Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus
The Rough Green Snake is a relatively common snake found throughout the southeastern portion of the United States and northern Mexico. They can grow up to 81 cm (32 in) in length, but are rather slim. As an arboreal species, it can often be found foraging in dense vegetation or climbing branches along forest edges, especially near bodies of water. When laying eggs, rough earth snakes will seek out tree hollows, cavities under rocks, or other moist areas. They do not remain with the eggs. The main diet of a rough green snake consists of invertebrates including spiders, crickets, and grasshoppers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Moth Mullein

Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
Moth Mullein is a biennial native to Eurasia that was introduced to the eastern United States in the early 1800s and has since spread westward. It has naturalized throughout most states and large portions of Canada, and is considered a noxious, invasive weed and resides on the state invasive list for Colorado. With a preference for highly disturbed areas which includes pastures, vacant lots, roadsides, meadows, and open fields, moth mullein can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) in height. It is a self-seeding plant, but finches have been reported consuming the seeds. An experiment conducted by William James Beal, known as the Beal Seed Viability Experiment, found that the seeds of moth mullein are viable for at least 120 years. The experiment began in 1879 and is still ongoing. Moth mullein has also gained attention for a methanol extract with potential to successfully control mosquito larvae.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Green Milkweed

Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridis
Green Milkweed, also known as green antelopehorn (not to be confused with clumping milkweed antelope horns) is a native milkweed common in pastures, prairies, and ditches from Nebraska to Ohio and Texas to Florida.  Within Texas, green milkweed is the most common milkweed and can be found on most soils, but prefers loamy, moist soils. It blooms from April through September and can grow up to 0.9 m (3 ft) in height. There is usually only one umbel, or flower cluster, per stem, but larger plants may have more. As with most milkweeds, the sticky, milky substance is toxic, but has been utilized by certain butterfly species, most notably, monarchs. Both native and non-native bees have been known to pollinate milkweed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Antelope Horns

Antelope Horns, Asclepias asperula
Not to be confused with green antelopehorn, Antelope Horns, also called Spider Milkweed, is a common, clump-forming native perennial milkweed found in pastures and prairies from Kansas to Texas and westward. As expected, it is a source of food for the larvae of Monarch and other milkweed butterflies. Antelope Horns blooms intermittently from March through October. It can reach heights of up to 0.6 m (2 ft) and requires little water, but it does need full sun. The common name refers to the seed pods which curve to resemble antelope horns as well as the white horn-like stamens of the flower. While milkweed butterflies make use of the toxins, the milky sap can be an irritant to humans and other animals. In addition to the butterflies, it is an often sought plant for native pollinators.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Eastern Fence Lizard

Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus
Sometimes confused for another member of the Phrynosomatidae family, the horned lizard, the fence lizards are of a different genus. Of the two species of fence lizard, the Eastern Fence Lizard has a wider range across the eastern and southern states and includes eight subspecies. They can be found in grasslands, shrubland, forests, and suburban homes, but rarely far from trees. While overall grayish, the females have black horizontal patterning on their back, and, during breeding season, males can be seen with bright blue patches on their underside and chin. They are primarily insectivores, but females have been observed consuming plant matter in spring for egg-laying. A clutch of up to 16 eggs may be laid, and while young females usually only lay one clutch a year, older females may lay up to four clutches within a year. These are deposited under the soil, but receive no additional parental care.

Photography courtesy of Brittany Young. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Soft-hair Marbleseed

Soft-hair Marbleseed, Onosmodium bejariense
Soft-hair marbleseed is a perennial that blooms in Texas from March through May and can be found throughout much of central and eastern North America. The flowers are a creamy white, and the seeds are a pearly white for which this plant gains it common name, but it may also be called False Gromwell. Soft-hair marbleseed can be found growing in sun or part shade in sandy, clay, or rocky soils within prairies. It can grow up to 1 m (3 ft) in height and produce many flowers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

American Robin

American Robin, Turdus migratorius
The American Robin is an iconic early bird and herald of spring that can be found throughout most of North America. While these thrushes are mostly migratory, they are seen year round in most states. American robins  prefer open areas or short grass for foraging, but occupy woodlands, mountains, fields, gardens, and lawns. They actively forage during the day, especially in winter when they roost in large flocks at night. These roosts have been known to include up to a quarter million birds.

Robins are known as strong, fast, and straight fliers.
During spring and summer, and during mornings, the American robin consumes mostly invertebrates, but their diet also includes numerous fruits including chokecherries, sumac, dogwood, juniper berries, especially in fall and winter and later in the day. As lawns are a common area to forage, American robins are more vulnerable to pesticide poisoning. American robins are monogamous with pair bonds during breeding season and are one of the first birds to lay eggs. The nests are characteristically reinforced with soft mud and the nestlings are mainly fed insects, especially earthworms.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

American Smoke Tree

American Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus
American Smoke Tree gets its common name from the pink billowy spring panicles which look like smoke or haze rising from the tree from a distance. In cultivation it often doesn't reach heights past 6 m (20 ft), but in the wild and with time it can be up to 9.1 m (30 ft) tall. The native range of the American smoketree is in the mountainous soils of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Oklahoma with a few in Texas Hill Country, but it can now be found throughout most of the United States.

Pink panicles of the American Smoke Tree.
It is a very drought, disease, and heat tolerant tree as well as tolerant of limestone soils. The flowers may change from yellow to pink or purple as they age, and the bark of older trees can become dark and flaky. In the fall, the foliage is known for its spectacular shades of yellow, orange, and scarlet.