Category Archives: critters

Caterpillars on my Dill!

By Barbara Walvoord, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Cute little caterpillars have appeared on Daphne Stevens’ dill plants on the north campus.  Her neighbor Carol Neubert sent me a photo, asking, “What are they?”

They’re Eastern black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes).  Let’s call this one “Pap.”

Pap is here because, several weeks ago, a male swallowtail staked out a territory near Daphne’s dill plants and vigorously defended it against other males.

Tiger swallowtail butterfly (Pterourus glaucus) on blazing star (Liatris spicata) in Lathrop garden, 7/19/18

Pap’s mom, after mating with him, laid her eggs on a plant that Pap and his sibs would be able to eat—which means a member of the carrot or citrus family, including dill. If she lays her eggs on the wrong plant, the kids won’t recognize it as food or won’t be able to overcome the plant’s toxins, and will die.

After hatching, Pap has had to avoid being eaten while he passes through several changes—called “instars.” To avoid attracting Continue reading Caterpillars on my Dill!


A Butterfly Reveals All

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for July 28-Aug. 3, 2018

When you humans see us butterflies flitting from flower to flower, you may think we’re playful and carefree.  But actually we’re frantic.  As a butterfly, there’s a lot to do before you die, and for most of us, 2-3 weeks is it.

First, ya gotta eat.  Flowers are your only food.  And not all flowers.  Those tubular flowers?—you have to be one of the species of butterfly with a long tongue.  And some of us males, like the tiger swallowtail, need to sip at mud puddles to get the salt and minerals we need for our, ahem, virility.  Not so easy in a drought.

And it’s dangerous out there.  You could be dinner for birds, lizards, frogs, toads, chipmunks, or voles, not to mention other insects, who you think would have a sense of kinship, but no.  Actually, your best defense is your bright colors, because they tell predators your body contains poisons. If you’re a monarch, for example, your body still contains the poison from the milkweed you ate as a little squirt.

If you’re an American painted lady, your wings are bright on one side and dull on the other, so you can flash the colors while flying, and Continue reading A Butterfly Reveals All

Wanted: Skunks

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post of July 21-27, 2018

Skunks seem to be on homeowners’  “most wanted” list of criminals. The internet is full of ads by companies that will get rid of them for you.

At Lathrop, though, we want our skunks.

We do?  But won’t we get sprayed?  Not likely.  Skunks are not aggressive.  They move about mostly at night and try to avoid contact with us. When threatened, they spray their scent only as a last resort.  First they will hiss, growl, and stamp their front feet.

A Canadian government website calls skunks one of the most beneficial animals for gardeners and farmers.  They eat chipmunks, voles, mice, and rabbits, as well as grubs and insects that destroy crops.  In fact, skunks proved such an efficient enemy of the hop Continue reading Wanted: Skunks

Empty Nest

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 16-22, 2018

The first time mama robin tried building a nest on the railing of our porch, the pieces of grass and unfinished nest parts kept falling off the railing.  Finally, though, she figured it out, and built this amazing nest.

It’s incredibly strong and useful, though without what we would call modern conveniences.

No hired contractors or power tools, so Mama had to bring in about 350 pieces of grass and twigs about 6 inches long.  She wove them Continue reading Empty Nest

Lathrop Turtles are Traveling

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 2-8, 2018

It’s time to be watching for turtles at Lathrop.  The females are leaving their streams to find nesting sites—loose, unvegetated soil such as gardens.  But they may turn up on porches, sidewalks, or roads. A painted turtle was killed by a car on Mulberry Lane two years ago.

If you see a turtle, let it alone, unless it’s in immediate danger of being hit by a car.  In that case, it’s okay to pick it up by the back of its Continue reading Lathrop Turtles are Traveling

Welcome Back, Warblers!

By Barbara Walvoord

Our warblers are back at Lathrop!   Cornell’s website lists 38 birds whose common names end with “warbler” (versus 32 named “sparrow”).  These include the hooded warbler, the orange-crowned warbler, the unspellable and unpronouncable prothonotary warbler, and the worm-eating warbler.  One of the largest bird families, warblers  (Parulidae) also include birds with other names such as ovenbird, yellowthroat, and redstart.

Warblers vary a lot.  Some live in forests, some in shrubby areas, some in marshes, and Lucy’s warbler lives in the mesquite deserts.  Some warblers are brightly-colored, some not.  Some sing beautifully, but the blue-winged warbler’s song sounds to humans like an insect buzz. Continue reading Welcome Back, Warblers!

Surprise–A Cooper’s Hawk

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 19-25, 2018

Several dozen residents joined resident leaders Judy Hyde and Susan Smith for birdwalks on both campuses earlier this month.  They saw 38 different species on the north campus, and 29 on the east.

A pleasant surprise on the north campus was a Cooper’s hawk—described as a secretive, inconspicuous species, particularly in the breeding season.

So who was Cooper?  Surprise!  William C. Cooper was a 19th century scientist who collected specimens of all kinds of animals including birds, and was one of the founders of the New York Academy of Sciences. Cooper’s friend Charles Lucien Bonaparte (nephew of Napoleon) relied on one of Cooper’s specimens in 1825-33, while compiling his four-volume  American ornithology, or, The natural history of birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson : with figures drawn, engraved, and coloured, from nature.  In honor of his friend, Bonaparte named “Cooper’s hawk.” Continue reading Surprise–A Cooper’s Hawk