Z is for Zebra Swallowtail

Beautiful, isn’t it? We feature this beautiful member of the swallowtail butterfly group each year because in a week of hard-to-find nature letters, it’s a staple. But it’s also harder to find this butterfly. Its caterpillars eat only one food, the leaves of the Common Paw Paw, Asimina triloba.

This understory tree lives with its roots in wet soil, along streams and rivers.

At least those leaves are huge–10 to 12 inches long and 4-6 inches wide at the middle.

The dark red flowers bloom in the spring and turn into a fruit lumpy with large seeds in the fall. Maybe you can find a tree with caterpillars feeding on it this year.

We’ve had a great time posting this year’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge! Thanks to our many readers for joining us for a look at nature in suburbia. We hope it helps you to enjoy nature around your home!

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Y is for Yarrow

Five years ago on The Squirrel Nutwork, we featured Common Yarrow for Y day. Back then we were just building our photo files and it was spring and the local yarrow hadn’t bloomed. So our post–in which all four of us squirrels weighed in, see it here!–was of the feathery leaves, which are certainly beautiful, but we thought you’d like to see the flowers!

The native yarrow is white.

Usually, Miz Flora tells me. Apparently, she says, this plant was known across Europe and given its Latin name Achillea millefolium, by Linneaus. ‘Millefolium’ means ‘thousand leaves’ which it certainly does have. When explorers crossed North America, they found a yarrow they assumed was related. Because the leaves were fuzzier, another botanist, Thomas Nuttall, named it Achillea lanulosa, which is Latin for ‘wooly.’ Today, botanists group the yarrows together as one genus…although humans sometimes find pale pink flowers among the western, fuzzy-leaved yarrows.

Of course you humans have taken the plant and done all kinds of things to it to make it ‘prettier,’ so don’t be surprised if you go to a garden center and find yarrows blooming in colors from pink to red to purple and yellow to deep gold.

Flowers can be many things to many people!

X is for eXciting!

Yes, we’re poking at our letters today, but our little snake is an Xciting sight for some humans and is twisted into just the right shape!

For all the excitement a snake popping up in the garden causes, the ring-necked snake is one you can flick your tail at. It rarely gets over pencil-sized, and can easily be identified by the yellow to orange ring around the neck, or if you have scared it, the yellow-orange underbelly, as it tried to flash you nature’s warning color and chase you off.

And what do they eat, we would like you to ask? Slugs–every gardener’s bane–earthworms and salamanders.

W is for Water

 

Hello, folks! Ol’ Wally stepping in here for Nutmeg. I couldn’t let her use anything but water for today’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge. First, because it’s Thursday, and our regular readers know this is the day this old squirrel runs the Thirsty Thursday column featuring water. And second, we’ve had so much rain in these parts that it’s getting a bit hard to ignore.

‘Suppose you humans know how important water is. I mean, your lives depend on it. So do ours, but we wildlife aren’t in as good a position to keep that water source clean, or even there. We are relying on you all.

That means good planning when you put in your buildings…

to where that water goes from your parking lots…

to putting in places where the smaller critters might have a damp home…

to bigger solutions for water cleaning and recycling for entire buildings…

to simply putting out water when it isn’t raining, like in the heat of summer…

or the frozen winter.

It’s not from a squirrel, but let me leave you with this wise Native American proverb:

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.

V is for Viburnum

Another difficult letter in nature.

But…Viburnum!

Yes, it’s a good ol’ standby for V day. We believe this one is Doublefile Viburnum, Viburnum plicatum. Those flowers are lovely, aren’t they?

Well, you humans might think that, but a bee won’t. Have a closer look…

This outer ring of ‘flowers’ don’t produce nectar or pollen. The inner ones will, and then tasty little drupe fruits will form in the fall. This isn’t a native shrub to North America, but it’s one wildlife appreciates in the suburban landscape!

U is for…Uh-oh!

Yes, we missed U day yesterday. We’ll chalk it up to three days of rain! No squirrel wants to be out in that! Not mentioning the procrastination that went on the day before because U is an exceptionally hard letter to find in nature.

So in the interest of saving time, we’ll repeat a past Blogging From A to Z Challenge post, one you humans might have missed in nature:

Underwing Moth!

This moth sits calmly on tree bark, blending in with its upper wings of gray–up until it feels threatened! Then it flashes those underwings of bright orange…enough to scare even the hardiest squirrel–*cough* Hickory *cough*–off a branch.

Go looking for them if you are bored!

T is for Turtlehead

Just take a look at these funny flowers!

Turtleheads are a fun plant that love moist soil. The little tricksters are designed so a bee gets completely brushed with pollen getting into the nectar at the bottom.

To see the bee completely inching in, hop back to our post entitled Getting Into Pink Turtleheads!

Just a side note that not all turtleheads are pink. The native ones are white, but we haven’t seen those in our suburban neighborhood. A human planted these showy pink ones.

R is for Raccoon

 

These burly fellows are very much a part of suburban life and we squirrels like to think they make us look good. Raccoons seem to get into more trouble than we do…or at least bigger trouble!

Come on, who else would get stuck on a fence!

Even if you don’t see raccoons, since they like to prowl around at night, you might see signs of them.

Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace

By branching out of our season, we squirrels have a few more choices of plants to use for those difficult letters!

Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, is a summer-bloomer, a wildflower brought over from Europe. It supposedly is named for Queen Anne of England who was also a lacemaker. In North America, it can go quite wild and take over a field, but you humans probably see it most often lining rural roads.

The ‘jewel’ in the crown of flowers is simply another flower, but along with the naming story from Queen Anne, people say it’s a drop of blood she shed when she pricked herself!

P is for Painted Lady

Specifically, the American Painted Lady butterfly!

You might see this beauty already. Painted Ladies migrate north in the spring from their wintering grounds in the Southwest. It’s one of the most widespread butterflies North America, so definitely look for Painted Ladies this summer. And you may need to look twice, because the underside of the wings is patterned differently from the topside.

Pretty cool, huh? Their populations vary from year to year, and scientists don’t know why. They do not migrate back in the fall, so die with the first frosts.