I found this beautiful caterpillar crossing a path on Thursday. It’s the larva of the ilia underwing moth (Catocala ilia), and it would be well camouflaged on patches of lichen that sometimes decorate the bark of the oak trees on which it feeds. Supposedly, the caterpillars of C. ilia come in two color forms, this lichen-mimic form and a second form that is mottled brown to match the bark of oak trees. However, the only pictures I can find online are of the lichen mimic, probably because it looks cool.
This isn’t a very good photo, but I am very excited to have finally found a pseudoscorpion, thirty or more years after I first read about them. Pseudoscorpions are arachnids, like spiders and true scorpions, and they are found in a wide variety of habitats worldwide–including at least one species that likes to inhabit old books, where it feeds on booklice. They are part of the complex world of tiny animals that fills every garden but is largely unseen, even by the most observant gardeners.
The largest pseudoscorpion species is only about a centimeter long, and most of the 3000+ species are only a few millimeters long. Unlike true scorpions, they lack a tail with venomous stinger, and instead they have venom glands connected to their pincers. But don’t fear; the venom is only a cause for concern if you are a tiny creature like a mite or a springtail that the pseudoscorpion might like to eat.
I found this pseudoscorpion while I was hammering wooden plugs inoculated with shiitake mycelia into some fresh oak logs to expand my mushroom garden. I suddenly noticed a tiny creature scurrying across the bark near my mallet. At first glance, I wondered if it might be a newly hatched tick, but its movement didn’t seem quite right. As soon as I looked a little more closely, I knew exactly what it must be. Unfortunately, it is right at the edge of my camera’s focusing ability, but I’m glad to have some sort of permanent record even if it is a but blurry. Maybe I should get one of those little macro lenses for my iphone, in case I find another one in the next thirty years.
Six on Saturday today is another garden project. This one adds wildlife habitat to your garden and provides the opportunity to see animals that are usually hidden from view.
1. Cover boards
A cover board is exactly what it sounds like: a wooden board or piece of sheet metal that is placed on the ground to provide habitat for small animals. They’re often used by herpetologists to attract reptiles and amphibians, but they also attract insects, spiders, and small mammals.
This past spring, the kids and I placed three cover boards–two wooden boards and one piece of corrugated metal siding–in likely spots around our property. Over the summer and autumn, we have checked the boards once every two weeks, which we think is a decent compromise between checking so often that animals are frightened away, and checking so infrequently that we miss things.
If you live in a place with venomous snakes, it’s a good idea to use a rake or snake hook to lift cover boards. Pull the board towards you, so that you will have the upright board between you and any disturbed snakes. If you find a small animal, take a few pictures and then carefully lower the cover board again. Gently move the little creature to one side first, and let it crawl back underneath after you have lowered the board. You don’t want to find its squashed corpse the next time you lift the board Wait a reasonable amount of time and then repeat. That’s all there is to it
The rest of my photos today are animals that we found under the boards.
The first time we looked under the boards, we found a pair of eastern narrowmouth toads. These guys spend most of their lives hidden, and I have only seen a handful in the past twenty years. I previously posted about this species here.
I almost stepped on this pair of copperheads when I went to feed the chickens on Thursday morning. Luckily, they were so focused on each other, they didn’t even flinch when I did a sort of skip-hop over their heads.
Based on their patterns, these are not the same two that my wife found last week. Apparently, our garden is serving as some sort of copperhead love hotel.
My wife thought she had found one very long copperhead when she went out to water her kale seedlings, but it turned out to be an amorous pair. According to Reptiles of North Carolina by Palmer and Braswell (University of North Carolina Press), copperheads have been found mating in April and September, so this seems quite late in the year.