Dragonflies are beginning to make their appearance in our backyards. These aerial predators are on the prowl looking for mosquitoes and other small insects.
The first species to show up in my backyard this spring was the common whitetail (Plathemis lydia). The male of the species (depicted here) is not difficult to identify. Its body varies from white to pale blue. This dragonfly’s eyes are brown. The insect’s clear wings are marked with wide bands about halfway between the tips of its wings and body. The leading edge of this bands display slender streaks that project toward the tip of the wings. The insect measures roughly 1.5 – 1.9 inches in length.
The bodies of immatures and females are brown and marked with white lateral stripes. The wings of immature males resemble those of adult males. In comparison, one of the main differences between the pattern of the female’s wings and those of the adult male is they are tipped in brown and black. Since immatures and females are sometimes tricky to separate from other similar species, it is always best to consult a field guide when trying to identify them.
It is possible to see common whitetails in yards across the state, however, chances are best if you live near water.
Here in the Peach State common whitetails fly from March into early November.
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.
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.
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.
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.