Sunday, October 22, 2017

Late Summer and Early Fall at the House, Part 2: Amphibians and Insects

Continuing the previous post, here are some more nature sightings at our house from the past two and a half months (from August through mid-October)!

Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptile sightings have continued to be slim; it seems to be mostly Garter Snakes around here, and they haven't been especially common. In August, we had a fire in our yard's existing fire pit, and a young Garter Snake came out to warm itself on the cinder blocks, which was lovely. We also found a couple of baby snakes -- probably Garter Snakes -- in the compost pile in mid-September. Aside from that, and a handful of other sightings, it's been pretty quiet reptile-wise.

By contrast, it's been a really great couple of months for amphibians. Red Efts (juvenile Red-spotted Newts) started showing up more frequently in the yard in mid-August, and in September I was finding really little efts in the yard and woods. Here's a particularly tiny eft on the muddy part of our woods trail, navigating a boot print:

At the end of August, we found a small Spotted Salamander under the compost pile. And there appears to be a thriving population of Red-backed Salamanders in the woods; this past Thursday I found one or two of these sleek little salamanders under nearly every rock I checked.

Wood Frogs and especially Pickerel Frogs became more common in the yard in August and September. But Spring Peepers have remained by far the most numerous and easily seen amphibian in our yard, even up through October. I absolutely love that this place is such a haven for Spring Peepers, which I think of as reclusive and rarely-seen frogs. Not here! By August, I was getting used to seeing peepers perched on just about any wide, flat leaf in the yard:

There were little peepers like the one above, and there were older, tougher-looking individuals as well; this one was resting on a Common Milkweed leaf in the meadow one mid-August afternoon:

I don't think I could ever get tired of seeing these wonderful little frogs (this picture is from early September):

Who's that hanging out on a potted plant on the deck in early September? Oh yes, a peeper (with a beautiful pattern on its back):

And on the wall at night in early October? Peeper:

One night about a week ago, I opened the front door to toss a bug outside, and a peeper was sitting right on the doorstep, looking for all the world like it had been about to knock on the door and ask to come in. And individuals have continued to climb up on our windows on some nights, although not nearly as frequently (or in such numbers) as they did during the summer, when they were also much smaller:

I'm very much hoping that every year here will be similarly full of Spring Peepers. If not, though, at least I got to experience their abundance this summer and fall. :)

Insects and Others

These have been some amazing months for insect diversity, especially for butterflies and moths and their caterpillars. I didn't try at all to be comprehensive, but lots of beautiful and weird creatures caught my attention in the past couple of months.

In early and mid August, a big patch of (very fragrant) Garden Phlox flowers turned out to be a great place to see nectar feeders, like this big Spicebush Swallowtail:

A Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) also spent a great deal of time visiting these blooms. What an adorable creature!

I can't decide which part of this moth is the cutest: its pointy ear-like antennae or its fuzzy tail. It was really enjoying these flowers:

I've found a few Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) plants on the property, and one day in early August I noticed what looked like strangely pink petals mixed in with the yellow blooms. So I touched a petal, and it fluttered! There are three Primrose Moths (Schinia florida) on this one flower, and another on the back-right bloom:

This really pretty moth, a Large Tolype (Tolype velleda), showed up at our porch light in mid-September:

Also in mid-September, a fantastically bright Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) hung around our driveway for a day or so:

Although not as brightly colored, the bark-patterned undersides of this butterfly's wings are also very pretty:

A little later in September, a bunch of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) came through the yard, and they spent a lot of time on the New England Aster blossoms:

What a beautiful butterfly, on such beautiful flowers:

(This whole place, by the way, was practically carpeted with asters of various species throughout September, but I only ever found two small patches of New England Aster. I'll do my best to help spread this especially showy plant around the property, and in future years I'll be sure to learn what other aster species we have here.)

This sulfur butterfly also made a lovely sight on the small flowers of another aster (perhaps Calico Aster?):

Monarchs have made a surprisingly strong appearance here in the past couple of months. In August and September, a few caterpillars ate some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) I planted (I'm gradually adding to the property's native plant diversity):

Monarch caterpillars sure do have a lot of bold stripes:

Adult Monarch butterflies started passing through the yard more commonly in late September and early October. Here's one individual taking advantage of asters tucked among grass stems in the meadow:

These really are impressive insects:

And here's another Monarch filling up on one of the last goldenrod blooms in early October (along with several other insects):

Along with the Monarchs, several other interesting caterpillars appeared in the past couple of months. A Beautiful Wood-nymph (Eudryas grata) caterpillar -- so stripey and spotty -- was munching on grape leaves in late August:

A few large Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillars made good use of an overgrown bed of mint in mid-September:

Wooly Bears (caterpillars of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella) have been common in the yard throughout late summer and early fall; here's one from this past Thursday, looking a bit lost in especially fall-like surroundings:

At the end of September, on a lilac bush, I found perhaps the strangest caterpillar I've ever seen, Harris' Three-spot (Harrisimemna trisignata):

In addition to the bird-dropping-like (but strangely hairy) outfit, and the bizarrely contorted posture, this caterpillar also has those weird black clumps dangling from its front end... which upon further reading turn out to be its own discarded head capsules from previous molts, still attached to its body by those white hairs. Ahhhh, what a weird creature!

Had enough strange crawling things yet? Here's another one -- an American Giant Millipede (Narceus americanus) that crossed our front walkway at the end of September:

And finally, as temperatures got colder in late September, I was charmed to find bumblebees sleeping in tiers below late goldenrod blossoms:


It's been quite a full two and a half months. And now I'm all caught up with sharing the goings-on here, and fall is in full swing. This morning was another hugely active and bird-filled morning. I'm so excited to see what will come next!


  1. What wonderful pictures and very educational.

  2. You obviously have a wonderful property! Love all the Spring Peepers, and those moth and butterfly shots are great!

  3. Here in northcentral Pennsylvania we never see spring peepers except when they're calling, and then by the hundreds in many wet areas, you're fortunate to find them in warmer, dryer weather.