Stay Curious

Header Image: Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)

“Those are some tall thistles!”

My mistress of understatement was right. Soon, I would be threading my way through that sticky forest and would discover most of these plants were two to three feet above head height. Did I mention they were sticky?

Our day began later than some as we were heading to one of Florida’s state parks. Apparently, adding the word “state” to a park’s name automatically entitles it to some regulatory status which precludes gates being unlocked until sensible government-paid workers have had a chance for adequate rest.

So, an hour-and-a-half after sunrise, we eased up to the ranger station, forked over our fee and headed off to explore Colt Creek State Park. Actually, the ranger on duty was extremely nice and even had a name which suited her radiant disposition: “Sunny“. She is an enthusiastic photographer and kindly suggested a few areas to search for our B3 specialties. (Birds, Blooms, Bugs)

It is now late spring or early summer, depending on which “authority” you would like to believe. It’s Florida, so heat, humidity and afternoon thunderstorms are now scheduled until – well, until they aren’t. Migratory birds are but a memory. Flowers seem to increase in number with each successive trip. A seemingly infinite inventory of insects await identification.

I know there are plenty of people (a majority, perhaps) who would be quite happy to drive through the park roads and thoroughly enjoy the sights and sounds of Nature. For some, that is all that’s needed. A day out of the house. A respite from the office, the news, the shopping – from life. And that is absolutely fine.

We are curious.

Gini and I have always had an innate curiosity about living things. As a younger lass, my gentle-natured partner in life discovered the fascinating world of dragonflies. She quickly learned that to simply grab one would result in being bitten. Not all that painful, but it resulted in the immediate release of said bug. Her persistence led to a stealthy, from-behind-approach which contributed to a high rate of successful captures. Those eyes! She was intrigued by the many facets and colors of Odonata eyes. When her Mother found her collection of dragonfly heads secreted away in a matchbox and made her dispose of them, she was crushed. (Even today, I must watch her closely as I focus the camera on a Skimmer else it would soon become headless.)

My own budding naturalist tendencies were more diverse. A matchbox was insufficient to house my findings, so a shoebox (or three) under the bed held such collectibles as snake skins, softshell turtle eggs, dried lizards and frogs, birds’ nests and some cool-looking spiky white things I found in the logs on the patio. Turns out those were the eggs of a Black-Widow Spider. Mothers are relentless detectives. Mine eventually followed her nose around the bedroom and, can you believe it, she made me dump my hard-earned treasure in the trash can (outside)! Yes, I, too, was crushed.

Fortunately, we both survived our overbearing Nature-hating Mothers, ultimately found each other and have lived happily ever after searching the globe for Natural treasures!

Oh, here are some now.

This is a young Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera). These large insects go through five or six sub-stages (called instars) as they develop from nymphs to adults. This one is in its fourth or fifth instar based on the length of its new wings and overall size. Adults can vary in color from all black, mostly dark, mostly yellow or light yellow/orange. They range throughout the southeastern U.S. coastal plain states.

Our early morning was brightened by the sight of a patch of bright yellow lilies. Bandanna-of-the-Everglades (Canna flaccida) can be found in many wetland areas and, despite its common name, grows in several southeastern U.S. states.

These are not cones on this cypress tree. They are galls caused by a tiny midge fly (Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa). Although they can become unsightly, they don’t really cause much damage to the tree and, fortunately, they have many predators who help keep their population in check. Due to the high number of natural predators, insecticide treatment is not recommended.

Why did the Wild Turkey cross the road? I have no idea but it certainly wasn’t to provide a better opportunity for the slow-to-react picture-taker!

One never knows what might be around the next bend in the path. These White-tailed Deer were at least as surprised as we were!

The warm morning sun began to dry the vegetation enough to encourage insects to become very active. A tall thistle makes a perfect lookout spot for a hungry Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina).

Nesting season keeps parents very busy trying to feed new hungry chicks. A Great Crested Flycatcher didn’t stay still for long, scooping up anything resembling protein and zooming back home.

The state butterfly for Florida, Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia), is quite a beauty.

Half buried in a thistle bloom is a species of Flower Beetle (Trichiotinus spp.). The nectar is sweet and pollen shall be spread.

A female Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena) is more colorful than her overall dark-colored male counterpart.

It would be easy to pass by a lone stem supporting a single pale blossom in an open field. Upon closer inspection, a Carolina Desert-Chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus) reveals an explosion of yellow details sufficient to brighten any day!

Thistles. Who knew they were so attractive to so many insects? This Bumble Bee for one. Me, for another.

Reaching new heights for surveillance, a Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) is easily eight feet high. This particular thistle species is Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii). Our area has one other common member of this family, Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum). C. horridulum seldom exceeds two or three feet in height wheras C. nuttalli often grows to more than eight feet. Additionally, C. horridulum has spiny bracts at the base of the flower and C. nuttalli does not. (There will be a test later, so study hard.)

One of our favorite yellow blooms, with its starched-look petals and deep purple center, is the Mexican Pricklypoppy (Argemone mexicana).

Small and quick, this time of year produces an incredible number of Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) dragonflies. Whether you spot the female with her reddish-brown eyes and yellow-and-black body or the male with bright green eyes dressed in his powder-blue suit, they are quite distinctive.

We had hoped to find this next subject today as we have seen it here in years past. Fortune smiled. The Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) is a large moth which enjoys searching for nectar during the daytime. They love thistles. What a coincidence!

Found in several states of the southeastern U.S. coastal plain, the Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) is one of our larger dark-colored swallowtails. That guy Mr. Linnaeus loved his Greek mythology and Palamedes was one of the heroes of the Trojan War. Papilio is the Latin word for butterfly.

Utility lines are not pretty. An Eastern Bluebird is.

Purple seemed to be everywhere we looked today. At the edge of a lake, Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) was in bloom.

A rose by any other name, would still be pretty thorny, and yet, beautiful. Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) is no exception. This particular specimen was about six feet tall and there were several bushes spread out over 20 feet. Very mean-looking thorns made me thankful for a zoom lens.

We were evidently born with some sort of curiosity gene which has driven us to explore and ask questions about Nature. When we stop asking questions, it will be time to seek professional care. Go outside! Stay curious!

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

28 Comments on “Stay Curious

  1. I have no problem staying curious, I just wish it had started at an early age such as it did for you and Gini. All the time I spent playing sports, in hindsight, would have been much better spent chasing dragonflies…without beheading them. 🙂
    As I age I find heat and humidity much more bothersome and can’t imagine surviving your environment. But you might say the same about our winters with the occasional below 0° days.

    There are a lot of critters you see there regularly that cause me jealousy but I think the Lubber makes me the greenest. They are gorgeous little beasts.

    Like

    • If we were to be philosophical, I reckon we could muse about how our past experiences are what formed us into the being we are today.

      Fortunately, I rarely become philosophical about anything.

      We were quite fortunate to have lived for a time in upstate New York and we really fell in love with the autumn colors and the beauty of freshly fallen snow. About the seventh day in a row of chipping ice from around the door handle to be able to unlock the car, the love affair waned a bit. Then our very kind old Uncle (Sam) thought it would be keen to send these Floridians to northeastern Germany for several years. Had to go out the bedroom window in January in order to go shovel the snow drifts away from the front door so it could be used.

      Good times!

      We take our Lubbers for granted, photographically, due to there prevalence. I keep promising myself to pay more attention to the somewhat maligned ‘hoppers.

      Heading out now to look for Lubbers, and things.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Although I do not miss the summer storms since moving from south Florida to Connecticut, I dearly miss the wonderful warm light and the abundance of natural B-3’s to photograph. Wonderful and entertaining narrative and imgages.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Ken.

      We’ll try to keep you updated on nature’s goings-on virtually so you can enjoy it all in air-conditioned comfort.

      Like

  3. The best thing about working in the heat may be that it toughens me up for jaunts into nature. While my friends spend their weekends huddled in the AC, I’m willing to get out and about — although your advice to start early and drink often does apply. Now that I have my car back (therein lies a tale!) I may do a little jaunting this weekend.

    Your Carolina Desert-Chicory looked identical to ours in the closeup, but somewhat different in the wider view. It seemed especially tall. Once again, ‘the same, but different’ applies. Our version is Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus, the Smallflower desert-chicory: aka ‘Texas dandelion.’ Do yours close early? Ours seem to disappear by noon or early afternoon, as they close up for the day.

    I waited a bit to comment, curious to know if your title reminded anyone else of a certain commercial. ‘Stay Curious’ brought to mind the tagline used by the most interesting man in the world: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” The connection makes sense to me, since keen curiosity helps to create interesting people!

    Like

    • Age has definitely made a difference in my ability to remain busy on really hot and humid days. I swear I’m gonna get a Tee-shirt made with Gini’s famous quote: “Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies!”

      This little weed with the pretty flower gets around and I think it nefariously plans to vex taxonomists the world over. The more I research, the more confused-er I get! Several “experts” refer to P. carolinianus and P. pauciflorus with alternate common names of Texas Dandelion and False Dandelion. Sigh.

      And, yes, whatever she is called, by lunch time she is ready for a nap.

      I honestly didn’t think of the “Stay thirsty” connection! But by your measure, we sure are getting to know a lot of interesting people.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I do have some sympathy with the both of you – and your parents! I’m rather pleased that your mother ejected the box with the Black Widow eggs, Wally! I too lost more than a few of my childhood treasures. Most of this happened during the term time when I was away at boarding school form the age of 10. For example, a collection of dead butterflies and a few dragonflies mysteriously disappeared.

    I’ll never tire of enjoying your wonderful narration and beautiful photos. I have a favourite here which might surprise you and that is that fabulous Hummingbird Clearwing

    Lindsay and I are now testing negative for covid, but are very much lacking in stamina, and five minutes in an armchair will result in sleep.

    Best wishes to you both – stay safe – – – Richard

    Like

    • I have yet to figure out if we survived childhood due to or in spite of our parents.

      Since we raised to responsible children, I tend to think it must be “due to” great parenting. 🙂

      We are very happy to hear you rid of that bug. Now, rest as much as possible and resist the urge to weed the garden, clean the pond or go birding. (I shall understand if you violate that last one. But try not to.)

      All the best from the humid tropical state of Florida.

      Like

  5. Mothers! At the time I wondered how my pet mice with new babies disappeared overnight from their little wooden box complete with glass front for the curious but innocent kid. You just reminded me of what happened to the little mites – “Eaten by the parents”. Huh!

    Good to hear that Gini and you eventually found something nice to treasure.

    You’re right my friend. Retaining a sense of curiosity with an enquiring and often sceptical mind-set is an essential part of today’s world. I recommend a dose of https://dailysceptic.org.

    Enjoy your days together – we do.

    Like

    • I guess surviving childhood is Nature’s way of making sure we’ll be good parents ourselves. Based on our own kids, we did good.

      That is a terrific website!

      Our summer is in full swing despite what is marked on the calendar. The good news is, the creatures are VERY active!

      Like

  6. I’m so glad your curiosity genes weren’t turned when your mothers disposed of your childhood treasures. I would have enjoyed all the items in your collection except for the spider eggs. I assume they were discarded before they hatched?!
    Thank you for continuing to share your wonderful discoveries of Florida’s flora and fauna. I find your dragonflies and thistle-loving moth particularly impressive.

    Like

  7. About that test at the end….YES…that’s my answer! I’ve seen many of these. lol And I wonder now if I am calling all the yellow flowers dandelions and they aren’t that at all. My hubby saw a Hummingbird Clearwing the other day in our roses! I went out this morning to the preserve and a Bobwhite walked right across the trail in front of me. I stood still in case the ‘fam’ walked by but he was by himself I think. It’s HOT but I can’t stay inside every day! Enjoy your week and thanks for variety you show AND identify! I’m amazed! So do I get an E for effort? Diane

    Like

    • I have checked with our administrator and she says you definitely deserve an A+ for your very gracious comments!

      That Carolina Desert-chicory definitely reminds me of a Dandelion. A very TALL one.

      It’s definitely warming up out there! Go early. Stay hydrated. Take pictures.

      Like

  8. Great shot of the GC Flycatcher and the Hummingbird Clearwing is by far my favorite moth – wonderful collection of images all around.

    Like

  9. When I was a young boy, probably no more than eight, I found a dead bat. Never having seen a live one, I was especially delighted and considered it a special treasure. I took it home and put it in the drawer with all my other curios. Predictably, a short time later a distinct odour was permeating the room and when I opened the drawer it was crawling with maggots! I forget what kind of punishment I received but I am sure it was unpleasant. Maybe as unpleasant as the maggots!

    Like

    • Ahhh, the curious child. And then we grew up.

      Hopefully, most of us retain the questioning mind but have learned to administer a dose of common sense.

      And to temper our response to our own child’s “treasures”.

      Like

  10. Beautiful shots! You saw some good stuff on those tall thistles. The ones at Myakka State Park park get that tall but I didn’t see a single thing on them during my last visit.

    Like

  11. Your climate (and particularly at the moment) makes me shudder. Heat and humidity are not my friends. Nature is though. So much to wonder about, so much to wonder at.
    Thanks for this humidity free wander.

    Like

    • We suffer the steamy jungles so you don’t have to, EC!

      You can virtually wander with us any time. No telling what we’ll find.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: