June 27, 2011

Orange Army

When there were seven of them they really could be called the orange army; it appeared like they were everywhere but now I'm down to two but I may have more some day in the distant future. But for now here are some of the pictures.

I'm not sure which cat this is they all seem to like to sleep curled up in the grass. WHY??? I don't know.

I'm confident that this is a picture of Boman since he is the only cat that liked to curl up in the middle of the tree trunk. It doesn't look comfy but he liked to be able to see what was coming and stay hidden in plain sight. Unfortunately, Boman was either struck by a car or attacked by a large predator. I found him at the side of the road on my way to school last May. I really miss him, he was such a talker and would run across the yard to greet me every day.

This is probably Cinman; he likes to sleep under the propane tank or curled up in my hibiscus plant. I have yet to get a picture of him in my hibiscus but I'm sure I will at some point.

This is Cinman and Mama (because I didn't want to name her since she wouldn't let me pet her and she was pregnant and the mama cats always leave) at the stop sign down the road from the house. Yes, they were following me on my walk. The local farmers have gotten quite used to seeing me walking with the "kids" about a 100 yards behind me. They always smile and wave when they see "us" taking a walk.

Don't I look happy? I was trying to do my homework but "Little Girl" wanted to be petted and had to show me her butt. Little Girl is missing in action; I haven't' seen her since the first part of June but that doesn't mean she's not around somewhere and just hasn't decided to come home. I have decided that if I haven't' seen one of the outdoor cats in three months then they are gone.

See, I really was trying to do my homework but Little Girl was persistent in her petting demands.

So this is some of the kittens all grown up. I'm sure I will have more kitten pictures but it will be a matter of time especially since the last batch of kittens did not survive long.  Unfortunately, I never did find them but Mama is currently in heat so we could have another group of kittens in a few months.

June 15, 2011

Mutant Dandelions............................................ or Polyploidy?

So in May, I was walking across the yard, trying to get away from all that writing I needed to do to finish the semester.  I looked down and this is what I saw.

I flipped it around looked at it some more because I wasn't sure if I was seeing it correctly or if my brain was so tired it just thought it saw a ginormous dandelion head in the yard.

Yup, ginormous dandelion head in the yard, confirmed! So, I ran inside and grabbed my camera and took some pictures before I thought to myself (how am I going to show just how big this thing is) and then promptly ran back inside to find a standard house key for comparison.  You all have a house key right? Look below and check this ginormous dandelion head out.

I looked around the yard but I didn't see anymore mutant dandelions just this single one.  So what would cause this kind of mutation? I looked on the Internet but couldn't find any good information on why or how dandelions mutate.  However, I did find several blogs with pictures of similar mutations so I added their links below. If you are interested in specific dandelion information then please click away.

Dandelion Mutation Pictures on Blogs:
Big stem, tiny heads from Garden Thyme with the Creative Gardener
Big stem, tiny heads + possible mutation explanation from Nuttin'
Big stem, tiny heads + my favorite mutation explanation (polyploidy)  from TYWKIWDBI ("tai-Wiki-Widbee")

Polyploidy is any change in the number of chromosomes in an organism.

June 7, 2011

What are those red things?

So I was talking to a friend and she asks, "Do you know what these bright red things are?"  Yes, in fact this does happen to me ALL the time (I'm glad I love being an entomologist so I can answer this questions).  Fortunately, I knew the answer and could provide some "mostly" (I will explain this further in a later section) accurate information about the "critter" in question.

I'm guessing you know what's coming next.  A lot of information about the "critter" and you would be correct.  But before I go any further, I want to direct your attention to the label section below my blog.  I have decided to label blogs that are specific to arthropod identification, biology, and ecology as AFRAID BugZ.  ARAID stands for Angela's Fabulously Reliable Arthropod Information Document (unless someone can help me come up with a better abbreviation) and BugZ just because I wanted to do so. So when you see this as a label you know I'm providing specific information on the "critter" in question.

Alrighty then..... so what was that "red thing?"

Phylum Arthropoda (arthropods = "jointed foot")
Class Arachnida (Spiders & mites)
Order Acari (Ticks & Mites; largest order of arachnids)
Family Trobidiidae
Scientific Name: Trombidium sp. (short for species if you are new to the blog)
Common Names: Red Velvet Mite, Trombidiid Mite, Chiggar (yes, yes I'm going to talk about this {my sort of mistake you see}), Red Bugs, and Harvest Mite

I'm sure you have seen these tiny red dots running around on stones and sidewalks near soils particularly in the springtime.  These mites are considered to be one of the largest and that is because you can see them with your naked eye whereas most mites require a microscope in order to be seen.

Red Velvet Mite
Identification: Bright red color (seriously- this is the best description one of my references provided; I do admit that it is accurate but rather unhelpful particularly when you think of how many insects are bright red in color) and velvety (unfortunately, you really need to observe them under a microscope to see this characteristic); has 6  (larva) or 8 (adult) legs

Life History:

The adults lay eggs in the vegetation.  Larvae will emerge from the egg and crawl through the vegetation looking for a suitable host.  After a suitable host is obtained, the larvae will since their mouth parts into the outer layer of skin and excrete saliva into the epidermis (skin).  This saliva will help digest the underlying tissues which the larvae will feed on for a few days and then drop off. 

I bet you are asking yourself, "What is a parasitic form and what is a free-living form?" Have no fear I'm going to explain it to you.

Parasitic form is parasitic on arthropods and "related organisms." Please click to read more and see pictures of this aspect of their life history:  Water Mites on Arthropods 

Chiggers is a relatively common name used to describe parasitic arthropod life-stages, forms, which are annoying and/or pests to man. Okay- so my friend asked if the "red things" bite humans and if they are okay in gardens.  My responses were no and yes.  However, in my research I have found that there are some species in this family which attack humans, however, they considered to be uncommon. So, I'm wrong on the biting part but I have suggestions for prevention below.  I'm told that these chigger bites are quite irritating and appear unsightly.

Free-living forms are quite abundant in soil where populations are estimated to be several million/acre of land. The adults primarily eat insect eggs and are considered soil insects.  Soil insects provide a variety of garden benefits such as soil aeration due to tunneling activities and adding to the organic content by leaving their excretia (insect pee and poop) and dead bodies in the soil.  There are many soil insects which are harmful for gardens and plants but I do not include the that information here since it is not relative to the red velvet mite.

Pest Management:  so the adults are not pests but if the larvae are of the "chigger" variety then they would be considered a pest particularly if they find you "tasty." I'm not one of these unfortunate souls but I will offer my recommendations for prevention. First of all, for those of you who like to kill everything which looks like a creepy crawler I have very "bad" news for you....... Mites are difficult to kill.  Sorry, these are just the facts I'm reporting here.

So no killing methods today- we have repellents (these repeal the insects; think skunk spray and you have the right idea). There are two recommended repellents and they are dimethyl phthalate and diethyltoulamide otherwise known as DEET.  Dimethyl phthalate is commonly used in cosmetics such as hairspray, deodorant, and perfumes.  Chigger bites tend to be around areas where clothing is tight (bra lines, socks, waistband, etc.); I rarely get bitten but I also rarely wear socks or jeans when I'm working outside so you might try changing your clothing and applying some repellents.  However, if you do get bitten by chiggers try using a tincture of benzyl benzoate. Benzyl benzoate can be found in several flowers so you might take a look at that link if you are interested in preparing your own tincture. Yes, I could do a blog on tincture preparation, however, I have never tried it myself I just have instructions on how to prepare it.

I hope you find this information useful and happy gardening, weeding, insect watching, bird watching, whatever you do outdoors!

June 3, 2011

Even More Irises

Irises out in the "triangle"
Irises by the steps
Two-toned lilac (?) Iris
Lilac Iris
At first I thought the two "Liliac Irises" were the same but now I don't think so. However, I'm sure I could be wrong and the "Iris Queen" will surely set me straight.

Purple Iris
Two-toned purple with white spots and yellow beard Iris
Yellow Iris
Yellow and Purple Iris
I bet you thought I was joking when I said that my friend has many varieties. I'm sure I missed some but hopefully next year I will be able to capture them. However, there are more flowers waiting to bloom so I'm sure there will be more flower pictures on the blog horizon.

More Irises

Irises around the propane tank

Burgundy/Bronze Iris.

Please let me know if you can come up with a better color description for this iris.  It is beautiful but the color is difficult to determine.  I was surprised that the outside buds look black but this is the inside color.

Another view of the Irises in the "triangle."

Irises by the stairs


My friend, the "Iris Queen", "Iris Maven",  or  "Iris Obsessed," has several varieties of Irises on her property.  I have been trying to take pictures so she can see that her irises are doing well; I'm also trying to prove that I'm a "good enough plant mom" that she can give me some of her babies when I get my own property and rest easy that the babies will be well cared for.

This year, I took over 30 pictures of her irises; it was difficult to chose which ones to show but I have narrowed it down to about 17.  Yes, I will have multiple blogs with iris pictures- this is really the only way to do this.

First up, Oriental (Japanese?) Iris: my friend said these are hard to transplant as they are very particular and I decided to start with them since she has not seen them bloom.

Do yuu see the sphecid wasp in the stem?  I didn't know it was there until after I took the picture.  I'm just glad it didn't try to sting me since I'm allergic to hymenoptera stings.

Can you see the pentamid bug curled up the bottom petal?  I tried to get a better picture but it kept curling back up in the petal.

This is what I call the purple striped iris.

It is my understanding that this is supposed to be the same as the one above but it looks more blue than purple and the beard (fuzzy, caterpillar looking section on the petal) is a lighter, much lighter yellow.

Group of irises out in the "triangle" on the other side of the driveway.