Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Euonymus Grandiflorus

This plant is fruiting now, and the seeds are remarkable. Black seeds with a red fleshy attachment. Or red fleshy seeds with a shiny black attachement? I don't know, but they are beautiful when you take a moment to get a close look.

Euonymus generally grows to be a bush or tree. It is called Spindle or Spindle tree because the wood has been used to make spindles to spin wool.

Some of the plants in this genus have lovely fall foliage. I'll have to make an observation at a later date to see if this one is deciduous.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unknown Butterfly

This is my favorite photo of the Texas trip. Big camouflaged butterfly! Leaves bright green in the sun! Such a lovely contrast. I have no ID for the insect or the plant, but that doesn't matter. Nature is just beautiful!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Road Runner

This road runner was pretty tame and didn't mind people taking pictures. We watched it pull a couple of caterpillars out of the brushy area near the vistiors' center at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands in Texas. According to the range map it occurs in California, but I have never seen one here. In addition to eating caterpillars, it eats scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, rodents and small birds. To warm up in the morning, it turns its back to the sun much like butterflies do. It has salt glands near its eyes to excrete excess salt. Birds that drink sea water commonly have these glands. The roadrunner has them because it takes a lot less water to remove salt with the salt glands than with the kidneys, and water is sometimes hard to find in the desert.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mexican Silverspot

This butterfly lays eggs on passion vine like the gulf fritillary, but it is called a silverspot, not a fritillary. The leading edge of this butterfly is much darker than the trailing edge. It lives in very southern areas of the US, then south all the way to Brazil. I was so lucky to see so many new butterflies in Texas!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saddlebag Dragonflies

I think I got the name right for this couple. I didn't write it down, which is always dangerous. Anyway, the day before this pic was taken, I saw the dragonflies on the wing, looking very lumpy. I couldn't figure it out. Turns out, their wings are darkly colored near the body, making them look like they are carrying saddlebags, hence, the name. When we saw them mating, I was quite surprised. I had never seen dragonflies mating, and had thought that only damselflies mate in the wheel position. Odonata, the damsel- and dragonsflies, mate in an odd fashion. The male transfers his sperm to the thorax so that he can use the claspers at the end of his abdomen to hang on to the female's neck. Then she bends the tip of her abdomen to his thorax to get the sperm. Then, he hangs on to her while she lays the eggs in the water, thus making it very difficult for another male to get involved. It is amazing what antics certain species go through! Just to make sure that their genes are the ones that get into the next generation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mexican Bluewing

This was the most spectacular butterfly I saw in Texas. It is called a Mexican Blue Wing, but the ones I saw looked more purple than blue, which is even better in my book. The caterpillars eat Dalechampia in the Euphorb family and the adults like rotting fruit. This is another one of those butterflies that occurs in much of Mexico and south of Mexico, but if you want to see it in the US, you have to go to south Texas. The caterpillar is green, rather plain compared to the adult.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Red Bordered Pixie

On the last NABA field trip, I got a good look at this Pixie, which hung around for awhile. To me, it looks more like it has dots than borders, but I guess it sort of has a border at the trailing edge of the hind wing. The caterpillar feed on plants in the pea family. It normally occurs from Panama to Mexico and in some of the most southern areas of the US, like the Lower Rio Grand Valley in Texas.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sickle Winged Skipper

While I was in Texas, I loved all the big beautiful butterflies, but everybody seemed to want to find the LBJs (little brown jobs) to add to their life list. This on, the Sickle Winged Skipper, was lovely in a muted kind of way. It is named for the pale semicircles at the edge of the forewing; supposedly they look like sickles. I don't know. Maybe. It can also be identified by the bit of a hook just below the apex of the forewings. The caterpillars eat citrus and prickly-ash.

This is a spread-wing skipper, meaning that when it rests, it holds it wings open like most butterflies. When folded-wing skippers rest, they fold two wings closer to their body, so you can see all four wings as separate planes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I saw a Julia once before, in a butterfly house in San Francisco. But this one was wild in Texas, so it seemed much more lovely to me. Julias, like Gulf Fritillaries, eat passion vine. Julias don't live in Berkeley like the Gulf Fritillaries, but they do reach as far north as Nebraska. They prefer the southern areas like Florida, Texas and Mexico. This one is a favorite in butterfly houses because it is active all day. Also, the tropical butterflies are used to dealing with the shaded understory, and are not alarmed by the reduced sun exposure under glass. I have seen the more northern species bat themselves against the glass trying to get out, but the tropical butterflies seem cool with being inside. Of course, the many tropical butterflies are big and bright, and people love seeing them, so they are perfect for a zoo situation in that way, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Western Pygmy Blue

Well, I think it is a Western Pygmy Blue. The spots on the upper surface of the wing make it look more like an Eastern Pygmy Blue to me, but that one doesn't occur in Texas. The WPB the smallest butterflies in the world, about 5-7 mm. It occurs in salt marshes and eats salt bush as a caterpillar. It also lives in other salt areas and eats other plants in the goosefoot family. I'm glad I finally got a good look at this butterfly because now when people ask me about the smallest butterfly in the world, I can say that I have actually seen it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Barred Flasher

When it flies, the turquoise sheen is hidden and revealed over and over again, thus, the "flasher" name. It also has two white bars on each forewing, but the second one is hard to see. I got a good look at this beauty while in Texas. The caterpillars feed on Coyotillo, which is in the same family as ceanothus. According to the Butterflies and Moths website, the adults eat nectar. But also bird droppings!!??? Oh my! We love to think of butterflies and flowers together, as in this pic, but sometimes they eat less lovely things, like urine, blood, and now I learn, bird droppings. Butterflies are just amazing!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Xami Hairstreak

This small butterfly was difficult to see because its green wings are so similar in color to the plants. Everybody was excited to see it since it is rare and hard to find in the US. It is common in some parts of Mexico. Pretty little thing! The caterpillars eat succulents like Sedum and Echeveria.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Green Jay

The birds in Texas were amazing, too. Here is a green jay at a feeder at the NABA park. I think it must be an ordinary bird there, but to me it is a tropical wonder. Those colors! So rich! So much contrast!

Green jays live in Texas, but also in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I took this pic in the butterfly house at the San Antonio Zoo. This butterfly was so frustrating! It would show its beautiful wings while flying, then close up immediately when it landed, so all I could get a photo of was its camouflaged underside. But this time, it landed in the bushes, and the foliage kept its wings open. Ah ha! Got cha!

I thought that the Blue Mopho was the only morpho. Turns out, there are 80 different species, and some are white, not blue. This one may be Morpho richardius, but I really don't know.

That color in the wing is not pigment, but what the entomologists call structural color. It is like a rainbow in the sky or on the surface of a compact disc. When you move the disc, the color moves, and it is clear that it is a type of reflection, not a pigment that is on the disc. Well, butterflies have scales on their wings that reflect in certain wavelengths, creating certain colors. That is how the blue in the morphos are formed.

I just learned in wikipedia that the caterpillars defend themselves by smelling of rotten butter and squealing when touched. Most butterflies can't hear. I wonder if they can hear themselves.....?.........

Friday, November 12, 2010

Green Anole

The Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin has its own special reptile, just like the UC Botanical Garden has the Western Fence Lizard. I several of these dinky green girls around the garden, but most were well camouflaged in the foliage. This one, out on a rock, was displaying itself prettily. Within Zilker are several theme gardens, including a Prehistoric Garden with plants dinosaurs ate, an Herb Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden, and a Butterfly Garden. Very lovely, with lots of shade and pools, but rather noisy because of the freeway and the parking lot is a bit small. But we were lucking and found a spot to park and had a great time wandering the grounds.

I think this is a Green Anole, but I am not absolutely positive. The Green Anole is very common is Austin, lives in suburban gardens, and eats insects. If you think it is something else, let me know.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Everybody else ignored the Queens on the NABA field trips, but, WOW! They are big and beautiful. And in most places where we stopped, there were clouds of them. In a room size patch of nectar plants, there were maybe 1-2 dozen butterflies. It was a wonderful sight. Just what people want when they thing of a butterfly garden. Go to Texas and you can have the butterfly garden of your dreams!

In addition to the dozens of Queens, there were usually a few Soldiers, which are very similar. With some help, I finally figured out how to tell them apart. The field trip leaders were so willing to explain things to me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giant Swallowtail

I think the Giant Swallowtail is spectacular, but they were so common in Texas that people on the NABA trip ignored them in favor of small buff colored skippers that might be something rare. The caterpillars eat citrus, and fruit growers call them "Orange Dogs" because of the damage they cause to the foliage. I suppose this could be a Thoas Swallowtail, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bordered Patch

I saw a lot of wonderful butterflies while on NABA field trips in Texas. Here is a bordered patch. None of those in Berkeley! According to the Butterflies and Moths website, caterpillars eat plants in the sunflower family, including sunflowers, ragweed, crownbeard and cockleburs. This butterfly is common if parts of the southwestern US.

Monday, November 8, 2010


After seeing South Padre Island, I went to the opening of the new Visitors' Pavilion at the North American Butterfly Association's Butterfly Park in Mission, TX. They choose the end of October for this event because it is the best time of all. Butterflies were in abundance! South Texas is entirely different from Berkeley. The flowering plants were swarming with butterflies. And the baits were so thick with emperors that it looked like leaves had fallen on the grapes. It was like being in a well-populated butterfly house, but with no walls or ceiling. Truly an amazing experience!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Great Southern White

I am just back from Texas, where I spent about ten days. The first night I spent on South Padre Island, and the first day out I went to the World Birding Center. On the boardwalk I saw a few birds, but also Great Southern Whites. (See that white spot in the middle of the first photo? That is a butterfly!) I was surprised to find butterflies in such a marshy area, but a little research revealed that they eat something called "beach cabbage" and besides living in fields and gardens, they frequent salt marshes and coastal dunes. Very lovely butterfly up close. Much bigger and nicer than a cabbage white.