Friday, August 26, 2011

White squirrels

There are mostly typical Eastern gray squirrels (Sciuridae carolinensis) around town, but I have heard  about one particular neighborhood where white squirrels are more abundant.  While looking for water snakes at West Parish, I spotted this white squirrel darting about.  I had seen one on another occasion maybe two years ago about a mile from this location.  This squirrel was exceptionally skittish, so I never got close enough to tell if it had the pink or bluish eyes of a true albino or if its eyes were dark, an indication that it is a color variant of the gray squirrel.

In any case, white squirrels are always a treat to see. Somehow a white squirrel seems almost magical.  While looking up information about white squirrels, I was amused to see how many locations around the country like Brevard, NC "Home of the White Squirrel" and Olney, IL have populations of white squirrels that come complete with legends and theories. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

It's been 10 days since the caterpillars formed their green or brown pupae and the first round have emerged on time as beautiful Eastern black swallowtail butterflies (Papilo polyxenes).  The butterflies are velvety black with blue and yellow spots above and orange spots under the wings.  Male butterflies, like the one below, have a more prominent band of yellow spots.

This is a female butterfly, showing more blue color banding. 

Eastern swallowtail butterflies mimic the colors of the poisonous Pipevine swallowtail to avoid being eaten.  All the butterflies will be released after they emerge during the next week or so.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


A jagged ambush bug captures an unfortunate skipper during its visit to the flowers on a butterfly bush.  This small greenish bug hides underneath leaves and flowers, using its forelimbs to grab butterflies, bees and other insects when they land.

Emerging Cicadas

July and August mark the emergence of cicadas here in the northeast.  The nymphs have crawled onto trees, plants or in one case, the cover of our smoker, to hold fast and molt. 

This cicada was still resting on its shed skin.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillars - 2 weeks later

Two weeks have gone by and the tiny fuzzy black caterpillars have grown into chubby striped voracious eaters.  This one is the youngest and still has about a week of growing to do.

The caterpillar below has reached its maximum size of about 1.5 inches and should be pupating in the next day or so.

These side by side caterpillars show two variations in color.  The greener one is from my mom's garden.

The caterpillar below has just turned into a chrysalis.  When they are ready to pupate, the caterpillars begin to slow down and find an appropriate spot on a stick to adhere themselves.  The chrysalis is attached at one end and hangs by a couple of silken threads. 

Notice the caterpillar on the top left of this photo, showing its osmetrium, the orange "horns" which protrude and emit a foul odor when the catepillar feels threatened.

Here's another shot of the osmetrium.

In about 10 -14 days, we expect to release 15 black swallowtails.