Archive for the ‘Critters’ Category

...the neighbor's tree is in bloom and tiny yellow blossoms are dropping like rain

Pardon my absence, ladies and gentlemen, but I’ve been busy with a passionate love affair…with science! I am loving my new botany class. Learning the new biology vocabulary has been super intense and now we’re moving into the chemistry. That’s even more intense. Not sure how I’m going to remember all these little atomic formulas but I’m certainly going to try.

...green grasshopper resting in the Sunshine

Also, our professor set up a few plots on campus for us to garden. We started last Saturday and I got a good feel for what it’s like to start a community garden. It was so uplifting to spend a little time on a beautiful morning all pitching in to turn the soil over and over, sift out the lumps, and pull weeds. We got it ready and next time we’ll do the planting.

Staking our claim!!

All that turning over and perfecting of the soil in preparation for planting has inspired me to do the same to my soil. So many plants have been overcrowded for so long, it’s pretty exhausted and cramped soil. For the rest of the year, I will be removing weeds and plants that need division. The soil will get fluffed and turned, fluffed and turned, fluffed and turned. Next Spring it will be much more receptive to something new. The plants I choose to keep will have more room and grow better. That’s the plan anyways.

...a lovely abandoned spider web

Today I found this spectacular tomato hornworm, or Manduca quinquemaculata. Those tomatoes weren’t doing well, so I left it there to enjoy the buffet. Maybe she’ll still be in the backyard later and I’ll get to see her in moth form. They’re about the size of a large hummingbird – quite amazing really.

...Manduca quinquemaculata

Right next to the hornworm, I found a Deadly Nightshade plant. This is some seriously exciting news and I will share the photos later when I do a little research. Right next to the Deadly Nightshade, was this garden orb weaver spider, most likely some species of the Argriope genus. They’re common in gardens and are generally quiet and stick to themselves. This one has a broken leg but is still manning the web, although the web itself looks messier than it did a few days ago before she broke her leg. Maybe she got in a fight with a bird and won. Hey, we all have hard times but we keep plugging along weaving our web the best we can right!? Right!

...garden orb weaver against California blue sky


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The heat and the need to study are keeping me out of the garden today. I’m ok with that. There is a HUGE new vocabulary to learn for class and most of the outdoor plants don’t need anything but water right now. So, as I head off into a cool part of the house to learn about the chemical bonding habits of hydrogen molecules and why that matters to plants, I will leave you with a butterfly I met at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco when we were up there last month to visit Terri and Emily. Happy Sunday!

meet the Tiger Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius hecale)

I got to looking at the photo and noticed how well I could see the proboscis, which is a straw-like mouth, curled up and quite visible. It’s hard to get that in a butterfly photo since they usually flutter off when you approach. So, I enlarged the photo – I think this is a pretty awesome picture of a butterfly and she looks quite lovely against her green background:

...this one sat still for an entire photo shoot!

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Spiders have an exoskeleton. As they grow, the exoskeleton becomes too small and splits open and the new and improved spider leaves it behind. We do not kill spiders at my house – ever. So, as you can imagine, I run across quite a few exoskeletons. This batch of “Daddy-Long-Legs”, aka Skull Spiders (Pholcus phalangioides)was found during my last major cleaning sweep. It was in a wreath hanging over the fireplace which hadn’t been touched since last winter. They are tiny, maybe a centimeter across, and look like spider ghosts – make sure you enlarge the photo to full size for full impact. Very awesome.

...the discarded exoskeletons of the common 'Pholcus phalangioides'

It has long been believed, even by myself, that they are one of the most venomous spiders but are not dangerous to humans because they cannot pierce skin with their fangs. This has been proven false, thanks to the crew at Myth Busters.

It is true that they eat other spiders, which is why I leave mine alone. They are also quite skilled at catching flies and mosquitoes that make it into the house. They really earn their keep in late summer when the crane flies (we call them mosquito hawks) are in full swing. They don’t bite humans but they are big and gross and I’m eternally grateful to the spider I see has caught one.

It may seem kind of gross to think of all those spiders running loose in my house, but really there aren’t that many because when you leave Mother Nature alone, she manages to balance those things out. If there isn’t anything around for a Daddy-Long-Legs to eat, it will eat another Daddy-Long-Legs. Besides, I would rather have a lovely spider hanging out in the corner of the ceiling than breathing in a bunch of pesticide. Also, the ‘catch and release’ program is much better than killing something that doesn’t deserve to die. Hopefully I didn’t give anybody the creeps today!

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…and the alligator lizard said, “Maybe we aren’t supposed to always feel like we belong. There are so many places you can be, so be in the place that makes you feel good.”

Alligator Lizard - August 14, 2011

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The Hummingbird

Came the spring, I picked a corner and
set my mind to making a flower
garden in the midst of this mass of
weeds unattended through
Winters toughening of the soil.
I tilled, and pulled, and turned, and broke, and bled…
The soil was perfect now…
But, alas! The puppy was fervent in her efforts to help me dig!
So I cut, and I sawed, and I nailed,
and created the most beautiful little picket fence with a gate…..
and planted a tree……
and planted my flowers…
and tended and watered and weeded
and nurtured all through the Spring and Summer months….
To this day, this perfect Autumn morning,
while standing in my doorway,
sipping that first cup of coffee….
I saw the fast-beating wings of that little faerie,
flitting from flower to flower…
was all worth it in that one moment.

~ by Christopher Griffiths

From this April 2011 - the Hummingbird nest outside the bedroom window - these two are only about an inch long and cuddling to fit into a nest the size of a walnut and made of mostly spider silk. They had a wonderful Mom.

And the humming-bird that hung
Like a jewel up among
The tilted honeysuckle horns
They mesmerized and swung
In the palpitating air,
Drowsed with odors strange and rare.
And, with whispered laughter, slipped away
And left him hanging there.

– James Whitcomb Riley
(from The South Wind and the Sun)

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Butterflies never fail to cheer me up. When they follow me around the garden it makes the time spent there seem sacred somehow. By some strange and awesome coincidental timing, that Butterfly and I happened to be in the same place at the same time to visit the same plants. When you think about how fleeting a Butterfly sighting is…well, I think it’s all pretty special. If I am looking out the bedroom window and see one in the garden, it inspires me to immediately find a reason to go there and frolic a little myself.

What's that on the garden wall above the iron Butterfly gate?

a Butterfly, of course

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The Cattails - Summer 2011

The fact that it’s already August blows me away. Now the countdown to the new semester begins. Time to get some school clothes lined up and things squared away that I will not want to deal with once classes start on the 23rd. Mostly, I just need to get everything in my universe simplified and organized so I have a smoother time of it all the way round.

Borage blossoms - Summer 2011

One of the more frivolous things I’m squaring away is my category section. Recently, I realized I have 96 categories. What the hell?! This is what happens when you’re in a hurry all the time and not thinking things through. What a jumbled and confusing mess my little blog is. So, some of the categories will be deleted or consolidated to make future entries and reference more expedient. I’d like to start putting more of the actual science I’m learning on here, so I might need the room for newer categories. This will give me an opportunity to glance back over all my entries to see what I’ve done because every time I post lately I get a sense that I’ve already said that exact thing or posted that exact photo…it’s disconcerting to say the least.

Bee with Evening Primose

There are also a lot of posts without categories or tags and I will be fixing those as well so I can look up information when I need it. The thing about this blog for me is that by the time I get to the posting part, I’ve already spent a bunch of time with the actual plant, doing my research, and playing with the photos – I have little time or energy left for the actual writing, categorizing, tagging, etc. and that will only get worse when school starts and I have more urgent priorities. So, I’m trying to consolidate the process…for example: my iPhone can double as the camera, the iPod, and also my research books on those days when I’m pressed for time. Now, I can even post on WordPress from an app on my phone (once I figure out how to do it) so I’m hoping all this modern technology is going to make my life easier. We’ll see.

The mesmerizing center of a Hollyhock bloom - Summer 2011

The classes coming up for me should be fun…I’m taking another Botany class and this one should have a lot more science than the last one. There is also a lab that goes with it so I can wait to see what that’s all about. The other class is Chemistry and also has a lab. I’m on the waiting list for that one so I don’t want to get too excited just yet. That’s all I handle this semester without taxing myself and my business. So, I’ve got to really enjoy the next 3 weeks of freedom as much as I can while working really hard to get everything caught up and finished so I can start the new semester with a clear head and an empty ‘in’ box. I can totally do that.

a tiny Arugula flower - Summer 2011

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