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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Creepy Critters of Tandy Hills

Prairie Notes #178
October 1, 2021

01) Creepy Critters of Tandy Hills
02) 
Field Report - September
03) New Species - September
04) New Trails Project Report
05) PrairieSky / StarParty - October
06) Giving Day Report_2021
07) Gray Fox Sighting
08) Prairie Proverb - Indiana Jones

01) Creepy Critters

 

Let me state upfront that, "creepy" is in the eye or mind of the beholder. One man's snake necktie is another woman's heart attack. Just ask any herpetologist who are known to giddily pick up snakes like I might pick a blade of grass or study a wildflower

 

Yes, 'tis the season for creepy things and everyone has their own definition, their own built in biases, be it snakes, bugs or, yikes, tobacco spitting grasshoppers! But in general, "creepiness" is a result of lack of experience or education. Herper's know from experience which snake is non-venomous, harmless. Still . . . there is that basic insticnt that sometimes warns us to keep our distance.

 

Tandy Hills has its share of creepy critters, depending on your personal bias. I've put some thought into the characteristics of critter creepiness and selected a few pics that illustrate my point. Some of those characteristics are:

 

- Fear of the "other" or the unknown

- An alien-like face or death-like apearance

- An apparent soullessness

- Things that are potentially toxic, infectious or poisonous

- Things that are slimy, sticky, oozy, hairy, wriggly or produce <gasp> leaky fluids

- Things that bite, suck, sting, blister or shock

- In general, things that are bizarre, gross or spooky

 

A corollary to this is that, some critters are obviously beautiful but can be extremely deadly. Take the Dragonflyone of nature's most efficient killing machines. They are universally admired for their intricate and colorful wings. But from the POV of a mosquito or other prey, the big soulless eyes of a dragonfly are about as creepy as they come.

 

> > > An important aside: This post is all about Halloween fun so don't let your personal fears and biases override your ability to enjoy and learn more about the natural world or harm another creature.

 

 

DY

 

This mass of spider's webs is a perfect example of creepiness to most folks.

 


Spiders of any species deserve a wide berth including, this Funnel Weaver Spider.

 


Size does not matter much in spider-land. Both big and not so big can be deadly, or not.

 


Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) are mostly harmless but few of us would want to pet one.

 

The Green Lynx Spider has those barb-like, spotted legs and that fat abdomen that make it particularly creepy.

 


Enter at your own risk.

 


One of the most alien life forms at Tandy Hills are these, Hackberry Horn Gall Midges (Celticecis cornuata).

 


Texas Eyed Click Beetles (Alaus lusciosus) may be harmless but they don't look it with those fake eyes.

 


This pile of Kern's Flower Scarab Beetles can look weirdly off-putting when they start wriggling around inside a flower.

 


Mottled Tortoise Beetle (Deloyala guttata) is only 1/4" long but it's the epitome of an alien-looking bug. Very creepy.

 

Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth (Lochmaeus manteo) is a strange one and...those hairs...dear lord...creep me out!

 


A Gulf Fritillary Butterfly caterpillar just daring a bird to eat it. No thank you!

 


Spittlebugs homes are slimy, sticky, gooey and full of strange alien life-forms. In a word: Spit. Steer clear.

 


Geometer Moth larvae are small but high on my creepy scale. Where's the face! They squirm, too.

 


This is the critter that inspired this project. A Texas Walkingstick is the ultimate "other" of the insect world. 

 


At first glance you don't realize it's upside down and think the tail is a "face". Plus they move verrry slowly. The stuff of nighmares.

 

If you were raised to be fearful of Asps, this Tersa Sphinx Moth (Xylophanes tersa) will creep you out. Beautiful but disturbing.

 


As a kid I liked to pick up grasshoppers until one spit hot, slimy tobacco juice on my hands. Just like my old granny's snuff. Gross!

 


Maybe harmless. Maybe not. But this Leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala terminalis) looks armed and dangerous. Has wings, too.

 


Any wasp species should be avoided out of hand but Great Golden Digger Wasps just look downright evil.

 


Slow-moving critters tend to unnerve some people. This Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) has those beady eyes, that chill the soul.

 


This Monarch Butterfly chrysallis is creepy because it just looks like something wicked is about to emerge from it's death shroud.

 


Never kiss a Black Vulture.

 


Bats like these Evening and Hoary Bats are notoriously creepy and strange-looking. Maybe that's undeserved but, those teeth look sharp.

 


If Texas Spiny Lizards were bigger there would be fewer portrait photographers vandalizing Tandy Hills.

 


I confess to screaming like a girl when this Rough Green Snake crossed my path.

 


It's really a sweetie-pie.

 


My herper friend, Michael Smith, could've been a snake-charmer in the circus. He's partial to Sonoran Gopher Snakes as neckties.

 

This American Bumblebee exemplifies "the other" with a pentrating gaze that could kill.

 

02) Field Report - September

 

September was as dry as dust which prevented most of the early fall wildflowers from blooming. Exceptions were on some of the seeps which brightened an otherwise parched prairie. 

 


Is this what's called Indian Summer? Spetember 20, 2021

 


The seep under Barbara's Button Hill helps the Indian Grass grow in the fall.

 


Indian Grass and False Gaura reach approach 8' tall on BB Hill.

 


A tattered, Great Spreadwing Damselfly surveys its domain.

 


This fine specimen of, Redberry Juniiper, also lives on BB Hill.

 


It has a lovely shape and a spiral of branches.

 


A trio of equally spaced, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, hanging out near the highway on the north edge of Tandy HIlls.

 


On September 18, a fire on the north edge burned a few areas inside the natural area, as well.

 


Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus) brightening the prairie.

 


Hairy Grama Grass is one of several fall grasses filling up the prairies.

 

Hairy Grama is distiguished from Blue Grama by a pointed hair on the tips of each seedhead. 

 

When Smooth Sumac leaves turn red it's sure sign of fall.

 


Fall is also a good time to harvest the seeds if you like Sumac tea.

 


Giant Blue Sage (Salvia azurea), is one of the most beautiful fall wildflowers.

 


White Prairie Rose (Rosa foliosa) rose hips are striking this time of year.

 


A Ladybeetle holding on tight to Indian Grass in a stiff, fall wind.

 


Looking up at one of the old trails that will soon be closed due to erosion. It will remain a great scenic overlook.

 

03) New Species - September

 

There were 11 new species added in September, bringing the new count to 1596. Most were observed and recorded by, Sam Kieschnick. See a few notables below and the Tandy Hills iNat Project Page HERE: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/tandy-hills-natural-area-stratford-...

 


Nut and Acorn Weevils (Genus Curculio)

 


Pearl Moth (Mimorista)

 


Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata)

 


Chrysellus Flower Moth (Schinia chrysellus)

 

04) New Trails Project Report

 

At long last the new trails system work has begun. Almost 2 miles of carefully designed and scenic new trails with several bridges, will be created in the next few weeks. The new trails wind through preveviously inaccessible areas of the park, and always at a comfortable grade. Old, unsustainable trails that were heavily eroded will be permanently closed. I guarantee you will like this. The work is being done by Ryan Spates and crew from S&S Trail Services out of Austin. They do similar work all over the state for public and private entities. The project is expected to be complete by Thanksgiving. Plan a visit for mid-late October when the temps are cooler to see it progress. The project is partially funded with a grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

 

 


Ryan Spates of S&S Trail Services, becomes one with his machine as it carves scenic, new trails.

 

 

05) PrairieSky / StarParty - October

 

Despite smoky skies from western wildfires, a sizeable crowd of 60 people showed up for the September star party. They were treated to great views of the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter through the big scopes of eight astronomers. For the next event on October 16, Pam Kloepfer, of Fort Worth Astronomical Society, offers this sky report:

 

"The sun will be setting around 7PM in early October and just after 6:30PM by month’s end, making for longer star gazing nights! In the cool of the evening, the sky should be more stable than in the heat of the summer months. Therefore, Venus will be blazing, and will be low in the southwest. Jupiter and Saturn will continue their trek across the south, following Venus along the ecliptic. The four Galilean moons of Jupiter often do a dance on any given night around the giant planet. A telescope will reveal their ever-changing positions; sometimes they transit across the planet’s face, and at other times they may pass behind the planet’s disk, emerging on the other side. Saturn’s ring system is easily observable through a telescope. By Halloween, the ringed planet will set just before midnight. The Summer Triangle is heading west, but is still visible these fall nights. Look for a square overhead; that is the Great Square of Pegasus. The moon will be waxing gibbous on October 16."

 

 

06) Giving Day 2021 Report

 

Friends of Tandy Hills had the best year ever. Our heartfelt thanks extends to all 49 donors. (Including, four Anonymous donations totalling $850.)

 

 

07) Rare Gray Fox Sighting

 

It thrills my soul to report that a Gray Fox was sighted at Tandy Hills on September 28. This is the first official sighting in the park, proper. (One was observed in a nearby street in 2016.) They are sometimes referred to as a Ghost Fox due to thier rare appearances. You can watch a short video HERE (Hint-adjust the settings on YouTube to half-speed for a better look at the fox.) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNfZZs8XrlU

 


Fantastic Mr. Fox in his prairie home.

 

08) Prairie Proverb

 

Snakes…why'd it have to be snakes?

 

- Indiana Jones, as spoken by actor, Harrison Ford, in the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

 

 

Prairie Notes© is the official newsletter of, Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. All content by Don Young except where otherwise noted.