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WHAT IS THAT?

 Ever since my daughter was a little girl, she has been fascinated with the natural world.  It mattered not whether we were on vacation or just exploring our backyard, her inquisitive mind and sharp eyes enabled her to find something fascinating wherever we happened to be.  More often than not, she would be the first to make such a find.  As such, on a recent visit, it was no surprise that, while walking around the deck of our home with my wife, she spotted something hanging from beneath one of the deck rails.  Immediately she exclaimed, “What is that?

       Below one of the rails, she just happened to notice what looked very much like a small, brown paper bag measuring an inch or so in diameter.  The object was suspended from the rail by a number of slender filaments.

       Within minutes, my granddaughter and I joined my wife and daughter on the porch.  Each of us marveled at how well the small, round object was camouflaged dangling next to the deck’s brown wood.

YELLOW GARDEN SPIDER EGG SAC - House - 26 Aug 2018 (1)

       As has been the case so many times over the years, finding a backyard treasure perked our curiosity.  We just had to find out what we were looking at. 

       I suggested it might be a spider’s egg case.  Armed with this possible identification, my wife searched the internet looking for photos of spider egg cases.  In just a few minutes, she emerged from our home office and announced she was convinced it was a yellow garden spider’s (Agiope aurantia) egg sac. 

       I then retreated to my natural history library to learn more about the yellow garden spider and its egg sac.

       Leafing through the pages of several books I learned the female yellow garden spider creates one to four of these impressive egg cases per year; most are constructed from late summer to fall.  Working under the cloak of darkness she lays anywhere from 300 to 1,000 or more eggs on thin sheets of silk.  She then wraps them up forming a tough, brown silk ball.  The rugged covering protects the eggs from both the elements and predators.

       In the spring, the young spiders emerge from the egg sac and venture out into the world.  As you might expect very few of these tiny spiders survive long enough to reproduce.  Some of the spiders eat each other, still others are caught by predators such as mud daubers and birds. SPIDER WEB - BLOG - 25 May 2018

       It was truly amazing how our daughter’s backyard discovery led to a memorable event shared by three generations of our family.  In addition, it reinforced our appreciation for the amazing variety of life that lives just outside the backdoor.

       I guess you can see why I will never tire of hearing a family member say, “What is that?”

PROTECTING PETS FROM COYOTES IN BACKYARDS

       Regardless of whether you live in a large city, small town, subdivision or in the rural countryside  you need to protect your small dogs and cats from coyotes.

       Georgia’s coyote population is rapidly expanding.  This is truly remarkable when you consider the coyote is not native to the Peach State.  However, since the 1850s the range of the coyote has increased threefold and now can be found in every state with the exception of Alaska.

       As the coyote has expanded its range, it has demonstrated its adaptability for living in a variety of new habitats by altering their diet to fit the food available.  In other words, in addition to dining on rodents and rabbits, in some areas their diets include birdseed and an occasional small domestic pet.

       Although it is unlikely a coyote will capture your small pet, by adopting a handful of preventative measures you can guarantee that it will never happen.

       It is always a good idea not to let your cats and small dogs stay outside at night.  Coyotes hunt at night and, if given a chance, they will prey on small domestic animals.

       If it is necessary to let your pet out for a “bathroom” break from dusk to dawn,  go outside with it, keeping it within sight at all times.  During this time frequently talk to your pet.  This will alert a coyote that a human is close by.  A healthy coyote will avoid humans.  In addition, it is also best to keep your pet on a leash.

       If you feed pets outside, remove any uneaten food by sundown.  Pet food will attract a variety mammals such as opossums, foxes, skunks, and rodents.  Coyotes will also eat the food as well as many of the other mammals they attract.

WIDOW SKIMMERS MAY BE PATROLLING YOUR BACKYARD

The widow skimmer is one of the most striking dragonflies you are likely to see patrolling your backyard.  This is especially true if you live near water.

       The adult male can easily be identified as it has a primrose blue abdomen, dark shoulders, and a black band at the base of each wing.  The outer edge of the black band is bordered in white.

       Females and immature male widow skimmers look very much alike.  Their wings have dark brown stripes and their abdomens sport a dark dorsal stripe bordered on each side with yellow.  In addition, the tips of the females’ wings are tipped in black.

       These flying predators capture airborne prey with their feet.

       Widow skimmers do not continuously fly through the day.  Instead, they prefer to perch atop weeds and other plants.  From these vantage points, they frequently take wing and patrol their territory in search of food; this behavior is repeated throughout the day.

       Widow skippers typically fly from May through early November.

       This large dragonfly is very common above the Fall Line, uncommon in the Coastal Plain and mostly absent in the southeast corner of the state.

 

 

A POISONOUS SNAKE IN MY BACKYARD?

At this time of the year, we Georgians are spending a lot of time in our yards.  As such, homeowners and their families are more likely to encounter a snake now than at any other time of the year.  Whenever somebody does run across a snake, the first question that often comes to mind is, “Is this reptile poisonous?

       According to John Jensen, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section and one of the state’s leading authorities on snakes, “Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake.”

       It seems that only six of the 46 species of Georgia’s of native snakes are poisonous.  The vast majority of the Peach State’s snakes are not a threat to humans.  However, far too often, harmless snakes are needlessly persecuted.  This is unfortunate because snakes are valued members of the wildlife communities that live in our yards.

       One way that you can alleviate your fears that you have encountered a poisonous snake is to learn how to identify them.  Since you only have to learn to identify six snakes, this is an easy task. 

       The Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section has prepared two publications that make identifying Georgia’s poisonous snakes a snap.  These full color pamphlets are entitled, “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” and “Is it a Water Moccasin?”.  Both publications can be downloaded by visiting the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section website at www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes.