About Me
My Photo
Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
View my complete profile

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Autumn Critter Post

Yesterday the sun shone on the soil yard at The Natural Gardener, and the 87°F/30.5ºC air was ripe with the scent of manure as we filled bags of compost and rose soil. This morning the wind gusted merrily, knocking over potted plants and the thermometer read 53°F/11.6ºC - much more like fall.

Some of the small creatures around our garden tend to disappear once cool weather arrives and my chances for better photos of them are disappearing, too. So these pictures are not art but witness - a reminder to me of some creatures who shared our space in 2008.

Our first Meyer's Lemon tree did well in a container and back in 2006 I debated planting it in the ground but worried about hardiness. Christopher (then in Hawaii but now Outside Clyde in North Carolina) encouraged me to quit dithering and buy a second tree. After I took his advice and planted a second lemon near the house wall in 2007, the tree survived winter, has made a handful of lemons and is now about 5-feet tall.

ately some of the leaves looked chomped but I didn't know what was eating them
. Then a couple of days ago I saw what to the unassisted eye almost looked like a bird dropping on a leaf - perhaps 3/4 inch in length.

But do bird droppings turn their heads when a flash goes off?

This seems to be the caterpillar of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly - found fairly easily by searching for Bird Poop + caterpillars. A few eaten leaves won't matter on this larger tree so I'll leave it alone and hope for butterflies. The cat even looked a little bigger this morning. If a bird poop caterpillar appears on the other Meyer's Lemon, which still grows in a container and comes inside the house for winter, it will be relocated to the in-ground plant! I want that potted Meyer's Lemon to hold onto its leaves and give me flowers and fruit, but wish the tropical milkweed looked less pristine. I enjoy the flowers but the reason I grow two large plants of this Asclepias is so they can be eaten by Monarch butterfly larvae. This fall I've only seen two Monarchs and not a single caterpillar. I fell like a hostess who sent out invitations for dinner and had no one show up.

ow long will the geckos stick around? They're always high up on the veranda walls, ca
tching insects that swarm to the porch lights. None seem to be native - guess this one is a
Mediterranean gecko Hemidactylus turcicus

I've also read that another introduced gecko is found around Austin, so wonder if this pink one on the brick could be a House gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus. Doesn't it look a little like a newly hatched bird before it fledges?There are some interesting other species described here: GeckoWeb Profiles.

Another non-native critter appears on the sidewalk outside the back door when we get rain - small snails. I rarely see snails that look like the ones in cartoons - with a round high-top shell.
Ours are conical brown snails - predators of the round top types. They're used as a
natural control in citrus groves. Decollate Snails

Earlier in summer my son noticed an odd insect - it looked as if parts of other insects like a moth, grasshopper and a praying mantis had been glued together. Because one of its legs was missing it was easy to gently place it on the windowsill for a photo before we released it back into one of the big containers where we'd found it. A search found more about our M

The large critters are getting bolder! Last year I spent hours trying to sneak up on the squirrels and would have been happy to have a photo like this.

This year I took the first photo, then kept moving closer, and the squirrel held its ground for a close-up.
I didn't have any trouble sneaking up on this last creature - because only the name is animal. My friend Ellen gave me a start of a toadlily in early spring and although the leaves show the stress of the hot, dry summer, the flowers still opened. They're about the size of a quarter and don't look impressive at a distance but sure are fascinating when you move in really close.


  1. Your garden is rich with visitors. I have an autumn critter tale that I need to post soon.

  2. Annie,
    We were bombarded with Monarchs a few weeks ago and they laid lots of eggs on the the milkweed. Like you, we have not seen a single caterpillar this year.

    I don't like squirrels in the garden because they did up too many things. But, I love the picture of the one with the nut in his mouth. How cute is that?!-Randy

  3. What a cute squirrel picture! I feel the same way about the milkweed. I planted a few and only saw one monarch caterpillar, it was there for a couple of days then disappeared. Either the birds or praying mantis was eating the swallowtail caterpillars too.

    I like the purple color in the toadlily.

  4. It's funny how your quirky query (bird-poop caterpillars) produced useful information. Those search engines are learning just how we humans, or at least gardeners, think. Scary! Thanks for the humorous, informative post, Annie.

  5. Hi Annie, what an amusing post! I loved hearing about Christopher in his tropical days too. He is so smart. The slightly disgusting caterpillar did seem larger the next day, if that is the sequence of the photos. Hope you get to take a shot of the beautiful butterfly he becomes. We have that same type of milkweed, not sure if it is hardy here, but we will try anything to get the monarchs. I agree, hostess with no guests here too. We have the cartoon type snails with the round houses, not your type, yours are interesting. But that rascal squirrel daring you to come closer with what looks like a pecan? is a riot. ;->

  6. Annie,

    I love the critters that visit our gardens. Squirrels seem to be extra funny as the weather cools and nuts become available. I didn't know that there were introduced ginkos in Austin...I wonder if it was accidental or deliberate?

    We had one Monarch butterfly visit the garden this summer...not one caterpillar on the milkweed...just those Milkweed Bugs! I wonder if they prefer the swamp milkweeds or another one better?


  7. Annie: That squirrel is a nut! Made me LOL! Really, what an expression! Toadlillies are so exotic.

  8. A nice array of critters Annie. Those squirrels are a menace but look cute as can be with their mouths stuffed with nuts.

    I love to see lizards and geckos. These are some odd looking geckos. Iwonder where they came from, or how they came to be in your garden.

    I have never seen snails with conical shells. It must get too cold here for them to survive.

  9. Hmm, that bird-poop caterpillar and mantidfly sure are interesting. I suspect the mantidfly would be highly interested in the caterpillar as well. Great squirrel shot too.

  10. I really appreciate your curiosity about all these creatures. I often don't take the time to identify the ones that visit me. Too busy checking things off my to-do list.

  11. That's such a great shot of the squirrel ... cheeky little bugger! Aren't toad lilies just the coolest?

  12. You have a very beautiful toad lily-glad it opened and bloomed for you this year. Great picture of the caterpillar-too weird. And I have never seen snails like that. Ours are the cartoon ones.

  13. I've just got to say that caterpillar is quite ugly. But how clever it is to disguise itself as bird poo so it doesn't get eaten (that is, if caterpillars can be clever). And you are pretty sharp, too, to find it with that search combination! You can find anything on the 'net.

    Thanks for this fun post, especially that squirrel.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  14. Love the critters, Annie. Have you thought about taking in your bird poop caterpillar and watching it turn into a butterfly?

    I really like the toad lily too, so delicate and beautiful.

  15. Wow...I wish I had those snails! Especially is they really do reduce the population of the other snails for which I need to always watch out. But do they eat your plants too? Or are they only carniverous?

  16. I look forward to that tale, Tabor!

    Bloggers in other parts of Austin talk about lots of monarchs - maybe it's geography!
    The squirrels are annoying, Randy & Jamie, but even I had to think this one was cute.

    The birds are suspects here, Robin of Nesting Place - it's been a dry year and many birds come for the fountain. I saw a couple of mantises awhile back but none recently.

    It's fun to guess the right way to ask the question of the search engine, isn't it Walk2Write? I'm glad you liked the post!

    You've been lucky enought to actually meet Christopher, Faire Frances...it sounds like a mutual admiration society has been formed! I enjoyed Christopher's posts on garden forums a few years ago, and was happy to see him start the first blog.
    The caterpillar chose smaller leaves the second day - so was just a little larger.

    The squirrel cracked me up, Gail. I think the ginkos came in through southern ports and just worked their way up.
    I had milkweed bugs for awhile - also the yellow aphids.

    I guess he felt safe on the other side of the fence, Layanee! This is my first actual sighting of a blooming toadlily - only saw photos until now!

    There are only a few pecans this year and most are high in the trees across the street, Lisa at Greenbow - he had to work for that nut!
    I think both Geckos and conical snails are subtropical but don't quote me!

    I found the caterpillar myself, Pam/Digging, but might not have known there was such a thing as a mantidfly if my son hadn't pointed it out.

    The chicks have flown the nest and I have high speed internet, Kathy - it's time to indulge decades of pent-up curiosity!

    It was exciting to get that close, Cindy of Katy! And quite satisfying to have the toadlilies bloom.

    Hi Tina - Ellen's didn't bloom so I feel a little guilty - but only a little!
    The other snails make me think 'escargot' - these snails remind me of the kind at the ocean.

    Carol - it's not lovely at all - but now I've become attached to it and am worried about our predicted drop in temperature!
    My husband thinks my mind must be compatible with google - I'm pretty good at finding things for him, too!

    Vertie, one website said these larvae are really hard to raise, and although I brought in monarchs back in Illinois, I haven't had much success with caterpillars in Texas so I refrained.

    The decollate snails are sold on Citrus farm sites on the internet, Leslie. One site said they were the most common snail in Austin - maybe came in with all the citrus trees everyone buys here?
    I haven't seen them on green leaves - they're usually on petals of spent flowers - they love the mushy brugmansia trumpets!

    Thanks for the comments!


  17. I loved the critter posting Annie. I'm a big fan of critters myself. We had a Buttermilk Coachwhip snake in the garden this morning.

    I really liked the Toad lily picture. That is one beautiful flower and the closeup was wonderful.

  18. Annie, Thanks for including the photo of the Mantidfly--that's a species I've never seen! Its forelegs look almost like lobster claws. And the caterpillar is huge! I don't think you were alone in not seeing many monarchs this year; there were fewer of them here in central Illinois as well this summer. You have made me feel a little better, though--I was disappointed that my first butterfly flowers didn't bloom. They looked as if something had chewed on them; now I'm hopeful it was a caterpillar!

    Great photos; apparently the squirrel wasn't worried you were going to steal his snack:)

  19. I have the same problem with my butterfly weed. The butterflies swarm over the mistflower and the duranta. We even saw a huge Monarch last Sunday. But they don't seem to ever stop by the butterfly weed.

    Great squirrel shot!

  20. Great fun - it is always good to notice what is going on in the garden besides the buds and blooms.

    I am going to try growing some native milkweed from seed for the coming year and hope to garner more monarch attention that way. My tropical milkweed survived intact this year.

    We had geckos short out our sprinkler system control box last year - they nested in there. I haven't seen many this year but we still have lots of anoles around.

    Thanks for sharing!

  21. Well. Learnt something new today. What I thought was a swallowtail caterpillar was not one at all. I always thought that was what was on my parsley. That toad lily certainly has a pretty flower- quite orchid like. Isn't it amazing how the camera brings out what the naked eye can't see?
    Also, so many times I find other bloggers are thinking to post about the same things. I had plans for a critter post too.

  22. Oooh... the mantidfly is cool! I'd never heard of those before, either, so I appreciate you taking a picture. :)

    I sure hope that you have giant swallowtail butterflies emerging around your place soon, Annie. How fun!

  23. Monarchs are just now visiting my yard, and they're definitely interested in the tropical butterfly weed. Maybe they're headed your way next.

    Your squirrel picture is hilarious... that little guy has personality and you caught it!

  24. Thank you so much for the info on the large swallowtail bird poop! We had those all over our grapefruit and tangerine trees. Very good blog.

  25. Hi Annie!

    I love all your critter photos! Well done! That squirrel means business with the nut in his mouth. Heehee!

    I have the same frustration with my milkweed: I've offered it consistantly and have even seen Monarchs visit, but thus far no caterpillars...but hope springs eternal. Your geckos are totally cool, btw. I've only seen one on my house, but I didn't know it was non-native. Cool GeckoWeb link! Thanks! :-)

  26. Oh wow, those flowers are gorgeous.

  27. Hi Annie,

    Love all of your critters. Great shots, and I've never seen a Mantidfly or the one gecko. Thanks for such an interesting post and Happy Halloween.~~Dee

  28. That shot of that squirrel cracked me up, it's so funny. What weird caterpillars you have in Austin, Annie. Very envious of your toadlilies, mine have all died. snif

    Happy Halloween!

  29. Annie was that squirrel hissing at you? That's quite the face it's pulling! --Curmudgeon

  30. Oh I love those geckos. Best of luck with your lemons! I have not been able to overwinter a citrus yet, but may try again next year, after starting it outside.

    Gorgeous photos.

  31. I figure that must be a pecan in the squirrel's mouth - what a fearless creature! I wish we had geckos here. I'd love finding them in my garden.

    Your toad lilies are beautiful. I'm glad they survived the hot, dry summer.

    Maybe the Monarchs will surprise you and you'll find your Milkweed eaten ... have a good weekend, Annie!

  32. It was such a treat to sneak back online today (after being offline on medical leave for many weeks)to post a few things and then to pop over and feast my sick eyes on your lovely blog. I too grow Meyer Lemon trees and just posted some photos today of mine. My crop this year will be about 3 dozen on my 3 trees and should be perfectly ripe by Thanksgiving. They are so juicy and make the best lemonade I've ever tasted.
    I will be back to read and catch up on all your posts that I have missed while being off. Best regards, Jon at Mississippi Garden on 11-1-08

  33. I laughed when I saw your 'bird poop caterpillar'! I remember when I saw them the first time: I thought that a whole flock of birds had pooped on my Meyer's Lemon. Then I noticed the poop...GROWING...and...MOVING! I was thrilled though that they were giant swallowtail caterpillars.

    Your toadlily is beautiful! I agree that from a distance they aren't so showy, but up-close they're just gorgeous.

  34. The squirrel photo is great! It has to be rewarding to get lemons from your own tree. I have one that I have to overwinter inside. I do get lemons on it but they don't turn yellow. I guess they don't have enough time? The toad lily is stunning. I just bought one a few weeks ago.

  35. Bob, I like the idea of a Buttermilk Coachwhip snake, but don't think I'd want to be close enough for the macro mode!

    Isn't the mantidfly wild, Rose? It was very exciting to see it. The caterpillar is on newer young leaves in the second photo - still under an inch-and-a-half. I saw one monarch yesterday, but no caterpillars yet.

    My duranta never bloomed but the butterflies like the mistflower, MSS!

    Hi TexasDeb - I planted native milkweed and it barely survived for a couple of years then dwindled away, while the tropical kind lived over and even reseeded.
    I hope the geckos stay out of trouble here!

    Hi Lancaster Jenny - this one is a giant swallowtail and it likes citrus. The stripey ones on parsley are Black Swallowtails. There are a lot of different swallowtail butterflies!

    I wish there were a few more caterpillers, Blackswamp Kim - hope there are both males and females developing somewhere!

    Hi Renee - that's a hopeful thought! The squirrels are bold here.

    Hi Darla - you have real tropicals! Thanks for stopping and commenting.

    I'm glad to know it's not just my milkweed that is ignored, Dawn - maybe I should try the native Asclepias tuberosa again to see if the Monarchs like it better.
    I think the geckos like the veranda, and they seem to be more numerous since we switched the bulbs in the porch lights to CFL bulbs.

    Thank you, Katina - my friend Ellen is such a sharing person.

    Hello Dee - when my son saw that mantidfly it was so wonderful to be able to find it online - not a common insect! I hope your Halloween was a good one, too.

    Hi Yolanda Elizabet - he's almost as cute as a cat or dog, right? I hope the toadlilies overwinter well and come back next Halloween.

    The squirrel had a pecan stuffed in his mouth, Curmudgeon - and I think his plan was to bury it in my vegetable garden.

    I never tried citrus in the north EAL - but other people seem to do well if they can get enough light on the little trees. There are a few lemons on each tree - a couple just turning yellow.

    You're right, Kate Smudges - a pecan was in the squirrel's mouth but I was in the vegetable garden so he couldn't plant it. I look for Monarch caterpillars every day1

    Hello Jon! It's good to see you able to visit and blog. I'm heading over later to see your Meyer's Lemon crop. We've enjoyed ours in Cranberry relish for Thanksgiving.

    The caterpillars are so odd looking, Pam in SC - and now I wonder if some were inadvertently tossed when I cut back branches that stuck out too far in the walk. I'll know better now!

    Thank you Phillip. The tree in a container comes in and out all winter, dragged into the garage or kitchen whenever the temperatures is near or below 32°F. They take a long time to get from a from blossom to a yellow lemon - about as long as having a baby!

    Thank you for all the comments!


  36. Well well people have been busy photographing birds, butterflies, garden whimsies etc., but critters...! That is something very novel.
    I can't help but marvel at how perception of beauty is so subjective; a caterpillar which looks like a bird poop will transform into a beautiful butterfly! amazing.
    I enjoyed the post, though the Gecko gave me goosebumps.

  37. Cool blog entry! and super educational...love the birdpoop larvea...I want one!

  38. Hi Annie, that caterpillar is sure a homely-looking fellow. I can understand how he'd be mistaken for a bird poop!

    I love the shots of that very bold squirrel. He's adorable.

    I love your toad lily. The nursery owner gave me a sickly Lemon Twist toad lily. It revived here in my garden, and I was even able to divide it, but it didn't bloom this year. I'll be looking forward to seeing them bloom next year.

  39. Oh, I hope you're not in trouble with bold squirrels! I have one that lets me get pretty close. I have to chase it with the yardstick or the broom when it starts digging in the beds or the planters, otherwise it just ignores me. They are cute, cheeky little beggars, though.
    I love your Geckos. That pink one is so funky. I'm glad your Toadlily survived the summer. It's beautiful!

  40. Annie,

    Is this the first view of critters living in your spectacular garden ever posted? Lots of life going on there, thanks to you... :o) I like it!

    Gecko, snail, Mantidfly, and oh my, that squirrel close-up made me laugh out loud.

    Speaking of blooms, however, that Toadlily is striking.

    Perhaps you forgot to mention the avian critters? LOL!

    Austin is stretching summer through fall, nicely.


  41. I love this post! Just found your blog through Tina's In the Garden blog, where she has featured your post.

    Loved seeing the decollete snails! They sell them around here for brown snail control, and I've heard that they are very effective once they've colonized. You're fortunate to have them!

    Look forward to more critters posts...

  42. Critters are one of the most entertaining aspects of gardening, aren't they, Annie? I loved seeing all yours. That mantisfly is really fascinating.
    And the squirrel close-up is a winner! :)
    I sure would love to see a bird poop caterpiller!

  43. That toadlily is stunning. I've never seen one.

    Congrats on the blog of note!


A comment from you is like chocolate - maybe I could live without it, but life is more fun with it. I'll try to answer. If someone else's comment piques your interest, please feel free to talk among yourselves.