Who Spit in My Garden?

Spittlebugs
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I have often seen this wad of spit on plants in my garden. The first time I saw it, I was wondering how in the world someone spit on a plant in my backyard. I did a quick Google search and learned that it is actually created by a bug. Okay, mystery solved. I never gave it much thought again.

Recently I discovered a small nature trail near where I live. I took the camera and documented several of the wildflowers that appeared there. I noticed this wad of “spit” and decided it was time to learn more about it.

This aptly named insect is called a spittlebug. It is a member of the Cercopidae Family. It is also known as a froghopper, because its face looks a bit like a frog. It is related to the leafhopper. There are over 23,000 species of spittlebugs, but chances are that you have never seen one. The winged adult is less than 1/4″ long and their dull green or tan coloring blends in with the leaves they feed on.

The spittle is a liquid secretion that the spittlebug nymph produces from its back end to cover its body. It will move and pump its body to make it foam, then use its hind legs to spread the froth over its body. This froth serves several purposes: it insulates the nymph from temperature extremes, it shields it from predators, and it keeps it hydrated. The saliva-like froth is commonly known as cuckoo spit, snake spit, or frog spit.

The spittlebug will lay eggs on old plant debris to overwinter. When the nymphs originally hatch in early spring, they will attach themselves to a plant and begin feeding. They are almost invisible inside the spittle. The young go through five stages before adulthood. Adult froghoppers jump from plant to plant. They can jump 100 times their own length.

They suck little sap from the plant, and rarely do any damage unless there are large numbers of them. To remove them from a plant, a strong spray from a garden hose is usually all that is needed. The best course of action is let it be. It is wonderful reminder of the wonders that nature produces all around us.

 

 

 

 

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Bees in Bottlebrush

Bees in Bottlebrush
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I was walking back to work from my lunch break yesterday, when I passed by a row of vibrant bottlebrush shrubs. I noticed that they were covered with bees. Not being allergic to bees, I thought this was marvelous. Bees need our help and we need them to survive. One of the best ways to help the bees is to plant flowers and shrubs that attract bees. Bottlebrush fits the bill and is beautiful at the same time.

The Callistemon plant is more commonly known as the bottlebrush because of its cylindrical, brush-like flowers. The flowers are red on most plants, though there are some species with yellow,green, or white flowers. This plant is native to Australia, but has become common throughout moist, temperate areas of the world. They are certainly popular here in the gulf coast area of Texas. I am tempted to plant some in my backyard

If you would like to know about other honeybee-friendly plants, check out this article by the Mother Nature Network.

Fuzzy Caterpillar Hanging Out

salt-marsh-moth
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I just happened upon this cute fuzzy visitor hanging out in my Plumbago plant. I showed a picture to my friend and she identified it as the caterpillar of a Salt Marsh moth (Estigmene acrea). This appears to be a mature larvae, according to The University of Florida.

My husband initially though it was a Woollybear caterpillar, but those have a rust-colored band. This guy was pure black fuzziness.

I love how they use the fuzzy hair to form their pupae. Here is a picture of a pupae next to an adult Salt Marsh Moth:

saltmarsh_caterpillar07
Photo by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida

Apparently these caterpillars and moths are considered pests throughout North America, especially in the south. They are known to damage crops including cabbage, cotton, leaves of walnut and apple trees, tobacco, pea vines, potato plants, corn and clover.

Oh well, he (or she) is a cutie and I’m not growing any crops, so live and let live.

A Hidden Treasure in the Weeds

 

wavedsphinxmoth1
Photo by Carolynn Waites

I have several gardens that I keep for butterflies, birds, bees or whomever else might want to come visit. I plant native plants and then I just kind of let nature take its course. But there does come a time when some weeding or other upkeep needs to be done. There has been some kind of woody vine coming over my back fence and taking over my oleanders. It’s going to be a big project to get rid of it all and I have been waiting for the weather to cool off a bit. But the other day, I decided to tackle a little bit of it.

I was taking handfuls of the plant and pulling it off the oleanders, occasionally having to cut the vine attachment off of my plants. I was surprised by this green caterpillar as I was discarding this section of the vine. He sure does blend into the greenery. I re-homed him to an area that I had not cleared out. You can bet I was extra careful after that, checking for visitors among the vines before I disposed of them.

wavedsphinxmoth
Photo Courtesy of University of Kentucky

This green caterpillar is the larvae for the Waved Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa). This is a very common moth with a wingspan of up to 4 inches. It can be found in throughout the eastern United States. The caterpillars pupate in the soil and the adult moth emerges 2-3 weeks later. The moths are named for the black wavy lines on the wings. They also have a distinctive white dot on each wing.

This is a great example of how you never know what surprises Mother Nature has hiding in your own backyard.

 

Turks Cap with Visitor

DSC01615
Photo by Carolynn Waites

Turks Cap (Malvaviscus drummondioi) is one of my very favorite plants because it is so easy to grow. It is a native shrub that attracts birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It blooms from May to November, adding a colorful element to my garden from spring through fall.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, this plant is named for the Scottish naturalist Thomas Drummond. He spent almost two years in Texas in the 1830’s collecting an extensive array of plant and bird specimens.

As I was taking pictures of the flowers on this plant in my backyard, a young grasshopper photobombed me. Obviously this was the picture I had to use for this post. I hope he does not grow up to eat my entire garden.

Honey Bee Enjoys Vitex Flowers

DSC01608
Photo by Carolynn Waites

This little honey bee (Apis mellifera) is visiting my newly planted Vitex tree (Vitex agnus-castus).

I have wanted to plant Vitex in my back yard for a while, so over this long Memorial Day weekend I finally planted two small trees in my back yard. These deciduous shrubs/small trees are beautiful and they attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. They are also commonly known as Chaste trees.

Now I get to enjoy the beautiful lilac flowers that this tree produces through the spring and summer, with the benefit of admiring the amazing creatures the flowers attract.

Green Anole Lizard

lizard
Photo by Carolynn Waites

This is one of the many green anole lizards that live in my back yard. They are fun to watch as they sun themselves. I can usually find any number of them sunning themselves on my plants, fence, windows, and even my patio furniture. They also drive my dog crazy, playing hide-and-seek with him until we have to force him back into the house.

Here are some fun facts about these cute reptiles from the Smithsonian National Zoo:

  • They have adhesive lamellae on their foot-pads.
  • Their color, which can range from green to brown to grey, is dependent on their mood, temperature, humidity, and health.
  • Males have a pink dewlap, which they use to attract females and protect territory.
  • They eat small insects and spiders.
  • Male green anoles react to a mirror image of themselves and may act aggressively toward it.