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Garden Workday Findings by Texas Master Naturalist Caleb Hinojos

Welcome back everyone! This past workday was a fantastic time to pick up some rays of sun as well as a hand tool. Thanks to Debra’s initiative there was some good work accomplished in the garden. Not only was some more mint removed, but lantanas were placed into their new homes and a certain section of soil improved its ability to drain with a helping hand from some sand. Unfortunately, I can take no credit for any of this, but I was able to get some really cool photos of what is happening around the garden. Hopefully you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them.

Figure 1: Venus’ Looking Glass near the edge of the garden closest to the river.

Upon walking up to the garden what captured my attention was the lack of White Clover. Last month it was in full bloom but this time it had almost fully disappeared. Obviously, this is just the cycle of life occurring at its common rate, but those non-native plants really do help to bring in the pollinators by giving them supporting islands which funnel them to our project. The Dwarf Sorrel Broomrape had all but disappeared as well, but another really cool purple flowering plant had joined the party, Venus’ Looking Glass (figure1). This flower is in the genus Triodanis, and they can be found throughout much of the United States east of the Great Plains, but there are populations that are sporadically found throughout the country.

Figure 2: Inside the red ring is a group of eggs and a single caterpillar.

Another flower which has a wide range throughout the U.S. was definitely the star of the garden on Sunday. The Pinkladies were in full bloom and both humans and animals alike wanted to come see. One of the original flowers that I took notice of had a weird pattern to it, but it wasn't on the plant. It was what was left of the plant. When I took the photo, I didn’t think much more about it than something was definitely hungry, but when I got home and really zoomed in, I found someone who was definitely a suspect. Although I do not know the species, it was fun to find something in the shot. Apart from these caterpillars were also two types of really cool beetles. Figure 3 displays a Convergent Lady Beetle while Figure 4 shows a Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Figure 3: Hippodamia convergens

Figure 4: Diabrotica undecimpunctata

Figure 5: Euodynerus pratensis on Yarrow.

There are two six-legged patrons of the garden which can often get overlooked. These are wasps and dragonflies. Not only can they intimidate certain folks, but their seemingly constant movement throughout a space can make them run your patience up when it comes to catching a good glance. I was fortunate enough to get a shot of each. Let’s begin by looking at a wasp which falls in the group known as Potter or Mason Wasps. This group of wasps got their name from the way the adults build homes for their larvae. After laying eggs they begin to encase them with a dirt mound. But before fully enclosing the nest they place food inside of it. This is to allow their young to have food to eat as they grow through their larval stage. Now although they look quite aggressive their demeanor is actually quite passive. Although they do have a stinger, it is unusual for them to do this in a form of aggression. This sting is utilized to subdue prey so it can be placed inside of the dirt mound where they laid their eggs. Once the larvae hatch, they will consume the creature. To waste that precious venom on something as big as a human can have huge potential impacts.

As mentioned, it’s time to take a look at the dragonfly. Unlike the avoidant nature of the Potter Wasp, this insect is a voracious hunter from the time it hatches. Believe it or not it was the larvae that helped to inspire the alien from the popular franchise by Ridley Scott. They are aquatic at this stage, and for quite some time. Some species are known to exist for up to three years. Because of this they have developed a really interesting jaw which springs out from there underside to snatch passing prey. Once caught, it begins to get consumed alive! I won’t post any of that here, but it is worth a look up on the internet. After this stage of their life is over, they will emerge from the water and take on the shape that we most associate with them. These aerial predators are just as aggressive.

Figure 6: Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis The abdomen eventually becomes a powdery blue.

Although I could continue to write for many hours about the interesting things that were found in the garden I must refrain. Not only will this go on forever, but I have to save some special content for future entries. That being said, I will feature one more creature which was enjoying its time on one of the Pinkladies. Figure 7 displays an insect which belongs to a group of animals which are related to both crickets and grasshoppers, but do not look too much like them as adults. These are the Katydids. The one shown is young, but as they age many of them begin to take on a shape which is more similar to that of a leaf. Notice how the antennae are longer than the body itself. This is one characteristic that all Katydids share. Another interesting aspect of these creatures is that although they eat vegetation, they have also been known to be cannibals.

Figure 7: Katydid.

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