The Critters of Summer
It doesn’t take long for the summer monsoon weather to get to me. It’s hot, it’s muggy, and a million weeds have taken over the front yard. It’s the “muggy” part that I hate most; I really prefer early June, when it’s hotter but the humidity is almost non-existent.
Out the back windows, where last month I saw a river of rainwater sluicing through the yard, there are now tall grasses — like an instant prairie. Where did all that come from? The white-tailed bucks have moved on, and now I have a single doe who grazes through the yard once or twice a day. I haven’t seen any javalinas for months, but the other ruminants are having a fine feast. Cottontails that, earlier this year, managed to squeeze themselves under the garden fence won’t fit through anymore, and that’s a fine thing. They hadn’t managed to get through the hardware cloth around the garden bed, and the buried chicken wire prevented them going under it (although they tried), so that much was a success.
Here’s a hare that would never have fit in or under the fence:
This is the Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) who lives nearby. It’s quite large — at least twice the size of the cottontails, and it sat there a good long while waiting for me to get the camera out. I wasn’t even going to try to get a picture, since they’re usually very shy, but it waited patiently until I realized that it was actually going to sit there until I took its picture. When I was done, I thanked it, and it wandered off into the scrub.
There are also antelope jackrabbits around — I’ve seen them within a couple of miles of here. They’re even bigger than the black-tailed jackrabbits: taller and leggier. I hope I can get a picture of one of those sometime, too.
Now, look again at that picture above. Do you see how it appears that the jackrabbit is sitting in a lush, green wonderland of rabbit food? This is what the green haze is about. If I were standing where the rabbit is and look down, I’d see a few clumps of grass, a bit of rocket mustard and maybe a small purslane plant. That’s all. Oh yes, there’s that little prickly pear, too. But when you stand back and look across the top of it, you see this brilliant green, hazy glow everywhere. It’s kinda magic.
I know! Let’s do insects! Stay with me; it gets good…
Here’s something I hadn’t seen before: a velvet ant.
They’re called velvet ants, but they’re really a type of wasp. It has a black body and a big, hairy orange butt. It’s a female (the males have wings), and will sting. But I am advised that they are garden friends, with larva that parasitize less-helpful insects — and also ground-nesting bees, so I’m not sure how much I like this thing. Anyway, she was running across the yard and so was I and it looks like the camera couldn’t quite keep up with us ;).
Here’s another picture of the spur-throated grasshopper (Melanoplus ponderosus). This seems to be our most common grasshopper lately. I’ve seen the bigger, green ones around here, but it’s been a few years. Anyway, this one was actually inside the garden bed, and had to be immediately evicted. Later, it spent an afternoon watching me dig the tree-moat.
For some reason, when I first learned about grasshoppers as a child, they gave me nightmares. Something about them just horrified me. I’m mostly over it now.
Here’s something nicer: the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus p. philenor) butterfly on my red bird of paradise flowers.
The RBoP flowers get a lot of attention from several kinds of butterflies and hummingbirds too. They’re such pretty flowers and everybody loves them, including this amazing creature:
This is a White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) moth. They’re the size of a medium hummingbird and they fly in the daytime, even in the rain. They start out like this:
I found these one day under a sage bush at the back of the yard. I don’t think they were eating the sage, but the little weeds growing around the bush. They get quite big, too: these are about three inches long. They make their cocoons underground, and a couple of weeks later turn into this:
I think it’s the color scheme on this moth that’s so striking: brown and cream with a pale pink stripe. And this moth is definitely anticipating getting a lot of nectar from these flowers: look at its tongue getting ready!
I just might submit that picture to a contest somewhere…