Though the crested caracara hunts for reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and small mammals, its primary diet is dead animals. You can often find them foraging for food on the ground and can be seen eating carrion with vultures.
These raptors live in open savannah areas in northern South America, Central America, Mexico, Cuba and in south central Florida. (The pictures posted here were taken at a local nature center rehabilitation center.)
This species is threatened due to development of open areas into farmlands and urban sprawl.
I planted fire-bush shrubs in our backyard to attract butterflies and hummingbirds with great success. The flowers are a good source of nectar for these creatures. cloudless sulphur butterflies and zebra long-wings are two of the butterflies that frequent these bushes. We see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds too in the early morning and at dusk flying from one flower to another sipping its sweet energy. Other butterfly species come and go bringing enjoyment with each visit.
“Hi! Hi!”, I hear my 16-month-old granddaughter say excitedly in our Florida room. Wondering who she was talking to, I look into the room to see her face to face with a young eastern gray squirrel that climbed on the window ledge to peer into our house.
The squirrel seemed as enchanted to see my little girl as she was to see the squirrel. The squirrel returned every morning peering in and my granddaughter was always delighted to interact with it.
It is these interactions along with harboring an interest in nature that nurtures respect for God’s creatures. By helping children appreciate nature and to recognize the importance of our natural world in our lives, we culture our future custodians and defenders for the natural environment.
I took the time to take little Fiona by the hand and go outside to check out the Sand Hill Cranes, birds taller than her walking in our yard, to see the monarch caterpillars munching milkweed leaves and to watch the anole lizards dart out of our way as we walked on the sidewalk. I am hoping that taking the time to foster these connections with nature that I will nurture life-long responsibility for all living things and our natural world.
Nothing but sticks left after the caterpillars devour the milkweed leaves.
Monarch butterflies continue to find the milkweed plants in our garden to lay eggs. Soon, there are only green sticks left to our milkweed plants dotted with hungry caterpillars. Anne counts 15 monarch caterpillars of various sizes. We find a small one crawling on our hot concrete driveway looking for more milkweed plants to eat.
It is an easy decision to head back to the nursery to buy more milkweed plants. To my delight, while looking for the nursery’s milkweed plants, I see several tiger swallowtail butterflies sipping the nectar of other nursery plants. These are large, yellow and black butterflies in the swallowtail family. Anne calls me to come over and help her pick the healthiest of the nursery’s milkweeds, but first I grab a few of the plants the swallowtails are attracted to plant in my garden.
With another $35.00 worth of monarch caterpillar food in our car we head home to feed our wild insects. It is part of a nearly hundred-dollar investment we have made buying milkweed plants for our caterpillars and well worth the expense.
Anne looks forward to watching her monarch caterpillars to change into beautiful butterflies and I look forward to seeing eastern tiger swallowtail and other butterflies enjoying the fruits of my labor.
As Anne and I enjoy watching butterflies sipping nectar from our milkweed flowers and monarch caterpillars devouring milkweed leaves, we see small orange and black colored insects on the plant’s seed pods.
These insects are large milkweed bugs that eat milkweed seeds. This bug has a long proboscis that pierces the seed pods and injects digestive enzymes that liquify the seeds. The insect sucks the life sustaining liquified nutrients through its straw-like proboscis to nourish this insect.
Toxic compounds, not harmful to the milkweed bug, is also absorbed making bug distasteful and poisonous to any bird that may try to eat it. The vivid patterns of orange and black, the same seen on monarch butterflies, warn potential predators not to eat it.
Like monarchs and dragonflies, the large milkweed bug also migrates south to avoid the bitter winter and returns each spring and can be found as far north as Canada.
Some people may think of these insects as infestations and damaging to plants, but it only lives on milkweed and we have never seen damage to our plants because of them.
The queen caterpillars we found on our milkweed plants have grown, pupated and are about to hatch. We see one of the chrysalids (butterfly pupa) turn from a spring green to a dark color signifying the impending birth of the adult butterfly. Soon the butterfly breaks free of the chrysalis, hangs on to the shell of the pupae and drips off. We watch as the delicate creature pumping life supporting fluids throughout its body and inflating its wings. Once fully expanded, the wings are opened to allow the sun to dry them off. Once dried the Queen alights and in a moment it is gone.
A few days later as Anne and I are checking the milkweed plants, Anne excitedly points to a Queen butterfly laying eggs on one of the milkweed plants. We wonder if it is the same one that hatched from out milkweed patch. If so, we look forward to seeing her children.
My wonderful wife, Anne, ventures out one morning to check on the milkweed plants growing alongside our home. To her dismay the leaves on the milkweeds are nearly gone. Upon closer examination, Anne discovers the reason why. There are a dozen or so monarch caterpillars on the plants eating the leaves, the seed pod casings and the tender twigs.
She moves some of the caterpillars to another batch of milkweed plants nearby. So we head to a nearby nursery to buy more milkweeds to insure there is enough food for them to successfully pupate and emerge as adult butterflies. It is costly to do this, but monarch populations are decreasing so anything we can do to help them survive is worth the money.