Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Nature Of Things

There's a lot of new and interesting things about nature to learn here in Texas.

The Live Oaks are covered with Ball Moss. You can see them hanging from the undersides of the branches in the picture. I'm told that Ball Moss is an invasive plant, and has not always been in central Texas. The moss is covered with long stems and buds that look like they might produce a bloom. Having gotten the buds to open, I found they put out a fine sheet of fluff that easily flies high in a breeze and would stick to anything. No wonder the trees are loaded with them!

This is an interesting sight that I've only seen on nature shows. This is the steep funnel of an Ant Lion larva. Roy says the funnel is built with the steepest grade it can have without caving in. Along comes an ant who slides with the sand down the funnel into the mouth of the larva's waiting jaws. Yikes, what a way to go. I don't know if they would pinch us, but I don't plan to stick a finger in the hole to find out!

The scary looking larva is actually only about 1/4 inch in length. The flying creature is an adult Ant Lion.

Armadillos: You know those interesting and kind of cute animals associated with Texas. Not so cute when you see the damage they can do to new sod in one night!!! We learned an interesting fact from a local. We were told that Armadillos carry the bacteria that causes Leprosy. I checked this out on the Internet and found it to be true. The article I read said that 95% of people now have a natural immunity to Leprosy, and it is treatable for those that get the disease, but it makes me think it's best not to be touching an Armadillo without gloves.

Fields of cactus: Best to keep your dog on a leash until you've walked the property checking for cacti.

Here's a closer look at a Prickly Pear Cactus. Odie met this one personally! They must smell like Catnip, as I've had to be vigilant to keep him away from them. One moments inattention and he got a needle in the end of his nose, and two more in his lip. I was just praying he didn't fall down before I could grab him! Whew, avoided that disaster, and he seemed okay. Come to think of it, I haven't seen him seek out a cactus since. Now if he'd only learn about bees!!!

It seems lots of things in Texas have thorns. Check out the long needles on the small branch. You may have to enlarge the picture to see all of them. I discovered these when picking up some brush. I wasn't expecting cactus type needles on a tree branch. Roy says the RV Park's riding mower's tires are filled with foam, as without it the tires would often go flat from plant needle punctures.

Roy came across one of these. No, that's not his hand in the picture, but just a picture from the Internet. This striped snake is not poisonous and is the equivalent to a green Garter Snake. You'll be surprised what you do have to watch out for.

This guy is okay. This is a Trans Pecos Whiptail. We see them scurrying about. We mostly see little 4-6 inch ones, but I did see a couple that appeared to be close to 10 inches. This picture is from the Internet. I took about 6 photos and thought I got some good shots, but when I checked my pictures on the computer these fast little characters weren't to be seen in them!

I know, eeeeeeeew!!! Roy came across one of these. I hope I never do or you'll hear the scream! This is a Red-Headed Centipede. They are not aggressive, but will bite if you pick them up. There is another centipede that looks like this that is called a Giant Red-Headed Centipede. It can get up to a foot long. I told Roy that in his Workkamper lawn care duties that he better poke piles of leaves and brush with the rake handle to see what runs out before he picks them up. Ewwwww!

Now for the surprise. This fluffy little one inch long caterpillar called a a Puss Caterpillar (as in Pussy Cat) is also know as an Asp. Hidden in the fur and on the ends of its feet are spines that inject venom. It is one of a variety of poisonous caterpillars. Roy discovered this a couple of weeks ago when he was sitting at the picnic table early one morning wearing flip flops. A caterpillar crawled across his toes. He felt the sting and questioned whether he had been bitten by a snake. The intense stinging lasted a couple of hours, his toes turned red and looked swollen, and he felt nauseous. He soaked his foot in warm salt water. Two weeks later he still has red spots across his toes. Our Internet research found this information:

Puss moth caterpillars can pose a genuine health hazard. Intense, throbbing pain develops immediately or within five minutes of contact with the caterpillar. Stings on the arm may also result in pain in the armpit region. Blood-colored spots may appear at the site of the sting. Other symptoms can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, intense abdominal distress, and sometimes shock or respiratory stress. Pain usually subsides within an hour and spots disappear in a day or so -- however, with a larger dose of the venom, it is not uncommon for the symptoms to last up to 5 days.

This is a Saddleback Caterpillar. It is also venomous. The Internet says this:
Stings can be very painful. They can cause swelling, nausea, and leave a rash that can last for days. It's my opinion that sneakers are the best for walking where you might scoop one of these guys into your sandals.

Well, there you have it. A mini nature tour of Central Texas.