Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Life in the Raw

Saturday afternoon we visited some friends who own 140+ acres in nearby Shelby County, KY. Portia is a natural plant landscaper, and President of the local chapter of Wild Ones, while her husband is part of the Louisville Metro Parks system- both real nature professionals. Although they reside in a house in town, they live at this property, and I can certainly see why. They have planted much of it in native grasses and wildflowers, along with frog ponds and wetlands. The rest is moist forest, perfect habitat for Barred Owls and Red Shouldered Hawks. We walked and drove around for hours having a wonderful time. Portia blithely rattled off the Latin names for every plant we passed, and I couldn't remember even half of the English versions I pressed her for, but she was patient with me nonetheless.
Insects, of course, play a vital part in this ecology, with bees, dragonflies and butterflies of many varieties flitting about. The bees are particularly hard workers, as evidenced by the gigantic pollen saddlebags on this guy, err girl.
Jerry mentioned something about giant bee killing insects, when we came upon this dramatic scene. Since this predator was concentrating on dinner, it paid us no attention. The meal wiggled her legs a bit, but had no chance of escape. I'm glad I couldn't hear her screaming.
I looked for this insect under wasps or hornets with no luck. Tavia thought it might be a fly instead, and we found the ID there -- a Robber Fly (efferia). It's about 2" long, and definitely a killer. I don't know what robbery might have been going on here, but it changed into felony murder, if not premeditated murder pretty quickly. Today Portia emailed me, "Sunday morning we discovered a mating pair right where we had set up to work on the roof; still attached they flew away just long enough for Jerry to ascend their special rung on the ladder. Later in the day we discovered a single bee killer/robber fly on the sidewalk a few feet away. A group of ants were devouring the fly for dinner. So I guess what goes around comes around again."
Even when the sun set peacefully, we knew that Nature would proceed during the night as it had all day long, with each creature finding and consuming the food it needed. Life in the raw...
It's Tuesday, and I spent the day at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, as usual. We needed some new photos, so I hiked around for about and hour and a half. I saw a bird atop one of the Bluebird boxes, and from a distance thought it was a fledgling Bluebird. As I approached, it turned out to be an adult male Bluebird that was BALD! I've seen this condition in other wild birds, and heard that it was feather mites. Poor guy! I hope he can make it till winter and the mites will die then. I am concerned though, since there are newly hatched babies in this box. Katdoc sent this link http://www.hiltonpond.org/ThisWeek030701.html to an article by Bill Hilton about bird mites like this.
Tavia replanted a big meadow with native flowers and grasses last year, but evil Johnson Grass has taken over much of the area. She mowed it all down again, and may have to reseed. One flower variety is new to me though, and I hope it survives. This is a Passion Flower. Not like True Love, but as in religious Passion. To the priests traveling with Spanish Conquistadors, the 3 styles and stigmas in the center represented nails, the 5 stamens beneath them were Christ's wounds, the fringe was the crown of thorns, and the 10 petals and sepals behind the fringe were the apostles, except for Judas and Peter.** Whew! That's a lot to read into one flower!
It is a vine, and host plant for the Gulf and Variegated Fritillary butterflies. Medicinal use of this herb began in the late 19th century in the United States, especially for treatment of anxiety resulting from mental worry or overwork. I'd say many people need to grow this one in their gardens! The fruit is edible, Tavia says, but this one isn't ripe yet. It's not what you know, it's who you know!

**Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians, co-authored by Tavia Cathcart. It's so fun know a real author!

1 comment:

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Nice stuff and I just got some Robber Flies as well, did some last year on here and they are quite interesting too. Love your wildflowers with bees~