2018 Review through the Lens: D2

”It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

– E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web


Well, the first weekend of December is almost over, and it’s Day 2 of my December Photo Challenge. I pulled this one out of my archives from last spring. This photo reminds me of my love of our family lake house and all the fun times we’ve had there together. These spiders inhabit every dock, up and down the shoreline, often prompting frustrated boaters to get out their brooms. But, you know me, I prefer to let them be.

The spider web is an amazing and intricate piece of work, with every meaningful string woven, in connection with the next, to construct an ultimately purposeful whole. In a way, it reminds me a lot of writing. That’s probably why I respect the web. I empathize with the labor behind each thread. And, oh, to be a Charlotte…carefully crafting each line while always honoring the heart of one’s soul, in friendship to others, through the message. That’s the work of the greatest of web makers.

I hope you enjoy Day 2 as we continue our count-down together!


All the best,

A. J.


“Shielding the Sun” (Furrow Orb Weaver; Lake Bridgeport, Chico, Texas. March, 2018.)


Furrow Orb Weavers are so named because of a dark pattern on the abdomen that looks like a furrow. They are frequent residents of lake and coastal structures, generally prefering moist locations. Each night the spider will ingest its own web material and recycle it in order to rebuild areas of the web damaged throughout the day. There over 3500 species of orb weavers around the world, but only about 180 of those are present throughout the United States and Canada. If you’re thinking of getting out your broom, you might think twice. The Furrow Orb Weaver is a voracious predator of the common mosquito (and I think we could all use a few less of those).


[Check out Day 1 of the December Photo Challenge here.]


Skull and Dagger? Maybe – Morbid Monday

“MISERICORDE, n.  A dagger, which in medieval warfare, was used by the foot soldier to remind an unhorsed knight that he was mortal.”

– Ambrose Bierce


It could be the looming death of summer, as back-to-school is upon us this week. Or perhaps it’s the agonizing wails emanating from my son’s bedroom, as he is being “tortured” (his words) to finish required reading before Wednesday’s start of class (I mean, seriously…how painful can a book with a Golden Retriever named Ranger on the cover be???). Or maybe it’s just the reality of Monday puncturing my soul after vacationing for two luxurious weeks, where time had little meaning. Whatever it is, it’s got me feeling somewhat morbid. Which means you’re in luck, because I’m in the mood to share.

When you spend time studying insects in the field, as I have for several years now, not only do you notice all of the amazing details and transformations, but you begin to quickly hone in on anything that seems off. Just yesterday, for instance, J. and I noticed a bee trying to fly from flower to flower, but it was like she was drunk. Sometimes she would land on the petals and simply fall off backwards. Upon closer inspection, we could see that she was missing her left antenna. A similar thing happened back in July, as I spent a morning capturing images of butterflies in the pollinator garden. On this occasion, though, my spidey sense led to a bit more gruesome discovery.

I was standing along the lower level of the garden, looking toward the Pincushion Flowers on the upper path, when I spotted a male Cabbage White butterfly. Immediately, I knew that something was wrong. How? He was hanging from the underside of the flower. If you know anything about butterflies, you know that they land on top of flowers to nectar, certainly not under them. They might crawl around to the undersides, but you never see them limply dangling like this.


I quickly scurried around, up the steps and along the top path to get a better look, all the while keenly aware that opportunities in the world of live photography are fleeting. It’s like running the 200m in the Olympics, gold being measured by milliseconds. I eased in, ever so delicately, and it was then that I became aware of the brutal truth…my friend was not alone. Within the shadows I could see him, crawling, stretching, adjusting, predator sucking the last drips of life from prey…the Jagged Ambush Bug.



The Jagged Ambush Bug hides on flowerheads waiting for other unsuspecting soft-bodied insects. It stabs them with its proboscis, injecting a poison that first paralyzes the victims and then melts their inner contents into a sludge, easily drinkable through his straw-like rostrum. His size, stealth and potency allow him to attack subjects many times his size, like our friend Cabbage White.


At first glance, the scene is reminiscent of the dagger thrust through the top of the skull, the symbol of death and power, tattooed by centuries of seedy sailors upon their arms. Unlike the sword, carried by gentlemen in official battles, you cannot see the dagger coming. It is the weapon of deception, easily concealed until the precise moment of deathly surprise. Yes, at first glance, this is what you see…the Ambush Bug with his dagger piercing the skull.  That is, unless you know butterflies.

You see, if you know butterflies, you know that the dorsal side (top side, back side) of the butterfly typically features the most prominent coloring, the thorax has all of the fuzzy hairs and the abdomen appears rounded. The ventral side (bottom side, under side) often exhibits duller coloring, the thorax has shorter hairs and the abdomen is virtually flat (unless of course it’s a pregnant female). So let’s turn this photo on its end…


What you see here are the colorful dorsal wings of the Cabbage White, once fully raised arms in flight now sunkenly lowered, the backside juncture between his thorax and abdomen pinched in a downward rigor mortis “V” from the paralytic poison. You see it? Are you getting it now?

Here’s how the tragedy plays out…

The villain lies in wait, upside down, beneath the blossoming flower, like a vengeful spider. Cabbage White floats in, a knight in shining ivory glory, to just the wrong flower at just the wrong moment, a true fate of time and circumstance. He dismounts from his journey to begin a long, cool drink of nectar when suddenly a violent thrust pierces him from beneath, a misericorde, wounding him where most vulnerable in his armor, not through the skull, but rather straight up through the THROAT! The villain pulls him down through soft petals of flower, nauseous color swirling around him, paralysis setting in, his wings lowering to a pathetic droop, only the dagger holding him in mid-air suspension until his very last breath, never to know the number of minutes he will dangle. And then, it is over.

Peachy, huh? Yeah, that’s the way the world works out there in the garden, people.


Ever dream of floating like a butterfly? Guess I just dashed those dreams. I think I’ll take a walk outside on two legs now, like a human, with liquid on some ice, in a glass, gratefully enjoying my Monday evening. Maybe you should do the same.


All the best,

A. J.

– All content photos by Amanda J. Schulz








My Victims, My Trophies, My Disguise – Morbid Monday

 “What a tender, young creature! What a nice, plump mouthful – she will be better to eat than the old woman. I must act craftily, so as to catch both.”

– The Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood (Brothers Grimm)


I would like to point out that once you start photographing the world, you begin to see some utterly bizarre things. Over many months now, I’ve been collecting snapshots of the odd, the freaky and the macabre, initially because I was astounded by the sights, but then, later, because I wholeheartedly wanted to force my ghastly experiences upon fine folks like you. Hmmm. What does that say about me???

With that said, I’m adding Morbid Mondays to this blog. Get excited, people. Hey, Monday in and of itself is pretty morbid, correct? No big deal adding a little more to the pile, right??? It’s like painting blue on black.

So…let us now begin with our FIRST tale of terror…BWAHAHAHhahahahaha! (That’s an evil laugh. You’re welcome.)


Several weeks ago we were doing some maintenance on our bee hive. A few days before that, we had left some scraped comb on the ledge outside of the hive. When we were finished with our hive work, I noticed something strange crawling on the discarded comb. J. lifted it up so that I could photograph it. To my shock and awe, I captured this. Just study it, piece by piece, and take it ALL in…

If you said that this appears to be a couple of ant skeletons, perhaps a tiny black hive beetle in the center, random loose aphid skins, some wax, various unidentifiable fibers and bits of leaves and detritus, all held together by interwoven legs and antennae…you nailed it. As J. tilted the menagerie where I could get a better angle, I finally saw him. He is Atlas, traveling briskly along the edge of the comb. The Green Lacewing larva.


Notice his slender body stretching the length of the pile. It’s as if he is parading about, flaunting a fascinator fashioned with dead bodies atop his head. A little Buffalo Bill-esque, if you ask me Clarice, but this is simply what he does.

The Green Lacewing larva is the predator of all predators, and, just like Little Red’s wolf, he kills by deceit. You can see the sharp jaws extending outward just past his cold, ebony eyes. He uses those jaws to pierce soft-bodied insects, especially aphids, sucking out their entrails and then tossing their lifeless carcasses upon his back. Uhhh…morbid. There is a method to his madness, though. He covers himself, partly as a camouflaging technique against birds and other predators but also as a disguise. He puts on the clothes and cap of grandmother (the remains of his kills), in order to fool Little Red (the aphid)…his tender, plump favorite. Well, actually, to fool the ants.


C2B1C571-CA80-4AFE-93DF-D39946350675You see, aphids secrete a substance called honeydew, which you can see dripping from them in the photo above. These aphids were on a stem of our milkweed in the pollinator garden. Honeydew is a delectable food for ants, so they want as many aphids as possible around. Thus, they are happy to become their protectors. A naked lacewing larva approaching a colony of aphids will often find itself quickly ejected by angry ants. So the lacewing gets wise and begins the disguise. Upon covering itself in the remains of its prey and whatever it can gather, especially the wax and debris of aphids, it can sneak past the guardian ants and infiltrate the colony. What’s especially humorous about our Atlas is that he is carrying the carcasses of ants. Now lacewing larvae aren’t especially known to eat ants, so I’m thinking that he found a couple of casualties, left behind under separate circumstances, and scooped them right up thinking, “AHA! Now I shall appear as just another couple of soldiers traveling through the army.” The cowardly lion donning the uniform of the witch’s guards. Clever, my friend. Very clever.


So here’s the long and the short of it. If Monday gave you the blues today or, WORSE, seemed like utter death just trying to make it through…cheer up! At least no one is wearing your torso as a hat tonight.


All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Photos by Amanda J. Schulz













Ladies and Gentleman…The Beetles!

No, this isn’t the Ed Sullivan Show and I’m not introducing Liverpool’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll jet setters (wrong spelling anyway). I’m not even talking about the Volkswagen, which, incidentally, I heard a while back might be retiring our lovable Herbie. No…I’m talking about the tiny little members of the Order of Coleoptera that decided to make a perplexing appearance in our pollinator garden this spring.

Just before I left for spring break vacation in Orlando, J. and I noticed a plant variety coming up in various areas of the pollinator garden that we didn’t recognize from last year. This isn’t too surprising, though. We scattered a few wildflower mixture packets in the spring of 2017, and some of those seeds need a nice cold winter to harden over before they actually germinate. Nonetheless, there was much debate over the identity of our new friends, solely based on leaf structure. Before we left for the spring break week, our thriving little plants looked like this…


When we came back, they looked like this…


Every…last…one of them.

The picture above doesn’t do it justice. At least that plant still had some leaves. Some of the others literally looked like green sticks. It was a sunny day, and, as I puzzlingly peered downward, something beautifully golden shimmered beneath the sun’s spring rays. I happened to have the macro lens on my camera and zoomed in. You know that phrase, “All that glitters is not gold?” Yeah. There’s a measure of truth to that. There they were, just feasting away on the tender, green goodness of our newfound friends. These guys…


So now we had a double quandary on our hands. Not only did we not know for sure what plant species we were looking at, but we had NO idea what kind of beetle this was. I can’t tell you the hundreds upon hundreds of insect photos that I have from our first year in the pollinator business, but I KNEW that I had NEVER documented this beetle before.

This is where I diverge from the average gardener. Most would feel an alarming sense of urgency to undertake eradication. The pirates…may they plunder no more! But this is where I, the consummate student and researcher, come in. My first thought is to ask, “Why is this happening?” Then I use words within my brain like “observe” and “study.” Then I tell myself to look beyond what is right in front of my nose to see if anything else about the remaining surroundings is of interest. And then, of course, like every other good human, I turn to Google®. I’ve logged insects for about a year now. I’m getting pretty good at keyword descriptive searching, so it wasn’t long before I came up with several articles on Phaedon desotonis, or, what we can all more lovingly call:  the Coreopsis Beetle.

Well, that killed two birds with one stone. When you know the insect, then nine times out of ten you can research its host plants and narrow down to the plant that you have. Coreopsis would definitely have been an indentification option for these plants. It all made sense once the devouring culprit was named. Through my research I learned that wild Coreopsis is the state flower of Florida, and these beetles have been a NIGHTmare for them. That’s when I also discovered, unbelievably, a 2012 article by Mike Merchant with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension on the very subject of this beetle beginning to pop up in Texas. I say “unbelievably,” because Mike happened to be the instructor on entomology for my Master Gardener’s certification coursework. In that same search, I also stumbled across a post by the Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) calling for residents to report any establishment of the species in Texas. So, I reached out to both Mike Merchant and TISI to report my findings.

You’ll see in Mike’s article that he ended up doing an update with some of my information. My TISI contact requested that I collect some of the beetles to send in for identification. When I asked how they wanted them collected, I was told to use a water tight container filled with ethanol, like “vodka, rum or everclear.” Yikes! We had just enough Tito’s left to do the trick. Sorry Tito’s. I definitely would have preferred you in a nice Saturday Bloody Mary. 😉

Of additional interest was the fact that we had two other varieties of Coreopsis, that we already knew about from the previous year, that the beetles didn’t seem to have as much of an interest in. Or, maybe, when given the choice between several varieties, they just preferred one over the other two. Kind-of like if you give a kid the choice of broccoli, a bowl of strawberries or chocolate ice cream…he might be willing to eat all three, but he’s going to go for the chocolate ice cream first. And if his stomach fills up on chocolate ice cream, he likely won’t have room for strawberries and broccoli.

So, I collected a dozen or so beetles and then just watched the garden to see what happened. I’ve had enough experience to know that if you sometimes just let something run its course, the plants can come back and thrive. As long as enough green is left to keep photosynthesis going, nature keeps pushing them forward. That is exactly what happened in our garden. The beetles ran their course, and the plants continued to put out more leaves.

Fast forward to today…

I waited and waited to see the chocolate ice cream once it bloomed, so that I could include that in my findings to TISI.  It ended up being a Coreopsis variety that is more often referred to as “Tickseed,” although you might hear some people call any Coreopsis a “Tickseed.” Now I had the images of all three varieties in bloom, especially noting the one the beetles absolutely loved.

Mouse-eared Coreopsis (named so because of the shape of its leaves) [The “broccoli”…beetles had zero interest in this]


Nana Coreopsis (big blooms, tallest of the three varieties) [The “strawberries”…beetles had a very slight interest in this]


Tickseed Coreopsis (this variety starts with clusters of tiny buds that bloom much smaller flowers than the other two) [The “chocolate ice cream”…the beetles couldn’t get enough of this]


So, my beetles and my data are headed to TISI for evaluation. We’ll see what the “official” findings are. I chose to write this post because, as I’ve now completed the coursework and final exam for my Dallas County Master Gardener’s certification, I learned that a vast majority of questions that come in from the public involve, “What is wrong with my (fill in the blank)?” In the event that you one day stand scratching your head in dismay saying, “What is wrong with my Coreopsis???” as it devolves from lovely green seedlings to sticks, may you remember to peer down and hunt for a little shimmer of gold…and then hit the Tito’s.


All the best,

A. J.



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