Long-tailed Skipper in the Garden

Have you ever been in the garden, minding your own business, when suddenly you were attacked by a butterfly?

It may have been a Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus. This butterfly is primarily brownish but is distinguished by its beautiful, iridescent green body and wing bases and long, half-inch tails extending behind its hindwings. You may mistake it for a moth, but it is more related to the butterflies.

It flies in an erratic pattern, skipping around, thus the name "skipper."

The male of this species is very territorial. He perches, looking out over his territory, and he will fly at anything that enters the area. If it is a female Long-tailed Skipper, he is a happy critter and immediately tries to mate with her. He will try to chase off anything else, including humans.

Long-tail skippers are found throughout the southeastern US, as well as some very southern portions of the western US. It is also found in parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Host plants for the Long-tailed Skipper are primarily legumes, such as beans, peas, begger weeds and wisteria. Caterpillars will cut the leaves and roll the edges into tubes, which are held together by silken strands the caterpillars extrude for the purpose. The carterpillars use the tubes as retreats when they are not feeding. Farmers sometimes look on these caterpillars as pests. Long-tailed Skipper caterpillarWhen disturbed the caterpillars will spit out a bright green fluid.

I welcome these lovely butterflies into my garden. They benefit from nectar-rich blooms such as the lantana shown in my garden here. Other late summer flowers, including Joe Pye weed, asters, goldenrod, and mistflower are also attractive to them, as well as to other butterflies.


Finding Turkey Tail Mushrooms

If you live near a forest, chances are you have seen turkey tails. I am not talking about Thanksgiving bird feathers, but about a type of shelf or bracket fungus that resembles its namesake. The scientific name is Trametes versicolor.

These fungi are found throughout the world on dead hardwood stumps and logs and sometimes on trees that are still alive. They can also grow on conifer wood. They play an important role in the biology of the forest, digesting dead wood and providing food and shelter to numerous tiny insects and spiders.

Recently I noticed these fungi growing on a log in my woodland garden, and their beauty motivated me to do some research.

Turkey tail brackets have colorful concentric circles of white, bronze, cinnamon, and sometimes blue, green, and orange. Their cups are hairy or velvety. Fresh turkey tails are thin and pliable but become stiff with age.

Their undersides are pale, yellowish to white with many tiny pores that are visible to the naked eye, about 3 to 8 pores per mm, as seen here:Because of their numerous pores, they are known as polypores. False turkey tail, Sterium hirsutum, looks very similar but can be distinguished from the true turkey tail by its lack of visible pores. Other types of shelf mushrooms may have gills on their undersides.

Turkey tail mushrooms are not very tasty, but they are edible. They have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years, usually brewed as a tea, and they are being actively studied for their medicinal value. They are high in antioxidants and promote the function of the immune system. Research has shown them to be beneficial in fighting certain cancers. Health food stores often sale turkey tail supplements and extracts.

The log that carries my colony of turkey tails also sprouts resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides, which wilts when the weather is dry but quickly revives with rain. Behind the log is my old woodland rabbit, and there are a few impatiens blooming to the side and a colocasia behind it. The colocasia flops too much, and I will probably replace it next year with something more attractive. It is a small vignette beside the woodland path. It is not flashy, but overall it is a pleasing combination and provides an interesting ecosystem to observe.