Here Comes Summer!

 

It’s sometimes frustrating, but true: none of us can be in more than one place at a time. This past weekend I discovered that, while I was prowling our Piney Woods looking for orchids and other east Texas delights, the prairies have been busy exchanging spring for summer.

Heading west rather than east, I found sunflowers, bee balm, and prairie parsley in full flower, while bee blossom (Gaura lindheimeri), snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata), and an assortment of morning glories  and mallows are beginning to appear.

A few of our so-called Texas bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum) now are blooming in both the San Bernard and Brazoria Wildlife Refuges. Also known as prairie gentian, the flowers generally are purple or lavender, although small colonies of white ones exist both on Galveston Island and in the Brazoria refuge.

Masses of blooms appear to be a week or two down the road, but I’m more than willing to wait for the chance to enjoy this favorite flower.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Off With the Old, On With the New

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) in the process of shedding its skin

Fallen needles from longleaf pines and fresh, recently unfurled ferns were the order of the day: a pleasing palette of brown and green. When the unexpected flash of white caught my attention, I wondered if I were seeing trash: an odd experience in a place where signs of human presence usually are limited to stretches of repaired boardwalk or botanical research markers.

In fact, I had spotted trash, but of a very natural sort. A green anole, one of our most common lizards, was in the process of shedding its skin. The process, known as ‘ecdysis,’ differs from reptile to reptile. Snakes leave their skin in one piece; turtles shed the scutes that comprise their shell individually; alligators lose their large scales one at a time; but lizards, including the green anole, peel away old skin in sections.

Prior to shedding, anoles become less active and change their color to a dull brown, making the pattern along their spines easier to see.

As the shedding process progresses, anoles need moisture to keep the dead skin from drying too quickly and adhering to their bodies. Areas like the tips of the toes can be especially problematic. If that skin fails to shed along with that on the rest of the foot, the remaining skin may shrink, causing constricted blood flow and toe loss. For this anole, the same humidity that I found annoying was a real benefit.

Most anoles stop eating while they shed, or cut back on their diet substantially. But the process takes energy, and a little snack never hurts; for the anole, the snack closest at hand is its own skin.

Filled with vitamins and minerals, the shed skin helps to reactivate the digestive system, provides nutrients, and also reduces the possibility that bits of leftover skin might alert a predator to the anole’s presence.

I thought at first that this one was using its mouth solely as a handy tool for skin removal, but I soon realized that those bits of skin weren’t being allowed to fall into the ferns or onto the ground.

While I watched, the creature tugged, nibbled, and gnawed its way through nearly all the skin on its body, leaving only its tail and toes to be tended to.

By the time it had finished consuming the last large bits of skin, it was ready to move deeper into the ferns: presumably to finish cleaning its tail and toes before the Saturday night social began.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Damsel, But No Distress

Powdered dancer  ~ Argia moesta
(Click image for more detail)

 

This delicate damselfly — a female — greeted me along the River Road between Kerrville and Center point last June after I stopped to photograph a few skeleton plants that had caught my eye.

In this case, color provided an easy key to identification. Powdered dancer males show a whitish head and thorax, but females are much more colorful: sometimes a greenish-brown, and sometimes this lovely blue.

A key to distinguishing females of this species from the blue-fronted dancer also is color: female powdered dancers exhibit lighter coloration atop their abdomens, rather than black. In addition, female powdered dancers have two cells below the stigma (the small, colored area on the wing), while a blue-fronted dancer has only one.

I remember this day as sunny, but it must have been warm, as well, since an interesting feature of this species is that blue forms become gray when temperatures are cool.

 

Comments always are welcome.