Purple Passion Flowers and the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

The purple passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) is a native Florida perennial with cool and funky lavender blooms. It blooms through the last spring and summer- if you don’t have too many Gulf Fritillary Butterflies! The attached photo shows our infrequent blooms and the culprit. The Butterfly lays its eggs in the foliage. The hungry caterpillars quickly devour the entire plant and leave us with stems. Just can’t bring ourselves to put pesticide on it to avoid the carnage. The butterflies rely on this plant for its lifecycle. During the summer, the plant makes a few attempts to come back only to be used as a nursery instead.  link to University of Florida extension program with more information on the plant and butterfly life cycle.  The photo of the Gulf Fritillary chrysalis looks exactly like a dried leaf, quite a contrast to the ornate green chrysalis with gold trim of the Monarch Butterfly.  Below is a photo of the bare plant after eggs were hatched and the caterpillars pillaged. You can see the green stems that will come back. The plant is also pretty good at seeding itself (to the right of the base) if it makes it all the way to the flowering stage.IMG_7407




Jack the Newfoundland

We rescued Jack last Fall and he is doing well in his new home. He guards the turtles and keeps predators away. He seems to think he is still a little puppy, weighing in at 100 pounds at less than a year old. We will see how much his coat grows in and how hot the summer is before getting out the sheep sheers! His legs are awfully long and his hip bones are still a little prominent, so no signs he is done growing yet. He has come  along way in behavior training and has a ways to go. He is very loving and plays a lot with our 3 year old Australian Shepherd. For a breed water dog, he is fairly afraid of the pool, the hot summer may change his mind.

Mo the Guinea Pig

This is Mo. She is a 1-2 year old female rescue. She was well loved but had trouble with her female roommate after her roommate had to have a medical procedure.  Sexing a guinea pig is harder than it sounds but is outlined fairly well on Wikihow.  Mo is more pig than Guinnea although she is a rodent that originated in the Andes unrelated to the pig family.  She is pretty loud when excited, mostly when food is coming.  Funny little thing that loves green veggies more than fruit and her cuddle time in the morning. She has a nice habitat and with aspen bedding which smells better than the recycled paper bedding for us.  She stays outside in a screened porch unless the weather conditions become extreme.  She has taken a couple of baths and enjoys a good swim around the bathtub.  If you position her just right on her back she plays stiff as a board, light as a feather.

Bat House

We bought a bat house and are anxiously awaiting the occupation of up to 250 bats in the yard. As you know Florida mosquitos are to be avoided. We have tried the natural lemon grass plants and mosquito plants and citronella without a ton of success. It is a catch 22 to spray up with insecticide or risk one of the many horrible mosquito-born illnesses. Depending on your internet source, bats either eat up to 1,000 mosquitos per hour or only eat mosquitos on accident with no proof that mosquitos are part of their diet. According to the Organization for Bat conservation bats eat up to their weight in insects nightly, including pesky mosquitos. They are mammals classified as chiroptera and benefit the environment in a number of ways including pollination, spreading of plant and flower seeds and helping limit insecticides for crops to flourish. Additionally, scientists have learned from their flight and sonar abilities. We hung a bat house 15-20 feet up on a tree without low braches. We occasionally check for unwanted wasps in the house. It can take up to 2 years to get a full house of bats, so be patient and keep the limbs cut back.

Screech Owls

Love them, so cute, want more. Last summer at dusk we started to feel like we were being watched. We looked up to the new fence holding all the turtles in and saw 5 baby owls sitting in a row. These are screech owls that stand 6 inches tall and they have a distinct sound you can listen to on All about Birds. They come out about with 10 minutes of light left to see them so viewing time is short. The Eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) is fairly common in many states and lives in wooded areas. We have two undeveloped lots behind us with several old trees for owls. We also put up an owl house we purchased from BestNest.com that can also house Kestrels and are hoping that some of the babies will decide to stay. We have an overabundance of lizards, beetles and moths in the area, a staple to their diet. The owls stuck around for about 6-8 weeks last summer and we are hoping that we will see some more very soon. We have the house up and check it for unwanted residents like wasps. We hung the house 15 feet up in a tree and placed some guinea pig bedding in it so here’s keeping our fingers crossed!

Black Racers

Oh what a love hate relationship with the black racer. I (Lindy) am programed to fear snakes but have made an exception for these harmless snakes who are as afraid of us as we are of them. They have somewhat of a territory and apparently keep the poisonous rattle snakes away… and their skins make a funky Halloween decoration. We had a visitor in the new greenhouse before we started growing veggies and greens for the tortoises. luckily Hank is the snake charmer in the family!

Milkweed, butterflies and lady bugs

Our milkweeds have brought tons of Monarch Butterflies to the yard. Milk weed is a native plant that the Monarchs rely on for their lifecycle. Usually the butterflies lay their eggs on the bottoms of the leaves but in this picture, you can see a white dot in the middle which is an egg on the top of the leaf.  Monarchs do quite a bit of examining of the leaf testing for durability before depositing their prized egg. Once the egg hatches and the larvae go to work the leaves quickly disappear due to hungry caterpillars. The milk week fields are dwindling as suburbia takes over natural habitats in Florida. They flowers bloom for months here in vibrant oranges, yellows and pinks.  The caterpillars devour the plants leaving long reeds that grow back 4 or 5 times before they seem to throw in the towel here. Our plants got quite of lot of aphids towards the end of summer last year. They are a pain to get rid of naturally and pesticides and insecticides can harm the eggs and larvae. The aphids can actually eat the eggs or larvae as well. I tried washing the aphids away which worked very temporarily. I was afraid mild soap would be harmful to the eggs. We bought 500 lady bugs for about 5-10$ and they did a great job! We might try the praying mantis approach next time for fun. I am not sure if any of the lady bugs stayed around after the feast but no more aphids. We do have some white flies on our cucumbers and zucchini this year and will try the lady bugs for that and see how it goes.   You can see the lady bugs and the small yellow aphids on the leafs in the picture as well.

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are a fascinating species known for travelling great distances over many generations. On the Gulf Coast of Florida there are also resident Monarchs that stay all year. They feed on dwindling fields of milk weeds. Their life cycle is complex and involves many generations making different legs of the journey to common locals. We have them year round but from the end of May until August, the population increases.  There is nothing better than morning coffee outside with 20 butterflies wafting over head.   The Monarch caterpillars are voracious and trim back the milk weed plant over night once they reach 1-2 inches in length. We often find an almost mature caterpillar on the tip of a stem with no more leaves and move them to another plant for feeding.  Last year we put one of the milk weeds plants with butterfly eggs in a tank on the screened in porch. We were able to watch the caterpillars wiggling into their tight cocoons-their chrysalises are delicate and shiny light green with a band of gold around the brim, in stark contrast the chrysalis of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly that looks like a brown dead leaf.  18 gorgeous butterflies emerged from their chrysalises a couple of weeks later. They dried their wings for a day and stocked up on watermelon and orange fruit before being released.

Yellow Bellied Sliders

This is a yellow bellied slider, a common Florida turtle that thrives in a number of environments as well as in captivity. Commonly found at pet stores, they tend to live longer than many owners are willing to invest.  The majority of our rescues are yellow-bellied sliders from previous pet owners.  They require circulating water and much filtering to keep tanks clean.  They are omnivores and eat small gold fish, guppies and dried food, all of which can be a bit pricy over time as well. Many of our rescues have cracked shells and were found near residential areas. They can live 20 years and reach 1 foot in diameter. The bask in the sun and require UV light for proper nutrition. We keep the smaller turtles inside in tanks and take them to the bigger ponds when they are a bit stronger. We have built 3 ponds outside with beach and basking areas. Check out our tutorial on some DIY filters that have been less expensive that many store bought options. We also have 1 large tank inside and 1 on a screened in porch for the smaller rescues saved from becoming soup or pets thrown into empty house lots.  Currently we are accepting new rescues and have plans to build another pond to house new residents.

Speedy Pie the Sulcatta Tortoise

Speedy Pie is our curious 6 year old African Sulcata Tortoise. We found her on the road 4 years ago when she was about 2 years old and 6 inches in diameter. She is currently 12″ in diameter and weighs 16 pounds. She loves eating vegetables and fruits and sometimes knocks over the cat food to get a little treat even though she does not need animal protein in her diet. She gets fed a nice salad twice times per week. She stayed inside for years parked at the refrigerator until this nice habitat was built for her. She has access to the beach at the pond but doesn’t go in it except to drink. She basks in the sun during the day and stays in her Teepee for protection at night.  She patrols the perimeter of her habitat several times per day checking for loose bamboo. She eats the fresh tomatoes growing over her border although watermelon is her favorite.  She looks like a dinosaur when she eats and can run after you fairly fast if she knows you have food. She flips sand on her to keep cool at times. She will grow to 24″ and 70-100 pounds.  Her species originated from Northern Africa but she was most likely bred here in Florida since the tortoise has been in the US so long.  She can live till age 70 so our Grandchildren will have to love her as we do.  You can tell a female from a male from their shell curvature. We are currently growing a variety of vegetables, grasses and lettuce types for her and her mini counterpart, Sailor.