Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A bigger alligator lizard this time

Boomie learned from our old dog, Maggie, that there are lizards to be found around the bushes. He never learned how to catch them, though. He smells them, and probably sees them and hears them as they scuttle and slither through the branches trying to evade him.

He was trying so hard to find this one, and he came pretty close, but in the end, I don't think he actually saw it.

But I did.

I hate when this happens...

...I don't know why I keep doing it!

I have this stupid habit of taking my mantids outside and setting them on a plant "to get some fresh air and sunshine." Stupid because somebody winds up getting lost. It's happened enough times that I should know better. I do know better. But I do it anyway. And now I've lost one of my wide-arms.

He was in a small dish-garden. I had put him there a few times before, and he stayed put, even caught himself some flies in there. I felt he was OK there. I was wrong.

It's possible I may find him. Maybe. Or not.

Monday, September 24, 2007

From the island of Corsica

Photo by Rodolfoto

With this being fall, and mantids everywhere now fully grown and easier to find, I browsed through recent Flickr photos with the tag "mantis" hoping for something interesting. I found this gorgeous fat female. She must be loaded with eggs. And I love her stubby little wings.
Perhaps someday I will try to find out what species this is, but for now it's enough just to admire her.

My thanks to Rodolfoto for permission to post this on Bug Safari. Click on his name, or the photo to see his Flickr page, with 2 more views of this mantid.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Baby Alligator Lizard

I found this lizard under one of our trash cans last night. I brought him inside so I could take his picture.

He was not happy, but I released him back to the yard minutes later.

Porch moth du jour

(Pardon my French!)

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I saw this nice little beetle on the walkway outside my house, and decided I would take its picture, since it was being so cooperative.

Maybe a little too cooperative.

A little nudge confirmed my suspicions. It was dead. But freshly dead, and a good opportunity to have a close up look at an insect that I usually only see scurrying away.

Cottony Cushion Scale

I've been seeing a few of these on my nandina plant out front. It doesn't look very bug-like. More like a miniature cross between a cigarette butt and a sweat sock. BugGuide has it here.

They must excrete honeydew similar to aphids, because ants were tending them.

The big white part is an egg sac. After disturbing the critter by plucking her, plant-stem and all, to get a better view, a few of the nymphs had emerged. They look like bugs.

They are not really affixed to the host plant, but just gripping onto it with their legs. I carefully removed one from the plant stem and posed it for a belly shot. You can see the skinny black legs. She was flailing like an overturned turtle. Not to worry, I put her back when I was done.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fiery Skippers

The skippers are plentiful lately. I've been feeding them to my mantids. But they are attractive little butterflies who deserve some appreciation for more than just their nutritive value.

Spider with prey

While I was taking pictures of my wide-arm mantids, I noticed this little spider eating a fly. It looks like a jumping spider. I like the pattern on its abdomen.

The wide-arms say Hi

My wide-arm mantids (Cilnia humeralis) are doing fine. I got them to pose for my camera a little bit.

How cute is this guy?

In the shade, his coloring looks duller. Here you can see his little wing-buds.

This is the female. Look at those big arms. Like a lobster or something.


Toward the end of our photo session, she got all shy for some reason. She kept ducking behind the leaf.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thank you

To all the people who offered their kind words on Spike's passing, I thank you.

I also realize that I never really posted very much about her. When I began this blog three years ago, Spike was already in her "golden years", leading a life of leisure, with most of her adventures behind her. I regret that I have no pictures of her when she was a baby. But here's a quick look at what made her so special to us.

I had taken Brice, then age 6, to a reptile show. Of course he insisted on getting a pet lizard. When we brought Spike home, she was about a month old and under 5 inches long. We were told not to handle her too much for a couple of months, until she was a little bigger and stronger. Brice handled her anyway, of course. He was gentle, but creative. He rode her around in his toy cars, and made her wear tiny little hats. He even made a little bed for her, which he placed at the head of his own bed, and she slept beside him many nights.

Spike thrived and grew into a sweet-tempered lap-lizard. Every day after school, Brice would take her out and play with her. She would sit beside him as he did his homework or watched TV. We became so accustomed to her sitting placidly outside her cage for long periods that we would forget about her sometimes and she would eventually wander off, to be found hours later behind the TV, or in the laundry hamper!

When Spike was about 2, we decided to try breeding her with a male lizard that lived at school. She spent the weekend with him, and later that year produced 6 clutches of eggs and 115 babies. That summer, Spike's babies became pets for many of our friends, and many more were sold to a reptile dealer. We continued to breed her for the next 2 years, but retired her after that, because after all, she was a beloved pet, and we didn't want to wear her out or continue to send legions of sweet "baby spikes" off to uncertain futures in the pet trade. Spike also made numerous appearances to school classrooms, sitting patiently on my lap while children lined up to have a close look at her and touch her scales and spikes.

Over the years, Spike shared her home with various beardie friends and offspring, including Prickle, Bob, Toby, Freddie and Yoshi. But she ended as she had begun, as our only lizard, her tank in the middle of our living room where she was literally at the center of our family life.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More brown widows to come

It's funny how you can see something you've never seen before, and then suddenly you're seeing them all over the place. That's how it's been with the brown widows. After that one I saw the other week, I started noticing them all over the yard, and even at school and at the arboretum.

And by the looks of all these asteroid-shaped egg cases I'm finding, there will be many more to come.

Tiny snail

I found this tiny snail in the leaf litter in one of my bug jars.

He moved by stretching his neck out as far as he could, and then pulling his pinwheel-cookie of a shell up from behind.

I think the ridges on his shell and the bits of dirt make him look like a tiny little fossil.

A little speckled bug

...upon a speckled leaf

Sunday, September 02, 2007

How did I almost miss THIS?

International Rock Flipping Day!
I only found out about this about an hour ago. My first thought was, "Dang! Missed it by that much!"

But wait! What's stopping me, aside from the lateness of the hour and 104-degree(!) heat, from going outside and turning over a rock? Nothing, that's what! And conveniently, just steps away from my front door is a rock I brought home from a vacation trip several years ago.

There's my rock. I didn't even bother to remove the trashy little empty plant-pot first.

And, Eureka! A spider guarding her egg sac.

Hopefully if they have this next year, I'll be better prepared, and maybe go somewhere that has a chance to find something a little more unusual. But hey, I'm in!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Deadly Mantis

Our local channel 56 plays old classic monster movies every Saturday night. Tonight they had a feature called The Deadly Mantis. I had never heard of it. It was from 1957. Of course, by today's standards, this movie wasn't scary at all, but it was kind of fun to watch. (and I'm too big of a baby to watch modern horror movies, so this was actually just right for me.)

I found an original trailer for the movie, and tried to get it to play right in this post, but my computer didn't like that, so hopefully the link will work for you.

A slow, slow metamorphosis? (UPDATED)

(Updated at end of post)
At the end of last summer, I had a few anise swallowtail caterpillars. They made their chrysalises. They turned into butterflies some days later. Well, some of them did. A few sleepyheads didn't emerge with their peers. By then it was October and I wondered if perhaps they would overwinter.

I had given one chrysalis, already conveniently attached inside a little pop-up bug tent, to my neighbor, so she could see the butterfly up close when it emerged, and then release it. (a post shows it here) Initially I told her it would eclose in about 2 weeks. Well, we kept waiting, and it didn't come out. A second slowpoke was hanging from the iron baker's rack on my front porch, and a third languished in Mrs. W's classroom. Winter came and went. Spring arrived, but the butterflies still didn't wake up. Summer came and I more or less forgot about them.

Fast forward to last week. While pet-sitting for my neighbor, I spied my little bug-tent in a corner of her yard. Time and the elements had been hard on the tent, but the chrysalis was still there, still unhatched. I brought it home, and hung the tent from my baker's rack, pinning the little door open in case by some miracle the butterfly should emerge. I noticed that the chrysalis attached to my baker's rack was still there too. I wondered if I should research how long these things can actually take. I wondered if they were dead inside.

So yesterday, as I was giving my front porch zoo of stick insects and mantids some spritzes of water, I impulsively squirted the little green chrysalis, and it flinched! No, wait. Did it really move, or was it just the water pushing against it? I sprayed the other chrysalis hanging on the wrought iron. It flinched too! Almost one year later, they are still alive.

I wonder if they will ever emerge?

I contacted Berkeley's Anise Swallowtails.
Our correspondence went like this:

Me: Hello. I’m returning to your website (first found it a couple of years ago), with a question: Is it possible that an anise swallowtail might still emerge from a chrysalis after nearly a year? I have one that I had given to a neighbor early last October, but it never eclosed for her. After spending time in her daughter’s bedroom, the garage, and then their back patio, the little butterfly pavilion with the chrysalis inside has now come back to me. I hung it on my sheltered front porch, with the door pinned open in case it emerges when nobody’s home. It looks much the same as it did last year, but what really makes me wonder is that when I mist it with water, it “flinches”, as if the creature inside is reacting to the spray. Have you ever heard of a metamorphosis taking so long? Cindy

Them: Hi Cindy, yes, even more than a year (but not much more)! And the flinching is a *very* good sign--the critter is still alive and kicking (or flinching, in this case). Just put it somewhere warm and bright and it will likely emerge soon.
The only way I have found to tell if a crysalis is dead is to carefully detach it from whatever it is moored to, then pick it up and feel its weight---if it is much (obviously) lighter than a fresh one, it means it has dried up, and that means "died".

And...Mrs. W. has informed me that she still has her chrysalis, and she tried giving it a spritz and it flinched too! So hopefully they will emerge soon. I hope this heat we've been having doesn't do them in.

Final update, Oct. 31, 2007: Defective butterfly
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