Butterfly and Moth Identification

Black Witch moth from HouseofIngrams.com

One morning I was cruising through our strange little “breakfast nook” area and saw something out of the corner of my eye…I thought there was a good-sized bat hanging outside our window!  On closer inspection, it proved to be a really big moth.  Really big, like seven inches across, and it was sideways so it really did look like a bat at first glance.  Well of course first thing I do is start snapping pictures of it, thinking I could identify it.

Moth silhouette from HouseofIngrams.com
Seriously, out of the corner of your eye, this thing looks like a bat. Both my boys thought the same thing.

There are 6,935 species of moths and butterflies documented in North America.  Uh huh.  There are 5726 verified species of moths in the United States.  Hmmm.   Well…

As it happens, moth and butterfly identification can be quite difficult sometimes, so after a fruitless search of several websites, I happened across Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).  Lucky me, they have a huge database.  Best part, you can submit your sighting and if you send them a picture they have a regional expert who will identify your mystery Lepidoptera and email you back!  So I registered for free, sent in my picture with the location and time, and within 30 minutes I had an ID for our moth.  It is an Ascalapha odorata… the common name is Black Witch!  Of course, if you read about it on the species page they make sure to tell you that it is “easily identified by its large size and pointed forewing”…ok so in future I will be able to identify one!

BAMONA screenshot from HouseofIngrams.com

The screenshot above is the bottom of the species page, and my photo is on the far left.

BAMONA sighting map
All the reported sightings of this species, mapped!

I am truly a major nerd, but this just tickles me to death.  Anyone with a decent picture of a moth, butterfly, caterpillar, egg, or pupa can submit it and get it identified, plus it helps BAMONA track species all over the continent.

BAMONA get involved

Citizen science is a method of data collection using crowdsourcing- regular people make observations and report to scientists who compile and analyze it.  This method is a great way to get a lot more data than trained scientists could ever get working alone.

This would be a great nature lesson for any student and is an excellent resource for insect study; well, moths and butterflies at least.

Other citizen science projects that are very easy and fun to participate in are the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feederwatch, and WeatherUnderground (you can connect your personal weather station to their network to monitor the weather).  There are a bunch of ongoing projects listed on this Wikipedia page.

I hope this is helpful and encourages you to send in your butterfly and moth pictures to BAMONA!

Identifying Butterflies and Moths using BAMONA website from HouseofIngrams.com

 

Oklahoma Native Plant Corridor

Native PLant Diagram
Native Plant Corridor plant list

Another garden I visited at Oklahoma State University was next to the Engineering Building.  It is composed entirely of native plants.  There is a nifty garden directory sign so you can identify every plant if you feel like it.  It was getting pretty hot, so I did a quick walk through and got back into the shade of the Student Union.

Native plants from HouseofIngrams.com
A couple of different coneflowers next to Joe Pye Weed and a sumac
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiger Eyes Staghorn Sumac
Tiger Eye Sumac from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Tiger Eye Sumac
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed Prairie Jewel
Joe Pye Weed from HouseofIngrams.com
A closer look at the Joe Pye Weed
Native Plant Corridor
Native Plant Corridor
Coneflower and Mexican Hat from HouseofIngrams.com
Tiki Torch Coneflower and yellow Mexican Hat
Yarrow and Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Terra Cotta Common Yarrow and Coreospsis ‘Big Bang Redshift’ Tickseed
Redshift Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Up close view of Big Bang Redshift Coreopsis

I love the Redshift Tickseed (Coreopsis); I could make an entire bed of various coreopsis cultivars.  Our side yard is filled with Plains Coreopsis and we let it bloom for about a month every summer.

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Plains Coreopsis in our yard

Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com

Field of Plains Coreopsis from HouseofIngrams.com
Field of Plains Coreopsis

Once it goes to seed and looks really raggedy we mow.

Since these are Oklahoma natives, they are well suited to our, shall we say, extreme weather conditions.  Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and attract our native pollinators.

It was nice to see an entire garden of Oklahoma plants to get an idea of just how many there really are.  I’m especially intrigued by the Tiger Eye Sumac and am thinking about adding one to our landscape someday.  It reminds me of a Japanese maple, but one that might actually survive in my yard.

Do you have a favorite native plant?

 

 

The Price Family Garden in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Magnolia tree at OSU campus from HouseofIngrams.com
Magnolia tree in front of the Price Family Garden

Last week my younger son attended a one-day engineering camp at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hung out on campus all day and took lots of pictures of the gardens and flower beds. After a day of breathing the “O State ozone”, I’m ready to pack up and move to Stillwater.  (Just kidding.) Our family has a running joke about being on the OSU campus.  Something in the air makes us really happy to be there so we think they must be pumping ozone.  Or is it the Eskimo Joe’s cheese fries?  (According to my older son, the ozone effect does wear off after you have been there for a while.)

Anyway, I had a full day to hang around and wander through the plantings on campus, read, and people watch.

Canna border from HouseofIngrams.com
Cannas (Cannova Bronze Orange) and Hardy Hibiscus ‘White Jewel’ are part of the border in the Price Family Garden.
Herbaceous border at OSU from HouseofIngrams.com
Elephant Ear ‘Pink China’, Inkberry ‘Shamrock’, and Hydrangea Let’s Dance Starlight ‘Lynn’ in the front border.

The Price Family Garden is outside the Rancher’s Club, a steakhouse on the OSU campus.  It combines edibles and ornamentals and is just gorgeous.  They list descriptions of the plants along with planting diagrams on the internet.  Here’s a link to the summer 2018 plan.  They have a sign with a QR code you can scan and download this PDF with the plant descriptions.

Orange flowers from HouseofIngrams.com
Firecracker Plant (Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade’) and Sweet Alyssum ‘Clear Crystal White’
Red Rubin basil and eggplant from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Red Rubin’ Basil and eggplant

I can’t tell which variety of eggplant this is.  There are two listed on their PDF.  One is ‘Barbarella’ and the other is ‘Galine’.  If I had to pick, I’d say this was Barbarella based on the leaf shape.

Daylily from HouseofIngrams.com
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Bright Sunset’
Decorative garden from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’ in the foreground, followed by Yaupon Holly ‘Micron’, Firecracker Plant ‘Orange Marmalade’ and Sweet Alyssum
Tomatoes in garden from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Better Bush’ tomatoes
Okra from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’
Caryopteris from HouseofIngrams.com
Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in front of Hardy Hibiscus ‘Crown Jewel’ with Purple Heart Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Go from HouseofIngrams.com
Columnar basil in back, Pesto Perpetuo, the GO is Ananthera ‘Snowball’ and foreground is White Cat Whiskers surrounded by trailing vinca Mediterranean White
pokes from HouseofIngrams.com
POKES is Alternanthera ‘Snowball’, Basil ‘Red Rubin’ behind and the low plant is sweet potato ‘Beauregard’.

 

If you are in Stillwater, take some time to visit the Price Family Garden and get some ideas.  My plant list is super long already!

 

 

Four O’Clocks

A flower that doesn’t open until late in the day might seem a little pointless, but the four o’clock (Mirablilis jalapa) is a nice addition to your flowerbeds.  When the flowers open in late afternoon you will notice a lovely fragrance, and the little flowers are worth the wait!  They originate from South America but grow well nearly everywhere.  They are perennial in warmer climates (7 and higher) and also reseed freely.

When I was a kid my mother grew four o’clocks in her east facing flowerbeds.  (Actually, she still does.)  They were all one color, kind of a fuschia purple, and the blooms closed during the day.  The bushes got huge over the course of the summer and would crowd out other plants in the process.  So I wasn’t really a fan of this particular plant.

Four o'clocks
The original color of our four o’clocks

Imagine my joy when after moving to this house I discovered the very same four o’clocks, same boring color and everything, all over the flowerbeds!  Squee.

Landscaping was not a priority for the first several years after we moved here, with small kids, homeschooling, and interior remodeling.  So I let the boring flowers go crazy.  They were flowers at least, and they were pretty tough (benign neglect, right?).

Finally, we got roses for the main bed, and I started taking a little more care with our landscape.  At this point, I was pulling hundreds of little four o’clock seedlings as they sprouted because this is a very floriferous plant, and each flower makes a black seed that looks like a tiny grenade.

Four o'clock seeds
Four o’clock seeds

I left some in the north end because it’s pretty shady and I hadn’t planned anything for that area yet.  These flowers do attract sphinx moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies, so that’s kind of cool, and I planned to keep a few plants even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the boring flowers.  But about four years ago something interesting happened…

Four o'clock yellow bloom
Four o’clock with yellow bloom!

One of the plants had some yellow flowers on the same plant with the fuschia flowers.  That was really neat!  The next year, more of the flowers were yellow or streaked.  This kept increasing, until last summer I had several different colors of four o’clocks.  I saved some seeds to give to friends; who knows what they will produce?

After some research, I found that this is not at all unusual with Mirabilis; the thing I don’t understand is why the different colors took so long to show.  Perhaps one of those nice moths brought pollen from different colored flowers and got us some genetic variation going.  Regardless, I no longer dislike the four o’clock flowers.  I will still judiciously pull hundreds of seedlings as they show up where I don’t want them, but I will be sure to leave several plants.  I can’t wait to see what they look like this summer!

If you decide to plant some four o’clocks, now is the time.  After danger of frost, plant the seeds in the garden and water regularly.  They prefer full sun (6 hours minimum).  I don’t fertilize, but some garden sites do recommend a little fertilizer.  They can get up to four feet high and wide–mine usually top out around three feet, but I don’t water as much as they would probably like and we have a lot of wind.   You can trim back if they get too enthusiastic.  They start blooming mid-summer and will go until frost.  The seeds are considered poisonous.  Most pests don’t seem to bother them, but in seriously bad summers, we have had grasshoppers eat some of the flowers and leaves.   Give them a try!

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Have you ever heard of the Great Backyard Bird Count?

GBBC 2018It’s February and almost time for the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count! This year it goes from February 16 through 19.  Started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audobon Society in 1998, this is a free four-day long event and anyone can participate.  You can count for as little as fifteen minutes or as long as you like, one day or all four.  This event helps scientists get a better idea of how bird populations are doing.  Last year (2017 GBBC) was the biggest ever with over 160,000 people participating!

To find out exactly how to participate, go to the GBBC website.  You will need to make an account if you haven’t already.  Here’s a link to an instructional PDF.  If you are a brand new user, they recommend registering at BirdCount.org.

Red Bellied Woodpecker on feeder

You can count birds in your own yard, a park, on roadsides, or anywhere.  The online report forms allow you to log the time and location.  There are lots of tips on counting and identifying birds on the website as well and many excellent bird photographs.  If you take some bird pictures you can submit those too.

You can start with a printed checklist or just use a notebook.  Note your date, time, and location.  I usually take a notebook and write in the birds I expect to find then use tally marks during the observation period.  If there are several birds of the same species, try to report the largest number you saw at one time, this way you won’t overcount.   If I get an unexpected bird I just write it in.  After I have completed all my viewing I log in and enter the data using their easy forms.

Cardinal

I have tried to participate a little bit every year but it’s been kind of hit and miss.  In my own backyard, we usually see lots of birds when it’s cold and nasty out, but when the GBBC rolls around we nearly always have nice warm weather and the birds don’t show up.  😀  I will give it a whirl anyway!

White Crowned Sparrow

If you really enjoy keeping track of bird sightings, on the eBird website you can log bird sightings year round and it will track all your data for you.  I haven’t logged in a while and have some serious updating to do…

Helpful bird identification tips can be found at eBird, along with bird data and news.  Audobon.org has news and photos.  Cornell’s website has an online searchable bird guide.  There are also mobile phone apps you can use.

This is an excellent opportunity to get your kids involved in citizen science, a process in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.  Anyone can “do science” this way; you don’t have to have a degree.  You could go on a field trip to a park and make a really fun day of it, and you might spot more than just birds!

Squirrel Talk

Are you planning to participate in the GBBC this year?  Let us know in the comments!