One of the classes we took last semester was toxicology. Part of our grade was the ability to accurately identify native plants and common poisons from samples of them. Unfortunately, most of our curriculum is done through powerpoints that are given for 3-4 hours a day, then we have indoor laboratories during the afternoons. When we’re done, we have tests to study for at home, so getting outside while studying has become a goal of mine. Why? Because I love being outside, soaking up the rays and exploring, and, well, I also like getting decent grades. So why not combine the two?
We got our chance to do that with toxicology. Several of us hitched up our dogs and went to one of the large lake parks to find as many plants on our list as possible. Well, we did, but we also found some other cool things (and the Other Half took pictures of them with his nice camera, so there’s not as much I-Spy skill required).
The first thing we noticed was that a lot of the fall blooms were attracting some rather gorgeous butterflies, including both gulf and variegated fritillaries.
Variegated fritillaries have a lot of detail on their wings, but gulf fritillaries are much easier to spot and are more striking in their colors. They’re a deeply saturated orange with white spots on the outside of their wings, a white body, and orange eyes.
There were also some buzzing insects hanging out in the area, though they were attracted to quite different flowers.
Now, these weren’t the plants we were supposed to be studying. For some reason, there weren’t any bugs on the nightshade flowers, though we did see several tiger moth caterpillars on all the milkweeds we were looking at (with terrible pictures, so they don’t get to be on here).
On our way out, we actually saw two more pretty cool things. The first one we noticed was the four-inch caterpillar on the ground.
What is this stunning beauty? Some exotic butterfly caterpillar bound to change the world?
Nope. It’s a white-lined sphinx moth. The adults are about 3/4 the length of the caterpillar and look something like this:
Pretty cool, but nondescript compared to the caterpillar.
Now, much like owls, I’ve been trying to get pictures of the ospreys in the area for weeks. Months. Not quite years since we’ve only been really keeping the species list up for the last year or so, but suffice it to say longer than I’ve been gunning for owls.
So imagine my surprise when this dude just popped in to grab a snack. Which he then dropped. Giving us time to whip out the cameras while he flailed around trying to fight his food from whatever loch monster lies in the depths of the lake.
Added bonus: I got an A on that test. Best study session ever.