The Monarch Butterfly: Emerging from Its Chrysalis

One evening years ago, I saw that a monarch chrysalis was changing color, a sign that the adult butterfly was soon to emerge. I set up my tripod and camera in our garage and waited... and waited... and waited. At midnight, it seemed that the adult butterfly was definitely on the way. I waited some more. Then it was almost 2:00 a.m. in the morning. I would have been willing to stay up all night, but unfortunately I had to teach a class early the next morning and I knew that I just couldn't stay up. Of course, the next morning, there was the beautiful monarch butterfly drying her wings.

Continue reading: See a video of a monarch emerging from its chrysalis

The Lawn Paradox: The Opposite of Green Living

The “Lawn”This is the sterile environment that existed in 2002 when we moved into the house.

We live on a street in a rural community which probably resembles most towns in the United States where most of the yards resemble square patches of solid green grass with not much else, not even trees. On the weekends and in the cool of the evenings or mornings, the homeowners or their gardeners venture out with their noisy beasts that belch fumes of gas to spend their precious time to mow their expanse of grass.

When giving directions to our house, we tell visitors, “Just look for the only house with trees in its yard.” I know that our neighbors look at our yard full of weeds and unruly shrubs with disbelief, thinking why don’t we “clean up” our messy yard. Instead of having to mow several times a week, we only have to mow occasionally. We use our gained time to enjoy observing nature in our own yard. Every time we go outside, we see hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other insects foraging on the native species that we allow to exist. It is rare that we don't see something interesting in our yard when we go outside. In fact, many of the photos on this website were taken in our back yard.

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Wild ColumbineAquilegia canadensis
This Wild Columbine is lit by some dappled sunlight.
Skirting the rocks at the forest edge
With a running flame from ledge to ledge,
Or swaying deeper in shadowy glooms,
A smoldering fire in her dusky blooms;
Bronzed and molded by wind and sun,
Maddening, gladdening every one
With a gypsy beauty full and fine,
A health to the crimson columbine!
Elaine Goodale (Mrs. Charles A. Eastman) (1863-1953)

Grasshoppers of Florida

Grasshoppers of Florida
Grasshoppers of Florida
by John L Capinera, Clay Whitney Scherer,
and Jason Squitier
University Press of Florida, 2002
ISBN 0813024269

It is a pleasure to see a book finally coming out that deals with one of the more commonly seen group of insects in Florida–the grasshoppers. In the past, there was no way to identify those species that one would encounter hopping and jumping about without delving into more technical literature.

Authors John l. Capinera, Clay Whitney Scherer and Jason Squitier do not cover all the grasshopper species found in the state, but do describe seventy of the more common species of the family Acrididae. All species are thoroughly described for both males and females, and include accurate photographs and illustrations. Each species is compared with similar look-a-likes and range maps show the distribution throughout the state. Twenty-two species are found only in Florida or adjacent states and the remaining forty-eight are distributed in the Southeast and further north.

A checklist for all species is provided in this flexicover volume.

Anyone, amateur or scientist, who aspires to be an entomologist will enjoy the utility of the Grasshoppers of Florida.

The Praying Mantis and the Gulf Fritillary

Praying Mantis eating Gulf FritillaryStagmomantis carolina
We witnessed this Carolina Mantis capture this unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary when it went to nectar on the pickerelweed.

We were walking along a trail with our friends and had stopped to admire a nice batch of pickerelweed that was growing in the water near a small wooden bridge on a trail. We were enjoying and photographing the many butterflies that were nectaring on the pickerelweed. Then I looked down into the water and say many butterfly wings floating on its surface. I knew then that a praying mantis had to be nearby.

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Wildflowers of Georgia

Wildflowers of Georgia
Wildflowers of Georgia
by Hugh Nourse and Carol Nourse
University of Georgia Press, 2000
ISBN 0820321796

Having made my first trek to the mountains of Georgia in the springtime of 2000, I understood why the authors enjoyed the eight years that they photographed Georgia’s splendid wildflowers.

They divide the coverage of this large-format volume into four regions of the state from the coastal plain to the Blue Ridge mountains. Within each region, physiographic characteristics and floral diversity are emphasized. Photographs of 85 plants and habitats are intertwined with these discussions. The authors discuss parks, trails, and areas where one can enjoy numerous wildflower species during their blooming season.

This book is not a systematic treatment with taxonomic keys and illustrations. For those interested in such treatments, there is a reference book list at the end of the book. It is a wonderful guide to the true beauty conveyed by wildflowers. Each of us must do our part to inspire others to help protect the wildflowers of Georgia and elsewhere, especially those endangered by loss of habitat. I think the Nourses have succeeded in inspiring readers of this book to become more aware of Georgia’s natural heritage. Let us hope that each of us can strive to preserve this state’s disappearing wildlands.

La Florida: Florida's Floral Rarities

The Nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value. Theodore Roosevelt

Many of these rare plant species are found only in a few locales within the state, and some populations occur only in one location in a specific habitat. These habitats include forested uplands, wetlands, coastal, sand dunes, scrub, beach margins, savannahs, sandhills, and rocklands. Once a natural habitat is altered, native species may not be able to compete and survive with other weedier species that can quickly invade these now disturbed sites. Every year more and more natural habitats are lost to development, storms, and other natural disasters. Certain populations of plants can therefore be permanently destroyed. Some plants have even lost their natural pollinators, and populations of plants have diminished to such small numbers that they cannot reproduce in the wild.

We, as concerned professionals and amateurs, should support the preservation and conservation of native habitats and be more vigilant to what rare flora that may naturally occur around us. With such vigilance we can insure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience some of Florida’s rare flora that has existed prior to our births.

For more information about rare plants and conservation programs, visit these websites:

In Search of the Many-Flowered Grasspink Orchid

Many-flowered Grasspink Orchids

Very few people get to see the Many-flowered Grasspink Orchid (Calopogon multiflorus). This orchid appears only in very recently burned areas and blooms for just a few days. Until this year, my wife Marcia and I had only seen one batch of these beautiful orchids once before in central Florida, thanks to orchid expert Paul Martin Brown.

Earlier this summer, a friend of ours and another naturalist were actively searching recently burned areas in the Apalachicola National Forest looking for these elusive orchids. One morning, we received a call from our friend letting us know that they had found a few plants.

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Rose Trees and Pinxterblooms

Chapman's RhododendronRhododendron minus var. chapmanii

Springtime is always a wonderful time to visit your local botanical garden, park, or arboretum. While there may be an unending succession of blooming flowers in the spring, it is almost a ritual in some areas to visit the gardens when the azaleas are blooming. Possibly the most renowned azalea gardens are found on the plantations surrounding Charleston, South Carolina. After enjoying the azalea spectacle at Middleton Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Cypress Gardens, many of the crowds proceed to Summerville, a town just outside of Charleston, where my parents lived. For one or two weeks each year, this small town swells in size as thousands of people come from all over the United States to see the azaleas that grace the old houses and gardens of "Flower Town."

Today azaleas figure prominently in the landscapes of gardens throughout the United States. A walkway in the Arboretum at the University of Washington in Seattle meanders through a breathtaking collection of red, pink, and white azaleas. Our National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., has a glorious hillside covered by azaleas. While the relentless heat of central and south Florida's long hot summers precludes the inclusion of azaleas in most people's yards, they are still a crowd-pleaser in many of Florida's public gardens. Bok Tower, Cypress Gardens, and Maclay Gardens are just some of Florida's gardens which have imposing plantings of azaleas.

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In Pursuit of the Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle

My wife Marcia and I were hiking at Torreya State Park near the Apalachicola River when I saw bright glints of green in bare patches of dirt on the trail. Upon closer examination, I saw that they were Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata).

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

As always, I had my camera with me and I set out to photograph this beautiful metallic green beetle. Unfortunately for me, the beetles had no interest in posing for a portrait. On my knees, I would follow a likely beetle, prepare to focus, and then, just as I would get ready to click the shutter, the uncooperative insect would spurt off on a short flight before landing again at a distance just out of range of the lens. I would faithfully follow the beetle to its new landing site to try again. Of course, every time I almost reached the landing zone, off would go the beetle on its next flight. The flights were interspersed with short sprints as it searched for its prey which includes small insects and spiders.

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