That’s a Big One

Even not feeling great, I’m finding things to be excited about. I think that’s part of my charm. Perhaps. Today’s theme is big. For example, this is a big grasshopper, especially for a male. And it’s one of my better photos, right on my driveway!

Differential grasshopper, apparently tired, because he let me get really close. Note wings.

The extent of my walking yesterday was patrolling the back yard with Lee. While I regretted not meeting my activity goal, I still managed to find something big and beautiful. It’s one of my favorites, a yellow garden spider.

I had to take this over the fence. Notice her silver head. The scientific name, Argiope aurantia, means gilded silver-face.
This is her belly and some of her web. Obviously she’s an orb weaver!

And now, I’m sure you’ve been waiting for us to see what was inside Fancy Pants’s giant egg from a while back.

Giant egg!

It was still big after peeling. and still rather lumpy.

Peeled. Normal egg in background.

I got out the sharp knife and carefully sliced the big bruiser. Would it be a double yolk? Would it look weird?

That’s a BIG yolk.

I can’t tell if it’s double or not, but it sure is big! Way more yolk than white.

Compare to normal large egg. The normal one has way more white.

I wonder if this one would have had enough food in it to grow a chick? We will never know. But it does make me want to raise chicks. Maybe the next broody hen will get lucky!

So…what’s big in your life?

What’s in Burleson County?

I wanted to know. There are very few iNaturalist sightings there that weren’t made by Eric from my Master Naturalist chapter. He, along with Alan, who lives on and runs a fish farm near Somerville, wanted to do something about that!

Near the main house

So we met up at the property today, to see what kind of fun field trip we could come up with to educate chapter members about the area, how Alan has been managing the water — fish ponds, lakes, streams, etc.

One of the ponds, with Bad Patty, the dog.

Of course I had to get a tour! Let me say that was fun! Alan is a great tour guide, and I got to see all kinds of new plants and insects. The lake is great, and there are many different micro-climates on the property.

American lotus

My favorites were plants whose seeds rattle when they dry. And all the water plants!

I enjoyed talking to my friends and learning about raising fish, grasshoppers, and so much more. I can’t wait to go back. It’s outdoors, we stayed apart, and the weather was great.

I also made this weevil friend. It crawled all over me for a long time. It’s Eudiagogus rosenschoeldi.

Remember my resolve to have more fun? I’m still working on it! And doing it! Not all serious all the time!

A lovely variegated fritillary I saw.

So, are you having any fun?

Dystopian Ranch Report

Dystopian? That sounds cheerful, doesn’t it? Well, it’s just a weird day. It’s still all hazy, which makes it feel like I’m walking in a science fiction story.

It really never cleared up all day.

And it’s so windy that chairs, empty troughs, and the chickens’ shelter blew all over the place. I had trouble walking to see the horses! Vlassic even spooked a couple of times (but was good with cows).

My ears may blow off. Or I may take off.

It’s not all bad, though. I checked on the new goldfish, and I was happy to see the water in the trough already more clear and with fewer mosquito larvae. I swear they have grown!

Vlassic likes fish food.

We’ve lost only one fish, which surprised me, considering how green the water was. At first I couldn’t see the fish if they weren’t at the top!

We’re working hard!

Other things are actually doing okay, even in adverse circumstances. My poor fennel plant that got replanted near the “folly” had been weed-eated and mown by Jim (he likes a smooth lawn) is coming back! I thought it was a goner. I put a bunny next to it, to remind him it’s there. Fingers are crossed!

Grow, fennel!

Even more amazing is that my asparagus patch, which had been treated with RoundUp, has come back! The weeds are in way worse shape, so maybe we can get that bed in shape.

I’m alive!

Even in the wind and haze, I keep finding cool living things around the ranch. Look at this beautiful insect! It’s a nuptial scorpionfly. Huh.

So pretty! I wonder if it stings?

And this caught my eye as I was going to check the mail. I wondered if it was aphids or some kind of goldenrod beetle. I guess I thought that since I recently found milkweed bugs and aphids.

White things…

I looked it up on iNaturalist and discovered it WAS something associated with goldenrod, but each white thing is a gall created by some tiny insects, Carbonifera goldenrod gall midge. That’s a new one for me.

Midge photo by David, CC BY-SC-NA

Always something new, even with the weirdness of 2020 continuing. The sun will come up tomorrow, dimly.

Achieving Nature Goals

Okay, I have a little something to say. After all that iNaturalist work last weekend, it was this weekend where I met some goals, or desires, or whatever.

While walking around, I remembered to open up a balloon flower to find the seed. My friend Linda Jo was right! They look like little yin-yang symbols!

Balloon vine seed, and my fingerprints.

While we were walking the horses, Sara very patiently let me try to get photos of all the butterflies and moths swarming in the pasture, even when her horse stepped in fire ants.

Waiting for Suna to take pictures.

Everyone’s patience was rewarded, though. I saw a butterfly on the fence. It sat still. I got its picture! It was an American snout, the ones we saw so many of last week! Finally one stood still.

No, not a great photo, but you can see the snout!

After achieving that goal, I felt fine. Then, on my way home, one of the dragonflies I’d been seeing all summer finally stood still. I was really curious what they were called, but they are very dart-y ones.

Hello, black saddlebags!

These always look like two mating to me. I was happy to see what they actually look like. Cool insects, and another goal met.

I looked at my iNaturalist totals and was happy to see I hit 1800 observations today. I’d been disappointed not to get there last week. Luckily, there are lots of interesting things to see on the Wild Type Ranch, where we walked!

Most recent observations. Over 1800!

I think that’s good for someone who has jobs and stuff. Still, I look forward to lots more in the future. We hope to visit neighboring counties with few observations and see what’s there!

Here I am looking for bugs with my “helper.”

Glad I found my voice. Sometimes I just need to shut up. Hee hee.

Thank Goodness for Family, the Equine Kind

Let’s think about what makes for a nice day. For me, it’s being out in nature with friends of the human and animal kind. That’s just what Sara and I got yesterday afternoon, only marred by how hot the humidity made us feel.

When we got to the horse area, Apache was drenched in sweat, which got us worried, but, he acted happy enough, so we decided to take our walk in a shadier area at the back of the cattle pasture, to get out of the sun. First, we successfully moved her cattle from that pasture to the one Spice and Lakota had been in, moved Lakota to the cattle pasture, and got Fiona in to walk with us. It took no time at all. Sure is nice when everyone already wants to go where you’re trying to send them!

Lakota and Fiona noshed their way through the walk, right along with us.

Then we just walked and walked. And that meant ALL of us. Lakota followed us around like he was being led, like Apache was. Sure was good to see him acting peppy again. Sara says she worries about letting loose horses walk with horses being ridden, since she got kicked by a horse and broke a bone that way once. But, Lakota was a real gentleman.

Yep, they were having fun.

It was a little spooky where we were, since it’s behind a ridge and you feel hidden from the rest of the ranch. Fiona liked it, though, and ran around exploring.

It’s very green and spooky down here!

Even Apache seemed to have fun. He plodded right along with us, only occasionally distracted by yummy grass. Going up and down the little rises was probably good exercise for all of us!

I love how the color came out on this picture! You can see the rise behind Sara.

We saw osage-orange trees, which makes sense, because the area we walked in is an arroyo/wash that stays wet a lot. Those trees like dampness.

The fruit is easy to spot.

We were happy to also see a lot of milkweed. These were green antelope horns, and they had seed pods, some of which had opened. The opened pods had lots and lots of these extra-cool milkweed bugs. Aren’t they pretty?

We went out again this morning, minus Lakota. The weather was better, but Apache was not in a great mood to walk, which makes me think yesterday’s walk made his poor feet hurt. Let’s say it was good practice encouraging him to do what I wanted him to.

This is what he wanted to do. And yes, Spice photobombed many photos yesterday. We laughed.

We also saw this incredible jumping spider. I believe it’s an Apache jumping spider. They look like “velvet ants” (which are really wasps), and are quite good mimics! They fooled us.

It hardly looks real!

And when I went to pick up my tack box, I almost set my hand down on this lovely mantid. I was able to get her back outside to go eat bugs and stuff.

Please get me out of here. There are no delicious bugs on this plastic thing.

That made me feel good, and contributed to another nice day. I really enjoyed taking my mind off complicated issues and just enjoying my walking companions, my ranch family.

I Discovered Something!

It’s been a great day, for many reasons, and a great weekend. We took Apache out again today, and he was his old self again! He and Spice were very brave when they came upon some people building a new gate between our two pastures.

This is as close as the horses would get.

But they had fun. Fiona kept plopping down and rolling whenever she found dirt.

The flies are bothering me.

I also had fun seeing things this weekend. One is that I see signs that I wasn’t mistaken, we DO have a loggerhead shrike this year. I didn’t see one last year, and I was bummed. Today I saw lots and lots of insects impaled on our fence, though!

Plus! I’m very happy to share that another chicken started laying. Her first egg is pinkish and has little blue spots! On the other hand, Hedley, the one that lays white eggs, has started spending a LOT of time in the nest box. She did lay today, but if she’s gone broody I’m just giving her three eggs and letting her go for it.

The new one is on the bottom. Cute!

I also found two new and interesting insects. First is the extremely cool Beelzebub Bee Killer Mallophora leschenaulti, which is a type of robber fly. This things is huge, loud, and intimidating. I saw two yesterday and two today.

The other new insect is what I’m excited about. It turns out that my entry of the Long-jawed Longhorn Beetle Dendrobias mandibularis is the first one Milam county and the farthest north it’s been seen.

I’m the first!

Also, this is one of the most beautiful insects I’ve ever seen. So colorful!

Look at those antennae! And it’s so shiny!

I’ve been waiting to finally see something new and different to share on iNaturalist and I finally did! I feel so scientific.

Grasshoppers at the Hermits’ Rest

Last week’s Master Naturalist chapter meeting was fascinating. I’d asked Eric Neubauer, the new class member I’ve been working with on improving my iNaturalist observations, to do an advanced training on grasshoppers, since he’s been getting some great insights into them over on his property (PLEASE visit the link to his presentation if you have any interest at all in grasshoppers; it’s completely fascinating). He lives in a different part of the county than I do, and I realized he sees lots of different kinds of grasshoppers than I do.

This is Schistocerca americana, the American Bird Grasshopper. I wondered if we had any of these. Look at the striped eyes! Photo by E. Neubauer.

I did a blog post on grasshoppers at the ranch a couple of months ago, but now that I have learned more, I got some better photos and noticed some things about our grasshoppers. I was also wondering if there were any grasshoppers other than Boopedon gracile, the Prairie Boopie, which we’ve had in plague-worthy numbers all summer (hey, it’s 2020; everything’s a plague).

A female, we think, with some interesting coloration, according to Eric.

Yes, there are Prairie Boopies all over the ranch. The easiest place to find them is on the hay bales. They hold still there.

Another boopie view. Look at all the stripes and spots.

But, there are others. I kept seeing lots and lots of tiny grasshoppers (an inch long or less) hopping away as I walked along the fields. I wondered what they were. Could they be pygmy grasshoppers?

This one is very, very small. Less than half the size of the one above. But it’s an adult, judging by the fact that its wings are the same size as the one above. I know males are smaller, but this is really small.

I finally managed to get a couple of non-blurry photos. Well, what do you know? They are small adult Prairie Boopies (confirmed by Eric). Maybe they get smaller at the end of the season? The ones over by the hay are over three inches long, for sure. I also have noticed that the coloration is different now, after a month of drought. They are much lighter in color.

Who’s this fellow? Not a boopie. Look at the legs and the longer wings.

Moving along, I was delighted to find at least a little variety in the neighborhood. We also have a good number of Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the ones with the very distinct herringbone pattern on their legs. I was glad to get some good photos of those, too.

Differentials doing it on the hay.

I didn’t get a photo of this, but I did see a mating pair fly off yesterday evening. That was new to me. I guess those males are pretty strong, since the females are larger and do not fly!

Then, when staring at the hay bales, I saw something more green. Hooray! Not one of the more common two! I was admiring an Admirable Grasshopper! As Eric pointed out, I would know this one by its tear-shaped eye.

You really can’t miss that eye!

And finally, when I’d given up on finding anything more interesting, a very different shape appeared in the grave.

Yay! The bird grasshopper!

My photo isn’t as good as Eric’s, but I can see the stripe going through its eye, and knew I had a Schistocerca americana. The very long wings also tell you it’s a strong flyer, as the bird grasshoppers are.

I have one more of the smaller ones, but I don’t have its ID confirmed yet.

That’s the only good photo I got, but I know it was bright green on the sides.

I’m guessing it’s a small Admirable Grasshopper. We’ll see.

I know a lot of people are grossed out by grasshoppers, but once you start looking at them, they are really beautiful and interesting. Well, they are interesting IF you can see them. Check out this Nebulatettix subgracilis – if you can! I can’t believe Eric managed to find it!

That’s one fine camouflage

Can’t Save Them All

I do love nature. But I admit to making a couple of creatures go away today. First, I went to make myself a cup of coffee at the office. As I began to pour creamer into the cup, something moved. It was a quite large American cockroach. Here’s how I knew what it was:

That’s one I saw at the old church.

I am very proud. I just made a little noise. That’s a far cry from my Florida childhood roach phobia (they would get in my bed). I simply took the cup and dumped the roach into the garbage can. So proud. But then I couldn’t get the bag out of the can, so I just set the whole shebang outside. Someone else can deal with it!

Meanwhile, I noticed a jumping spider on the windowsill. It was posing for me, and had lovely markings.

Pantropical jumping spider.

Of course it moved out of the sun into shadow before I could get a picture. Nor could I get a photo from the top. Anyway, I left that one to catch bugs.

When I got home and was reading The Overstory (yes, I’m actually gonna finish it), I got a text from Meghan, who had been feeding Rip the calf. Meghan does not “do” spiders. Her text had a photo of this:

Well, hello Mama, nice egg sac.

I can just imagine that poor woman when she saw that black widow, right on the fence near the hay, where both she and Jim go all the time as they feed the calves together. Eek!

So, much as I love Nature’s creatures, I felt compelled to bring out the spider spray. I don’t feel safe with them all around our ranch community! I keep picturing the horrible scar Granny Kendall had from a black widow bite.

Rip and Buster don’t want spider bites, either.

I found four nests, which are now former nests. My guess is there are plenty more out there, so I haven’t sent black widows to the brink of extinction. I’ll atone for the deaths somehow.

Something Fishy

I got an interesting surprise as I was heading to the office to write a bunch of blog posts. I saw a large group of black vultures (my favorites, because they seem more…attractive than turkey vultures) pecking away at something over by where the pond runoff comes out of the culvert under our driveway (which is secretly a dam).

You can see by the debris how high the water was yesterday.

I thought maybe they had a snake, and I thought I should go see what kind of snake it was. However, it was not a snake. It was this!

It’s a fish out of water! Poor thing!

Oh, what a bummer. It appears that this delicious largemouth bass must have passed through the culvert and gotten dumped into the runoff area. It must have ended up in a part that was too shallow to swim in. Sniff.

Also, check out the attractive green bottle flies. I guess only a naturalist would say that. Sorry if it’s sort of icky for you.

But what did that tell me? It told me we have giant bass in our pond!* Who knew? Mandi should come fishing, or someone who likes to fish, anyway. Now that it’s mowed to the edge, the pond should be easier to work with. I figure we also have catfish, since I’ve seen channel cats that got pushed through the culvert before. Mandi and I totally failed at catching them, darn it.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, when I got to the Pope Residence, I saw all sorts of things flying around right above the grass. What could that be? I spent some time trying to follow them around to see what they were, but then I realized I just had to look DOWN and they were everywhere. I thought they were Japanese beetles, but when I looked it up on iNaturalist, it said they are common green Junebugs. I guess they all decided to hatch after the rain.

Well, whatever they are, there are a LOT of them. I hope there are some at the ranch, so the chickens can have a treat.

And here’s a treat for YOU, readers! A nice picture of how cute the dogs are as they sleep with Lee. Maybe that will cleanse your palate from the fish, flies, and beetles.

Snoozy Penney and Harvey. Photo by Lee Bruns.

* I am aware that this is a normal sized fish. It is big to me.

In Search of Ant Lions

A set of fortuitous circumstances have led me to have something more in the naturalist vein to write about. I’ve been missing those things! It all started when I was in the horse pen, and noticed all these cool paths in the dirt.

In addition to the trails, there are a couple of donkey hoof prints, to liven things up.

I couldn’t remember what made those trails, though I was sure I used to know, so I posted about it on Facebook. I got some cute and silly guesses, then, as I’d hoped, someone from around Cameron reminded me of the answer. Burton, who’d been in my Master Naturalist class, identified them as ant lion, or doodlebug, trails. These Myrmeleontidae (it means ant lion!) are commonly called “doodlebugs,” because their trails make them look like they’re doodling around.

I knew THESE were ant ions!

The reason I should have known that the trails are from ant lions, is that I knew perfectly well that the conical holes all over that part of the ranch are ant lion traps. They call them ant lions, because it’s often ants that fall into their traps, and they are fierce little lion-like dudes in their larval phase. I don’t have any pictures of one running around the ranch, but here’s the general idea of what they look like:

Those are some scary mandibles! Photo by @LASPhotography via Twenty20.

From what I’ve read, these insects stay in their larval stage up to a few years, so this will be how they live their lives, hiding in their holes or doodling around thinking about making another hole.

I love the perfection in the dirt they throw up in little perfectly circular volcanoes. Finding them under the horse shelter is no surprise, as I discovered in an article on how beneficial they are:

Pits are oftentimes constructed under the shelter of farm buildings, under houses that are on piers, etc.

Beneficials in the Garden: Ant Lion, by Donya Camp

The adults are pretty spectacular, and I had never seen one, that I know of, until this morning, when I went to enter the Pope Residence and saw a beautiful, large winged insect. I grabbed that camera and took this picture, which told me I’d found the adult ant lion, in all its glory.

Look at how the sun hits the bristles on its legs. Looks like little bottle brushes. If you’ve never seen a bottle brush, that’s what they look like.

The antennae are what give it away for certain as an ant lion, since the club shape is pretty distinctive. I feel lucky that I found this one in its resting spot, since their active period is at night. By the way, the iNaturalist identifier says this Vella fallax,

I’d always figured ant lions were friends, not foes, just because they ate ants, but I was happy to learn that they even eat fire ants. That puts them well into the beneficial insect category!

Let me know if you see any evidence of ant lions where you live. Sandy soil is what they prefer, so if you have sand, check around for the mounds, and welcome our fierce little buddies into your ecosystem!