Life Among the Rain Lilies

A centerpiece for nature’s table

Discovering one charming group of rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was immensely satisfying, but nature had another surprise in store: a second bouquet so beautifully arranged it might have been created by a professional florist.

After admiring the second clump of flowers, I turned my attention to  individual lilies scattered along the roadside, and found them teeming with life.  Emerging rain lily buds, elegant as the flowers themselves, played host to a number of tiny grasshopper nymphs who hugged the slender stems.

Among the blooms,  a dozen or more Lesser Meadow Katydid nymphs (genus Conocephalus ) roamed and nibbled.

Tempted by pollen and nectar, hoverflies joined the party.

Some insects secreted themselves within the flowers’ depths, closing the door behind them. Here, a spider or caterpillar might have been at work. Despite my curiosity, I chose to imagine a ‘Do Not Disturb” sign and moved on.

One camera-shy crab spider retreated beneath the petals so quickly I missed a clear image, but she’d found a beautiful place to await her prey. Rather than spinning a web, many of these spiders engage in lurking: snatching up unwary visitors seeking nectar or seeds.

Even a few minutes of roadside observation confirms an important truth: as much as we enjoy decorating our homes with flowers, innumerable creatures consider the flowers themselves to be their homes: places of shelter and sustenance. We’re lucky they’re willing to invite us in.

 

Comments always are welcome. Click on any image for more detail.

The Sign of the Butcher Bird

In early February, I happened upon a bird known as the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) sitting atop a windmill at the Brazoria Wildflife Refuge, scanning the land below for a tasty snack.

It intrigued me to learn that, although part of songbird family, shrikes behave more like raptors. Certain of their habits have earned them the nickname ‘Butcher Bird,’ and I included this brief description of their odd but effective practice in my post:

A sharp, falcon-like hook in their beak allows Shrikes to attack and capture prey, but they lack the talons and strong feet of hawks and owls. Unable to hold their prey while eating, as raptors do, Shrikes carry their meal to a thorn bush, cactus, or barbed wire fence, where they impale it in order to dine at leisure, or store it for later consumption. 

Had I found this beetle impaled on a barbed wire fence in late January, I never would have imagined it had been left there by a ‘butcher bird.’ Now, it seems reasonable to think that a Shrike had experienced a successful hunt and, true to its nature, had stored its prize on the fence surrounding a field of bluebonnets.

I passed by the same fence two days later, and the beetle was gone. I hope it wasn’t stolen from the bird who left it there.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sympathy for a Grasshopper

 

Even when my car’s covered in mud or dust — which happens frequently — I keep the windows clean: the better to see other drivers, as well as whatever might be blooming alongside the road.

Recently, another advantage of clean windows presented itself. While stopped at a traffic light in Fredericksburg, this little gem — a differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) — emerged from the security of its hidey-hole beneath the wipers and stared at me through the windshield.

When the light changed, I felt certain the grasshopper would fly off as I accelerated. Instead, it gripped the glass ever more tightly and stayed put: staring at me through ten, fifteen, and twenty-five miles per hour. By thirty-five, things were getting iffy, and finally, at forty-five, a look of what I imagined to be a combination of supplication and terror crossed the insect’s face.

I pulled over, captured this somewhat unusual view of the creature, and then stepped out of the car. Sensing its opportunity, the grasshopper flew off while I, in turn, returned to the car and drove off: happy for my own unusual opportunity.

 

Comments always are welcome.