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MONARCHS ARE STILL PASSING THROUGH GEORGIA

After what seemed like an endless series of rainy/misty days during which the temperature hovered in the 40s and low 50s, I was convinced I would not see another monarch this year.  However, much to my surprise after the rain finally moved out, and the nighttime temperature plummeted to 31˚F, I was surprised to see a monarch nectaring at the blossoms on a butterfly  bush in my backyard this morning (November 16).  When I saw the butterfly, the air temperature was 51˚F. 

       Later on in the day, I spotted a gulf fritillary nectaring at the same bush.

       If that wasn’t enough, shortly thereafter I spotted a cloudless sulphur fluttering at the windows in my sunroom.  The butterfly was obviously roosting on one of the plants my wife and I moved inside the night before.

       My experiences on this chilly November morning galvanized my long-held belief that my backyard wildlife neighbors will never cease to amaze me.  As such when I walk outside each morning, I expect the unexpected.

YELLOW JACKETS SEEM MORE PRONE TO STING IN FALL

       Throughout most of the year, it seems that we have a truce with yellow jackets.  For the most part, these small, yellow, and black wasps will not attack unless we antagonize them in some way or just happen to venture too close to their nests.  However, have you ever wondered why, from late summer into fall, folks seem to be stung more often by yellow jackets than at any other time of the year?  If so, read on. 

       There are a few plausible reasons why the chances of being stung by yellow jackets increases as the days are cooler the foliage transforms from green into a kaleidoscope of color.

       Entomologists tell us yellow jackets are simply more abundant in autumn.  At this time of the year, a yellow jacket nest may contain upwards of 800 individuals.  Faced with this overcrowding, the members of the colony become less tolerant of one another as well as humans and other animals alike.

       Some biologists suggest this behavioral change may also be linked to the insect’s switch from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates.

       Realizing these insects are more apt to sting without provocation at this time of year, we all need to use caution when changing the nectar in our hummingbird feeders or working about our yards.         

       This threat will slowly diminish as the sterile female workers begin dying with the approach of winter.  Interestingly, the only yellow jackets that survive the winter are the queen.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.

WELCOME TO THE TOOTHPICK GRASSHOPPER

Literally hundreds of different creatures live in our backyards.  One reason we do not seem many of them is they are masters of disguise.  One such animal is the toothpick grasshopper.

       This odd grasshopper looks unlike any grasshopper you have probably ever seen.  It is slender and looks much like a twig, plant stem, or blade of grass and is pointed.  Consequently, if it remains motionless, more often than not, you will walk by and never see it.  However, if you happen to see something out of place shaped like a sliver, has eyes and three pairs of legs, you have probably discovered a toothpick grasshopper.  

       The toothpick grasshopper often lives its entire life on its favorite food—tall grass.  However, from time to time it will venture out into a grassy lawn.   

       If this grasshopper is flushed, it tries to either hop or fly away.  Should it fly, it will not go far as its wings are very short.

       I first met the toothpick grasshopper in my backyard some nine years ago while on a walkabout the back of my property with my daughter and wife.  Needless to say, we had no idea such a bizarre insect was living in the yard.

       The other day I encountered my second toothpick grasshopper while participating in a butterfly count on the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area.  In the meantime, I have seen literally hundreds of grasshoppers, but not a toothpick grasshopper.  This tells this is because I am not very observant, its camouflage is very effective, or it is an uncommon resident in my neck of the woods.

       Keep your eyes peeled, you may have toothpick grasshoppers living in your yard too.

BACKYARD SECRET: Coneflowers Are Great For Wildlife And People Too

        The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized.  It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.

       Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers.  However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance.  It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments.  For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.

       While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife.  This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard.   In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes.   In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard.  Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.  

MOWING LESS OFTEN CAN HELP NATIVE BEES

        Increasing numbers of Georgia homeowners are striving to give our native bees a helping hand.  Some of the most popular things they are doing to help these valuable insects include providing them with nesting habitat, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, and planting native plants that produce both pollen and nectar.  If you are looking for another way to promote the native bee population in your yard and neighborhood, simply mow your yard less often.

       Ecologists working for the United Forest Service made this recommendation after monitoring bee activity during the summer in 16 yards located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  They compared the number of bees found in these yards and learned there was more bee activity in lawns mowed every two weeks than those mowed weekly. In addition, the greatest bee diversity was found in those lawns mowed every three weeks.

       The ecologists attributed their findings to the fact that yards mowed every three weeks hosted more plants that provide the bees with pollen and nectar.

       Amazingly, during the study the researchers identified 111 species of insects, including 25 percent of the bees known to occur in the Bay State.

       The Susannah Lerman, lead author in a paper based on the study recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, stated, “We can all contribute to improving bee habitat in our own backyards.”

       If you do not enjoy pushing or riding a lawnmower around your yard any more than I do and want help give the bees a boost, you might want to mow your yard less often.