Small Wonders

I’ve seen some pretty cool little stuff outside lately.

We’ve lived in this house in southwest Florida for almost 8 years now and there

Green Treefrog on the fence

has always been an abundance of Cuban tree frogs, but lately, for the first time, I’m seeing native green tree frogs, which really excites me!

Yes, green tree frogs really excite me…

It means either (1) that I have made a dent in the Cuban tree frog population around here by humanely killing them when I find them, or (2) something else has changed, like maybe, oh what could it be, oh yeah, the CLIMATE!, or, (3) I never really noticed the green tree frogs before.

In the case of (1), you may ask, “Why would you kill a harmless little tree frog who has somehow escaped the Communist dictatorship just 90 miles off our southernmost shore to try to find a better life in this Utopian democracy?” Or, “How do you kill a frog humanely? Did you take it to the vet?” Or, “How in the world would you think that one person could make a dent in a frog population?”

Note big suction cup toes and gray-green color

Well, that’s a lot of questions.  The Cuban tree frogs have to go bye-bye becausethey are an invasive exotic species that did not come here to escape Castro’s regime, but snuck in here, probably on some imported plant life many years ago. Unlike their human counterparts, they eat the natives voraciously and must be stopped.  So, when I hear their considerable voice out back, I take a sandwich-sized zip-loc bag, don it like a glove, grab the frog, turn the baggie inside out which puts the frog inside the bag, zip it closed and put it in the freezer.  Yes, the freezer.  This is the humane part.  Really.  The frog, whose body temperature is regulated by the temperature around it, slows down and slows down and goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up.  Kind of like Jack Nicholson at the end of “The Shining”.

Good for Halloween, yes?!

I probably haven’t done much to reduce the whole population of them around here. I certainly hear them calling all over my neighborhood, but at least I’m doing my part against the gray-green menace.

In short, I don’t know why there are so many green tree frogs (Hyla cinerea) in my yard this year, but I’m glad to see them. Especially the little tiny baby one I accidentally caught in a bug net this afternoon.  Don’t worry, I let him go!

The second cool thing I’ve been watching lately is this caterpillar from a giant swallowtail butterfly.

I have a key lime tree growing in my yard.  It’s just a baby, but it’s doing really well and I’m so excited because I love key limes and because I tried to grow one when we first moved here and it didn’t live.  A friend gave me the tree which her husband grew.  From what I hear about him, he probably played Baby Einstein for it, read it bed time stories and tucked it in every night.  So when I found some pest damage on it, I was alarmed (and concerned that the tree’s daddy might find me and turn me in to the Plant Welfare Agency).

Anyway, I looked for what little bug might be doing this to my lime tree and found these little caterpillars that looked like bird droppings.  I immediately flicked them off the tree – no need to use pesticides – and felt like a responsible tree parent.  Then, because I can leave no creature unidentified, I decided to look up what kind of critter those caterpillars would have turned into.  When I found out, I felt like those scenes in old cartoons when the character imagines themselves as a heel or an ass.  The caterpillars were from the giant swallowtail butterfly, a beautiful big black and yellow native flyer.  Oops!

I ran outside to the bush and saw that I had missed one of the messy-looking crawlers.  Of course, I left it alone and have been observing it ever since.  It is now enormous, no longer slimy looking and its head end has the appearance of a snake (!) which is a deception meant to scare away birds that might want to eat it. When it makes its chrysalis, I’ll clip the branch and bring it inside and follow its development into the butterfly.  I’ll keep you informed.

The third cool thing I found in my yard recently was also on the key lime tree.  While watching the caterpillar, I saw a spiderweb unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Take a look at this… (Click on the pictures to make them really big so you can see the detail.)

What’s really interesting about this web is that the threads form a grid of squares.  I mean, it looks like graph paper!  If you have ever seen a spiderweb like this before, let me know, because it’s not like I’ve seen every spiderweb in the world, but I have seen a lot and had a lot hanging from my hat after walking through brush.

It’s a great time to get outside in southwest Florida, some of our nicest weather. So if you come looking for me, just go around back.  I’ll be in the yard!

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