Plant Pest Control

Plant paracites are inevitable in the garden and may result in leaf damage and defoliation of the plant. In the past I used chemical agents such as Chlordane, DDT and Sevin. Subsequently I have seen the light and use much less toxic agents such as soap. The active ingredients are potassium salts of fatty acids also known as soap salts. This solution is not toxic to the plant and breaks down without leaving toxic residue in the soil. The soap works only when wet and loses its effectiveness after it dries. Plant watering washes away most of the residual soap. As you will see it is effective in controlling soft bodied insects and pests like these mealybugs. Mealybugs are insects of the Pseudococcidae family.

Croton leaf with mealybugs overwhelming the plant.

Plant mealybugs terminated after one application of soap solution. (~ 40X magnification, incident lighting)

How to make soap insecticide for insect control at home:

Make your own solution at home. Purchase a bar of unscented lye soap. (About $3.50) Grate about one third of the bar and add it to about double the volume of hot water. Gently stir until dissolved as much as possible. This makes 12 oz (1200 ml) of saturated solution. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t all dissolve. Place this into a storage container with a cover for further dilution down to 1 to 2% solution. For application use an 8 oz (700 ml) hand held spray bottle fill it nearly full of water and add a teaspoon (5 ml) of the saturated soap solution. Spray the plant on all sides with the diluted soap solution once per week or as needed. Repeat once per month for maintenance. Replace equal volume of tap water into the concentrated solution as it is deleted until any undissolved soap disappears. Remake the concentrated solution when the supply is exhausted. Depending on the amount used, this supply of solution from one bar may take years to deplete. There are numerous home recipes on the internet but the main ingredient is soap.

This shows the soap bar wrapper.


Before treatment look to see if the problem is the result of a soft bodied pest. I use the microscope. You can use a magnifying glass. This observation is made because the soap will do nothing against bacterial, fungal, viral or other parasites. The first line of defense may be to hand remove the pest. Trimming a leaf with early signs is easy. When hand removal is not possible then other agents may be used. Horticultural soaps also known as biorational pesticides can be used. These include horticultural oil and insecticidal soap sprays. Biorational insecticides are typically used to target soft-bodied pests like caterpillars, mealybugs, whiteflies, spider mites or aphids. They provide a relatively non-toxic alternative to conventional insecticides, with few ecological side effects.They can be used on indoor and outdoor plants, including vegetables. Before eating be sure to wash your produce. There are commercially available plant-derived insecticides like neem oil and pyrethrum, and microbial pesticides like Bt.  Even with commercial agents, repeat applications may be necessary to get the best results. Obviously I can check the leaves with microscopic observation to see the efficacy of the application. Again, you can use a simple magnifying lens. Be attentive to the weather conditions and the time of year. Cold will also act to control these insects.

Pesticides in home gardens

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#biorational #pesticide #soap #pests #aphids

Calling Birds by Clades

The featured images illustrate only one portion of the great complexity in the organization of bird orders. A problem arose when searching for an acceptable naming system that would be meaningful and easy to use. Classically there are thousands of bird varieties with more than 40 orders. This is obviously not going to work for citizen scientists unless they are essentially ornithologists. Alternatively, I selected a new method of ordering birds. Naming of the birds is built on bird “clades” * . This method is based on Avian DNA and evolutionary periods. It covers almost all of the post Cretaceous epoch until today.

For management of the Everglades Ark database I needed to call birds by names to distinguish one from another. I searched the internet resources for a simplified method of naming the birds without individualizing each animal. I decided that this could be done in a two-step fashion. Step one is field observation where a reduced drop down list could be used for organized sorting. The second stage is to enter the common name and scientific name after the field observation.

There is a continuing discussion regarding the classification of birds and which order belongs in which clade. Despite these discussions the organization is sufficient for our purposes. On the Everglades Ark Epicollec5 site the new list of avian clades puts most orders into five major clades listed here:

  • Strisores — nighthawk, frogmouths, diurnal swifts, hummingbirds other nocturnal birds
  • Columbaves — pigeons, sandgrouse, turacos, bustards, cuckoos, mesites
  • Gruiformes — cranes, rails, crakes, Sungrebe, flufftails, others
  • Aequorlitornithes — shorebirds, waterbirds, flamingos, grebes, gulls, tropicbirds, penguins, including pelcans, ibis, heron 
  • Inopinaves — all landbirds and songbirds, including raptors, hawks, owls, toucans, falcons, parrots.

This is based on the following scheme published in Science News:

Fig 1. Top half
Fig 2. Bottom half

This illustration shows the organization of the bird orders and their partitioning into subgroups called clades. The illustration continues from Fig 1 lower left to Fig 2 upper right.

Phylogeny of birds:

“The five major, successive, neoavian sister clades are: Strisores (brown), Columbaves (purple), Gruiformes (yellow), Aequorlitornithes (blue), and Inopinaves (green). Background colors mark geological periods. Ma – million years ago; Ple – Pleistocene; Pli – Pliocene; Q. – Quaternary. Clade numbers refer to the plot of estimated divergence dates. Illustrations of representative bird species are depicted by their lineages.” **

It is easy to see that the “green” Inopinaves have the largest number of orders mostly from the Quaternary period. The “blue” Aequorlitornithes has the second largest number of orders and they are from the Pliocene period. I expect that the greatest number of observations will be these two clades.

Because of the DNA portions that each clade share I can speculate that related clades will suffer from virus diseases that attach to the similar DNA and RNA sites. I will surveil the literature over time to see if there are corresponding connections.


A higher classification of modern birds (June 28, 2019)


Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds

* Clade – a natural group

** Image credit: Richard O. Prum et al., doi: 10.1038/nature15697

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#Strisores #Columbaves #Gruiformes #Aequorlitornithes #Inopinaves #bird #period #order

Armadillo in my Back Yard

GO BLUE! Maybe the UoM should have the armadillo as the school mascot (Defense! Defense!) I couldn’t help myself.

Easier to observe in the back yard than in the zoo, Armadillo are mammals of the order Cingulata where as ant eaters and sloth are from the order Pilosa. Both are somewhat related in classification and are grouped together in the magnorder, Xenarthra. Without careful understanding of the anatomy the distinction can be seen only by dissection. “The lumbar vertebrae are xenarthrous; that is, they have extra contacts (joints, or arthroses) that function to strengthen the lower back and hips.”1 This facilitates the use of the forelegs for digging. The distinction can be seen in their behavior where the primary method used by anteaters and armadillos to obtain food is by digging for insects and roots. I made the distinction in the Everglades Ark Epicollect5 database to make observation data collection in Africa easier.

Armadillo with a handler at the Naples Zoo. Although it is brown, it still has nine bands. Whether they are pinkish, dark-brown, black, red, gray or yellowish in color they are still all the same species.
No need to go to the zoo, this grey nine banded Armadillo was in my back yard digging for insects. Great fun to watch!
Usually a twilight animal, a pair of armadillo are busy in full daylight. It must be mating season (early summer) where the morning temperature is still cool.

Armadillos have a really bizarre reproductive metabolism.2 They exhibit “obligate monozygotic polyembryony” where each fertilized egg will divide into quarters to produce four separate embryos thereby giving birth to litters of four genetically identical young. Additionally their ovulation period can be varied depending on available food resources. The fertilized egg may stay in the uterus for about 14 weeks before implantation into the wall for the four month gestation period.

These animals were really clever in their defensive behaviors. They have “armor plated” skin on the outside of their bodies, they have a low metabolic rate and body temperature, Among their defensive behaviors they can curl into a ball shape, climb, swim and jump. They are omnivorous and nocturnal. Although they are not indigenous to Florida they are considered native to the Americas. They are not an endangered species.

You might recall another animal with similar behaviors. Check out Gopher tortoise in the Everglades Ark.

Wouldn’t It be interesting to see ant eaters in the back yard ?

Caution: Armadillos dig holes and eat ground dwelling bird and reptile eggs. Try not to pick them up.


  1. Britannica
  2. Armadillo reproduction



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#armadillo #Order #Cingulata #Pilosa #Xenarthra

Giraffes in SW Florida

Giraffes are so unusual. They are big with extraordinarily long necks and legs and their coloration is vividly variegated. it is hard to imagine that they are camouflaged in the wilderness. They are one of my favorite animals.

Zoo encounters are interesting reminders of the real world beyond the confines of our daily lives. Nothing in a zoo, however, compares to the sight, sounds, smells and surroundings of animals in the wild. I highly recommend the experience of seeing the wild surroundings of our remarkable resource of four million acres of the wilderness of the Everglades National Park and associated state parks around us. Everglades Ark is my attempt to bring the wonders of it to you. Later this year I will be in Africa to observe and photograph the sanctuaries of the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Maasai Mara in Kenya. I hope that you will see many examples of how this sample of Africa compares to our wilderness in SWFL.

Giraffe in the Naples zoo
Snack from one of the guests for the Giraffe at the Naples Zoo
Brother giraffes at the zoo
Giraffes in the wild

Zoos which have value depend on money and leadership:

Zoos and nature reserves have several agendas which are not necessarily well understood and not always well directed. Superficially these nature reserve areas are entertainment to the public for a price. The public is invited to see and in some instances interact with the captive animals. It is almost like a circus. They also have another agenda which is to preserve some of the animal species in a protected environment. The price paid to see and interact with the animals is the welfare of the animals and the admission for the public to enter. Zoos are very expensive to operate in numerous ways. The two biggest costs are protection and preservation of the animals and protection of the public. I have looked at the literature regarding the effectiveness of the missions of zoos. The information is sparse and scientific studies are few and not well documented. A small number of zoos are well endowed and have the opportunity to facilitate breeding in captivity, promotion of species survival in the wild, and provide research into physiology and pathology that effects both the wild animal populations as well as humans.

Here is your citizen naturalist participation assignment: Go out and enjoy the wild world around us.

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Do Nature Reserves Work

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#giraffe #Zoo #Africa

Mammal Classification

The Everglades Ark data base site at Epicollect5 needed an update of its classification of mammals under the listing of Animals. Here is the new listing as extracted from a variety of web available references. This is intended to simplify the gathering of information by reducing the need for enumeration of in-field choices while still providing an orderly database look-up. This will be especially helpful when comparing observations from diverse ecosystems including Florida, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, and other areas of the USA. The animals are listed by order with examples. This is not intended to be encyclopedic. It does, however, provide space for the observer to enter notes or comments such as genus and species. The example, order or both of the animal can be listed.

Just lying, watching the sunset over the ocean on the beach just in front of the palm trees. Check out the feet. What order is it?

Is this next mammal the same order as the animal shown above?

Standing on the Savana of the Massai Mara
Mammal Classification by Order 
Metatheria  marsupial – kangaroo, opossum 
Edentata armadillo, sloth, anteater
Carnivoraseal, bear, wolf, badger
Cetaciadolphin and whale
Artiodactylaeven-toed ungulate: goat, hippo, giraffe 
Tubuldentata aardvark
Insectivoramoles and shrew
Perissodactyla odd-toed ungulate: horse, rhino, tapir
Proboscidea elephant
Sirenia manatee 
Expanded but simplified categorization of Mammals

Answer to the above question: it is a Perissoxactyla (tapir) lying on the beach in the Osa peninsula park in south west Costa Rica facing the Pacific Ocean. If you said yes; sorry it is not the same order as the Elephant. It is not just the noses but also the feet.

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Berkley classification

ITIS Report

Animal Diversity Web

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#mammals #order #classification #animal

House cats at the Naples Zoo

This zoo is not a cat house. It is a house with a cat collection. Here are a few photos of some of the species. I hope that you have an opportunity to visit and contribute to the work of the Naples Zoo.

African Serval (Leptailurus serval). In my opinion this is the most beautiful and agile of all of the cats at the Naples Zoo. It was shown at the demonstration theatre.
Cheetah. One of the pair in the featured photograph.
Two siblings of the three younger male lions in the lion area which at this time has three young males and an unrelated mated pair of mature lions.
The male lion. He really opened his eyes when the nearby male crocodile was bellowing a few meters away. That sure got my attention too.
Florida panther in captivity rehabilitating before release back to the wild.

This visit to the Naples Zoo was done in preparation for my trip to Africa later this summer. I anticipate the African photo safari will be a rewarding adventure without the obstructions. The greatest difficulty I encountered here were the bars and fencing that obstructed a clear view. All of the images required extensive editing with Photoshop to make the images publishable. The zoo makes an excellent effort to maintain security for the public and the animals. On the other hand the zoo provides a predictable access for all of us to enjoy. The Florida panther is shown to demonstrate the typical enclosure fencing. I included it to remind all that the fencing may be more for the protection of the animals than for the people. Please recall the tragic death of the Malaysian tiger, Eco, about which I previously posted at Ode to Eco.

When I return from Africa we can compare the animals and ecosystems of both locations.

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#lion #cheetah #serval #cats #zoo #Naples Zoo #

A Walk in the Butterfly Park

This is what our butterfly garden is all about. You never know which butterflies flutter by.

Gulf Frutillaria (Agraulis vanillae). We will explore the Frutilleria, Queen and Monarch in detail later.
 Schaus’ swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus). An endangered species.
Southern White (male)
Long Wing Zebra (Heliconius charithonia). The state butterfly of Florida!
Monarch (Danaus plexippus L.)
White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae). Somewhat rare.
Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva)

Please feel free to contribute comments on this site through the box at the bottom.

References for plants and butterflies for Florida:

Alabama butterfly Atlas host and nectar plants

Water Institute of University of South Florida Projects

Plant atlas of Florida

You could have this stunning original butterfly collage print found on the Gallery page.

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Butterfly Garden

There is an existential relationship between butterflies and specific plants. This has been discussed in previous postings. See Milkweed and Monarch and OE.

The classic example of this is the Monarch and the milkweed plant. This specific relationship exemplifies mutualism. The milkweed is a mildly toxic plant which the Monarch larva, caterpillar and butterfly can tolerate. This gives the multiple staged Monarch an environmental advantage. The toxic product of the plant is not metabolized by the insect; however, it is retained in their body during the caterpillar and butterfly stages. The toxic material residing in the very helpless stage makes the caterpillar less inviting to birds and other prey.  The toxic chemical tastes bad and in sufficient quantities poisons the prey. The milkweed benefits from the butterfly pollination and thus facilitates propagation of its species.

Monarch laying eggs on Milkweed

Other relationships exist between the butterflies of different species and their feeding plant habits. Most insects feed on plant nectar and when coincidentally accumulating pollen on their bodies transfer that pollen to another plant of the same species. This results in cross polination and promotes fertility and diversity of genetic material in the various species. This sweet substance is often the source of nutrition that is sought after by the adult butterflies. The plant leaves are nutritious to the caterpillar stage of the butterflies.

The “butterfly plants” themselves are interesting to people because they attract butterflies and other insects such as bees and because they are very beautiful. Unfortunately, the blossoms are usually small and don’t get the deserved attention. I believe that their beauty is underappreciated. In this blog we can enjoy them for just their flowers. Shown here are plants from one private garden at one residential site. If you look at the epicollect5 data base you can find it close to observation #122

A portion of a typical butterfly garden area with wire fencing to protect against rabbit invasion Epicollect5 site 122.
This is a great scene of a mixed field of flowering plants that provides a variety of colorful blossoms. It is endlessly entertaining for easy viewing of a broad selection of butterflies.

I’m sure that you will appreciate the coming blog site which will show the wide varies of butterflies that I have seen in the changing seasons of Florida. Click through the following series of photos to enjoy close up views of the blooms.

Whether you plant them in pots or in the yard you will get a double bonus, beautiful blossoms and butterflies.

Making your garden:

Large or small, make it fun and easy to maintain. Plan for about six hours of direct sunlight mostly in the morning. Pick a location that has plenty of hedges, shrubs, and trees around it to provide places for butterflies to take shelter from the elements and local predators. Alternatively, make a safe spot. Install some fencing or trellis around the edges, and plant some vining flowers next to them to make your butterfly garden a beautiful and thriving focal point. Diversify your flowers to provide both food and nesting environment for a variety of butterfly species. Provide some open spaces for sunning and some water or close proximity to water. Importantly avoid pesticides and use native plants. It is OK to set out a small plate of sweet ripe fruit on occasion for the butterflies.

Click on Butterfly attracting plants to see a work-in-progress list of plants and associated butterflies that I have assembled from observation in existing gardens in SWFL.

Check out this observation from our Epicollect5 site 122 through 129.

Site plan of a well designed butterfly garden with morning sun and water proximity.

Please contribute your thoughts or experiences in the space below or simply click like!


University of Florida Agriculture

Butterflies and their plants

The truth about butterfly bush

Dave’s Garden

Planting a butterfly garden

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#butterfly #butterfly garden #Monarch #milkweed #garden #planting #butterfly attracting

Milkweed plants: benefit and risk to Monarchs

Milkweed plants are the sustaining plants for the Monarch and Queen butterflies. They also are the vector for transmission for the protozoan parasitic OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) infection. The three are intimately related. The Monarch depends exclusively on Milkweed for survival. The butterfly and its parasite cannot propagate without the plant. The insect and protozoan both mature through their growth and reproduction cycles* in perfect harmony on the leaves of the milkweed. Apparently, at this stage in our environment no Monarchs been found in the wild without some level of the parasitic infection. The infection is apparently only a matter of degree. Compared to uninfected individuals Monarchs have reduced survival rate and longevity, lower reproductive success, and compromised flight ability. This substantially alters their ability to migrate and reproduce. We have seen this in an earlier blog posting.

Healthy Milkweed leaf underside showing Monarch butterfly egg in direct center. (1:1)
Microscopic enlargement of healthy Monarch egg on Milkweed leaf. (~800X)
Milkweed leaf ladened with OE (1:1)
OE parasites on Milkweed leaf erupting from infected Monarch egg in initial single cell stage
OE parasite single cell stage spreading onto Milkweed leaf
OE parasite spread throughout leaf attached to small cellular fibers.
*The butterfly scatters spores on the eggs and milkweed plant. The parasite is ingested by the larva which erupted from the egg. We are highlighting the right side of this diagram.
New caterpillar hatchling larva starting to eat.
Hatchling larva covered with OE monocytes.
The larva will ingest the OE which will mature and divide in the caterpillar gut while the larva mature through the caterpillar and crysalis stages. When butterfly breaks through the chrysalis its wings are distorted, it is deformed and covered with spores. The OE in the spore stage will repeat the cycle.

Investigation of this process is important to the survival of the Monarch butterfly population. I highly recommend that you participate in a citizen scientist project. It is sponsored by the Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens GA, 30602. Check out their site at Project Monarch Health.

Your comments and contributions to this topic are welcome. Please enter them in the comments box below. Please check out the recommended readings to discuss topics of prevention and control of OE.

For further reading:

Long-lived butterfly parasites can’t take the heat

Effects of the parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, on wing characteristics important for migration in the monarch butterfly

How This Popular Garden Plant May Spread Parasites that Harm Monarchs

Native Milkweed

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#OE #monarch #butterfly #parasite #spores #larva #crysalis #milkweed #vector transmission

Monarch Butterflies and Parasitic OE

We discussed Monarch Butterflies on several occasions and we saw the normal wing anatomy under the microscope. On this occasion I was speaking with a neighbor who was raising butterflies in tents in her back yard. She was happy to rescue the little caterpillars and protect them from predation. She did point out one of the butterflies who was not doing very well. I collected it and brought it home. I had a suspicion that it was ill and was not going to survived. I suspected a protozoan, Ophryocystis elektroschirrha (OE) infection. I baged it and put it in the freezer to euthanize it as recommended.

Featured image is a healthy male monarch butterfly as noted by the two darker spots in the dorsal veins of the tail wings.


The butterfly was unable to fly and its wings were all crumpled up. It was thrashing about on the ground. Post mortem I photographed the remains which had not changed significantly from the time I found it. It shows a typical irregular wing deformity characteristic of a OE infection.

Newly emerged Monarch Butterfly with distinct symptoms of OE infection.


I placed the specimin in a paper envelop to avoid spreading spores. With rubber gloves and cotton pliers the remains were placed on the stage of the microscope. These are bright field flash illuminated images. I looked for the telltail OE spores on the abdomen and wings. I’m not an expert in insect paracytology and I could be misinterpreting these observations. None-the-less here is what I found.

This 200X magnification of the wrinkled dorsal surface of the Monarch wing with shows scales and pollen. (photoflash exposure)
Another area of the Monarch wing at 100X (photoflash exposure)
This is a sample of scrapings from the abdomen and underside of the Monarch wings magnified to 400X (bright field transmitted light). There is no sign of spores.

Using the microscope I also examined the envelop that held the remains and found no sign of OE spores.


Without evidence of spores my suspicion remains the same. This still could be a OE parasite infection based on behavior and gross appearance. The spore count could be insufficient to be seen or the infection could be in an early stage. I will continue to look for other Monarchs with similar signs and inspect them for spores. Examination for OE would make an excellent citizen scientist community investigative effort.

I informed my neighbor of my findings and recommended that she follow the recommendations of Project Monarch Health. This site is readily available to all readers who enjoy observing these beautiful creatures. It is especially helpful for the hobbyist who wishes to grow them in their yard in tents.

Here is an extract from

Illustration from Project Monarch Health.

“In a Nutshell“:

  1. OE is a common and debilitating parasite of monarchs that can cause deformity and even death.
  2. Heavily infected monarchs with clearly visible signs of OE infection (e.g., deformity) should be euthanized by freezing.
  3. Monarchs with lower spore loads can be released, provided that the captive rearing conditions did not foster parasite transmission.
  4. Containers, cages, surfaces and nets that contact adult monarchs should be carefully sanitized with 20% chlorine bleach to kill OE spores and prevent transmission.
  5. Infected monarchs should not be kept as pets (as an alternative to euthanasia), as this will result in high rates of OE contamination to future generations of monarchs reared in the same household.

My general sense is that raising butterflies with good intention of preserving them from predators may in fact put them at a greater risk. Concentrating the insects may promote higher cross contamination. The grossly infected die but when the tent full of Monarchs with low to moderate levels of OE are released they spread the disease through the outside population.

Further reading:

Project Monarch Health

Wellington Faculty of Science

If there are experts in Monarch butterfly parasites please make your comments available to all of us.

If you wish to help in the community citizen scientist investigative effort please contact me at

#Monarch #butterfly #parasite #Ophryocystis elektroschirrha #OE #microscope #raising butterflies

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