Thursday, July 11, 2019

Stinging Caterpillar Cautionary Tale

Last week I was watering my potted plants on the back porch when a small patch on my arm began to sting and burn similar to when I've been stung by a wasp. I had not been near a wasp nest that I could tell however so I was perplexed. I finished watering and took a closer look at my arm. I had about three distinct raised areas and some redness similar to what I'd expect from three close proximity stings but without a telltale center spot where a stinger would have stabbed. I could not imagine missing seeing one very active or several wasps. That coupled with the lack of stab points really had me wondering what was going on. The reaction I was having was similar enough to previous insect bites or stings that I took an antihistamine as I had been previously instructed by my doctor in such an event and I dabbed some aloe vera gel on it. One or both treatments helped take the edge off of the symptoms but I still had uncomfortable welts the next morning.

It was a day or two later that I discovered what likely happened. Again, I was watering my plants and noticed a lot of frass near the base of my burr oak sapling's pot and that some leaves on my little oak had been munched. I looked for the culprit and found some very camouflaged caterpillars. When I saw them I had an aha moment about my mystery skin reaction. The green caterpillars had a red and white stripe running down their sides and their back and sides were covered with feathery looking branched protuberances. I suspected these "feathers" were likely the source of my pain a couple of days ago. Based on when I started to feel the sting, I surmise that I brushed against a burr oak leaf while watering and unbeknownst to me, also one of these green caterpillars.

I grabbed my camera and took some pictures so I could identify them. Then I clipped portions of leaves and dropped the caterpillars I could find in a box. I had nine of them by the time I was done. I relocated them to a tree that could withstand a bit of munching better than my little sapling. The next day I found I had missed one so I relocated it too.

The internet is a wonderful thing. I was able to find out pretty quickly that the feathery green caterpillars would become Io moths and yes, they are a stinging caterpillar. The tips of those feathery protuberances are actually tips of spines that transfer venom to what they come in contact with, like my arm. Not all feathery or hairy caterpillars are venomous but better to err on the side of caution and not find out the hard way by touching them.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New Note Cards - "Fireworks" Just in Time for the 4th of July

While thinking about how to wish my readers a happy and safe 4th of July this year and what photos I could use to illustrate my post, all I could think of initially was how I did not have any new fireworks photos to share. Then I remembered a new set of note cards I recently completed. One of them is titled "Fireworks". That seemed apropos for this post. I hope you enjoy my new photographic art image.

First, I want to wish you a happy and safe holiday with your family and friends whether you will be attending a parade, hosting a backyard cookout, watching fireworks, boating, eating watermelon or one of the other myriad things people like to do on the 4th. Remember the sunscreen, food safety tips if you will be taking food somewhere and please stay hydrated.

Second, I will share a bit about how my new "Fireworks" photographic art image came about. I was hoping to develop a couple of new sets of note cards to be printed on the extra heavy card stock that I then box in sets of six (three cards each of two images). My pop art cards have been popular in this format so I looked
through my photos to see which ones might lend themselves to a pop art photographic art treatment. One of the ones that worked out nicely was of mimosa blossoms and buds that I took a few years ago when my husband was umpiring in Livermore, California. Once I developed the image and started to set up the note card file I needed a title to put on the back of the card. Fireworks immediately came to mind, my husband agreed and so that is what I named the image.

The other card image you see boxed in this set is of a gulf fritillary butterfly sipping nectar from ironweed flowers. If I don't get these notecards listed in my EDCCollective shop before the 2019 Fall Gallery Night Artisans Market at BRIT, I will have a couple of sets of these cards with me then.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Storm Farms Summer Produce

Almost two years ago I wrote about an organic CSA farm I toured in Balch Springs, TX. While touring I snapped a few photos and turned a couple of them into photographic art. One of the images I developed was a produce still life and I have contemplated adding more to form a series of produce images. I found an opportunity to do so last night.

A local operation, Storm Farm, has expanded its summer produce offerings and I stopped in to see what was in season last evening. Their sign has been advertising tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans. They did indeed have these as well as yellow squash. In addition to green beans, they also had wax beans. I had not seen those in quite some time. I picked up a box of the wax beans as well as some tomatoes, two yellow squash and a cucumber. Upon bringing my produce home, I set up a still life arrangement from them. I must admit that not all of the wax beans made it into the arrangement, they were too easy to snack on. I used one of the photos that I took to let people know Storms was open in a facebook post, in case anyone needed to grab some fresh produce for dinner and I used another photo to create the new produce photographic art piece seen above.

Storm Farms is better known as a U-pick strawberry farm from late March to late May or early June. They are trying to expand their seasonal offerings. Their summer produce is not U-pick. The experience is more like a small farmer's market or roadside stand (which it is). For fresh, locally grown produce stop by. As the harvest warrants, they plan to be open Tuesday evenings and Saturday and Sunday. See their facebook page for the most up to date time and day info. Hopefully we will see pumpkins in the fall and a Christmas tree market in December too (no, the trees won't be grown on the property).

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Polished Ammonite Fossil Pendant Necklaces

I don't think it is necessary to be a math, science or paleontology geek to enjoy these beautiful ammonite fossil pendant necklaces. However to paraphrase my new listing, if you are, you will find different aspects of them to appreciate in addition to their beauty.

Ammonites are fossil relatives of living nautiluses although they are actually more closely related to today's octopus, squid and cuttlefish. These pendants are made by cutting ammonite fossils in half, polishing the cut surface and mounting them. I have so much fun looking at all of the
different ways they became fossilized when I come across a selection at a trade show. Different minerals produce differently colored areas. The septa, the walls dividing the different chambers in the shells, generally mineralize differently than the chambers so that the lovely patterns they create are visible. The chambers can be varied colors in the same specimen, sometimes they even sport crystals. The backs of some of these pendants show some opalization and flash different colors when light shines off them from various angles.

You will find these as well as other items for the math or science geek in my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop. If you have a special request, let me know and I will see if I can fill it for you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Design This - Black and White Necklace

This custom project was not initiated by a customer nor was it a design for myself, rather it was an appreciation gift for a city staff member who made the right connections and accomplished getting last line designation with the post office for our city. That might sound like pretty dry stuff but since this has been a work in progress on and off for a really, really long time and is very important to a city's identity, I wanted to recognize this accomplishment with more than a pat on the back.

I thanked the staff member and told her that I wanted to create a special piece of jewelry for her as a token of my appreciation. I suggested a necklace and asked what colors or materials she liked. She told me she really liked a black and white color scheme but did not have any specific materials in mind. I looked through my beads and thought my snowflake obsidian teardrops might make a good focal point for
such a necklace. I brought those and a couple of other beads to show the employee. She liked the snowflake obsidian and picked out a teardrop. We decided on a beaded necklace rather than chain with pendant. Then I needed to know how long the necklace should be. I learned long ago that most people can not tell me a measurement but will say something like, "I want it to come to about here." The problem with that response is that not all people are the same shape so the length needed to get to there varies. To address this, I made a measurement chain for people to clasp at different intervals until it lands in the spot they want their necklace to go to. Armed with answers to my questions I set off to design the necklace.

I pulled out all of my beads that were black, black and white, off white to white and clear that I thought would play off the central snowflake obsidian teardrop. After trying several design ideas I settled on the beads shown in the second photo. I chose some additional shapes of snowflake obsidian, crackled quartz, quartz and shell as well as spinel and other black gemstone beads. I decided to use stainless steel findings to finish off the beaded necklace. While I had a specific length necklace to aim for, it can be tricky to get to that exact length with the different sizes of beads and findings used. Luckily everything came together to give the desired length. It was nice to be able to reward a special effort with an item designed to the recipient's specifications. While not a total surprise, I felt better knowing beforehand what style, color and length the wearer would be most interested in.

If you have a favorite color scheme or material choice, I would love to see if I can fulfill your request. Contact me at the email listed in my custom tab of this blog.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Dragonflies vs. Damselflies

A friend of mine recently commented on seeing a skinnier dragonfly than she is used to seeing. I asked if it was a dragonfly or a damselfly. When she was not sure, I realized a post about their similarities and differences was in order. While going through my photos for this post, I also realized I have some images of damselflies that I should create some photographic art from, stay tuned on that thought. Dragonflies and damselflies both come in a variety of colors. I have seen much more variety in dragonflies however. Also, I have only ever seen one size of damselfly but many sizes of dragonflies. The first photo shows a damselfly next to a wasp to get an idea of their size.

As you can see from the photos, dragonflies have much bulkier bodies. (Note: The dragonfly I am using for comparison is a blue dasher and I consider them a mid sized dragonfly. Both insects are resting on similar stalks of dry grass.) And while both insects have large eyes, dragonflies' eyes take up most of their head and do not stand proud or separate as damselflies' eyes do. The resting position of their wings is also different. A dragonfly's wings are held separately at rest and are positioned like airplane wings. However a damselfly holds its four wings together and over its body at rest instead of to the side. Damselfly wings are more slender than dragonfly wings and uniform in shape, unlike dragonfly wings.

Both of these flying insects prey on smaller flying insects such as flies and mosquitoes. In fact Houston is trying to increase their populations to naturally combat mosquitoes and the diseases they spread. (Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Planting Choices to Attract Birds to Your Landscape

I have written about planting native plants in your gardens to attract butterflies, and I know that some flowers produce seeds that are attractive to certain birds but I had not given much thought as to the type of tree growing in my yard making a difference to what birds might visit. To me trees were a source of perches, a safe place to build a nest, a roost away from predators, but it turns out trees provide much more for the birds. Since specific trees are hosts to certain butterflies, those trees could be full of their larvae for birds to dine on. Other trees might host a variety of different avian snacking choices other than the fruits or berries they might produce.

I do have a picture I took of a tree sparrow in a cedar elm as it was budding out one year in which I captured the bird while it was eating. Since it had something the same color as the budding leaves in its beak, I thought it was feasting on the buds. However, after enlarging the photo, it is definitely a caterpillar or worm of the same color as the leaves that the sparrow is chowing down on. I have seen
woodpeckers searching for their food in trees and I know that cedar waxwings, robins and mockingbirds adore yaupon holly berries when they are ripe. But until I read this article promoted by Audubon, I did not think about specific trees providing migrating flocks of songbirds much other than shelter and a place to rest. The article focuses on areas of the country outside of Texas but some of those same trees and species of birds can be found in our great state too. The article does also include a great resource to help someone find, by zip code, native plants from flowers to trees that will attract specific species of birds. While it is easier to update the flowers and possibly the shrubs in your garden, if you happen to be thinking about planting a tree, you now have another criteria to add to your tree selection process.