Wildlife Great and Small

Below are a variety of creatures that can be found in our area.   If there's a native you find fascinating, especially if you have a photo, please send us a post and we'll add it here.  Email merikays@verizon.net


Hickory Horned Devil

Earth steward Taylor Knight photographed this hickory horned devil on Van Deventer Island in the Potomac.  This gorgeous caterpillar can be found throughout our region, generally as it drops to the ground looking for a place to pupate.  It is one of the largest native caterpillars -- can get as big as a hot dog!  Not surprisingly, it becomes a very large moth -- the regal moth with up to a 6 inch wing span.  Native trees are its food source:  walnut, hickory, persimmon and others.  


Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern box turtle were once very commonly found throughout our region.  Near the University of Delaware is a 40 acre woodlot which has been left undeveloped and undisturbed.  In 1968 a biologist surveyed the woodlot and found 91 eastern box turtles.  Using the same technique, subsequent counts have followed the population with 22 turtles in 2002 and only 12 in 2012.  Dr. Tallamy of UD projects that there will be none left at the next counting.  If that is the fate in a contiguous 40 "natural" acres, it is possible to project decreased numbers in areas with habitat fragmentation, roads, lawns, and development.  Female turtles need areas in which to lay eggs -- turf grass areas will not do.  

After hearing a talk by Dr. Tallamy I replaced large areas of our lawn with areas planted in native trees, shrubs and perennials.  Within a few years I found turtles nesting in my garden!  I don't see the turtles often, but occasionally as I'm in the garden I will see one slipping back under plant cover.   I sometimes see them at my garden pond.  Sadly, as is too often the case I found one crushed by a vehicle on the road near our house.  I don't know what the fate will be for the eastern box turtle, but this is one example of how our landscaping choices can make a difference.  With so much working against their survival, it seems the least we can do is replace lawns with habitat that offers the possibility of creating new generations. -- Merikay

Real Eastern box turtle at Merikay's garden pond near plastic alligator friend.

Real Eastern box turtle at Merikay's garden pond near plastic alligator friend.


Blue Dasher Dragonfly

Common through out the United States and up into Southern Canada, these brilliant dragonflies can be spotted by ponds, lakes, marshes, and bogs. Larvae are very tolerant of wetlands with poor water quality and low dissolved-oxygen levels. Males are a brilliant blue as pictured. Females are more yellow brown.   I was able to watch a female visit the pond and lay eggs on the lily pads.  Photo below by Terri Pitts, local Master Gardener.


Our Native Bees

I love watching the native bees in my garden (click to advance photos above).  Spend a bit of time outside and see how many different bees you can find.  Take this challenge, find 5 different species of native bees in your garden or neighborhood.  If you want, send us a photo.

There are 4,000 species of native North American bees from tiny Perdita to large carpenter bees: all pollinator flowers, especially native flowers.  The European honey bee, remarkable as it is, doesn’t know how to pollinate a tomato, pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries or an eggplant flower, while some native bees are masters at this. 

Native bees come in a wide range of sizes,shapes, life styles, places they frequent, nests they build, flowers they visit and season of activity.  For instance, the Southeastern blueberry bee is capable of visiting as many as 50,000 blueberry flowers in her short life.

Bees are descended from wasps. Most wasps are carnivores.  Millions of years ago, when the first flowering plants began to bloom, some wasps made a switch from hunting prey to gathering pollen for their brood. Gathering pollen and nectar requires certain adaptations different from those of hunters; so they started to change to meet these requirements and consequently became bees.  

Many of our native bees are ground nesters. They choose a bare spot, with sunshine and start digging. They build a long tunnel slightly wider than their own bodies. Some don’t want any neighbors around; others prefer the company of their own sisters.  They are solitary in the sense that each digs her own nest and takes care of her own brood all by herself. Others show different levels of cooperation, sharing the tasks of nest building and food provisioning.  At the end of the tunnel the mother bee builds a chamber a little wider; this will be the nursery for just one bee. She fills it up with enough food for one bee to grow from egg to full size. There she lays an egg and seals the chamber. She will add other branches to the tunnel; at the end of each there will be another cell or chamber properly stocked and with an egg.

Some bees take advantage of already existing holes -- hollow stems or holes made by beetles or others in trees. There, they construct chambers, usually lined up in a row, which they stock one by one to serve as nurseries.  Native mason bees are hole nesters who use clay to build walls between cells and to seal the entrance. Leafcutters cut round pieces of leaves for the same purpose and also to line the inner walls of the tube. 

 (Above is a summary from bugguide.net )

An excellent book on our native bees recommended by the Xerces Society ( xerces.org ) is The Bees in Your Backyard:  A Guide To North America's Bees by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril (Princeton, 2015).  Below are some native bees in Merikay's garden.