Tête-à-Tête

Two Gray Hairstreaks sipping nectar from antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
(click image for greater clarity and detail)

 

One of the most common butterflies on the North American continent, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) also ranges into Central and northern South America.

In their book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten describe hairstreaks as “fast-flying butterflies that dart about so quickly and erratically that they are extremely difficult to follow.”  I’ve certainly been frustrated by that behavior, but this pair, intent on sips of nectar, were more than willing to tolerate my presence.

Found on a milkweed-covered  hillside along the west prong of the Medina River, very near The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, these hairstreaks were accompanied by Buckeye, Sulphur, and American Painted Lady butterflies: all enjoying the abundance of late spring flowers, and perfect flying conditions.

 

Comments always are welcome.

There’s No Place Like Home

Judged only by color, the small, snuffling creature making its way along the roadside east of Alamo Springs might have been taken for just another limestone rock. But rocks don’t have ears, or pointed snouts, and they certainly don’t dig into the dirt with the energy of a hyperactive toddler.

When the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is foraging, there isn’t much that distracts it, partly because of its poor eyesight. The animal relies on its ears and nose to detect food or predators, and it’s easier than you might think to walk up on one from behind. When it finally senses your presence, it often raises up on its haunches to evaluate the situation.

I was surprised that this one seemed content to keep foraging even after spotting me, rather than scurrying away into the brush. I was especially pleased to be able to see some of the hairs around its sides; they function much like whiskers on a cat, helping the poorly-sighted creature to find its way around.

For nearly twenty minutes it wandered the roadside, stopping occasionally to sniff or to dig.

Eventually, it stopped sniffing and crossed the road, moving so quickly I had a hard time keeping up.

All was well until it came to the fence. For nearly five minutes, it walked back and forth along the wire, stopping occasionally as though considering whether it would be worth digging its way to the other side.

Apparently, it decided digging would be too much trouble. In a flash, the athletic armadillo jumped straight into the air, propelling itself onto the fence wire.

Then, as gracefully as you please, it pushed off the wire and landed on the ground.

With what might have been a grin of self-satisfaction on its face, it trotted down the fence line until it came to a patch of clean, soft dirt.

Claws flying, it began creating and enlarging a hole until, finally, it slipped beneath the fence, and out of sight.

It seemed our beloved Texas icon — the state’s official small mammal and well-known Muse — had arrived safely at home, just like Gary P. Nunn at the end of his London trip. Whether it celebrated by writing a song, I can’t say.

 

“London Homesick Blues”  aka “Home With the Armadillo”

 

Comments always are welcome.
For some interesting Texas armadillo history, visit “Armadillo Whispers” at The Task at Hand.

A Different Amarillo

 Mexican water lily ~ Nymphaea mexicana

 

Texas is home to four native species of water lily. Nymphaea ampla, though common in Mexico and the Caribbean, is quite rare, while N. odorata, a white lily that floats on the water’s surface, and N. elegans, the so-called blue water lily, are relatively common.

Our fourth lily is uncommon enough that I’d never seen one until I discovered a pair blooming in a pond at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. The Spanish name for Nymphaea mexicana — lampazo amarillo, or yellow water lily — brings to mind the well-known Texas city. According to the Texas State Historical Association:

The settlement was originally called Oneida but was by majority consent renamed Amarillo after the nearby lake and creek. These natural features had been named by New Mexican traders and pastores, probably for the yellow soil along the creek banks or the yellow wildflowers that were abundant during the spring and summer.
Charles F. Rudolph, editor of the Tascosa Pioneer, blamed the [Fort Worth and Denver City Railway] employees for ignoring the word’s Spanish pronunciation; in 1888 he prophetically stated, “Never again will it be Ah-mah-ree-yoh.” Most of the town’s first houses were painted yellow in commemoration of the name change.

Unfortunately, when the Texas Legislature designated an official state water lily in 2011, it chose a cross between Nymphaea mexicana and another cultivar known as Nymphaea ‘Pink Starlet’ rather than one of our natives. Nymphaea ‘Texas Dawn,’ created by Ken Landon in 1985, is a lovely flower, but like the designation of the crape myrtle as our official state shrub, its selection clearly was influenced by factors other than its inherent beauty.

No matter. Lampazo amarillo will be blooming by morning, and it’s that amarillo that’s on my mind.

 

Comments always are welcome.