There are usually a lot of interesting critters around the place. Unfortunately, I usually never had a camera with me for most of the years living here. Lately, though, with a smart phone with an excellent camera on it, it’s a little easier to get those candid shots. I’ve only had the darn thing for six months, though, so I’m still waiting for those candid shots. The animals below are listed by their common names followed by their classification Order.
NORTH AMERICAN BEAVERS – Castor canadensis
We have a nice little trout stream running through our property across the road. We had some trout habitat put in a few years ago when we had our creek riprapped. (See CREEK or click on link at top or left). Trout like stream banks without a lot of brush and trees as long as there are some areas along the bank with shaded habitat. They must have a balance between the two. We have always had a problem with beavers in the creek. Their dams are one bone of contention. They build such huge ones upstream that it impacts everything down stream and makes the upstream portion too deep for good trout habitat. The other problem, which is more serious than the dams, is that they cut down every living sapling and small tree on the banks. The speed in which they do this is phenomenal! On several occasions we’ve had trappers go in and get them. The beaver below was from one such trapping expedition.
After the beavers are trapped there’s no way around it but to wade into the creek and tear the dams apart by hand. This is not an easy task, and sometimes we need to put chains around some of the branches and pull them out with the four wheeler or tractor.
I took the pic below about a half mile from my house as I was going to town. I saw this beaver in a cow pasture. The creek and a river were in the area, but it was odd to see this guy near the road in a cow pasture. You’d think he’d be nearer the water. When I got closer, he looked like he was injured or ill. His bottom tooth looked a bit odd as well, as if he’d not been wearing it down. He didn’t move when I got close to take the pic. He only waddled about four inches. I didn’t want to get too close in case he had rabies. I called the police to come euthanize it. Whether they did or not I don’t know as I had an appointment I had to get to.
BEES – Hymenoptera
Everyone has bees! Around here we have many varieties of bees and wasps, but most usually leave you alone unless it’s autumn, as they are always quite testy during that time. The biggest problem is wasps. They build nests everywhere, and while they aren’t a big problem for humans, they are terrible at the hummingbird feeders, intimidating the birds and chasing them away. I always laugh when I see “bee-proof” hummingbird feeders advertised. They may keep the nectar deep enough in the feeders that a bee or wasp can’t reach it, but that doesn’t stop them from occupying the entire rim of the feeder trying to get at it.
Wasp diets consist of nectar, and they also prey on other insects. The other thing they do is swarm around the bird fountain, sometimes so thick you can’t see the edge of the thing. Finding their nests and killing them is the only way to make the birds safe. Wasps are not efficient pollinators, so I don’t have too much remorse on killing them while they are in their hives at night. Paper wasps build their nests out of wood fibers that they chew and turn into a papery-looking substance. There are several types of paper wasps and nests. Also known as “yellow-jackets,” these wasps are either aerial, building their nests above ground, or ground-nest builders.
Pictured below is a hornet’s nest that we found in a maple by the driveway close to our house. The hornets are less of a problem than the wasps, and when they build a big nest such as the one below, we usually don’t know it’s there until all the tree’s leaves drop in the fall. Hornets’ favorite food is fruit pulp. They will often bury themselves in a piece of over-ripe fruit to get at the pulp. When I am picking raspberries or blackberries they will often be present and never pay attention to me. They will sometimes try to get the hummer’s nectar, but they are never as populous at the feeders as the wasps are, as they are fond of eating other insects and will spend a lot of time pursuing them. Hornets are not important pollinators.
Bumblebees are probably the most numerous of all the bees or wasps around here. They are important pollinators! Additionally, bumblebees completely ignore people unless you should stumble on to their nest, which is usually tunneled into the ground or in a hollow log. They are prone to protect it by stinging the intruder. However, I’ve been out picking my raspberries and there were hundreds of bumblebees on them and I was never stung. I’ve even brushed them away with my hand with no ill effect. The bumblebees have hairy bodies that collect pollen. They then use their legs to “brush” the pollen into the corbiculae (pollen baskets) on the hind legs. The pollen will look like bulging, yellow masses. Male bumblebees do not have corbiculae and do not purpously collect pollen.
The bumblebee below is, therefore, a female. I sprayed this bumblebee and several others, as I was planting a large group of hostas on a steep bank in late summer, and the bumblebees had a nest in the ground there, which I didn’t know about, until I was swarmed with them and got stung several times. I had to spray. One of the most effective insect sprays to use on ground bees is a mixture of 1 tablespoon Dawn dish soap mixed into about a half-gallon of water and put into a pump sprayer. This spray will effectively knock down and kill any insect within two to three seconds of contact. I know because I was timing it! The only drawback is that Dawn may also kill surrounding foliage, so only use it on ground nests, and spray directly into the hole or on nests where there is no foliage which might be damaged. Your other option is to spray the nest, regardless of foliage, and then quickly hose the Dawn off the plants. Dawn won’t kill plants if it’s in the surrounding soil. It’s getting it on the leaves which is bad. Quite a bit cheaper than buying RAID!
BUTTERFLIES – Lepidoptera
I don’t have many butterfly pics. Since I’m not a professional photographer, I don’t know how to take pics of them while they are flying or flapping their wings without them blurring, and they are almost always moving. We have lots of them, though. We often think of butterflies as visiting flowers for nectar, but in reality they have a wide range of things they are attracted to.
Some tried and true methods to attract butterflies to your yard are the following: Put a wire through an apple, top to bottom, and cut a few wedges out of the apple. The butterflies will love it! They like bananas, as well, and putting one into a suet feeder will attract them. (Of course, that may attract wasps and bees as well). Manure is another favorite treat. Whether from a cow, dog, chicken, or wild animal, they enjoy the minerals it provides. If you don’t want to put a pile of manure in your yard, a dish of dry dog food will also attract them. Another thing you can do is get a wide dish with sides a few inches high. Fill it with water, and then set a small dish in the middle of the bigger dish. Put some fruit in the smaller dish. The bigger, water-filled dish acts as an ant moat, keeping the pests out of the fruit. Butterflies also like rotting insect carcasses, such as maggots or worms. One of the easiest things to do for them is to get a large pan, put some soil and water in it, and make a mud puddle. Butterflies love the minerals in the mud! The only problem is refilling the water on a daily basis on hot summer days.
Monarch or Viceroy?
These two butterflies look almost identical and it takes a close look to tell them apart. Most people who see viceroys think they are monarchs when most likely they are not, as our monarch population has shrunk to dangerously low numbers and seeing them is rare.
The difference between the two is in their wings. The viceroy has a black line in the mid-section of the rear wing, and the monarchs don’t. Also, the viceroy’s flight is very erratic, and the monarch’s is much smoother. Instead of darting about like the viceroy, it leisurely flaps its wings. The photo below shows the difference between the wings of the two. I found this photo at https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/Viceroy1.html
Monarch butterflies migrate and over-winter in Mexico. (Viceroys don’t migrate, but winter over by rolling up in the leaf of one of their host plants). In 2002 there was a freak frost and cold spell in Mexico where the monarchs were wintering and it decimated their numbers, killing off 75% of them. This devastating loss, along with an alarming deforestation in central Mexico where they overwinter, has further reduced their numbers. There is a report that the 2013-2014 over-wintering season saw even lower numbers than the freeze-off year. In fact, the numbers were so low that there is a great fear these butterflies are headed for extinction. One of the biggest obstacles to their survival is loss of food sources.
Monarchs depend exclusively upon the milkweed plant (Asclepias genus). The monarchs lay their eggs only on these plants, and the caterpillars eat them when hatched. Because of the ever-increasing use of glyphosate (Roundup) in agricultural practices, the milkweed plant has almost been eradicated in the wild. After the big kill-off in Mexico, it was years before I saw a Monarch butterfly here. I have warned my family members to leave all milkweed plants standing. I also planted many, many Asclepias tuberosa plants. This is a plant you can find at nurseries. It’s sometimes called, “Butterfly Weed.” While these organge-flowered plants don’t look like the typical milkweed that comes to mind, they are definitely in the milkweed family, and after years of no monarchs, I finally found a caterpillar on one of these in 2013.
MONARCH – Danaus plexippus
This is a video of the monarch caterpillar eating the butterfly weed.
EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL, MALE – Papilio glaucus
Swallowtails have a great variety of food sources, unlike the monarch, and for this reason they are not considered threatened. Males participate in a behavior called puddling, in which they gather on mud, damp gravel, or puddles. They extract sodium and amino acids from these sources which aid in reproduction.
GIANT SWALLOWTAIL – Papilio cresphontes
The giant swallowtail in the photo below is drinking nectar from a zinnia flower. Each spring, I start about 1,000 zinnia seeds in cell packs in the house, and plant them outside the first week of May.
HACKBERRY EMPORER – Asterocampa celtis
These particular butterflies don’t visit flowers for nectar. Instead, they will feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, animal dung, and animal carcasses. Like monarchs, this butterfly is very specialized as far as a host plant (a plant it lays it’s eggs on and upon which the hatched caterpillars feed). Hackberries will only lay their eggs on hackberry trees. They over-winter in Wisconsin as half-grown larvae.
GREAT SPANGLED FRITILLARY – Speyeria cybele
Fritillary caterpillars will only eat wild violets. Like the monarchs and hackberry butterflies, they are very selective! The caterpillars hatch in the fall and right away go dormant, to emerge and start feeding in the spring. The adult butterflies love nectar and can be found on a wide variety of nectar-producing flowers. And, like many other butterlies, they like manure! They get minerals and salts out of it. Cow manure, or compost with cow or chicken manure in it, is a treat.
JULIA BUTTERFLY – Dryas iulia
These butterflies are not found in Wisconsin. They rarely make it farther north than southern Texas. I found this one in the back yard of our house in Florida.
Not all moths are like the nasty critters that can get into your house and eat your clothes. Some are quite beautiful.
IO MOTH – Automeris io
The caterpillars of the io moth are bright green and covered in a stinging spines that look like bristly hairs. At the very slightest touch those hairs will be imbedded in a person’s skin and release a very painful venom. Some people only feel a terrible burning while others react more violently and need medical attention. If you can deal with the pain, you still need to get the spines removed. Duct tape, stuck to the skin and quickly pulled off, is a great help. The male io moth pictured below is dead. I found him on the patio one morning. He looks like he took quite a beating!
LUNA MOTH – Actias luna
These moths are very common, but because of their short life span they are rarely seen. The female will lay about 200 eggs at the base of a black walnut tree. Since we have about 4,000 of them planted here, they have plenty of egg-laying habitat! The eggs hatch in about ten days and the caterpillars eat a wide variety of tree and shrub leaves. After about four weeks the caterpillars wrap themselves in a leaf and secure it around themselves with silk from their mouths. They emerge from these cocoons as adult luna moths in three or four weeks, but if it’s close to winter they wait till spring to emerge. When the adult emerges it doesn’t eat. It doesn’t even have a mouth or digestive system! Instead, it’s only purpose is to breed. The adult moth only lives about seven days, so it must find a mate and breed before its time is up. The only purpose of these beautiful moths is to mate and then die.
HUMMINGBIRD MOTH – Hemarus thysbe
These moths are very common in all states east of the Mississippi, and they are active both day and night. The adults lay their eggs on honysuckle vines and shrubs. When the caterpillar hatches, it feeds on the host plants and when fully grown climb down into the soil where they make their cocoon. Adult moths hatch in a few weeks. The hummingbird moth likes nectar and feeds from a wide range of flowers, pollinating as it goes from one to another. I’ve never seen one at a hummingbird feeder, though, even though they have a very long proboscis that could probably reach the nectar. Their name derives from the fact that their wings beat constantly, at an incredible speed, allowing them to “hover” as hummingbirds do, and also because they visit flowers as well.
EASTERN CHIPMUNK – Tamias striatus
Such darn cute little things, and such destructive pests! These little monsters live underground, in tunnels sometimes 30 feet long. They burrow under my flower bed in the back yard, pushing up and breaking roots of my plants. We were overrun with them. We had to resort to shooting them, and between my husband and myself we shot over 35 of them over the course of two months. They are not always easy to find as they hide so well under foliage. We ended up getting three outdoor cats, and they are doing a wonderful job of keeping these pests under control. I also attached large seed-catchers on the bottoms of all the bird feeders to eliminate one of their easy food sources.
RED FOX – Vulpes vulpes
These cute little animals almost never go over 15 pounds and are often under that. They prefer wide, grassy areas bordered by woods, so we have a lot of good habitat for them here. They mainly eat rabbits and mice. They will only go into dens when they are having babies, and the rest of the time prefer to sleep out in the open. They are mainly active at night. Their extremely thick coat keeps them warm in the coldest weather, and when they lay down they curl up and their tail is draped over their face and nose to keep them warm. I read a study done a few years ago on mortality causes and it said that the most common cause of death for red foxes in urban areas was Sarcoptic mange and vehicles, and in rural areas it was vehicles and coyotes.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a pic of a live fox. Since they are mostly nocturnal we don’t often come across them. The fox below was scared out of its cover during deer gun season a few years back, and my brother-in-law shot it, much to my displeasure. I let him know in no uncertain terms that the ONLY animals he could shoot on our property during hunting season were deer or coyotes.
Please go to the top of the page and click on the drop-down menu to see our other pages on wild critters, or click here for DEER, TURKEYS, COYOTES, and MORE!