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Backyard BioBlitz: Best of the Rest

Backyard BioBlitzSpring’s delayed arrival in Tennessee (or indeed, anywhere) in 2013 allows me to complete the Backyard BioBlitz series from 2012 before having spotted anything of note for this year’s gardening season.  Oh, don’t think I haven’t tried: every now and then I’ll make a circuit of the flowerbeds, looking for something, anything.  Even one of those destructive leaf-footed bugs would be welcome after what seems like an interminable winter.  But so far, no dice.  So I’ll just keep focusing on making sure the salvias I mail-ordered don’t freeze to death before showering our little mailbox flowerbed with bright purple blooms.

In the meantime, here are all the interesting creatures I saw in the backyard last year that didn’t make it into the regular Backyard BioBlitz series.  This isn’t because they aren’t interesting; it’s just because some weeks I was out of town for all but a day or two, or some weeks were so hot everything retreated, and there weren’t enough photos to warrant a whole post.  Herewith: the best of the rest.

This photo of a green lacewing (Chrysopa sp.) was taken almost exactly a year ago, in late March 2012.  It was hanging around on the leaves of a jasmine plant.  If you spy one of these in your garden, you should know that it’s your friend: green lacewings consume insects like aphids at a rapid rate.Green lacewingThese are just some bumblebees (I really need to learn more about bees!).  The one on the left is one of a proud tradition of his peers that have started hanging around our kitchen door at the beginning of spring for as long as I can remember.  Since I was a kid, “Bee is back!” struck dread into my heart, even though none of them has ever menaced me even a little.  Now it makes me happy to know that Bee is returning and bringing his friends.  I took the photo on the right in October on a very windy day.  This bee was hiding from the gusts of wind inside a cosmo flower.BeesHere we have some butterflies (and one moth caterpillar).
Top: I was sad to learn that this brightly colored specimen is a forest tent caterpillar, of the sort that cluster on trees and defoliate them.  (Luckily, the trees tend to bounce back as long as they don’t experience infestation for many years in a row.)  Still, the caterpillar is interesting.  The markings on its back look like baby penguins to me.
Middle left: I believe that despite its yellow appearance, this is a cabbage white (Pieris rapae).
Middle right: An eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  This was taken in mid-September, and I think the lateness of the season might explain why it was so slow-moving (and thus, easy to photograph up close).
Bottom: A beautiful long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus), taken even later in the season (early November).  The iridescent blue hairs on its back were missing a big patch, so you could tell it had been through a lot.

This is a red velvet ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis), which is in fact a wasp.  The females (like this one) are wingless, but the males do fly.  They’re commonly referred to as “cow killers” because of their painful stings.  My brother had been talking a lot about encountering a velvet ant, and he was randomly over one afternoon and spotted this one.  You can see that in the right she’s trying to burrow into the ground (where they like to go and infest the nests of ground-dwelling bees), but sadly…it’s concrete.  I hope she found somewhere else that was a little easier to colonize.Velvet ant

On the left is a female widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) perching what may be the unanimous best spot in our yard for dragonflies: the stakes for our pepper plants.  On the right is some kind of hoverfly, also known as a flower fly because it feeds on nectar.  These flies look like wasps but have a flatter abdomen and only one set of wings.

Widow skimmer and wasp

This is my birthday mantis!  On my 30th birthday, I was pulling into the driveway after work and spotted a distinctive shape ambling up the side of the house.  Sure enough, it was a praying mantis–the only one I’ve ever seen at our house.  It let me take a few photos before heading up to the roof and crawling from one end to the other.  It was truly nature’s birthday present to me.Praying mantis

Finally, this one is actually from 2013–Super Bowl Sunday, to be exact.  My mom said there was a bird in the backyard much larger than any she’d seen there, and it turned out to be a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii).  We wondered why it kept pecking at the bark of our pine tree, until I enlarged the images and realized, “Duh…he’s having a snack.”  Sorry little mouse!  Cooper

On that appetizing note…next time we have one of these it will be all-new!  I can’t wait!


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