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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I cannot count the numbers of times people have told me that it is often difficult and frustrating to find information on how to deal with wildlife that appear to be in trouble. In hopes of demystifying this process, here are two sources of information that you will find invaluable when you are faced with trying to come to the aid of a wild critter that appears to be injured, sick, or orphaned.
Whenever you encounter such an animal the first thing you should do is to determine whether to animal actually needs assistance. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has an excellent site designed to help you safely make that important decision. The address of the website is https://georgiawildlife.com/sick-injured-or-orphaned-wildlife.
If you decide that the animal needs care, don’t attempt to provide it yourself. Instead take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can find the roster of these dedicated men and women at a site entitled, Georgia Wildlife Rehabilitator List. It is located the following address: https://gadnrle.org/sites/default/files/le/pdf/Special-Permits/2022%20-%201%20Q1%20June%20Wildlife%20rehab%20list.pdf
This site will provide you with a list of Georgia’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators and their contact information. It is arranged by both county and the animals they treat (e.g. birds, raptors, deer, small mammals, and reptiles).
Whatever you do, do not attempt to care for an animal yourself. Since the majority of us are not trained to address their special needs, nor possess the facilities to house them, most of our attempts end with the animal dying. In addition, it is against the law to house and treat wildlife without a permit.
Additional information regarding dealing with these special animals can be obtained by calling 1-800-366-2661.
Today when I walked on to my deck for the first time,
I flushed a dragonfly that had perched atop a pole supporting one of the plants growing in a container. The distinctive color pattern on its wings and body color told me it was a widow skimmer (Lebellula luctuosa).
The male widow skimmer (called a king) is one of our most recognizable dragonflies. It is a medium-sized (1.2 – 2 inches long; with a 1-1.5-inch wingspan) dragonfly with wings marked with black and white blotches. The black blotches extend outwards from its body toward the tips of its wings. Much narrower white markings are located just beyond the black blotches. The insect’s body is powder blue.
In contrast, the wings of the female (called a queen) are marked with a single dark blotch on each wing.
While this dragonfly is most common along the borders of lakes, and swamps, it also ventures into our backyard. The widow skimmer is most common in the summer but can also be spotted in the spring and autumn.
This distinctive dragonfly lives as an adult for just a few weeks. During this time males establish a territory up to 250 square acres which it vigorously defends again the intrusions of others.
The widow skimmer habitually uses perches. The black skimmer I spotted today flew off and returned to the same perch several times in a few minutes.
If are you interested in photographing a widow skimmer, all you have to do is to stand motionless a short distance away from a favorite perch and wait for it to return. This saves you having to scamper about the yard trying to snap a picture.
The widow skimmer feeds a wide variety of small soft-bodied invertebrates such as spiders, flying ants, hover flies, and even mosquitoes. Prey is snatched from the air with its legs.
If you spot a widow skimmer in your yard, don’t be afraid of it. Widow skimmers do not attack or bite humans. Just enjoy its beauty and mastery of the air as it patrols the air space above your lawn and gardens.