Garden of E


My Info

Austin, Texas
I've lived and gardened in urban Austin for the past 8 years, after retiring from the last of my several careers. BR (before retirement), most of my life was spent in colder places like Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, and Boston MA. Best thing I've done AR-- becoming a Master Gardener. Other passions-- Austin Farmers' Market, grandchildren, and travel.

photo by Elsa, age 7

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


There are lots of interesting critters showing up these days . I first noticed some lady beetle larvae on a large dill plant that I was about to pull out, since it had gone to seed and had very little green left on it. A few days later I saw 10-15 of them on a bronze fennel. Those are now gone and apparently grown up, but several remain on the dill, so I will wait a couple more days to pull it up and plant a replacement.

Then as I was cleaning up the poppy bed, I saw four strange, horned caterpillars on the pink evening primrose. A little research revealed that they were larvae of the whitelined sphinx moth (one of 3 kinds of 'hummingbird moth'), which made sense since I had seen one the night before around my back porch light. The larvae typically have a lot of color variation, but if you see something similar to this on primrose or pentas, it's probably the Sphinx.

Here is a borrowed photo of the adult.

In the driveway there is a big tarp covering what's left of 2 yards of Geo Growers 'native mix,' and the last rain made little puddles in the folds. This Woodhouse's toad made the best of the shade and water. Buffo woodhousii is common throughout Texas and gets to be 4-5 inches long. According to, its habitat includes "sandy areas near marshes, irrigation ditches, backyards, and temporary rain pools," and its call sounds like a sheep with a bad cold. Click here to listen. This guy stayed in his cool hidey-hole all day, then disappeared just before sunset--off hunting, no doubt.

Below is the very first slug I've ever seen in my yard, known as the common garden slug and prevalent throughout Texas. It showed up on my back deck one night, and at first I thought it was a leaf under the weak porch light. I tipped it into a jar so I could take photos in daylight. It was quite large, about 4 inches, and heavy--about 4-5 ounces. Did you know that slugs are hermaphrodites? Their sex organs are under their mantle (part behind the head), so you can imagine the contortions they have to engage in to have sex with another slug. Actually, there are photos of fornicating slugs that you can google if you really want to have a look. My slug was solo. I put him by the back fence hoping that some toad or bird would find him tasty.

Not a critter, but curious nonetheless, is the manfreda undulata 'Chocolate Chips' I got from YuccaDo nursery and planted in the new bed where all the St. Augustine grass used to be. There are several varieties of manfreda, a deciduous member of agavaceae, and this one was actually developed by YuccaDo from seeds of an unusually wavy form found in Mexico. It looks like an alien starfish that only Salivador Dali could imagine. It blooms in June, and if I'm lucky I'll soon have a 5 foot flower stalk. The plant itself has already doubled in size since planting.

I hope you are discovering some curious critters in your environment.