Friday, August 5, 2016

Does everybody have to be a butterfly this very minute?

 (I'm going through my unpublished posts. This one was written years ago....YEARS. The majority of this caterpillar business took place in the summer of 2011.)

That's what I thought last summer after my newly planted coneflowers were taken down by newly relocated checkerspot butterflies and their resulting newly hatched eggs. I had brought in a potted plant from outdoors that was covered in what I thought was bird poop...but when I looked at it closely before spraying it in the sink, those little poop blips turned out to be something else entirely.

My wafer ash ((Ptelea trifoliata) was covered with Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars, six of them, all excellent bird poop mimics....which is the perfect camouflage for a growing caterpillar because who is going to swoop down and grab something that looks like fresh bird poop (they actually have a sheen to them!)?

A momma Giant Swallowtail Butterfly had found my tiny wafer ash tree that I got at a native plant sale earlier in the year. How did she ever find it? How? These caterpillars will only eat plants in the Rutaceae family (citrus is included in there) and I don't think more than two plants in that family are native to this area....and since I've never seen a prickly ash or wafer ash sold at any nursery and I have never run into a prickly ash or wafer ash on my stompings through my Kansas forest, I was very impressed with how that butterfly found this tiny plant sitting on my deck steps in my suburban Missouri backyard.

The little caterpillars got bigger every day. Three days from when I discovered them, this one had already shed his old skin (and then must have turned around and eaten it because it was gone later in the day).

They still looked like bird poop, but another thing started to develop to keep predators away...a snake/crocodile thing happening to their front ends.

You don't think their heads look like snakes?

How about this?

It was fascinating to see the pseudo "orbits" develop where eyes should be...and in that depression, a colored spot appeared that looked just like an eye. Their actual eyes and mouth are under all that camouflage stuff going on on top. Sort of like the large puppet dragon you see in Chinese New Year parades....the one that is carried through the streets by all those people hiding under it.

Here's a picture of what the real caterpillar head looks like under that poop costume of his...

When they got big, they started to "monorail" on the stems, taking in the sun, the view, who knows. I just know they had no worries about anything wanting to eat them. There was a certain confidence about them.

This is six days after I discovered them. Look how big (when I first met them, they were only about 3/4" long). They were pretty good about eating every single leaf part of that wafer ash.

More monorailing or planking in the sun... You can just make out the human eye designs on their sides (as if looking like bird poop and a snake is not enough to scare off a predator!). Now they have things going on on their sides to further scare off anything that might want to mess with them.

Every morning I'd go out and see how they were doing and there they'd be, full tummies monorailing happily in the morning sun...getting bigger every single day.

But that wafer ash tree was quickly running out of leaves...and I was hoping they'd become butterflies soon because fall was coming and they were nearly out of food!

It didn't take long for me to consider them pets.

Look at those chubby little legs!

I was getting attached to the little guys and needed to find a food source fast... because the wafer ash was no more.

In the morning I would find them scouting for new wafer ashes to eat.

I had a small orange tree (Poncirus trifoliata) I bought at Powell Gardens the previous year and since it is in the citrus family, the caterpillars would be able to eat it. One of the caterpillars settled in to chow down on it. He ate a little bit but that wafer ash was more delicious and still in his memory and so every morning he and his siblings would wander off in search of the deliciousness they craved. I would set them back on the orange tree and discovered they had even one or two more things in their defense repertoire...

When they're disturbed and get mad about that, they stick out their "tongue" (which comes out of the top of their head) and emit a big stink that smells like a big pile of sweaty socks. Yuck (even though it's weirdly entertaining).

I went out and bought them a lime tree at a nursery and coincidentally I was told that the exact same caterpillars had been picked off the lime tree that morning. Sad news for them but at least I knew the lime tree had not been treated with insecticide.

But the lime tree was......not that interesting. And then one by one, the caterpillars just disappeared. I'd find them on weird spots on the deck and put them back on their unwanted food source but then they would wander off again and eventually they were gone. They were pretty big so I hope they crawled off somewhere and turned themselves into butterflies. I missed them.

What I learned....if you have something delicious to eat, they will come. Once they eat everything around them that is delicious, they will leave. What did I do? Ordered four more wafer ashes so I'll be better prepared next spring.

So what happened one year later after I planted the same wafer ash on my land in Kansas?

There they were....

Wafer ash leaves, even when coated with dust from a gravel road, is still the most delicious thing to eat in all of Kansas and Missouri.

And once again, when the deliciousness was gone, those little stinkers (literally!) were gone again too.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Guess who won 50 bucks!

In a contest for bad behavior!

Oh.....that would be this one.

A couple weeks ago my sister told me I needed to enter a contest her pet store was sponsoring because they wanted to see photos and hear stories about bad pet behavior. Colleen said everyone likes to hear stories about bad turtles, how could Michael Ray not deserve first prize?

Apparently she was right because last week they let me know that Michael Ray had won the prize for most badly behaved..... reptile. He won a competition competing against just reptiles? Even if Michael Ray was in a competition with dog bed shredding puppies (all really good examples of bad behavior),  Michael Ray still would have won. He's just that bad.

This was the photo that won:

And years's a photo of another one of the doors he created (but this time on the other side). Yes, I do replace the screen occasionally but it's always temporary because Michael Ray just forces himself through the next one. A closed door to Michael Ray is just a temporary obstruction. As I've said many times before, a turtle is a very determined thing with no deadline. However long it takes to get something done, they will use up all the time they have left in this world to get whatever they want done. You can't fight that kind of determination.

Please note how his self created "doors" follow the shape of his shell exactly. I know it's horrible to live like this but it does make me laugh.

Yes. I'm appalled I have such a bad turtle....but also kind of proud. To celebrate his accomplishment, Michael Ray got served a big chunk of watermelon every day last week....and in typical Michael Ray style, he was not going to share. He also doesn't like it when I watch him eat so he picked up his watermelon to wander off to eat privately. That didn't work out so great because with a watermelon section that big and a turtle being only so tall, it took him a while to figure out he couldn't see where he was going...


...and then of course Michael Ray got mad, dropped the watermelon and then stomped off (but he did return later to finish it off when he knew I was gone).

Here's what happened the next day when I thought that Michael Ray and Cathy Jean could probably share a piece of watermelon together. I thought maybe he had calmed down a bit.... but I think he still knows he's a champion of something because why else show off like this?


Since Cathy Jean is usually about 23 hours behind Michael when there are bad things to learn, she now picks up her watermelon piece and waves it in the air aiming for her brother's head too.

One prize for bad behavior but now I have two bad turtles ready for the next competition. :-P

I'm plugging the pet store (Pet Supplies Plus) because they were so nice and the story they wrote was so complimentary for such a bad turtle....I'm not sure how to link a Facebook page but try this link and then scroll down to July 24, 2016 to read more about my stinker of a turtle.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"What the, what the......?" Part One and Part Two

(Most of this post was written last July. I thought I had already posted it which is why the title is listed as Part One and Part Two.) 

Earlier today I found Cathy Jean stuck upright on her hind legs, one of her front legs stuck in a shrub. What the...? I wish I had a photo but I didn't think to take one until after I got her back on her four feet so instead, here's a picture of Michael Ray, trying to climb his way through the screen door and into the house.

It's 11:30 pm and the temperature is 93 degrees. Last week the weather was forecast to have a high temperature of 108 for just about every day, but today it was only 105....maybe 104. I drove home from work with the windows open, the air conditioning off. For some reason it didn't feel that bad......probably because there is no humidity (a nice side effect to being in a drought). Rie says I'm weather resistant because I don't get cold in the winter and apparently I don't get that hot in the summer too.

The turtles have been sort of getting used to this consistently hot weather too. Michael Ray has figured out that I am not always there to open the door when he feels the need to get into the house so now he waits until about 8 or 9 pm to stomp up the steps and bang at the back door. I can hear him from inside the house when he stomps up the steps (yes, he stomps). I let him in, go fetch his sister, and then put them in the bathroom on the cool tile floor beside the vent with the blasting cold air, and then it's pretty much a quiet night for all of us until the morning when Michael stomps to the back door to be let out to start another day.

Well, sort of. One thing stops, another thing starts.

Way in the back of the yard I have an old stone barbecue from the 40s and on that, I thought I would put my little seedlings there to be safe from turtle stomping. And they were.....until something else got in there and..........pulled out all the identification markers!

Most of the seeds I planted are wildflowers, some of which will not germinate for a year, so if any of them do come up, I will have no idea what they are. Errrrgh.

The work was done too carefully to blame on squirrels. Squirrels are pretty exuberant when it comes to that kind of stuff (although there was that day years ago when I looked up and saw three lemons arranged in a row on a tree branch far up in the elm...not sure who could do that but a squirrel...).

And for some reason whoever did this, left part of a rib bone planted in one of the six-packs....which looked sort of like one of the markers. What the...?

Rie says it sounds like raccoons. I agree. They are as thorough as turtles but a lot more careful with how they mess with things. When they were done removing ID markers from this area, they moved to other side of the yard and removed some of the markers from those plants too.

Baby possums have been busy in the backyard too.

Just taking it all in...

...and hopefully not learning anything. I have no idea what they've been witnessing but I wish I could have been up in the tree with them to see what the heck was going on below with those ID markers. And why. Why?

This morning I checked the seedlings out back. I had replaced the markers in the few plants I could still identify but...I have no idea what has or what will be growing in those unmarked little pots. This morning, all the markers had been pulled out again. All the markers in every plant in the yard. All of them. However, the rib bone that was mixed up with the flung ID markers was gone. I have no idea what transaction took place, or didn't. Did I let them down? Was my backyard raccoon amusement park worthy of the return trip?

This mystery happened about a week after the two bats tried to move into the house. I kept expecting more bats to fly in and stayed alert to any noise that didn't sound right. One night I heard something bashing into the skylight on my deck roof and was convinced the bats had returned but when I pointed my camera flash at the was just a Pandora Sphinx moth, a beautiful Pandora Sphinx moth flying and sounding like a bat. Whew.

Good to finally have that bat craziness over and done with but I was still vigilant about keeping the back door closed when I left the house or came back in..... or so I thought.

There is a cat named Pablo who is supposed to live two doors up from me...but he prefers to hang out on my deck...all day, all night, spring, summer, fall, winter. Whatever it takes to wear me down, it is his driven mission to move into the "House of Birds." Violet doesn't want that and I don't either but what we want does not matter. Pablo has patience and Pablo has strategies and Pablo has time.

One afternoon I walked into the house and found Pablo sitting smugly on the chair in front of my computer. He had made it in and looked like he had always lived in my house. What the...? Pablo got escorted right out...even though he tried to make some quick right and left turns. Out he went, door closed and locked.

I guess when Pablo snuck into the house, Eddie felt compelled to leave her cage and luckily launched onto something soft. She was just as pleased as Pablo with her newly found comfortable spot for hanging out.

Eddie got returned to her cage but when I walked back into the kitchen, sitting in the window on my lusterware bird salt and pepper shakers was a......real bird. What the.....?

A little sparrow just sitting there, just as pleased at where he had landed as Pablo and Eddie.

I have no idea how he got in but he had so much dust and crud wound around his legs, he could not get airborne....which makes me wonder how the heck did he get in? Through some portal in the wall? That will forever be another mystery for the month of July.

The sparrow got a good bath and then he was released outside where he flew away and I made sure no one else flew, walked, or stomped in.

I hadn't thought about all these things getting into the house last July until a week ago. Apparently there are other ways of getting into the house besides flying, walking, or stomping...

Things can hatch. I was getting ready for bed one night and found....a cicada loose in the bedroom. A live cicada. In April. April!??!! It's still cold, we still have frosts at night (and still opportunities for snow because this is one cold April) but there in my house (in April!) was a flying, screaming cicada. I'm guessing it crawled out of one of my snakeplants. And that guess got confirmed when I found the shell left after it had crossed the floor and pulled itself up my hatch near my hand if I had gone to bed earlier..... eeeeEEEeeeeEEEEeeeeEEEE!*

*that would be the sound of me, not the cicada

It's just one more "what the..." to add to the series of things getting into the house. I almost wrote "my" house but then changed my mind because at this point, is it really just my house? :-P

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's spring! It's snowing! Again!

A month ago I was thinking we were going to have an early spring (just from having to listen to Cathy Jean's hellbent focus on getting out of her tank every waking minute!) but then one morning, the outdoors looked like this...

But at least it sounded like spring. Despite the sudden twelve inches of snow (which was all the more dramatic because it did not melt away the next day), the outdoor birds continued to belt out their spring tunes.

I should have gotten a yardstick out to show off the depth. Those steps are mine. That trail crossing my tracks is what was left from a fleeing coontina customer. I know I shouldn't laugh, but it was kind of funny to watch that fleeing stray cat "swim" through all that snow to get away from me. No harm done. She was back the next morning for an early lunch.

But then, a couple days later, another foot of snow...

One foot of snow in Kansas City is dramatic enough...

...but another foot of snow just a couple days later?


And yet.....I was still confident there was going to be an early spring because the odd thing was, you could still hear those outdoor birds singing...lots and lots of earnest singing. You really couldn't hear anything else because the roads were unplowed, the car were buried under snow, and since the local news stations told everyone to stay indoors and off the roads, in my neighborhood (at least), they did. If you closed your eyes, it sounded like a spring day (without lawnmowers of course) just didn't look like one.

This is not my handprint from where I fell in the snow...

Those are little raccoon handprints. I haven't seen any raccoons in a while and it makes me happy to know that they're still out there waddling from somewhere to somewhere.

The snow started to melt but I was anxious to see more proof of spring besides listening to outdoor birds (and indoor turtles) so I dug down in the snow and.......voila! Daffodils!

There was one 84 degree day when most of the snow melted (most, not all...there were still huge banks of snow left from snowplowing that just sat there unchanged in size while people walked by in flipflops). I was still adamant about calling it an early spring though....and then after the vernal equinox, I was just as adamant about calling, spring.

But then, yesterday the snow business started up again... 

Robins puffed up while waiting it out...

And stayed puffed up while waiting it out the next morning...

Crazy. But then, every single season is different every single year...and every single season can be described as crazy. I guess for me, it doesn't have to look like spring for it to be spring. The calendar says it's spring, the turtles say it's spring, the birds outside are enthusiastic about everything that happens in the spring.....I'm just going to choose to ignore what I see out there and go with what I'm hearing. It's spring. It sounds like a North American jungle out there.

And I know, it's been a long, long, long time since I've posted anything on this blog. Do I have a reason for not writing anything in half a year.....or more? Mmm, not really. I wish I had a good story. I just don't. What I have been doing is knitting shawls like crazy and I'm still not quite sure what the story is behind that but I sure have a lot of them (fifteen so far!). One of my most recent ones seems pretty germane to this crazy confused spring and its constant but intermittent 1-2 feet snow...a shawl the color of sunshine. It will keep me warm until what is going on out there catches up with the calendar and decides to warm up....for a plural amount days!

To shamelessly quote Cathy Jean Law (Cathy Jean's "aunt")...