Eyed elater

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This evening, as I was walking around the garden to see what I could see, I found one of my favorite North Carolina beetles.  This is Alaus oculatus, the eyed elater or eastern eyed click beetle.

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Click beetles are named for their defense mechanism:  a hinge in the thorax can be flexed rapidly,  propelling the insect high into the air with a loud click.  The smaller species are often quick to click, and it is always amusing to watch one jump and spin across the floor away from a bemused cat.

A. oculatus is the largest North American click beetle, and in my experience they rarely click unless seriously harassed.  When prodded, they seem to prefer folding in their legs and antennae to present a would-be predator with a hard carapace topped with those two threatening eye spots.  Perhaps the elongated body with disproportionately large “eyes” resembles the head of snake.

I sometimes stumble across the larvae of A. oculatus when investigating rotten logs for interesting fauna.  They are predators of other beetle grubs and look a bit like large flattened mealworms with menacing pincers.

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Spring

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Oh carpenter bees, you’re so cute and fuzzy.  Why must you drill holes in every exposed piece of wood on our house?

Caterpillars

Some recent sightings…

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Tobacco hornworm, the caterpillar of the Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta)

Eldest offspring’s jalapeño plant was growing well and producing plenty of peppers until this big fellow showed up.  Hornworms feed on a wide variety of solanaceous plants, so I’m keeping a close eye on my Brugmansia and tomato plants.  On occasion, while prowling the garden at night with a headlamp, I have found adult moths visiting nocturnally fragrant Lilium formosanum and Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’ flowers.

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Greater canna leaf roller, the caterpillar of the Brazilian skipper butterfly (Calpodes ethlius)

About a week ago, I noticed that something was cutting flaps in the leaves of my canna plants and stitching them shut with silk.  Peeling the flaps open revealed the caterpillars of the Brazilian skipper.  In late summer, my cannas are often infested with lesser canna leaf rollers (caterpillars of a nondescript moth, Geshna cannalis), but this is the first time I have seen greater leaf rollers.  Brazilian skippers are tropical butterflies that sometimes stray to the NC piedmont,usually in late summer.

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Fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) eating sweetgum leaves

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Unlike the greater canna leaf rollers, fall webworms are a familar late summer sight in my garden.  They feed on a wide variety of hardwoods.  This year, they’re on sweetgum and possumhaw.  In previous years, I have found them on sourwood, black cherry, and American persimmon.

Mole cricket

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While driving down our lane, I noticed a large, dark insect scuttling across the dusty gravel.  It proved to be a mole cricket.  As a child, I used to catch mole crickets in our garden in southwestern Iran, but I haven’t seen one in decades.  This was like meeting an old friend.

There are several mole cricket species in the southeastern U.S., including some introduced species that are agricultural pests.  I think this may be the native Neocurtilla hexadactyla (northern mole cricket), but I let it go instead of collecting it for definitive identification.

Six on Saturday #31, June 16, 2018

This week has been a mixed bag in the garden–some things were good, some not so good.  Let’s start with the not-so-good.

1. Fallen sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)

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A storm on Tuesday brought down a fairly large sourwood tree.  It skimmed a bluebird feeder but landed across our row of thornless blackberries.  The blackberries were supported by two strands of wire strung between to 4×4″ posts.  The wire held.  One of the posts snapped.  This afternoon, I’ll haul out the chain saw and cut up the trunk for firewood, but it’s going to be a pain in the neck digging out the snapped post to replace it.

Update:  the tree fell, because the center of its trunk was rotten and inhabited by an enormous nest of enormous carpenter ants who were not thrilled to have a chainsaw bisecting their home.  Run away!  Run Away!

2.  Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) on pink banana (Musa velutina)

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The Japanese beetles have started their annual rampage through the soft-leaved plants in the garden.  Spraying with insecticides is contraindicated when the beetles are eating flowers that attract other insects or are on plants that we want to eat, so we wander around the garden knocking them off into a bucket of soapy water.  I’m not sure if it does much to control their population, but it satisfies the need for revenge.

3.  Tigridia pavonia

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Finally, I have a Tigridia pavonia that blooms red.  Tigridia corms are readily available in the spring, but only in packs of mixed colors.  For the last couple of years, my plants have all bloomed in shades of yellow, but this year, I got a batch that contained at least one red-flowering plant.  I had expected to treat Tigridias as annuals, but it turns out that they are fully hardy in my garden, despite cold, wet winter and heavy clay soil.

4. Fasciated Lilium formosanum

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Fasciation, or cresting, is a rare developmental abnormality resulting from overgrowth of meristem tissue.  In this Lilium formosanum, the normally cylindrical stem has turned into a flattened plate with many more (though smaller) leaves than usual.

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Most sources say that fasciation in lilies is usually a one-time event, with the bulb producing normal growth the next year.  This bulb was also fasciated last year, although the effect was less extreme.  It will be interesting to see if this is a permanent, stable condition.

Also, note the stems of the ubiquitous, weedy creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula).

5. Lilium ‘African Queen’

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First bloom for a bulb that I planted last autumn.  Flowers are nice, but the stem is floppy.  Hopefully the plant is still getting established and will improve in future years.

6.  African baobab (Adansonia digitata) seedlings

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I ran across some baobab seeds that I had forgotten about on a high shelf for the past fifteen years.  I guess they’re still viable.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with tropical trees that have the potential to grow to the diameter of a small house and live for thousands of years, but the internet suggests they are reasonable candidates for tropical bonsai.

That’s all for this Saturday.  For more Six on Saturday contributions from garden bloggers around the world, head on over to the Propagator.