these insects as often as feeders without the bright color.
However, if red feeders are coated with sugar water that has sloshed out of feeder portals, squadrons of these stinging insects will most assuredly show up. In addition, these flying insects are capable of finding a source of food regardless of whether it has any yellow on it or not. I know this is true as just last week I was stung by a yellow jacket as I tried to refill one of my red feeders.
Using feeders without yellow will not solve the problem of hummingbirds having to share nectar with hornets, honeybees, and yellow jackets. However, it just might help alleviate the problem.
The American goldfinches that we see at our feeders right now (August) are in their breeding plumage. However, as we all know, the American goldfinches that visit our backyards in the winter appear to be totally different birds. This is because after the close of the breeding season the birds undergo a feather molt. As a result, a dull and somber winter plumage replaces their bright and beautiful breeding plumage. However, it is not commonly known that the color of the goldfinches bill, feet and legs change along with the feather molt.
At this time of the year, they are pale yellow. However, outside of the breeding season they are grayish brown. This change can best be appreciated if you compare the color of the feet, legs and bills of the American goldfinches you are currently seeing, with those of the bird in the photo (taken in winter) that accompanies this blog. The difference is truly remarkable.
If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.
This will mark the third year the census has been conducted. Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey. Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.
The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part. There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time. Most counts are held in yards. However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds.
The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (email@example.com).
The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.
For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org). When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.
Once people begin watching birds, there is a natural tendency for them to try to find out as much as they can about the fascinating feathered creatures that bring them so much joy. If you find yourself in this category, it is only natural that you would like to know how many different species of birds have been seen in Georgia. However, if you begin looking for this information you might find surprisingly difficult to locate. However, this blog will lead you directly to the right place.
One might think that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is the logical place to begin your search. Such is not the case. The organization that is responsible for maintaining the official list of birds seen in Georgia is the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS).
This bird is on the official list of birds found in Georgia