Squirrels are among the cuter rodents, but they can sure be a nuisance! Fortunately, while I see them in the woods on the hillside behind the house, we’ve never had them come into the yard very often. About three weeks after we put up our new bird feeder, I saw one at the bottom of it trying to climb up the post. Since the posts are wrapped in vinyl post covers, it just couldn’t get its claws into it and after reacing a height of about 1′ it simply slid back to the ground, scampered back into the woods, and stayed there.
NORTHERN FLYING SQUIRREL – Glaucomys sabrinus
Flying squirrels are in almost every state in the Union, except in the southern states they are called the Southern Flying Squirrel, and they are smaller than ours here in the north. These little creatures are strictly nocturnal. The only time we saw one during the day was when we were cutting down a dead tree in the woods, and one came flying out of it. Dead trees are one of their favorite nesting sites. Like most nocturnal mammals they have very long whiskers. They don’t actually “fly,” but instead glide from tree to tree, and are very nimble when doing so. They are able to change their trajectory by moving their tail. On the ground, however, they are slow and awkward. They eat tree sap, fungi, insects, carrion, bird eggs and nestlings. We have found several dead ones on the driveway and patio the last few years. Somehow they must be feeding on something in the yard and are nabbed by our cats.
RED PINE SQUIRREL – Tamiasciurus
These squirrels are new arrivals on our property. They’ve only shown up in the last five years or so, and despite their name of “pine squirrel,” they are fairly numerous down the hill in our large stand of walnuts. These are very small. From the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail is only about 10″.
FOX SQUIRREL – Sciurus niger
These are the largest tree squirrels in Wisconsin at 22″ long, including the tail. This squirrel hs a rusty brown coat which reminds some people of the hair color of a fox. It’s throat and belly are pale yellow or orange-brown. This distinguishes them from our other common squirrel, the Eastern gray, which are more common in the southern part of the state than northern part.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL – Sciurus carolinensis
If you think you can purchase “squirrel-proof” bird feeders, good luck! The only way I was able to keep the squirrels out of my feeders was designing a bird feeding “station” that they couldn’t climb up or jump down onto. Squirrels have a fantastic sense of smell, and can find nuts they buried months previously. They are also good swimmers! A female squirrel gives birth to between two and seven babies, two times per year. Squirrels can live up to ten years, if they aren’t eaten by a raccoon, coyote, red fox, snake, owl, hawk or human.
The photo below was taken in the back yard of our Florida house. These Eastern gray squirrels go all the way north into Canada. They are distinguished from the Fox squirrel in that their coat is grayer, they have a white circle around their eyes, and their undersides are white.
The videos below are of the squirrel in the photo above, in Florida. It amazed me to see how quickly it could take a branch, strip off the outer bark, and eat the soft material inside the stripped off bark.
GRAY TREE FROG – Hyla versicolor
These little frogs are only about 2″ long. While they are “tree” frogs, I’ve never seen one on a tree. I see a lot them at night. They’ll be outside the patio door, stuck on the glass with their sticky toe pads, which produce a mucous to help them stay stuck. It’s always interesting to watch their tongues fly out when they grab a moth or some other night-flying insect. Another place I’m constantly finding them is on my outdoor grill. About nine times out of ten, when I take off the grill cover, there’s one of these guys sitting on it. That’s where I found the one in the two pics below.
I honestly don’t understand why I keep finding them. They need temporary pools or permanent water for breeding, so they generally live in forested areas that are in or near permanent water. There is not a drop of standing water in the woods behind the house. In fact, during the summer it’s extremely dry there, due to the southern exposure. They are supposed to lay their eggs in a pool of water, and it takes four or five days for the eggs to hatch into tadpoles. I can’t imagine there would even be a hollow log that could hold enough water to not evaporate in four days out there!
BROWN ANOLE – Anolis sagrei
These lizards are native to Cuba and the Bahamas but are now rampant in Florida and threaten the native Green Anole species. They are believed to have arrived in South Florida in the 1940s and now they are everywhere! Males have yellowing spots on their backs and a ridge down the center of the back, while females are a bit smaller and plain brown. The males also have a throat flap that they can extend, as seen in the photo below. (I took the photos and video in the back yard of our home in Florida, where these things are abundant and often amusing).
These lizards will eat anything they can get in their mouths, including their own molted skin and detached tails. They also cannibalize their own hatchlings. It takes the female two weeks to lay her eggs, laying 1 or 2 at a time. She covers them with soil or leaf debris and then leaves them. They are completely independent when they hatch.
Before the males flash their dewlap, they bob their heads up and down as shown in the video.
AMERICAN ALLIGATOR – Alligator mississipiensis
Alligators are found in Ormand Beach, where our house is, but I took the photo of this one in Georgia.
WESTERN CONIFER SEED BUG – Leptoglossus occidentalis
Despite it’s fancy name, this bug in known as the “stink bug.” There are dozens and dozens of species of stink bugs (also known as squash bugs). They do stink! Especially if crushed or picked up. They emit a terrible odor from their hind region. For it’s small size, they rival the skunk! They were never a huge problem around here until the autumn of 2015. Most people in our area are used to having the south and west sides of their homes covered with Asian lady beetles and box elder bugs in October. We are, too, but this year, the stink bugs totally outstripped them in numbers! It was awful! And somehow, they must have gotten into the inside walls of the house, because I was finding them inside all winter. I had the outside walls sprayed with insecticide several times, including around the windows. Our windows have all been replaced in the last three years, so I can’t imagine where they were finding holes to get in, but they did, and all winter long I’ve been picking up between one to six stink bugs off the floor every day! They are alive, but moving very slowly. I have to grab them by the antennae and throw them out the door. You can’t kill them in the house or the smell would be awful. We never had any lady beetles in the house, but somehow the much larger stink bugs made it inside. They are about an inch long.
COMMON GREEN DARNER – Anax junius
This is one of the largest dragonfly species in Wisconsin and it is found all over the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The females look a bit different than the males. This one is a male. These creatures actually migrate, and in their summer homes they will stay close to bodies of water. Since I found this one in the month of August, in my yard, I think he may have been migrating south, as I don’t have any natural habitat for him in my yard other than two fountains for birds.
These dragonflies lay their eggs in water, and after 7 days or so the eggs hatch into “nymphs.” These nymphs will stay in the water, going through about 13 stages of different growth cycles, called instars, before they are ready to climb out of the water. When they do, they search for a perch, and wait for the nymphal skin to split and allowing the adult dragonfly to come out.
TWELVE-SPOTTED SKIMMER – Libellula pulchella
Another common dragonfly, found in my flower garden. Eggs are laid in water where the nymphs feed on the bottom. When they hatch the adults fly around eating mosquitoes, flies, butterflies, moths, mayflied, flying insects, and termites.
COMMON WHITE-TAIL SKIPPER – Libellula lydia
This dragonfly was resting on a cement statue in my flower garden. He is easily identified as a male due to his white abdomen, which is brown with yellow dashes on females. Like other dragonflies, eggs are laid on the surface of water, and when they hatch the nymph emerges, feeding on tadpoles and other aquatic organisms. The nymphs go through molts, and when the last molt is ready to occur the nymph (nymphs are more properly called naiads) emerges and molts into an adult. Adults eat mosquitoes and other insects, using their front legs to grab them in flight. This dragonfly can tolerate more polluted water than any other type.
DOG-DAY CICADA – Neotibicen canicularis
The common name of this cicada comes from the fact that this species exhibits peak singing during the time of the year when the star Sirius, of the constellation Canis Major (the big dog), is prominent in the night sky. These typically hot and muggy days of July and August are referred to as the “dog days” of summer. The female uses her sharp ovipositor to scratch a crevice in a twig or branch and lays her eggs in it. When the nymph hatches it falls to the ground and burrows down, feeding on pine sap and the roots of pine and oak for a period of several years. When they are ready to emerge, the adult cicada is born. The adults live about two weeks. Their task is simply to find a mate and prolong the life of the species.
WALKING STICK – Phasmatodea
Walking sticks are plentiful, but not always easy to spot because of their camouflage. I usually see at least a half dozen of them every year, though. An interesting thing about these bugs is that when they are born they have tiny compound eyes with a limited number of facets. As they grow through successive molts, though, the number of facets and photoreceptor cells grows in each eye. A mature adult will have ten times the sensitivity than the first nymphal stage. (A nymphal stage is called an “instar.”)
These skinny bugs have some interesting defensive tactics. They can blend in to look like a twig on a tree to avoid predators. Some of them can change color to match the vegetation they are on. They will rock their bodies from side-to-side to mimic a twig swaying in the breeze. They can also suddenly flash bright colors and make a loud noise to startle other creatures coming to eat them. Since walking sticks are nocturnal feeders, that helps them to avoic become prey.
I was planting some annual flowers on May 15 when I saw this grub coming up out of the ground. I have no idea what type of beetle or creature it might become, but I have a feeling it’s most likely a June bug, since it was the middle of May.
INCH WORM – Geometridae species
Inchworms are all larvae of the moth family Geometridae, and since there are over 1,200 species of them in the U.S. I can’t identify this one with 100% accuracy. All inchworms, though, can do serious damage to food crop foliage, as they eat the leaves. On the other hand, they make excellent fish bait, and can be purchased online or in most bait stores. I found the inchworm in the video below on the rail of the deck in my back yard. It was fascinating watching him navigate, and interesting to see what he did when he reached the end of the decking and couldn’t find a “foothold.”
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