Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Little Bit Scary

Hostile aliens are among us.

A war is being waged, and the number of victims have been staggering.  

The reports are true:

they stab their victims with their needle like tongues,

inject enzymes that paralyze their victims and liquifies their organs,

and then they suck it all up.


It's time to panic, folks.  Head for your bomb shelters and basements!  What is the government doing about this?!

Oh, what?  These aren't hostile extraterrestrials that have come to feed on our organs?

These are actual real BUGS?!

Robber fly ingesting a bee
Phew!  Well, at least we humans don't have to worry!

I guess I can't say the same for all of the normal prey that a Robber fly stalks, like bees, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and wasps.  Robber flies often take on animals that are larger than themselves - there have even been reports of robber flies attacking hummingbirds..

Robber fly ingesting a bee
Robber flies are important for controlling the populations of various insects that they eat and thus can often be considered beneficial (depending on what they are eating).  

But still a little bit scary,
don't you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

So Did I Win?

Well, I'm back home in North Carolina after my trip up to the Northeast.  Of course one of the first things a gardener does when they get home is check the garden.  (Is everything still alive?  Have I lost any more plants to my serial killer Vole?  No?  Phew!!)

Then I wonder, did the Monarch butterfly I saw up in New Jersey beat me back home?  Who won the race?  Are there any Monarchs in the garden?  Well, I don't see any orange and black butterflies fluttering around in the garden in a taunting manner, but I do spy something possibly even Monarchs!

Monarch caterpillars on milkweed
A monarch has laid eggs on my milkweed plants, and now I have several little hungry caterpillar babies enjoying the feast.  The monarch must have visited just last week - it only takes 3 to 5 days for an egg to hatch, and my caterpillars were still pretty young.  With any luck, some of these caterpillars will grow up to be butterflies and take their place in the yearly pilgrimage to the mountains of central Mexico to spend the winter.

Ah, but what is this flying into the garden?

Monarch butterfly on butterfly bush
You haven't by chance just flown in from New Jersey, have you?

Either way, having a monarch here in my garden is a win!

linking with Mosaic Monday

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Racing a Monarch

This week I am in New Jersey for a few days, 500 miles away from the Red House.  Here I've seen a Monarch butterfly in the garden, resting and nectaring on her way down to Mexico for the winter.  

Monarch butterfly on Coneflower
Five days after spotting the Monarch I will be going back home, and I wonder, who will make it down to North Carolina first, me or the butterfly?

  • Monarch butterflies usually travel between 50 to 100 miles per day.  The average is about 80 miles (129 km) per day.  
  • The farthest a Monarch has traveled in one day on record is 265 miles (426 km).

265 miles in one day?!  This Monarch looks tired just thinking about flying that far!
  • Monarchs travel at around 12 mph (19kmh), but can fly at speeds up to 30mph (48kmh) or even much faster with a tail wind.  
  • Glider pilots have recorded these butterflies flying as high as 11,000 feet (3350m) up in the air.  

  • My airplane has a cruising speed at around 400mph (645kmh).
  • The airplane has a maximum cruising altitude of 25,000ft (7,600m).
  • Flight time to NC is under 2 hours.  

I wish I was going on this plane!
picture source: Wikipedia

So with a 5 day head start, could the Monarch butterfly end up at the Red House Garden first?

Well, the butterfly would have to travel an average of 100 miles per day to get there before me, which is theoretically doable...
Ready..... Set..... Go!

See you at the Red House Garden?

Want to join in tracking the Monarch butterfly fall migration?  
Report your sightings of Monarchs at the Monarch Butterfly Journey North website!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Early Bird Gets the Very Big Worm

I did it!  I caught Wormzilla!!  

A robin and part of his prize
Ha!  I have defeated you, giant Worm!  Everyone come see my enormous prize!

Um, except for you, Lady.  What are you doing pointing that big black thing at me?! 

Get away - this is my Worm!   There is no way you are parting me from this gigantic thing - it could feed an albatross.  Me and my family are going to have a feast tonight!

Hey, if you keep coming closer, I'm just going to hop away with this entire worm, even though it probably weighs as much as me.  I am determined!  

Hopping, hopping, hopping faster.. and I can just make it over the fence!  Hahaha!  This Wormzilla is all MINE!

Monday, August 13, 2012


Nothing says summer like

Common Whitetail
(Plathemis lydia)
Dragonflies are usually found near ponds and wet areas, and thanks to a pond not too far away, I have seen quite a few of these beautiful creatures in my garden.

Eastern Pondhawk
(Erythemis simplicicollis)
Most of a dragonfly's life is spent in the water as a nymph form - anywhere from two months to five years, depending on the species.  When the nymph is full grown and the days become warmer, the nymph climbs out of the water to shed its skin and transform into a dragonfly.

Blue Dasher
(Pachydiplax longipennis)
These beautiful winged insects are not only reminiscent of childhood magic and lazy summer days, but they are also very helpful to have in the garden - they can eat large amounts of gnats and mosquitoes.

Common Baskettail
(Epitheca cynosura)
Fossils of ancient dragonfly-like insects show that some had a wingspan of over two feet (60 cm)!   The largest present day dragonfly is the Asian Tetracanthagyna plagiata, whose female can have a wingspan of around 6.5 inches (165 mm).   

Widow Skimmer
(Libellula luctuosa)
Here at the Red House Garden, the dragonflies tend to be more in the 1 to 3 inch range.  They often perch on my taller plants or places where they can survey the surrounding area for smaller bugs to hunt.

Blue Corporal
(Ladona deplanata)
My favorite dragonflies in the garden are the gorgeous little orange Eastern Amberwings that like to hover around my daughters' wildflower garden. 

Eastern Amberwing
(Perithemis tenera)
I love having these summer beauties in the garden.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Bug Babies

I have been excitedly looking forward to some impending babies at the Red House Garden.

See all those eggs hanging down from those threads?  Those precious eggs hold what will be Green Lacewing babies.  They are hung on threads to keep them from predators.  The threads are made of mucus that has hardened in the air.
(Nothing like good 'ole mucus to do the job, huh?)

Green Lacewing eggs
The Momma Lacewing bug has carefully chosen her site for her eggs - on my milkweed plant, right next to lots of available food... Maybe you can see the reason why I am so anxious for the eggs to hatch?  (Hint:  the food is bright yellow and moving.)

Yay, they've hatched!  It's now a beautiful bouncing Lacewing larvae!!  
Okay, so maybe it's a face only a mother could love, but I'm still rejoicing:

The Lacewing babies are eating all the aphids that were attacking my milkweed plant.

Lacewing larvae eating aphid
Yum, yum..
Now you can see why the Green Lacewing mother chose my milkweed plant to lay her eggs on - it has lots and lots of baby food on it!

One lacewing egg and lots of yellow aphids
I sense a feast coming..
The only problem is that Lacewing larvae will sometimes show bad manners and eat all the nice butterfly eggs and little caterpillars that might also be sharing a leaf with it - they really don't care what it is, as long as they can eat it.  

I don't know what kind of caterpillar you are, but now might be a good time to exit the milkweed.
The Lacewing babies will eat lots of yummy aphids (around 200 a week) for two to three weeks and then spin a cocoon and pupate, finally emerging as an adult Green Lacewing.

Adult Green Lacewing
In which case the cycle will start again, hopefully until all of my aphids are gone!

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Year in the Life of a Garden Blog

One year ago, I started the Red House Garden blog.
I had no idea what I was getting into.

Red House Garden - 1 year ago
Having only built the Red House a couple years before, I was having the time of my life planning and planting gardens around it.  Since I don't have many friends who like gardening, lucky Mr. Red House got to hear all about the gardening in excruciating detail.  He is the one who begged suggested that I start a blog.

Red House front garden in fall
When I started, I had no idea what a wonderful garden blogging community I would find online.  I have enjoyed 'meeting' all of you other garden bloggers tremendously.  I have learned so much and been so inspired by reading your blogs and seeing your gardens.  It has been so great to find people who get as much joy as I do out of gardening and even just being out in nature.

Red House front garden during the very mild winter we had
I have learned so much this year just by writing this blog and taking photos for it.  Taking photos lets me go back and look at a plant or animal in detail, which has been very useful in identifying some plants and quite a few critters.  And the teacher in me makes me want to learn as much as I can about something before writing about it.

Red House front garden in spring
(Why in the world don't I have more pictures of such a glorious time of year?)
Another unexpected blessing of writing a blog - I have a terrible memory, and this blog has been a great way to document what is going on in my garden.  (What was the name of that cultivar?  Oh, I think I did a blog on that - let me look it up...)

Red House front garden full of blooms in summer
I can't believe it's already been a year since I started blogging.  It's been a fabulous adventure, going from just needing an outlet to channel my excitement about gardening to being part of a garden blogging community that continuously inspires me.  I wonder what the next year will hold.

Red House Garden now
So what have you other bloggers gained from creating your own blog?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bright Yellow Camouflage?

At first glance, one would not think that the bright yellow feathers of the male Goldfinch blend in with anything.

American Goldfinch
After all, he relies on his bright plumage to woo the ladies and win a mate.

Hey, good lookin'!
However, the Goldfinch is surprisingly hard to see in the garden!

Goldfinch and Cosmos sulphureus
I find it interesting that the yellow Goldfinch seems to enjoy the seeds of so many yellow flowers:  sunflowers, cosmos, coreopsis, goldenrod, dandelion, and black-eyed susan, to name a few.  Blending in while eating is good, I assume - less chance of becoming lunch yourself!

Goldfinch eating the seeds of a Black-eyed Susan
Of course Goldfinches do eat other seeds - they are notorious in their love of the seeds that come from the usually purple-flowering thistle. (In fact, the Genus name for Goldfinches, Carduelis, comes from the Latin word for 'thistle').

Here a Goldfinch is enjoying a sock of Nyjer seed.  Many people call Nyjer seeds 'thistle seeds' because the goldfinches love them so much, but Nyjer seeds actually come from a completely different plant (an African yellow daisy Guizotia abyssinica)
I know I often have these beautiful finches in my yard even when I can't see them on the bird feeders.  The little birds hide surprisingly well!  Goldfinches even blend in fairly effectively with my plants that have golden-toned leaves.

The Goldfinches often hide among the branches of my gold variegated-leafed 'Santana' Butterfly bush
Just don't blend in too well, little Goldfinch - you may not want me to see you, but your lady friend might be another story..

Hey, where'd he go?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...