Thursday, May 29, 2014


The following is a true story – only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I swear it is true on my mother’s grave (although my mother is still alive and kicking). The moral to the story is be careful what you buy, where you buy it and check it when you get home.

My sister and I
Sissy, my sister in Oklahoma, had seen a sale on potting soil at a big chain drugstore, whose name begins with a “W”, that you find on most every corner. She bought several bags of potting soil, threw them in her “beemer’s” back seat and proceeded to continue her shopathon. Sissy is not practicing to be a Recessionista. I digress.

After buying groceries and eating lunch at the local bistro, my sister drove back home. Upon arrival she hauled the bags of potting soil from the back seat of her car, through the garage to the back porch and began potting her Petunias, Pelargoniums and Periwinkles. All seemed to be going well and she was making good time as she shoveled out soil with her little garden trowel. Many pots later, she looked into the plastic sack as she got another trowel-full of soil and lo and behold there was  the mother of all Copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix).

The Southern Copperhead reaches an adult length of 24 to 26 inches. They have a pale brown to light tan body, often with a pinkish tint. Their yellow eyes have elliptical or cat-like pupils. Its body, covered with rough scales, is patterned with dark, hour glass-shaped cross bands, wider at their base and narrow across the back. Copperheads have heat-sensing "pits" located between the eyes and nostrils, hence the name "pit viper". Familiarize yourself with this snake because you do not want to get close enough to see these “pits.” The Copperhead is found in the eastern United States to the central and southern states, and in the eastern third of Texas. Southern Copperheads prefer places to hide that include leaf litter, logs and branches.  

The Copperhead’s diet consists of baby cottontails, swamp rabbits, rats, mice, birds, snakes, lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, and insects, especially grasshoppers and cicadas. So, there is one positive of having this creature in your garden, maybe. They are preyed on by other snakes and birds of prey. These snakes reach sexual maturity within two to three years. Mating season is in the spring (February to early May), shortly after leaving winter dens; and fall (August to October) with fertilization delayed until following spring. Being a pit viper, Copperheads do not lay eggs. Instead the eggs are kept inside the female's body until the eggs are ready to "hatch." Incubation time is 105 to 110 days. The four to eight young, 7 to 10 inches (17 to 25 cm) long, weigh less than an ounce (28 g) at birth.

Although duller in color, they look much like adults with yellowish tail-tips. Females provide no parental care after birth (well duh!). One Copperhead was reported to have lived 23 years and 2 months in captivity, but in the wild, the average lifespan is probably 6 to 8 years. 

Southern Copperheads are active during daylight hours (diurnal) during early spring and late fall, at which time they will generally depend on the ability of their bodies to blend in with their environment to obtain prey and avoid enemies. They are nocturnal during the summer heat, actively hunting for prey during the cooler evening hours. Southern Copperheads often eat one single meal every three weeks-even during their most active months. These snakes sometimes nest with other snake species during hibernation. Lying motionless on a bed of dead leaves, this snake’s pale-brown and chestnut-colored body is all but invisible. These are venomous snakes, but they are slow-movers.

Whether adult or juvenile, the Copperhead’s bite is seldom fatal because of its short fangs (1.2 to 7.2 mm in length) and the small amount of venom that is released. The venom's most important function is to kill animals to be eaten. Defense is only a secondary function. If bitten, you should seek medical attention. That being said, you should take some safety precautions to keep you from harm. Don’t put your hands or feet anywhere until you can see exactly what is there. Never step over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first creatures have wonderful protective coloration. Use a flashlight when moving about at night, even in your yard. Wear protective clothing if working in the woods or around brush. Freeze when snakes are known to be nearby until you know where they are. Allow the snake to retreat. If you must move, back slowly and carefully away from the snake.

Now the rest of the story. After much screaming and running around, my sister summoned her 26 year-old son for help. Now, Bubba doesn’t like to kill stuff so his idea of handling this calamity was to take the potting soil to the backyard and turn the snake loose. I told her she should have taken the bag with snake back to the drugstore and get her money back. She was afraid to do that for fear they would charge her for the snake. Did I ever tell you that I am the smart one in the family?

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Luna!

I love late spring. It seems that the earth has awakened from a long slumber and new life begins to appear. Baby birds are being taught to fly. The bullfrog in the pond is calling for a mate until 2:00 a.m. And, the graceful Luna Moth clings to the kitchen window by the porch light.

The Luna moth (Actias luna), or moon moth, is one of the giant silk moths. Their pale green color and swallowtail-shaped wings, with eye spots, are unique and beautiful. Enjoy each on as they appear because the adults only live about 10 days. Having no mouth parts, they do not eat and must survive on stored energy reserves. Their sole job is to mate. The moths only fly at night and are attracted to large lights.

Luna moth females lay their eggs on several different kinds of tree leaves including our native Walnut, Sweetgum, Hickory, Persimmon and the flower moonflower. A healthy female can lay 100 – 300 eggs which she divides into small batches of 3 – 12 eggs per leaf.

After hatching, the caterpillars wander around before finally finding a particular plant to eat. The caterpillars, which are eating machines, go through five instars (a developmental stage of molting), and shed their skin as it gets too tight. When their skin is pinkish and tight, they are mature. At this time, they do something quite unique. They have a ‘gut dump’ where they get rid of fluid, food and feces and begin spinning a cocoon. Using their silk, which is very strong, they wrap leaves around themselves before entering the pupa stage. The pupa in the cocoon is very active. When disturbed, it will wiggle inside the cocoon and emit a noise. The moth will emerge in two weeks.


When they emerge, their wings are very small and they must enlarge them by pumping bodily fluids through them. During this time, their wings will be soft and they must climb somewhere safe to wait for their wings to harden before they can fly away. This process takes about 2 hours to complete. The Luna Moth typically has a wingspan of 3 to 4.5 inches.

Luna moths are considered common but due to their short life spans are rarely seen. Enjoy them while you can!

“Moths, and all sorts of ugly creatures," replied Estella, with a glance towards him, "hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle help it?”