Monday, April 30, 2012

Butterflies and Moths

Hackberry Butterfly, Asterocampa
From the order Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths are the second largest group of animals just after beetles. The name of the order comes from the scales covering both wing and body. Within the families, there are almost twelve times more moths than butterflies. The three most common characteristics to use to try and differentiate are body, antennae, and wings. The body of a butterfly is more slender while a moth is more plump, the antennae of moths are often shorter and fuzzy, and the butterfly often have bright wings while a moth is more earthen toned. Another noted difference is that butterflies are diurnal, while moths are more often nocturnal. If you ever find a cocoon, a moth actually prefers near or under the ground. While far from being accurate, it can give somewhere to start when trying to identify the species.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Non-native Maple showing damage.
The Drought of 2011 was historic for Texas for a number of reasons, from the agricultural loss, to the long season of wildfires, to the actual time span of the drought. Lake levels dropped up to 30 feet in some areas, averaging at least 15 feet in most areas. With low lake levels, zebra mussels preventing pumping from other lakes, aquifers reduced, and no rain in sight, a vast portion of the state was put on stage 3 water restriction and still remains as a precaution. As such, even the flora in front yards and backyards suffered or died. As spring has sprung, the damage from the drought is still visible especially in non-native species. The canopies are reduced, the branches have fewer leaves, and further along the branches become bare. These are the lucky ones that still have a chance of survival, but are sometimes found alongside another tree baring autumn colors in the middle of spring, a fatality of hard times.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Pollination on a small scale.
While the act of pollination itself is a simple concept, the history and evolution is quite interesting and often complex. The most commonly known pollinator is the honeybee, estimated to contribute a large percentage of crop pollination, with up to 65% dependency for some places. Angiosperms dominate terrestrial biota with 300,000 to 400,000 species. Such a vast diversification among flowering plants has co-evolved with the vast numbers of pollinators, from bats and birds, to a variety of insects with widespread differences. Whereas not all angiosperms require pollinator interaction, on the opposite side of the spectrum there is highly specialized pollination; however, the current consensus is that generalized pollination is dominate.

The flowers in this photo were observed being pollinated by bees and a number of different beetles.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Golden Orb Weaver

♀ Golden Orb Weaver, Nephila philipes
The golden orb weavers are one of the larger spiders of Australia with a very distinct difference in size between the males and females. The red fangs and yellow leg spots are two distinct features of the Nephila philipes species. Predators of this spider include various birds and some wasps within the family Sphecidae. They are considered "non-venomous" and like many spiders, they are reluctant to bite. The biggest risk, if bitten, actually comes from infection due to the amount of bacteria found on the fangs. Their webs are semi-permanent placements and so will stay, say on the ceiling by the lights, if the prey amount is good.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Catnip, Nepeta
While mostly known for the influence Catnip has on the domesticated cat and other felines, this non-native plant can still be found in the wild although it is considered a weed. A perennial herb that can grown up to 3 ft, there are number of supposed ailments that catnip has been used to treat. From toothaches, to colds, to colic and cramping, this plant has many applications. The mint-like scent that cats love is actually a defense mechanism used to keep insects away. Some compounds found in catnip oil include citronella and geraniol, both known effective mosquito repellents.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Army Ant

Army Ant, Labidus coecus
The species of army ant, Labidus coecus, has a vast range, from Argentina through the very southern United States; they are not recorded further than Texas. Like other species, there is a very distinct physical difference between major workers (soldiers) and minor workers. They have a broad ecological tolerance, from wet to dry, to sea level to mountain. They are considered nomadic and are almost exclusively subterranean. While they will scavenge the dead and scraps, their primary role and food source is that of other social insects, often the brood of other ant species.

I only recently stumbled upon this colony and hope to get my actual camera (not phone) with a macro lens for better pictures soon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros

View within Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros
Establish in 1961 and located within the heart of Brazil, Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros is a 265 km² protected World Heritage site. The Chapada dos Veadeiros plateau has an altitude ranging between 600 and 1650 meters and contains many hiking paths leading to multiple waterfalls. The area had once been mined for the rock crystals, with remains of both still present. As it is located in the tropics, there is a distinct wet and dry season and little temperature variation. Both the plateau and the national park are located within the tropical savanna, the Cerrado.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fire Ants

Fire Ant,  Solenopsis wagneri
One of the most well-known of the invasive species in the southern United States and recently Queensland, Australia, the imported fire ant is an accidental introduction from South America. From causing issues with electrical equipment to home invasion to impact on wildlife and ranching, they are more than just a mere nuisance, but a true pest. They are enough of a concern to have multitude of hours dedicated to management and control of fire ants. Warm and wet weather bring these ants above ground, swarming after a rain and scavenging in the sun. They are well adapted to live in a variety of soils, in a variety of places from the middle of a forest to the sidewalk out front. Phorid flies are the current hope of wide-spread control, a monitored introduction of what is a natural parasitoid of the fire ants in their home range of Brazil.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rose Rosette

Rose Rosette (RRD), Viral
My professor once describe Rose Rosette as the Ebola of the plant world. A highly contagious, likely viral disease, it is a death sentence to any ornamental rose that catches it. While the true pathogen is still up for debate, the contagion causes extreme mutated growth in roses similar to what is seen with witch's broom in woody plants. Eriophyid mites, nearly invisible to the naked eye and carried by the wind, are the confirmed carrier of this disease. While not new, recent years have shown more documented cases of Rose Rosette. Often if one plant has this disease, it will spread to others within at least a mile radius. As this disease is fatal, the best option is to kill the rose bush before the disease progresses, hopefully preventing further spreading. This means pulling it up completely, roots and all, and waiting at least two years before planting more roses. There is no spray that effectively keeps the mites away.

The rose bush in this photograph and other ill ones nearby, were removed within days of this picture, and replaced with a lovely native sage known as Greg's Sage which is just as colorful and blooms just as often.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Vinegaroon, Mastigoproctus giganteus(?)

Often called a "whipscorpion" due to the long, thin tail, the common name Vinegaroon is due to the vinegar spray that is shot from the tail base when disturbed. They are otherwise considered non-venomous. These nocturnal arachnids are often found in deserts, but also can be found in grasslands and mountains. They have poor vision and rely on vibrations to find their way. This particular species can be found in the very southern parts of the United States, down in to Central America.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Adirondacks Mountains II

Autumn in the Adirondacks.
For today, just another scenic shot of the Adirondacks Mountains from my trip last fall.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tornado Alley

Heavy rains, hail, and an unheard siren.
Tornado Alley encompasses northern Texas and Louisiana, almost straight north to the southern parts of North Dakota and Minnesota. When a tornado warning is issued, that does not always indicate a tornado is on the ground, but rather that there is a high possibility whether due to strong rotation or lowering wall cloud. One fact used to issue a tornado warning is a radar signature known as a hook echo. This signature indicates what is known as a rear flank downdraft, a downward rush of air behind a storm, often associated with, and descending with, a tornado. More often than not, this indicates a touch down. In areas with a high population density, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a tornado emergency is declared instead of a warning with the only difference being how many people may be affected by the tornado. Tornado Alley is often what one thinks of for deadly storms and tornadoes, but what many don't realize is our neighbor, Dixie Alley, often sees much worse action. While more tornadoes currently seem to form in Tornado Alley, the stronger, longer lived tornadoes form in Dixie Alley, and more often than not, at night. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Toxic Caterpillars

Unknown sp.
An important rule of thumb for Brazil: never touch a fuzzy caterpillar. One such species, known as Lonomia obliqua, is commonly found in southern Brazil and has the reputation of being one of the deadliest caterpillars in the world. The reason for this reputation is due to the toxin preventing blood from clotting causing anywhere from skin irritation and bruising, to death. This is not limited to this species, but can be found in others. This rule of thumb, while highly important in Brazil due to the species found there, applies to most places in the world.