Category Archives: Bugs & Animals

Bugs, insects, animals and wildlife.

tomato hornworm eating eggplant

Non-Producing Vegetable Plants Can Still Serve a Purpose

In the heat of the Florida summer months, I have done little gardening. But the plants I began growing in Spring, are continuing to grow. Even though I am not getting much, if any, produce from them, they serve a purpose. They can be food for worms; give bugs a place to crawl, which in turn feeds the birds, (mostly, I have cardinals); and provide a playground for the lizards.

The two eggplant plants I have in the garden have grown tall. They have continued to produce pretty purple flowers, but have never given me a single eggplant!  It’s either the poor soil, or the heat, or both.

Eggplant flower
Purple Flower of the Eggplant

The plants themselves are interesting with their big leaves. I have trouble tearing up and throwing out a perfectly healthy plant, even if it’s not giving me the food I’d hoped for.

I’m glad I left the eggplants growing, and continued to give them water, just because I couldn’t NOT do so.   I noticed missing leaves and found a big, juicy, tomato hornworm chowing down on the leaves. The hornworm can eat a tremendous amount, and it’s apparent they have arrived when you notice entire leaves missing on the tomato plants!  Stalks can become completely bare in a matter of a days time.

tomato hornworm eating eggplant
Tomato Hornworm on Eggplant

One summer I was visiting my sister in Massachusetts, and she said that something was eating her tomato leaves. Sure enough, there it was – a big green worm. So I pointed it out to her!  She was astonished, but hadn’t looked close enough to see the worm.

Tomato hornworms often show up near the end of summer – at least in the north, that was how it happened in my garden. The one eating my eggplant here in Florida was lucky. I did not care that he was destroying the plant, it was useless to me anyway.  He ate and ate and grew bigger over the course of about 2 days.

I find these pretty green worms quite interesting.  Often, a wasp of some kind lays it’s eggs on the worm, which kills it.  There were no eggs on this guy.  He was doing quite well for himself.

Then he was gone… eaten by a bird maybe? I don’t know. Most of the eggplant’s leaves had been eaten by then, and I felt like I had given him a meal at the very least.  If the worm lives, it becomes the Sphinx Moth.

Most gardeners don’t allow the hornworm to live… it is too detrimental to vegetable plants, like the tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants, as you can see in my photo below!

Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate leaves
Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate the leaves

On to the parsley worms.

In the North, I always grew parsley, and it lasted well into the winter months. But eventually, it did die.  Deer used to come into my backyard and nose through the snow looking for greens to eat, and sure enough, they would find the parsley still going strong at the beginning of winter.

Since I’ve been in Florida – over a year now – the parsley I planted last summer is still growing fine! I use it daily in my omelets, salads, and other home-cooked food.

The parsley is planted in two separate containers, and I’ve noticed that both areas have parsley worms munching on the leaves.  They will turn into Black Swallowtail Butterflies. One has already made a cocoon.

So the plants that are simply growing for … what, fun? in my garden have served a useful purpose to help nature continue.  Whether the worms change into butterflies or are food for the birds, it’s all nature doing it’s thing.

parsley worms
Parsley Worms Become Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Read my page, with my photos, about the Swallowtail Butterflies that come from these worms.

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two raccoons in a tree

Okay, I Hate These Raccoons

Raccoon standing on back feetAfter we moved into our new house in Florida, we noticed every night that raccoons would come out of the woods next door and explore our yard.  They came right up to the back door, with the outside light on.

Oh, they were so cute. One time we looked out back to see three little raccoon faces peering out of the woods at us. Similar to the photo above (not taken by me), plus one.  It was adorable, and if I were any kind of photographer I would have had the camera handy and captured that image.

However, I know that raccoons are not the sweet, adorable creatures they appear to be.  And these days I abhor seeing their cute faces. They are thieves, that even wear masks as a warning!  They have no regard for the hard work farmers and gardeners put into growing their crops.

Raccoons have sharp claws and teeth. They can be vicious if need be, and the ones that visit my yard are mostly unafraid of humans and my cats. They mostly do their damage at night, but we’ve been sitting at the outside table, in full daylight,  and had one come out of the woods a mere 10 feet from us. Once he noticed we were there, he left. Rabies is common among them, but this one did not act in an unusual manner. I think he just wanted to see what we were up to.

I usually leave water outside for the cats during the day because of the heat. If I don’t empty the bucket, the raccoons always get into the water overnight and leave a muddy mess.  Occasionally they dump the bucket.

One evening after we had been out on our boat, I rinsed my expensive water shoes and left them to dry on the back patio. The next morning one of my shoes was missing! Luckily I found the shoe at the edge of the woods where apparently the raccoon decided it would be of no use to him.

sunflower stalk
My sunflower was much taller than this when the raccoons tore it down.

That same morning I discovered my tall sunflower stalk broken and dragged across the grass. It was the only sunflower seed that grew for me, and I really had hoped to see the flower bloom.

But worst of all is the stealing of my tomatoes. I just picked two ripe tomatoes and left about 4 more green ones on the vine. Today I saw that all the green tomatoes were gone! Last week they stole 2 nice red ones just before I had a chance to pick them.

They will drag pots and my fabric potting bags around.  It seems they have a grand old time during the darkness of night.  When the weather is nice, and my windows are open, I can hear them outside my window at night scampering around and occasionally “screaming” at each other.  Yes, they make noise, and it’s creepy.

raccoon and chain link fence
No doubt they can climb a chain link fence.

I’m thinking it’s time for a fence. However, I am not sure that will keep them away. I’ve read that they can climb fences, and we’ve watched them climb down from way up in a neighboring tree. The fence may have to be made of slick material, like metal or plastic, that they cannot climb.  I’m saving my money, as we had planned to fence the yard anyway.  These creatures just give me more incentive to do so.

I can only hope that with a wall between them and my yard the little robbers, or bandits as they are rightfully called, will forget about my garden and go someplace else to scavenge.

(Thanks to the photographers of Pixabay for these raccoon photos.)

Parsley Worm and The Butterfly it Becomes

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.55.56 PMThis is a story about the parsley worms in my backyard. My garden is small, and a bit unique in that at the present time my vegetables are in pots and fabric bags.  I use fresh parsley often, and I have it growing in two locations.

One day I found this colorful worm crawling along a parsley stem and munching away.  I could see that he had chewed off many of the surrounding leaves.  This striped guy is appropriately called a “parsley worm”.

I couldn’t remember what type of butterfly it would become, (had to look that up) but I knew it was getting ready to form a chrysalis.

Turns out it’s a Swallowtail butterfly that emerged from the green chrysalis a few weeks later. The wrapped worm was attached to a stem of basil, which had gone to seed, but was in the same pot as the parsley the worm was eating.

But here’s what happened first.  I found the worm sitting in this position (below) and he was no longer eating.  In fact he was on the basil now, and not the parsley.  This is where he formed his chrysalis.  I checked it every day, and after a few weeks, there was something new to see.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.58.07 PM
Worm beginning to form a chrysalis

Once the butterfly “hatched” he crawled to the top of the basil stem to try out his new wings.  Maybe this is the perfect set up for encouraging butterfly production.  I hope it happens again.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 2.34.44 PM
Arrow pointing to the empty chrysalis

A few days ago I happened to go outside and saw this beautiful black butterfly at the top of the basil stem, and I knew… the baby was born!  The wind was blowing, but he held on for hours.  I kept checking on it, and then suddenly he was no longer there.

I felt like a proud parent.  I had helped a new baby butterfly enter the world. Course, I had done nothing but plant the parsley… haha!!!  But I felt good. And I’m glad I was able to see the beautiful butterfly before it flew away.  I took lots of photos, like a proud parent does, and one video.


It turns out that there are many types of Swallowtail butterflies, and the worms can be different colors too.  I honestly don’t know much about all of this, but I love it!  Imagine going from being earth bound and crawling among bunches of green parsley, to having big beautiful wings that take you up into the sky!  I will keep an eye out for eggs on the parsley leaves, and bright green worms among the branches.

honey

Black Mangrove Honey Made by Bees in a Remote Area

honey
Honey from Mosquito Lagoon – My photo

On a recent visit to Pells Nursery in Osteen, we came across some unique honey called “Black Mangrove” that comes from bees in the Mosquito Lagoon!  The Lagoon is widely known for it’s fishing, but I’ve never heard of honey coming from there. We had to buy it.

The Black Mangrove honey is darker in color and not as thick as other types I’ve had, but it’s delicious.  It’s made by Sun Splash Nursery of New Smyrna Beach.   They are an organic farm and the place is not too far from where I live now.  Their Farmer’s Market is open 8am till 3:30pm Monday thru Friday.  I must go there soon and see what they are selling for produce.  (Update – this place does not seem to exist!  We drove over and found nothing there.  Site must be old.)

Back to the honey.  Raw honey is far superior to store bought generic brands and I love to find new types to try.   This one also has an interesting story behind it.  The company has the right to access the islands filled with black mangrove trees in the Mosquito Lagoon.   All during the Florida summer they collect honey while the mangroves bloom.

We have fished out on the Intracoastal, and have heard bees buzzing on the islands. Now I will be able to picture them working away to make us their fabulous honey!  Below in my photo from another blog of mine (Seashells by Millhill), you can see what those mangrove covered islands look like.

mangroves
There are many, many islands like this out on the Intracoastal Waterway, which includes Mosquito Lagoon.

What a great idea to collect honey from that area! The Sun Splash company will ship their honey to customers, so click the link I provided above if you are interested in trying some for yourself.

Read an article by the Daytona Beach News Journal, written September 2016 about the owner and how he came to help out the bees (and himself) by putting beehives out on the remote Intracoastal islands.

As a side note, I noticed that the Sun Splash Nursery website also has a page containing gardening advice, which will be helpful as I plan my vegetable gardens.  I look forward to visiting their nursery soon.