Most gardeners are happy to see butterflies in the garden; the winged insects are often cheerfully colorful, and they may serve as pollinators that help the flowers produce seeds and fruit. Many gardeners, though, are less happy to see the larvae of these butterflies, because they can be such voracious eaters of our beautiful plants. Also, some caterpillars may seem to be less attractive than the adults they will eventually become.
The larval/caterpillar stage of the Gulf fritillary butterfly is one such example. A gardener’s first reaction on seeing such a spiky creature might be to wonder, “Does it sting?” The good news is that it doesn’t.
Gulf fritillary caterpillar on passionflower vine. PHOTO/courtesy Amy W.
The University of Florida has described the Gulf fritillary on its Featured Creatures pages, and its description includes the information that the caterpillars are found primarily on passionflower vines. The page adds, “Larvae may feed on all parts of the plant and can rapidly defoliate host vines.”
For fuller information about the butterfly and its other stages, including its migration and overwintering habits, visit the above linked page.
- Your Guide To Poisonous Plants
- Poison Ivy
- How To Protect Yourself From Poisonous Plants
- 2 Toddlers Died From Oleander Poisoning, Coroner Says
- Mystery Eggs Turn Up During the Summer
- Wild File: Redhead agama went from Africa to Florida
- Endangered Gopher Tortoise Lays Eggs In Florida Woman’s Front Yard
Your Guide To Poisonous Plants
All plants may seem harmless in their natural state, but when you really get to know them, there are some species that just aren’t safe and can cause extreme illness or even death in humans. And since we’re surrounded by plants each and every day (just step outside and you’ll see!), we want you to know which kinds to stay away from; take a look at the guide we’ve put together on some of the top poisonous plants below.
- Where they grow: Poison hemlock plants are often found in areas where forest land has been cleared.
- What’s poisonous: All parts of hemlock plants are poisonous.
- Symptoms: When eaten, hemlock poisoning may cause abdominal cramps, nausea, convulsions and potentially death. Those who are poisoned but survive may experience tremors or amnesia. Additionally, those with sensitive skin may experience skin inflammation as a result of touching a hemlock plant.
- Where they grow: Nightshade plants are native to central and southern Eurasia, and are found in fields.
- What’s poisonous: All parts of nightshade plants are poisonous, with the unripened berry being especially dangerous.
- Symptoms: If eaten, deadly nightshade plants can cause digestive problems and may be fatal. Furthermore, touching a deadly nightshade plant can result in symptoms such as rashes if the skin has exposed cuts.
- Where they grow: Moonseed plants are most commonly found in wooded areas.
- What’s poisonous: The berries of moonseed plants are toxic – they may resemble wild grapes, so don’t be fooled!
- Symptoms: If eaten, moonseed plants have the potential to be fatal.
- Where they grow: Oleander plants are often found in southern and coastal states, and commonly grow in schoolyards.
- What’s poisonous: All parts of oleander plants are toxic, with an emphasis on the leaves and branches.
- Symptoms: Poisoning as a result of eating an oleander plant can cause severe digestive problems, seizures, comas and even death. Additionally, those that touch the leaves on an oleander plant may experience skin irritation.
- Where they grow: In the United States, poison ivy plants can be found everywhere except for California, Hawaii and Alaska.
- What’s poisonous: When bruised, burned or damaged, the leaves of poison ivy plants release an oil that is responsible for causing a reaction.
- Symptoms: Touching poison ivy may cause a rash, bumps, blisters, swelling and itching within a few days. Although it is not contagious between humans and will not spread by scratching, if the oil sticks to clothes, pets or other nearby items, you may experience symptoms if you touch those items too.
- Where they grow: Native to Asia and North America, wisteria plants are most commonly found in southern and southwestern regions.
- What’s poisonous: Although the entire plant is technically toxic, some believe that the flowers the plant produces are not. Most importantly, stay away from the seeds and pods.
- Symptoms: After eating all or part of a wisteria plant, you may experience cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
How To Protect Yourself From Poisonous Plants
Since unfortunately, there are a collection of plants that can be poisonous to humans, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from being harmed. Especially if you’ll be out camping or somewhere where a ton of plant species may be present, something simple you can do is keep yourself covered at all times – that means, pack long sleeves and pants!
Additionally, if you come across a plant that looks consumable but isn’t identified, don’t eat it! Even if it looks safe, unless you are 110% sure, your best bet is to avoid consuming it at all costs.
2 Toddlers Died From Oleander Poisoning, Coroner Says
Two El Segundo toddlers found dead in their beds last spring were poisoned by oleander leaves from a neighbor’s yard that they picked and ate, coroner’s officials said Tuesday.
The case of Alexei and Peter Wiltsey, ages 2 and 3, represents the first confirmed accidental deaths by oleander poisoning in county history, said coroner’s spokesman Scott Carrier.
Oleander, which grows in backyards, public parks and along streets throughout California, can cause death in rare cases when a substance called oleandrin is absorbed into the bloodstream, causing abnormal heartbeats and eventually proving toxic to the heart, Carrier said.
Autopsies found no evidence of trauma to either boy and test results showed the presence of oleandrin in the boys’ stomachs, urine and bloodstreams, Carrier said.
The results gave little solace to Shirley Wiltsey, who with her husband, Tom, brought the boys to California from a Siberian orphanage in September.
“For me, the biggest consolation is they didn’t suffer,” she said. “They went to sleep and didn’t wake up . . . and now the boys are up in heaven with God.”
News of the May 4 deaths panicked some homeowners and school officials, who have flooded county officials and poison control centers with calls asking if they should eradicate oleander from backyards and school playgrounds, officials said.
County officials sought to calm community fears that the thousands of oleander plants in and around Los Angeles pose a public health threat.
“Normal children don’t go out and eat oleander,” said Dr. Richard Clark, a medical toxicologist and executive director of the California Poison Control Center. And even if they did, Clark added, they would either gag on the bitter plant or vomit it.
“There is not a single other case in the American literature that I know of of people eating oleander leaves and dying,” he said.
Los Angeles County botanist Jerry Turney, who helped sheriff’s investigators identify poisonous plants growing near the Wiltsey home, agreed.
“I would not expect this to ever happen again,” he said. “It’s just amazing these kids ate it.”
Coroner’s officials speculated that the boys might have suffered from pica, a little-known condition that sometimes afflicts malnourished children, causing them to compulsively eat dirt, paint chips or other nonfood substances.
The boys, who were not biological brothers, were small and malnourished when they arrived from Siberia, but their pediatrician found no evidence that the two boys had pica, Wiltsey said.
But she said the neighbor’s oleander bush that the boys walked by almost every day on their way to school or to the park must have looked to them “like a big salad.”
“They were hungry in Russia,” she said. “Once they were here, I couldn’t believe how much they could eat. They would polish everything off . . . and if something fell on the floor, they would go right after it. It was a reflex.”
The Wiltseys, who have two older girls but always wanted to adopt boys, said that when they found leaf particles in the boys’ vomit three days before their deaths, they didn’t immediately suspect that they had eaten poisonous plants.
“I wasn’t thinking plants,” she said of that Monday when the boys ingested the oleander. “If I had known it was oleander, we would have had them to the doctor so fast it would have made your head spin.”
The next day, the boys appeared a bit under the weather in the morning. But by the afternoon, they were playing normally.
“You figure it’s some sort of flu bug and you think, ‘OK, they’re getting better,’ ” she said. “The symptoms of poisoning are vomiting and lethargy, and every child gets that from time to time.”
That Wednesday, Shirley Wiltsey said she again found the boys playing with plants, “but they didn’t have any in their mouths, and they didn’t vomit.”
They appeared normal for the rest of the evening. On Thursday morning, when their father went to wake them up, they were cold to the touch.
Both boys had been neglected in Russia and were overcoming language difficulties, but from the moment they arrived, they were happy, Tom Wiltsey said.
“They liked animals and Legos and books and songs,” Shirley Wiltsey said. “They’d go to the grocery store and they’d say good morning to everybody. It didn’t matter what time of day. They’d say good morning to a car going by, or a plane in the sky or birds.”
She said the family is taking strength from their church and from the support of friends and family.
“You assume you’re going to see them hit the first home run and go to the prom. You’re going to watch them get married. We assume these things, but there’s no guarantees,” she said.
As little girls pretending to be Tahitian princesses, my sister and I found the blossoms irresistible: Lipstick red, the flowers grew in clusters and looked enchanting — or so we thought — tucked behind our ears or woven into our braids.
But our days of impersonating Gauguin beauties came to an abrupt end when our mother caught sight of us out the kitchen window.
“Take those flowers out of your hair this minute and come inside to wash your hands!” she shrieked. “How many times have I told you that oleanders are poisonous?”
Today, I understand my mother’s alarm, for the glorious and enticing blooms of the oleander are indeed toxic, like its stems and long, pointed leaves.
All ooze the milky sap that contains toxins including digitoxigenin, neriin, oleandrin and oleondroside. You don’t want to ingest any of the plant’s parts because of a host of ill effects; ingest enough and you will die.
So why do we see oleanders everywhere, planted along roads on public property and in private landscapes?
“They are still a common horticulturally used plant because they have very showy fragrant and profuse flowers,” said Joe Willis, the LSU AgCenter’s Extension Agent for Orleans Parish. “Some free-flowering varieties will flower year round if the weather is warm.”
And, he added, they are tough: tolerant of poor soil and high salt concentrations, able to survive long droughts and heavy rains, and able to weather temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. They also respond well to heavy pruning.
In other words, the fact that the plant is poisonous is outweighed by its positive attributes. There’s even an International Oleander Society, established in 1967, Willis said.
There are 400 named varieties, in multiple colors. And ah… those colors!
White blooms look crisp; peach ones remind me of Dreamsicles.
Red oleanders call to mind strawberry sno-balls; pale yellow flowers invoke images of melted butter.
Left to their own devices in full sun with plenty of room, a mature oleander will become almost dome-shaped. I’ve seen huge specimens along Washington Avenue planted next to the canal, and on Jefferson Avenue before construction began.
If you like the look of the flowers and leaves on the plant but don’t have the room for 20-by-20 foot specimen, you can train your oleander into a multi-trunked tree.
I managed to do that with the one I have (double-petaled, salmon colored) but soon discovered how much work it takes to retain its shape.
A third alternative is to plant dwarf oleanders, shrubs that will grow no more than 4 or 5 feet tall.
“Petite Pink” is the most popular, but there are others with white, peach and red blooms that can fit into any landscape plan.
Don’t be shy about pruning them back – doing so encourages new growth. The plants bloom almost continuously from early spring into fall, and they’re easy to propagate from cuttings and from seed.
But wear gloves when working on oleandar. The sap can cause itching and inflammation. And be careful not to touch your face with those gloved hands.
And whatever you do, don’t burn the oleander cuttings — the smoke is also toxic and can cause disorientation, hallucinations, even death.
An issue has arisen because of the widespread use of oleanders in landscaping along highways in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas. The plant has done so well that it’s started growing wild. Florida now includes oleander on its invasive species list.
Pets as well as children can be at risk from the poisons in the plant. But according to Dr. Nancy Nathan of the Prytania Veterinary Hospital, pet poisoning from oleander is exceedingly rare.
“I have never treated a pet for oleander poisoning, or for poinsetta poisoning either, for that matter. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the risk is really low,” she said. “I have an oleander in my yard at home, and I have two dogs and a cat.”
Mystery Eggs Turn Up During the Summer
Every summer wildlife experts, game wardens, and county agents get requests to identify mysterious eggs. These mystery eggs turn up while digging in the garden or compost pile, or maybe under a board or log. Maybe the evidence turns up where a raccoon or possum dug up and fed on the eggs.
What kind of creature might have laid these eggs? Was it a snake? Was it dangerous? Maybe it was a rattlesnake. If so, might it still be in the area, just waiting to bait some unsuspecting person? These are a few concerns we might have if we let our imagination get the best of us.
Lets look at the options. Maybe the eggs weren’t laid by a snake. Maybe it was a turtle or lizard. There are clues we can use to make a good, educated guess as to the origin of the eggs. Turtle eggs can usually be distinguished from snake eggs by their stiffer shells. Snake eggs are more rubbery and tend to grow or swell as they take up water and develop.
If the eggs are round, it’s not a snake. All snakes lay oval eggs. But then, so do most turtles – but a few – like the soft-shelled turtles and snapping turtles – lay eggs that are as round as a ping-pong ball, but a little smaller.
Lizard eggs are very difficult to tell from snake eggs. Like snake eggs, they are oval and soft-shelled, but tend to be smaller than snake eggs. But, if a snake egg and lizard egg were the same size, you probably couldn’t tell the difference between the two.
I’d say if the eggs are oval, rubbery, and an inch long or more, they are snake eggs. There are a few clues that can help you identify the species of snake that laid the eggs – racers lay eggs with a granular surface texture – sort of like salt grains stuck to the shell. If eggs are stuck together in a glob, they may well be those of some kind of rat snake or a corn snake.
So how about the risk of a nest of rattlesnakes, cottonmouth, or copperheads hatching out and infesting the premises? It’s not likely, because these species – and other pit vipers – all bear live young. They don’t lay eggs.
Couldn’t any snake eggs be those of a venomous species? Yes, there are cobras, mambas, and some other exotic species. Our only native American venomous egg laying snake is the coral snake. Their range is limited to the deep south – and even there they are very rare. So the chances of having such a clutch of snake eggs in your yard is, well, unlikely to say the least.
If you come upon a clutch of eggs on your property and do not want to destroy them all, you can sacrifice one egg. Open it. If it is sufficiently developed you can see the little critter inside.
For more information on snakes, check out the UGA Savannah River Ecology Lab Herpetology website at http://www.uga.edu/srelherp/
Agricultural Agent Hall County Extension Coordinator
734 East Crescent Drive
Gainesville, GA 30501
Fax: (770)531-3994 Email: [email protected]
Wild File: Redhead agama went from Africa to Florida
This non-native lizard was first found in Florida in 1976. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it is expanding in the number of areas found in the state and confirmed sightings have been seen in Charlotte County. These lizards come in a West African subspecies and an East African subspecies. The ones spotted in Charlotte County are from the West African variety.
The breeding males of this subspecies have brilliant orange heads, and an indigo blue or black body and legs. Their tail is bluish white at the base and has an orange middle area and black tail tip. The non-breeding males are paler in color and might not have the orange on the head. Females and young agamas are a yellow or earth color on their backs with some barring marks. Breeding females sometimes have orange or blue on their heads. Agamas that are warmed by the sun are more brightly colored. Males grow to about 12 inches in length and females are a bit smaller.
These creatures eat ants, grasshoppers, and beetles in their native Africa. Here they feed on ants, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and katydids along with flowers, grass, dead leaves, and human food such as candy, bread crumbs, pieces of carrots.
In Florida, African redhead lizards, also called African rainbow lizards, are seen in urban areas on rocks, walls, sidewalks, rooftops and on trees.
Females reach sexual maturity when they are 14-18 months old, males are mature at 2 years. The African redhead lizard reproduces during the wet season although they can reproduce nearly year round in areas with consistent rainfall. The pair will go through a mating ritual with the male approaching the female and head bobbing to her. She accepts by arching her back and raising her head.
The female chooses areas that are covered with plants or grass, but in sunlight most of the day, to make a nest. She uses her snout and claws to dig a hole five centimeters deep, in sandy, wet, damp soil. She lays her 5-7 ellipsoidal-shaped eggs. The sex of the offspring depends on the temperature. Males are born with temperatures of 84 degrees and females at 78-80 degrees. The eggs hatch in 8-10 weeks.
Endangered Gopher Tortoise Lays Eggs In Florida Woman’s Front Yard
June 13, 2018
By John Virata
A gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), perhaps the most well known protected species in the state of Florida, gave a Lake Mary woman a huge surprise when the gravid chelonian decided to build a nest and lay her eggs, right in the woman’s front yard.
“My older dog started rushing to one side and I had to pull him back real quick,” Michelle Koch told WOFL FOX 35 when she first brought the dogs out for their walk. “And then, all of a sudden, I see dirt flying and I realized it’s a gopher tortoise digging a hole in my yard.”
Koch then went inside her home and alerted the rest of her family, who all came out and watched the tortoise deposit her eggs in the nest and then leave the premises. The entire episode lasted about 15-20 minutes, Koch said.
If all goes well, gopher tortoise hatchlings will emerge from the nest in late summer.
Koch erected a barrier around the nest in an effort to protect the eggs from wayward children, dogs, or predators. She told WOFL FOX 35 that, based on her research, the hatchlings should come out of the nest in late August to mid-September.
Minnesota Woman Celebrates 56 Years With Her Gopher Tortoise
Gopher tortoises lay between three and 14 eggs based on their body size. They lay just one clutch each year and the eggs take about 90 days to incubate.
Gopher tortoises are protected throughout their range either by state or federal law. Gopher tortoises are listed as threatened species in the state of Florida. Both the tortoise and their burrow are protected. They reach maturity at 10-15 years of age and are considered a long-lived tortoise. They are a keystone species, as hundreds of other species utilize the burrows that they dig.
common name: spotted oleander caterpillar moth (suggested common name)
scientific name: Empyreuma pugione (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae)
The spotted oleander caterpillar moth, Empyreuma pugione (Linnaeus), is one of only three species of Lepidoptera that may be found feeding on oleander in Florida. This arctiine species is considerably less common and less destructive than the oleander caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais Walker. The spotted oleander caterpillar may be mistaken for the saltmarsh caterpillar, Estigmene acrea (Drury). However, the body of the saltmarsh caterpillar is densely covered with hairs whereas the spotted oleander caterpillar only has tufts of hairs on its body. It is important to be able to distinguish among these three species as the nonpestiferous spotted oleander caterpillar and saltmarsh caterpillar will not require control measures whereas the oleander caterpillar may.
Figure 1. Adult moth of the spotted oleander caterpillar, Empyreuma pugione (Linnaeus). Photograph by James Castner, Univeristy of Florida.
Distribution (Back to Top)
The spotted oleander caterpillar is a recent immigrant to the United States, first recorded in Florida in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in February 1978. The spotted oleander caterpillar’s distribution within Florida is quite limited, being relatively common only in the Keys and south Florida. It is a native of the Caribbean region and has been recorded from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
Description (Back to Top)
Adult: The adult moth has a wingspan of 43 to 48 mm. The antennae are bipectinate and black in color with metallic blue highlights and orange tips. The male moths are distinguished by having slightly longer pectination on their antennae than the females. The body is dark brown with metallic blue highlights. There is a series of small white spots down the dorsum of the thorax and along the sides of the abdomen. The forewings are light chocolate brown with a border fringe of deeper brown. The area between the costal and subcostal veins on the forewing is carmine red. The hind wings are entirely carmine red with a deep brown border fringe.
Egg: The eggs of the spotted oleander caterpillar are similar in appearance to those of the oleander caterpillar. They are pearly white, turning to yellow just before hatching, spherical, and about 1 mm in width.
Larva: The larvae are light orange, hairy caterpillars. They have tubercles on the lateral and dorsal regions of each segment from which protrude tufts of stiff reddish-brown hairs. On the mesonotum, metanotum, and the eighth abdominal segment, there is a pair of longer stiff black hairs. Six rows of regularly spaced large silver-colored spots ringed with dark brown form discontinuous longitudinal bands along the entire length of the caterpillar’s body.
Figure 2. Larva of the spotted oleander caterpillar, Empyreuma pugione (Linnaeus). The head is to the left. Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida.
Pupa: The pupa is very similar in appearance to the pupa of the oleander caterpillar. The smooth, cylindrical pupa averages 16 mm in length and is dark reddish brown in color. It is usually covered by a thin cocoon formed of larval body hairs and silken threads.
Life Cycle (Back to Top)
Adults of the spotted oleander caterpillar are day-flying moths. A male locates a female moth from several meters distance by cuing in on her sexual pheromone. Close-range mate location is facilitated by ultrasonic acoustic signals that both sexes emit. Mating occurs just around sunrise. The mated female moth searches for a site to lay her eggs, usually the underside of an oleander leaf. She lays her eggs in a group, as does the oleander caterpillar, but her progeny feed singly rather than gregariously as does the oleander caterpillar. The life cycle and developmental period of the spotted oleander caterpillar are essentially the same as those of the oleander caterpillar. Larvae develop through six instars and total larval development averages 28 days, depending on the temperature. Sixth instar larvae leave the host plant and search for a suitable site for pupation. The spotted oleander caterpillar pupates alone however, rather than in a large aggregation as does the oleander caterpillar.
Damage (Back to Top)
Oleander is the only recorded host plant of the spotted oleander caterpillar. However, these caterpillars rarely cause severe damage to ornamental plantings in Florida because they are relatively rare compared to the oleander caterpillar and feed solitarily.
Control of the spotted oleander caterpillar is not necessary. In fact, in many countries where the two oleander caterpillars are sympatric, the gregarious oleander caterpillar has outcompeted and displaced the solitary spotted oleander caterpillar. Parasitic wasps in the scelionid family have been reared from egg masses of Empyreuma pugione. It is likely that the naturally occurring predators, parasitoids, and pathogens that attack the oleander caterpillar in Florida will also attack the spotted oleander caterpillar.